VP Bawumia’s $15-Billion Chinese “Module” Is Lipstick On a Pig
Although Ghana’s Vice-President, Dr. Bawumias’ strategy for securing $15billion in developmental assistance from the Peoples Republic of China is quite innovative and exciting, it really is just lipstick on a pig.
The Vice President, according to a June 25, 2017 report by Ken Sackey of the Ghana News Agency (GNA), stated that “the commitment by the Chinese is based on a financing module presented by the government of Ghana, seeking for partnerships to fund its development
agenda, leveraging on the utilization of a minute fraction of its untapped and proven mineral resources, instead of outright borrowing which strangulates the economy. So far” he continued, “the commitment that we got in China before leaving amounted to a total of $15 billion and there is a possibility that within the next month when some discussions are concluded, another 4 billion dollars would be added to that.”
“Hole in the Ground” Economics
Declaring the need for “a sort of Marshall Plan” for Ghana, Dr. Bawumia insisted this was necessary to lay the foundations for the strategy of agricultural transformation and industrialisation. His administration is, as a result, finding new ways to finance the country’s development goals and deviate from “borrowing ourselves out of space”, by seeking partnerships and financing modules that would not strangulate the economy.
Ghana’s bauxite reserves alone would get the country about $460 billion at current market prices, he said, declaring “if we need just 20 billion dollars to do a major massive Marshall Plan and we have 460 billion dollars sitting in the ground … then what we really need is to develop a financing module that utilizes a small fraction of those reserves to finance our infrastructure”. This “hole in the ground” economic theory is medieval and obsolete at the very outset.
The Vice-President, addressing an Africa-China Joint Research and Exchange program in Accra on Tuesday, July 4, 2017, said: “it is not a loan, but rather a joint venture” between the governments of Ghana and China.
“If you have a 1,000 acres of land but you don’t have money to buy a tractor, you can say to somebody ‘I will use 50 acres of my 1,000 acres and you and I will go into joint production. You bring the tractor and the inputs, I bring the land'”. Dr. Bawumia
said his Administration wants to give “less than 5%” of Ghana’s bauxite reserves in exchange for the Chinese support in what he described as a “win-win” situation.
Of course, we all realise there’s more to China’s $15billion than a tractor and 1000 acres of land.
In as much as the “Bawumia Module” offers an innovative way forward, as regards financing governments’ programs, this writer believes the NPP could do better, pointing Ghana towards the beckoning technologies of the future, than back towards the waning extractive enterprises of the past, such as bauxite mining. Across the world today, visionary leaders are investing heavily in the nascent technologies such as Genetic Engineering, 3-D Printing & Human Longevity, Nano-Technology, Renewable Energy, Information Technology, Artificial Intelligence and Robotics, Drone Aviation Tech, etc; recognizing that therein lies the keys to unlocking the jobs and wealth of the future.
At the ceremony marking the laying of the foundation stone for the Ghana Atomic Energy Commission (GAEC) Complex, on November 25, 1964, Ghana’s first President, Dr. Nkrumah said: “Our sole motive in reaching the decision to build the Centre which you now see rising before you, is to enable Ghana to take advantage of the decisive methods of research and development which mark our modern world. It is essential to do this if we are to impart to our development that acceleration which is required to break even with more advanced economies. We have therefore been compelled to enter the field of atomic energy because this already promises to yield the greatest economic source of power since the beginning of man”.
It is only prudent therefore that Ghana, with its quality human resource stock, at home, and in the diaspora, adheres to this timeless advice, by “taking advantage of the decisive methods of research and development which mark our modern world”, using the end-point of current science and technology as her starting point. This, it appears to this writer, is the only way to impart to our country’s development, that acceleration which is required to break even with more advanced economies, and in the process instill in our peoples, the confidence needed to effectively compete in the marketplaces of the future. After all, as President Nkrumah noted on May 24, 1963, at the OAU Conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, “we have emerged in an age of science and technology where poverty, ignorance, and diseases are no longer the masters, but the retreating foes of mankind”.
This paper is an attempt to offer a more progressive alternative for the utilization of facilities like the $15billion Chinese “module” than is currently being proposed by the Vice-President of Ghana. A fraction of the $15billion, precisely targeted at some of the suggested areas mentioned above, could potentially generate over $1trillion for the Ghanaian economy in about 15yrs, and over $50trillion by 2050. This target can be achieved more by leveraging the unlimited potential of the Ghanaian, than in the limited potential of our bauxite reserves; and all without digging a single “hole in the ground”.
