Monday, April 28, 2014

April 28th, 2014

 Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

'Don't put your hand in the lake, it may kill you!', I heard a young lady, probably in her early twenties, say to her friends on the shores of Lake Volta. I was so happy that she may be aware of Schistosomiasis - but then my heart sank, and I shook my head, as she added 'It is full of electricity and electricity can kill you.' I asked for an explanation. 'The teacher told me that Ghana gets its electricity from the lake. So it is dangerous. Don't touch it.'

Is it the teacher or is it the student who got it wrong? Is it a misunderstanding of the term Volta? Perhaps it is all three!

I have been truly surprised at the number of people who simply do not understand how electricity is generated - regardless of the power source. Whether you use hydroelectric power, an internal combustion engine genset (super or diesel powered), light crude oil, Liquid Natural Gas (LNG), natural gas, coal, wind or wave power to generate electricity, the basic mechanics of electrical power production are the same. (Solar is different, but we will come to that later).

Less than two hundred years ago, Michael Faraday discovered that you can create an electric current by moving a magnet through a copper wire coil - or a copper wire coil over a magnet. This led to whole change in the world - electric power became something we could 'create and control'. Yes, that was less than two hundred years ago. Of course, the usual naysayer and stick-in-the-mud crowd put him and the whole thing down. 'Why would anybody want electricity? There are oil lamps and... well... what on earth could it be used for?' It is certain that others thought such a thing was 'magic' and even 'ungodly'. That, I am sad to say, has been the reaction against almost every advance in mankind's development. Fortunately, others started to work with the same concepts - often coincidentally - and the 1800's were the years of electrical discovery! By the end of the 19th century, Tesla amongst others had allowed their imagination and creativity to flourish - without constraints - and the reliable, stable generation of electricity by the rotary motion of magnets / copper coils, had seeped into every crevice of the developed world. The electric motor and electric generator have turned the world ever since!

You too can create electricity - not a lot, but some: Look around the house for a standing fan and a multi-meter or voltmeter (you need one that measure small voltages). Unplug the standing fan and put it outside in the wind. Change its direction until the fan blades are turning in the wind. Now, with the fan still UNPLUGGED (ask an adult who understands to help you!) put one of the multi-meter/voltmeter probes on the 'live' pin and the other on the 'neutral' pin of the plug (make sure that it is still UNPLUGGED!) You will see a small voltage being generated on the meter's readout. Yes, you are creating electricity using a fan. HOW? The fan has an electric motor, which is pretty much the same (but not nearly as efficient) as the generator coil attached to the engine of your genset, the turbines at Akosombo or a gas turbine at a thermal plant - it is the very same principle as the wind turbines... Yes, you have demonstrated a small wind turbine! The electric motor has magnets and copper coils moving against each other. (one moves - the rotor, and the other stays still - the stator). As the they move past each other (they do not touch) the magnet, in effect, 'drags' electrons off of the copper atoms and pushes them to the next bit of copper - as it spins they are pushed along the wire - and that is all that an electrical current is - lots of electrons moving along a wire.

How do we get electricity from each of the power sources mentioned above?

Hydroelectric power: a dam creates a head of water (the water behind or 'above' the dam is higher than the water after or 'below' the dam). The bigger the difference in height, the greater the head and the more 'force' of water you have. Allow that water to pass through a turbine (basically a big fan or series of fans), and it can turn with a great deal of force and speed. Connect the axle of the turbine to a generating coil (like that electric motor in your standing fan), and it will create a lot of electricity! The water DOES NOT contain electricity for direct transmission to the power grid! No, we use the POWER source of the water to turn a turbine which then rotates a massive electrical generator coil (copper coils and magnets) and THAT is what creates the electricity - basically the same magnet and copper wire coil that Faraday demonstrated in the 1820s!

The internal combustion engine genset (super or diesel powered) is easier to understand now. It is just an engine - the same as in your car or tro-tro with an electrical generator attached to the output end. So, instead of turning the wheels of the motor-vehicle it is turning an electric generator to produce electrical power. (take a look, and you will see a unit bolted to the end of the motor with wires coming out of it - that is the electrical generator, not the engine!)

