Oil and Tourism in Ghana

Friday, August 9, 2013

Teachers often ask their students, “What did you do this summer?” This fall, Tyndale’s International Development students will be inspired by their professor’s response. Dr. Leah McMillan, Assistant Professor of International Development at Tyndale University College, went to Ghana to research the impact that the 2007 off-shore oil discovery has had on Ghana’s tourism industry.

As one of the poorest countries in the world, UNESCO ranks Ghana 135 out of 185 on the Human Development Index. The average life expectancy is just 64 years and 52 percent of the population lives in extreme poverty. However, according to Dr. McMillan, “academic research and NGO and government policies” suggest that “improving the tourism sector” can help assist with alleviating poverty in countries like Ghana.

Ghana’s landscape is beautiful and diverse. The southern coastline rests against the Gulf of Guinea, where tourists can spend hours “swimming, viewing sea turtles, hiking in the rainforest” or exploring some of the oldest architecture, including historical sites related to the slave trade. In the north, which isn’t far from the Sahara Desert, sits Mole National Park; home to “such beautiful creatures as elephants, baboons, antelopes, warthogs and hundreds of varieties of birds.”

With these spectacular tourist attractions, Ghana “began pushing the tourism sector as a key means for escaping poverty.” Given this push, Dr. McMillan’s research focused on gaining insight into the “government’s involvement in the local tourism sector,” as well as learning about the “ebbs and flows” of tourist activity. Her research involved interviewing individuals in the tourism industry and conducting surveys with tourists.

One of Dr. McMillan’s findings suggests that “the discovery of oil has led to racial tension that was very uncommon in Ghana previously,” especially along the south coast where oil and tourism interests collide. Citing higher paid jobs among foreigners, Dr. McMillan states that “there is a growing sense that outsiders are not welcome by all…creating a situation where tourists feel unsafe and unwelcome, discouraging travel to the area.”

During this trip, Dr. McMillan presented a paper at the Ghana Studies Association conference held at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology. Her paper argued for a holistic approach to natural resource governance in Ghana “that incorporates cultural, economic, political, social, and environmental aspects within its policies.” According to her research, policies in Ghana are favoring the oil industry at the expense of other sectors, including tourism. She says, “Ghana’s policies might state that tourism is essential, but in reality, nothing has been developed.”

Citing the link of oil discovery to the “oil curse,” or sometimes referred to as the “resource curse”–which states that countries with an abundance of natural resources, particularly fuel and minerals, tend to have worse development outcomes than countries with fewer natural resources–Dr. McMillan says that “it is imperative that practitioners and policy-makers learn from history and institute a more holistic approach to poverty alleviation” in Ghana.

With at least two more publications coming from her research, Dr. McMillan states: “I am extremely grateful to the Tyndale Faculty Research Grant that made the primary research and conference presentation possible.”


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