A Modernized & Aspirational Education Curricula
This writer believes the Chinese financing module is better focused on aspirational, critical investments like the complete overhaul of the country’s colonial Guggisbergian educational curricula into a modernized, science and technology-driven platform that leverages the emerging technologies, to prepare our workforce for the jobs and wealth of the next 30-50yrs.
Visionaries of yore come to mind. Could Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone have predicted the impact of his invention today? What about Bill Gates of Microsoft, Steve Jobs of Apple, Steve Bezos of Amazon, Zuckerberg of Facebook, Google, Uber, Ali Baba, Airbnb, Mpesewa in Kenya and the rise of Mobile Money, and so on.
So the challenge has been how a verandah boy like me, could attempt to quantify the
“economic potential” of an intangible emerging technology, in ordinary voter-speak, to an economics guru/politician of the stature of our Vice-President.
Prof. K.N. Afful
(Fmr. Head, Dept. of Economics, Univ. of Cape Coast, UCC)
In a lecture at the University of Ghana – Legon, in May, 2009, titled: “THE METHOD OF ECONOMICS AND THE DYNAMICS OF NATIONAL ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT”, Associate
Professor and Head, Dept. of Economics, University of Cape Coast (UCC) – Ghana, K.N. Afful urges the establishment of “an educational system in which the study of the relationship between technological change and socio-economic development pervades the curricula of schools from the primary to the tertiary institutions”
According to Prof. Afful, “economics cannot tell the story of technological change” from which underdeveloped countries can find solutions to transform the structure of their economies. This is because “structural transformation is the result of technological development – the prime mover of the development process”. The methods of economics cannot begin to understand the complex nature of technological change. It cannot deal with the
- costs and complex nature of technology transfer,
- “tacit” or quiet/invisible elements involved,
- new skills that need to be developed,
- risky and unpredictable nature of innovation,
- type of educational system that produces the relevant skills, and
- dense network of formal and informal relationships with suppliers, customers, competitors, consultants and technology, research, and educational institutions within which manufacturing enterprises develop technological capabilities
The paper advocates an educational system in which:
- All graduates, but especially economics graduates from the universities would have such a thorough understanding of the phenomenon of technological change that they would be agents of change in whatever sector they find themselves employed in after
- Those graduates who find themselves in policy-making institutions would incorporate technological change into the various national, regional and district socio-economic
- Those who find themselves as business executives and managers would introduce innovation as a matter of routine in their production processes and in their products so as to be competitive both domestically and in the international markets.
- Graduates of polytechnics and even secondary schools would acquire knowledge and training in the management of technology, and be able to set up their own businesses after
Stressing the futility in inundating development-oriented ministries, departments, and agencies (MDAs) with persons trained in neo-classical economics, etc., Prof. Afful points out that the relationship between science and, technology and economic development is not part of the economics syllabi and consequently, does not feature in their daily deliberations about the development of the economy.
Today, there are those in Ghana and Africa who insist the economies of the continent are in such dire straits, it warrants a declaration of a war on poverty – in the real sense of the word; i.e. using a “military first” approach. This would not be far-fetched.
Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)
At a time of growing apprehension in the United States about Soviet scientist pulling ahead, especially after the launch of “Sputnik”, the world’s first-ever satellite in 1957, President Dwight
- Eisenhower signed into law, the National Defense Education Act (NDEA), which provided funding to educational institutions in the United States at all levels in 1958. It was also in a bid to satisfy a growing demand for mathematicians as programmers for the nascent “electronic computer”. It also led to the establishment of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), an agency of the Department of Defense responsible for the development of new technologies for use by the military; and the National Aeronautic Space Administration (NASA).
DARPA’s research has led to the development of many technologies that have had major impacts on the world, whilst creating jobs and wealth for Americans; including the Internet and Global Positioning System (GPS), etc. It also led to the space age, including landing man on the moon, satellite launching, and the IT industries, as well as several “every day” technologies we take for granted today.
Finally, many young computer scientists from DARPA-funded research universities and laboratories later moved into startups and private research labs, like Xerox, etc., boosting the development of the fledgling personal computer industry in the 1970s and 1980s.
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Artificial Intelligence (Ai) & Robotics
In 1956, John McCarthy, a Dartmouth College professor described Ai as “every aspect of learning or any other feature of intelligence that can in principle be so precisely described that a machine can be made to simulate it”. Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia defines Ai as any device that perceives its environment and mimics “cognitive” functions that are associated with the human mind, such as “learning” and “problem-solving”.
Prempeh College, Winners, World Robotics Championship 2016.