Light crude oil, LNG, natural gas, etc. can be burned on injection to the turbine and the hot (about 1000°C) gases turns the turbine (an engine, but not with pistons, rather with blades that turn similar to an aircraft jet engine) that rotates fast - and that is connected to the electric generator... These hydrocarbons are POWER sources (not ELECTRICAL power, but a power than can be USED to CREATE ELECTRICAL POWER), and can also be used in the same way as coal...

Coal is one of the 'dirty power providers'. Generally, it creates more carbon and sulphur emissions than the other power sources. Many countries are moving away from coal because of this. However, coal was used for many years, and is still used in many countries, to heat water (just like a big kettle). By using the heat from burning coal to boil water, the steam can then be used to turn turbines that are provide rotary movement to the electric generator, thus producing electricity. 

Wind power is as simple as the experiment with the standing fan. The wind turns the blades of the wind turbine, which has then turns the electric generator. Generally a wind turbine has two or three massive blades which are turned into the wind and then rotating, allowing it to convert the wind into a rotary force that turns that electrical generator!

Wave power simply moves magnets and coils against each other - the way we know how to produce electricity. Either the tide is used to turn a turbine (which works well in certain places) or by using the 'up and down' motion of the waves. Although a lot of talk about wave power has been around for while, we still see very few projects implemented. It is certainly a power source to watch in the future as we build on our two hundred year heritage of electricity!

What about Solar? No moving parts. No magnets. It does use copper wire, in order to transmit the electrical current, but not to produce it. Imagine two thin layers of silicon. Each layer is made to behave differently by adding something to it. We make one layer 'negative' or n-type, which can be done by adding (called 'doping with') phosphorus, and the other layer can be made to be 'positive' or p-type by doping with boron. When sunlight hits this, it makes the electrons run around between the two layers - and some escape to our waiting copper wires - and thus an electric current flows. OK, it is a bit more complex than that, and there are other doping options, ways of putting it together, etc... but you should get the idea.

Of course, there are other POWER sources for electricity, but just remember that the vast majority of our mains electricity is generated by the moving of magnets and coils of copper wire! Finally, look under the bonnet of car... you will see an alternator - look carefully, you will see a 'fan belt' that is used to turn the alternator when the engine is running - to generate electricity. The electricity produced is used to charge the battery and produce all the electrical current needed to run the engine, lights, radio, electric windows, GPS, etc... Just remember that 200 years ago, electricity production was not an option! Now, look around you and imagine a world without electricity!

Capt. Yaw is Chief Flying Instructor and Chief Engineer at WAASPS, and Pilot/Engineer with Medicine on the Move, Humanitarian Aviation Logistics ( e-mail

Monday, April 21, 2014

April 21st, 2014

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

Following on from last weeks initial foray into understanding the oil, gas and power industry, I must first respond to those who have asked me 'What does this have to do with aviation?'.

Visit any major airport. Electricity abounds in modern aviation. Airport lighting, radio transmissions, radar, etc. - and without a stable and reliable power supply on the ground, you would not want to be in the air. Ghana is looking to the oil and gas industry to power over half of its total power consumption as we move forwards - that is just the starting point of why oil and gas is important to aviation (and the nation as a whole)... Next, look at the variety of ground handling vehicles - from passenger buses to the fuel tankers - they are all consumers of hydrocarbons! Then, the plastics, oils, tarmac surfaces - and the list goes on - that are essential parts of a modern airport - all are reliant on the products of the oil industry - and that is why we must understand them. No, I have not forgotten the aircraft themselves - which are massive consumers of petrochemical production. ATK or Jet A1 (basically Aviation Kerosene for Turbine/Jet engines) is needed in vast quantities to feed the power-plants of modern aircraft. Almost every flying machine is consuming one grade or another of fossil fuel! One of the challenges of suitable aviation hydrocarbon supply is quality, anti-freeze additives (temperatures drop below -50°C at cruise altitude for an airliner) followed by appropriate storage, delivery systems and large supply quantities per aircraft, that make topping up your car at the local petrol station look like a drop in the ocean! With the big airliners taking around two hundred thousand litres - and the A380 over three hundred thousand litres - to top off their tanks - you don't want to think about the bill! You can't just fill up some jerry cans, a drum and a trailer and then drive around the airport to fill up an airliner! You can't even go just driving anywhere or anyhow with fuel at an airport! Appropriate storage, transport, filtration and careful monitoring of the amounts loaded make the aviation fuel industry almost surgical in status. 

