The oil next door – Story of Ivory Coast

While Ghana’s oil find five years ago has been heralded with pomp and occasional public outcry, next door neighbour Cote D’ivoire has been drilling oil for decades and rather on the quiet. The man on the street in Accra might not mention this country as oil-producing, but with production levels that account for the country’s entire electricity and domestic gas needs, La Cote D’Ivoire is certainly in the league.

According to Ivoirian government records the West African country discovered oil and gas in 1977 and started drilling in 1980. Like Ghana, the oil found there is offshore. But to what extent are different sectors of Ivoirian society playing their parts? What are the burning issues? Is information readily available?

“Not too many Ivoirians are wondering about the industry figures. What they don’t understand is why their pump price shoots up or why petrol should be cheaper in neighbouring countries that don’t produce oil,” explains Yao Franck an economic journalist with speciality in the coverage of oil and gas. Yao’s outfit iPetronews has for more than 15 years maintained media oversight of the sector.

‘Over all,’ he observed,’ the average Ivoirian would rather think about his daily bread.’

For a sector that has variously been described in the sub-region as ‘closed’ this stance could be understood. Additionally, over a decade of civil and armed unrest in Cote D’Ivoire has made the sector not the most scrutinised by society.

But the authorities are convinced that they are serving the nation well. “We have resolved to serve our people with this resource as our first President Houphouet-Boigney himself has mandated us to,” said Daniel Gnaagni, Managing Director of Petroci the national oil company at a meeting held with reporters from Ghana.

According to Petroci, they are well on course though technical problems have brought current production levels to about 40,000 barrels per day. The company believes that by 2013 this figure will triple. “What we do is for the benefit of the population that is why for example, all the gas goes into domestic LPG use and electricity. We spell these things out to all stakeholders,” Gnaagni added.

Evidently, not every information is available to the Ivoirian public. Petroci admits, for instance, that the Petroleum Sharing Agreements with oil companies are not available though the modalities are. Vanco, Foxtrot and CNG are the established players while Tullow has just entered the Ivoirian oil industry.

According to Kouassi Yao Hyacinthe of ‘Pay What You Publish’, a civil society- media organisation, things are becoming more participatory and information is gradually beginning to flow.

“A lot of things came to light particularly when this new government first came to power. Civil society organisations are also doing their best. But with regards to data, things are not really democratic, you know”, he said.

N’Dri Koffi, head of La Cote D’Ivoire’s branch of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) believes that some figures being churned out within the local press are suspicious. EITI is an international body that works to ensure transparency within the oil and gas sector particularly in developing countries.

Koffi is a beneficiary of government scholarship and a trained geologist. Impeccably well dressed, assisted by well dressed officers in a plush Abidjan neighbourhood office one could easily mistake his office for a law firm.

According to the country head, information became more forthcoming since EITI started reporting from Cote D’Ivoire in 2009. “We deal with audited figures. Every three months these figures are certified and presented to IMF,” Koffi assured.

Providing an expert’s perspective Nanan Pierre Kouame-Akpegni, said the oil and gas sector is technical and requires to be really understood.

Like N’Dri Koffi, Kouame-Akpegni also benefitted from Ivorian government scholarship to study oil and gas. He has also worked in Petroci for 19 years.

“The first president sent me to Canada to study geology, having retired I am now working for workers’ interest,” he told reporters in the conference room of the Trade Union Office in downtown Abidjan.

For a man who has retired, Kouame-Akpegni looks good and strong. As a trained geologist how would he explain the current drop in production? The man took in a deep breath and exhaled. “There are technical issues that must be understood. Yes, projections are there but real output could be affected by operational issues such as oil wells being choked with sand, it is all technical,” he said.

Whether such an explanation would be understood by the local people is another matter. However, interactions with some community leaders show some discontent.

At Adjue in the Department (District) of Jacqueville, Begre Andre a representative of the traditional chief has a serious complaint “There is a chemical that they release every four hours, when this happens every child, youth or elderly person coughs in this village and our heads pain us too.”

Adjue which has 1,500 inhabitants is 70 km from Abidjan and can be accessed by ferry. The road leading to the village is not tarred. Gas pipelines visibly pass through the town and when one stands at the beach one seas offshore activities by way of a burning flame in the far distant.

Honorine Djabatey is one of the four village representatives of Council of Petrol and Gas, a civil society oversight group. Djabatey complained about general neglect and counted one of the few benefits they have had as funds for a teacher’s living quarters. But the place is not occupied as there is no electricity.

Adding his voice Jean-Wesley a youth leader of the village said, “What we are asking is one percent of the oil revenue. Just one percent.”

Whether this outcry will convince the power players at Government House in Abidjan is uncertain. One sure thing however, is that in an industry where lips are tight about figures one percent might not be as simple as one plus one.

By Kofi Akpabli

Email: [email protected]

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