The technology actually encompasses everything from Google’s search algorithms to IBM’s super-computer, Watson, to autonomous weapons like military drones, etc.
The big deal about Ai today has to do with the fact that it’s getting easier to invent software that is increasingly cognitive, and indeed grows and evolves intelligence over time as it accumulates more and more data. It isn’t about robots, but rather intelligence itself; specifically, intelligence whose goals are misaligned with ours. To cause us trouble, such misaligned superhuman intelligence needs no robotic body, merely an internet connection – that may “enable outsmarting financial markets, out-inventing human researchers, out- manipulating human leaders, and developing weapons we cannot even understand”.
The prospect of Ai becoming smarter than people at most tasks is the single biggest driver of the debate about the effects on employment, creativity and even human existence, with the swing towards an algorithmically driven society also representing a radical power-shift, away from citizens and consumers; and towards a smallish group of particularly powerful and secretive technology companies/governments, in an extraordinary enactment of George Orwell’s “1984”.
Age of the Machine
The anticipated realignment of wealth and power in the “Age of the Machine” is so profound that Russia’s Vladimir Putin has acknowledged that whichever country leads the way in Ai research will come to dominate global affairs. This is a view shared by national security leaders around the world, especially since Ai research could revolutionize military technology in much the same way as the invention of aircraft and nuclear power did.
Nick Bostrom of the Future of Humanity Institute, Oxford University, thinks an
“intelligence explosion” will occur when machines, with intellect much superior to ours, begin to design machines of their own. “If we create a machine intelligence superior to our own, and then give it the freedom to grow and learn through access to the internet, there is no reason to suggest that it will not evolve strategies to secure its dominance, just as occurs in the biological world, etc.
This writer is of the view that investing in a modernized, science and technology-driven educational
curricula that prepare the Ghanaian workforce for the jobs and wealth of the future, holds more promise than a bauxite mine, any day.
And all without digging a “hole in the ground”.
The Encyclopædia Britannica describes Genetic Engineering as “the artificial manipulation, modification, and recombination of DNA or other nucleic acid molecules in order to modify an organism or population of organisms”.
DNA sequencing: is the technique used to determine the nucleotide sequence of DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid). The nucleotide sequence is the most fundamental level of knowledge of a gene or genome.
The technology involves biomedical intervention techniques such as artificial insemination, in-vitro fertilization (“test-tube” babies), cloning, and gene manipulation, and more specifically, methods of
recombinant DNA technology (or gene cloning), where DNA molecules from two or more subjects are “married” within a cell or in-vitro, and subsequently inserted into host organisms to propagate.
It is important Ghanaians understand the importance of genetic engineering in the creation of the jobs and wealth of nations in the 21st Century.
Available literature on the subject indicates most recombinant DNA technology involves the insertion of foreign genes into the plasmids of common laboratory strains of bacteria. Plasmids are small rings of DNA that are not part of the bacterium’s chromosome (the main repository of the organism’s genetic information). Plasmids are nonetheless capable of directing protein synthesis, and, like chromosomal DNA, they are reproduced and passed on to the bacterium’s progeny. Thus, by incorporating foreign DNA (for example, a mammalian gene) into a bacterium, researchers can obtain an almost limitless number of copies of the inserted gene.
Furthermore, if the inserted gene is operative (i.e., if it directs protein synthesis), the modified bacterium will produce the protein specified by the foreign DNA.
In 1986, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) approved the sale of the first living genetically altered organism—a virus, used as a pseudorabies vaccine, from which a single gene had been cut.
Applications of Genetic Engineering
An important application of recombinant DNA technology is to alter the genotype of crop plants to make them more productive, nutritious, rich in proteins, disease-resistant, and less fertilizer-consuming.
Through recombinant DNA technology, it is possible to bioengineer energy crops or biofuels to grow rapidly and yield huge biomass for use as fuel, processed oils, alcohol, diesel, or other energy products. The waste from these can be converted into methane. Genetic engineers are
trying to transfer gene for cellulose to proper organisms which can be used to convert wastes like sawdust and cornstalks first to sugar and then to alcohol.
Genetically engineered bacteria are used to generate industrial chemicals, through a variety of organic chemicals. Strains of bacteria and cyanobacteria can be engineered to synthesize ammonia at a large scale for use in the manufacture of fertilizers at low
costs. Recombinant DNA technology is also used to monitor the degradation of garbage, petroleum products, and other industrial wastes.