So, please understand that this sortie into oil, gas and power is about safety and sustainability more than anything else - whether just for aviation, or to fuel the nations needs as a whole. We must understand more in order to have more rational discussions and better decisions in relation to our oil, gas and power industries - and all associated with them.

Let us now take a look at gas...

Natural gas is a collection of the lighter hydrocarbons. It may be found in pockets of 'just gas' (non-associated gas) or alongside - even dissolved in - crude oil (associated gas). Ghana has both types of resources. The gas itself may be used to extract oil from a reservoir by re-injection, or may be extracted, cleaned and sold - preferably processed into other products along the way, adding value.

Natural gas is a mixture of different hydrocarbons in a gaseous state at room temperature - mainly methane (CH4) plus ethane (C2H6), propane (C3H8), butane (C4H10) and pentane (C5H12). It also contains other gases, such as carbon dioxide (CO2) and nitrogen (N2). The sulphur compounds found in the gas, such as Hydrogen Sulphide (H2S) make the gas corrosive and 'smelly'. There may be other gases, including Helium (He) which is a valuable by-product of natural gas extraction. This gas cocktail can be easily burnt - and, in theory, the carbon atoms join with oxygen to form carbon dioxide (CO2), as the hydrogen atoms join with oxygen to form water (H2O) - this combustion releases energy - which can be used to turn an electric generator (creating electricity). Of course, there are other molecules around that result in other products from combustion too.

If you 'sort' the molecules of your natural gas, you can separate out LPG (Liquid Propane or Liquid Petroleum Gas), which is mainly Propane and Butane molecules, for cooking and certain piston engines, which adds value to the whole process. Natural gas is a really amazing stuff - and we have lots of it in Ghana! In fact, we have already discovered enough to mainstay our power production for the next 25 years - and if we continue our oil and gas exploration, we must surely have enough for the next 50 to 100 years! Which makes me wonder why we aren't making more of our own natural gas supplies already!

Natural gas occurs in a pocket or reservoir underground - either under thousands of tonnes of sea water (offshore), or in land accessible areas ('onshore'). When you first discover a pocket of gas (which costs millions of dollars to 'just try to see if there is any gas there'), piercing it with the massive drill, the gas wants to escape, so you have to 'cap the well' - that is also expensive. The gas you have found will be 'wet and dirty' - it will need treating - which is also expensive. It has been down there for millions of years - and is mixed up with sand, dirt, water, oil and other molecules that requires the gas to be 'cleaned'. Generally, the raw natural gas is treated close to its source, and that requires a multi-million dollar processing plant.  

In Ghana our gas is 'offshore'. We have an FPSO (Floating Production Storage and Offloading) vessel which is responsible for receiving the crude oil and raw gas from under the sea-bed, and then carrying out some basic treatments. The crude oil is stored and then, when there is sufficient, loaded on to oil tankers, by ship-to-ship transfer, for transport to market. Gas is sent via a pipeline to an onshore processing plant for the removal of water, non-combustibles, 'condensate', etc., leaving a clean natural gas that can be pumped to the power stations. The gas processing plant may also separate LPG from the raw gas, which is cost-effective. The pipelines, FPSO and gas processing plant cost many millions of dollars... so it is easy to understand why this gas story is not some 'put a hose in the ground and we have gas for free' solution! No, it costs many millions of dollars to set up, operate and most importantly for safety and sustainability, maintain. From a cost and climate perspective, it is clear that natural gas is currently the preferred fossil fuel for power generation.