Genetic engineering in medicine is primarily concerned with the study (inheritance pattern) of diseases in man and collections of human
genes that could provide a complete map of healthy individuals. This includes the development of
- Production of Blood Clotting Factors:
- Cancer Drugs
Ethics in Genetic Engineering
Ethical concerns play an important role in public reactions to
emerging technologies, including genetic engineering; and whether or not these concerns are raised depends on specific applications rather than the technology overall (Fox 1988; Harlander 1991; Straughan 1992; Sparks and Shepherd 1996).
Today, most Ghanaians are “afraid” of GMO foods because they are, in most cases, misinformed about the technology. A modernized, science and technology-driven educational curricula would enable the workforce to master such areas and prepare them for the jobs and wealth of the future; and all without digging a “hole in the ground”.
Renewable Energy (Germany – The Solar Superpower)
Wikipedia describes Energiewende (German for energy transition/revolution) as: “the transition by Germany to a low carbon, environmentally sound, reliable, and affordable energy supply, that heavily relies on renewable energy (particularly wind, photovoltaics[solar], and hydroelectricity), energy efficiency, and energy demand management”. The Energiewende aims to phase out coal-fired generation, and specifically Germany’s fleet of nuclear reactors by 2022.
Milestones in Solar Energy Production
Germany, in June of 2014, achieved significant milestones in solar energy generation when it set 3 national records by satisfying more than 50% of its electricity demand with about 23.1GW of solar power– about a half of global production at the time.
According to the Fraunhofer ISE:
- Solar met more than 50 percent of Germany’s total electricity demand for the first time;
- A new solar peak power production record was set; and
- Weekly total solar power output hit new
Founded in 1981, the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems is the largest solar research institute in Europe.
The German Renewable Energy Federation (BEE), reported that the proportion of electricity produced by renewable energy rose to 35% in the first half of 2017, from 33% a year earlier; and in London, the Independent newspaper in July 2017, reported Germany “has been getting up to 85% of its electricity from renewable energy sources on certain sunny, windy days this
year”. It’s important to note, however, that such high levels of renewable energy production are irregular and uncommon.
Wholesale Electricity Prices in Germany, 2007-2013
Limited Resources, Unlimited Resourcefulness
Germany has 35GW of installed solar PV capacity. Located on Latitude 510N, the sunniest regions of the country, in the south, typically receive around 1,600 sunny hours per annum and solar radiance of 1000-watts/m2. Comparatively, Tamale in Ghana averages 2,719 hours of sunlight per annum with solar radiance of over 2000-watts/m2.
The figure below tracks Germany’s unemployment rate from 2007-2009 – as compared to the United States, France, Sweden, and the United Kingdom – as a measure of the country’s economic strength. Readers should note this was during the era of a heavy expansion of the government’s
The wholesale adoption of Renewable Energy technologies by Germany has actually boosted her industrial output (see Fig. below). Since 1991 Germany’s share of exports in GDP has increased by 80% whereas the United States’ “export propensity” has only increased by about just 40%; and although several factors drive economic performance in any country, these figures suggest a Renewable Energy future can create the jobs and wealth of the future.
Germanys’ trailblazing example and the rise of China’s solar manufacturing base offers extraordinary renewable energy opportunities to countries in the tropics especially. In transitioning from fossil fuels to the renewables, Germany is positioning herself geopolitically, as a leading broker in the energy resources of the future in much the same way as Exxon- Mobil(USA), Aramco (Saudi Arabia), and Yukos(Russia), etc. are major players in the hydrocarbon industry today. Any lessons for Ghana?
Bauxite is the common raw material for aluminum production and is the third most abundant element in the earth’s crust with a share of about 8%. Aluminum-containing bauxite ores gibbsite, böhmite, and diaspore are the basic raw material for primary aluminum production.
On a worldwide average, 4-5tons of bauxite ore is needed to produce 1-ton of Aluminum, with large blanket deposits occurring in West Africa, Australia, South America, and India as flat layers lying near the surface. Usually extending over many square kilometers, the layer of thickness varies from less than a meter to 40-meters, although 4-6 meters is an average.
There are two types of bauxite deposits:
- Lateritic bauxites (silicate bauxites): formed by weathering of various silicate rocks including granite, gneiss, basalt, syenite, shale (Australia, India, Guinea, Brazil, Guyana, Venezuela); mainly gibbsite
- Karst bauxites (carbonate bauxites): formed by lateritic weathering and residual accumulation of rather small deposits of clays, mainly boehmite, diaspore (Greece, France, Montenegro, Hungary, Jamaica). 90% of reserves are lateritic
Mining Bauxite (“Hole in the Ground”)
Commonly found near the surface, bauxite is typically “strip-mined” through open-cast mining. The land is cleared of timber and vegetation before mining begins, alongside the collection of seeds and/or saplings for inclusion in a seed bank to revegetate the site after mining activities come to an end. The topsoil that is removed is also usually stored for replacement during reclamation and rehabilitation of the degraded land, post-mining activities.
The layer under the topsoil is known as the “overburden”. The bauxite layer beneath the overburden is broken up using methods such a blasting, drilling, and ripping with very large bulldozers. Once the bauxite is loosened into manageable pieces it is generally loaded into trucks, railroad cars, or conveyors and transported to crushing and washing plants or to stockpiles, before being shipped to alumina refineries, which are generally located close to bauxite mines.
Refining Bauxite into Alumina
Bauxite is refined into alumina using two main processes:
The Hall-Héroult Process by Electrochemistry:
The Hall-Heroult process was discovered independently and almost simultaneously in 1886 by the American chemist Charles Hall and the Frenchman Paul Heroult. The process dissolves alumina in a carbon-lined bath of molten cryolite. The mixture is electrolyzed, and liquid aluminum is produced at the cathode. The carbon anode is oxidized and bubbles away as carbon dioxide. The liquid aluminum product is denser than the molten cryolite and sinks to the bottom of the bath, where it is periodically collected.
The Bayer Process by Thermo-Chemical Digestion:
Invented in 1887 by the Austrian chemist Karl Josef Bayer, the process involves “washing” bauxite in a hot solution of sodium hydroxide at 250°C. This converts the alumina to aluminum hydroxide, which dissolves in the hydroxide solution. The other components of bauxite do not dissolve and can be filtered out as solid impurities. Cooling the hydroxide solution precipitates the aluminum hydroxide dissolved in it as a white, fluffy solid, which when heated to 1050°C, breaks down the aluminum hydroxide into alumina.
Socio-Economic Impact of Bauxite Mining
This writer is fully convinced that investments in the nascent technologies like Genetic Engineering, 3-D Printing & Human Longevity, Nano-Technology, Renewable Energy, Information Technology, Artificial Intelligence, and Robotics, Drone Aviation Technology, etc; will deliver the jobs and wealth of the future to Ghana; and not “digging a hole in the ground”.
As noted by Prof. Afful in his paper, “the Americans, English, French, Germans, Japanese and Southeast Asians all have different political systems, cultures, social values, different natural resources and climatic conditions but without mastery over science and technology, they could not hold their own in the international marketplace. Indeed, they have subjugated all other facets of their socio-political life to the dictates of science and technology”. In the light of the foregoing, there is no reason why Ghana cannot do the same to develop the country.
Ultimately, if mining mineral ores from the earth could an economy make great, then the former Gold Coast, now Ghana’s economy would be an international example. Rather, after more than 150-yrs of artisanal and industrial mining of Gold, the King of Metals, the country still wallows in poverty, and – is still largely going about cup in hand, lately to China, for
financial bailouts to support our economy. Since mining gold could not transform the economy, this writer finds it hard to see how bauxite – a less precious metal – can.
At the time of writing this paper, the price of one troy ounce of gold sold for about US$1300, whilst a ton of bauxite cost between US$50 – US$300, depending on quality.
In the era of globalization where the stakes are higher than ever before, it is crucial for Ghana and Africa to be intellectually/technologically poised in order to avoid an “economic
partitioning of Africa”, this time by China. The impending industrial-scale excavation of our forest reserves at Atiwa in the Eastern Region, and Nyinahini in the Ashanti Region in a speculative quest for an elusive financial breakthrough for Ghana, is a bad idea and a false promise.
It really is just lipstick on a pig.
- rt.com Russia Today
- The Future of Life Institute
- “Potential Health Impacts of Bauxite Mining in Kuantan, (Malaysia)”, Malaysian Journal of Medical Sciences (Malays J Med 2016 May); Noor Abdullah et al
- Ghana News Agency GNA
- Third World to First World – by One Touch; Robert Woode (the Crusading Engineer), with Sylvester Sarpong-Soprano
- Fox 1988; Harlander 1991; Straughan 1992; Sparks and Shepherd
- S. Geological Survey
- US of Commerce, Bureau of Economic Analysis
- Encyclopædia Britannica
- BDEW, Strompreisanalyse Germany
- US of Labor, Bureau Labor Statistics
- Fraunhofer (ISE) Institute for Solar Energy Systems, Germany
- Future of Humanity Institute, Oxford University
- Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies, by Nick Bostrom
- The Internet
by Sylvester Sarpong-Soprano