So, what if you do not have sufficient market for your gas at the point of processing? It is possible to cool your natural gas into Liquid Natural Gas (LNG). To create LNG the natural gas has to be stripped of the heavier hydrocarbons (which is great for production of LPG), and once it is refined to a very high methane mix (about 90%) it is cooled to, and stored at, around minus one hundred and sixty Celsius, to keep it liquid. Although more expensive than natural gas straight from the gas fields, it is more cost effective, giving more thermal output per dollar, than burning Light Crude Oil. The transport of this very cold gas can be quite complicated, since if the liquid gets warm, the expansion from liquid to gas results in a six hundred fold increase in volume! A re-gasification plant (which can be at sea or on land) is necessary to convert the LNG to useable gas. The LNG industry is still relatively young - but growing rapidly, with lots of new uses being explored - it is even being considered for use as a fuel for future airliners!

So, natural gas is here to stay, and I would not be surprised at gas being used in more and more applications in the coming years. Thankfully, Ghana appears to have an abundance of this natural resource, let us hope that we use it wisely!

Capt. Yaw is Chief Flying Instructor and Chief Engineer at WAASPS, and Pilot/Engineer with Medicine on the Move, Humanitarian Aviation Logistics ( e-mail

Monday, April 14, 2014

April 14th, 2014

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

This week I had a visit from some international visitors who asked 'What fuel do you use at Kpong Airfield?' My reply was simple 'We rely on fossil fuels.' I went on, 'We use 95octane automotive petrol (super/gasoline) for the Rotax powered aircraft and small mowers; diesel for the genset for our electric power generation, since we are off-grid; diesel for our car, truck and tractor; and LPG for cooking.' The ensuing conversation demonstrated their lack of understanding of the fuel/power availability - and quality - challenges that we experience in Ghana. We may not have the same mains power, piped natural gas or wide range of automotive and aviation fuels available, as in other countries, but we do have what we need to solve our problems!

Later, I realised that it is not just some foreigners that fail to understand our local conditions - but it appears that many West Africans also lack the understanding of the meaning of 'fossil fuels', where they come from, their classification and their uses. I have found few people who understand how we can produce electricity from natural gas, which is found in abundance in Ghana, right now.

Therefore, I will take this opportunity to begin a series on 'Understanding Oil, Gas and Power' - since we all are touched by it - whether we fly, drive or simply switch on any electric device. We will take it term-by-term, over several weeks - and if you want a term further explained - or have question, just drop me an e-mail!

Fossil Fuels: Fossil fuels are basically hydrocarbons (chemical chains of carbon and hydrogen) that have been formed from anaerobic decay of organic matter from many millions of years ago, compressed and converted into several forms of fossil fuels. Put another way, fossil fuels are the result of massive pre-historic plant and animal deposits which have decayed in the absence of oxygen (covered in silt or other deposits) and have been compressed and 'cooked' by heat coming from the planet's core, for millions of years. It is not dissimilar to how we make charcoal, but over longer times, and in much greater quantities, to become carbon rich deposits stored in pockets/reservoirs, surrounded by rock layers, under the sea bed or simply underground. Depending on the type of originating organic matter, location, relative pressures, temperatures and time passed, the resultant product may be found as solids, liquids or in a gaseous state. Fossil fuels are generally readily combustible - and can be used to create many products with many different uses. Despite the rumours that fossil fuels are 'non-renewable sources', fossil fuels are being created all the time, even today - but it will take many millions of years before they are 'cooked and ready to use', and we are using those that are already available many thousands of times faster than they can be replaced. Let us look at some of these fossil fuels, and how they may be used in the energy cycle in Ghana.

Coal: A solid fossil fuel, generally formed from decaying matter in swampy areas at the time it was laid down. There are many different grades of coal, ranging in colour from shiny black to dark brown. Due to its formation process, and its extraction process, coal is found 'on land' and mined either by pit mining or open cast mining. There are coal deposits in Africa, but none have been found in Ghana. Coal could be brought in by ship and burnt in specially built power stations, in order to boil water, to create steam, which would then power turbines to generate electric power. Coal is also used as a cooking fuel (hence the term coal pot) and for heating homes in many countries. VRA has discussed the possibility of a coal fired power station, but it would appear to be unattractive, and more expensive, than using the ready supply of other fossil fuels available within the Territory of the Republic of Ghana.

Crude Oil: A general term for a fossil fuel of naturally occurring hydrocarbons - of varying densities - that can be pumped out from an underground reservoir, after it has been punctured by the oil rig to create an 'oil well' (in a similar way to drilling a borehole to obtain water). Normally, it is extracted in liquid form - which may require treatment of the oil deposits in order to pump them out. Crude oil comes in different consistencies, from very runny to nearly solid, at room temperature, depending on the type. Generally black or blackish-brown in colour. Crude oil is composed of different lengths of hydrocarbons and has other chemicals components in it - such as sulphur compounds. Depending on the density, consistency and content it has different values, uses and names. Each Crude oil discovery is rated using API Gravity standards.

API Gravity: This is the standard set up by the American Petroleum Institute (API) to classify crude oils. It is given as a number in 'degrees' that indicates the weight or density of an oil, in relation to water at a given standard condition of temperature and pressure. If the API is greater than 10°API, the oil will float on water. If the API is less than 10°API then it will sink. This helps to establish which oil will float on, or sink in, another oil. It also provides an indication for ease of extraction and quality for processing. Knowing the API is essential to convert between barrels of oil (a volume) to tonnes (a mass or weight) - which is really important for shipping purposes.

Light Crude Oil: This runs freely at room temperature, floats on water, and has an API gravity of 31.1°API or higher (some definitions vary, depending on the market). Often abbreviated to LCO, it may be used to fuel power stations - such as some of Ghana's current thermal power plants (many of which are dual fuel, and can also use natural gas, because LCO is much more expensive than natural gas) - or preferably processed to create a range of products. LCO is generally favoured for production of the higher value petro-chemical products - such as what we call super, which is also known as petrol or gasoline. Ghana's oil finds in the Jubilee field are reported to be 37.6°API, making it Light Crude. 

Heavy Crude Oil: Floats on water, does not flow easily, generally with an API gravity from 10°API to 22.3°API. Extraction requires special extraction techniques, such as the injection of steam into the oil reserves to make it flow sufficiently for extraction. Some deposits are so thick that the equivalent of 'open cast mining' techniques can be used. 

Between the light and the heavy exists Medium Crude Oil which would float on water, with an API gravity between 22.3°API and 31.1°API (depending on the market classification). It offers a greater challenge for extraction than light, but would be easier to extract than the heavy stuff!

Extra Heavy Crude Oil: Basically, this is bitumen or bitumen like oil deposits. It does not flow at room temperature and sinks in water. Extra heavy is defined as having an API gravity below 10°API. 

Sweet Crude Oil: Called sweet because it is low in sulphur compounds, smells pleasant and, should you put a little on your tongue, as the early oil workers would when testing, it actually has a sweetish taste. Sweet light crude oil is the most sought after type of crude oil since it is ideal (least costly/higher yields) for processing into gasoline/petrol, kerosene (including aviation kerosene or JET A1) and good quality diesel. 

Sour Crude Oil: Being higher in sulphur compounds, sour crude smells like bad eggs. It is more corrosive and expensive to process than the 'sweet crude'. Sour crude is generally too expensive to process into the higher quality petrochemical products.

Refineries around the world tend to purchase a variety of crude oil types and mix or blend them according to their capabilities and production demands.

I hope that helps you to better understand some of the terms being thrown around in our 'oil producing state'. Next week we will look more closely at terms related to one of Ghana's most valuable assets, natural gas.

Capt. Yaw is Chief Flying Instructor and Chief Engineer at WAASPS, and Pilot/Engineer with Medicine on the Move, Humanitarian Aviation Logistics ( e-mail

Monday, April 7, 2014

April 7th, 2014

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

One of my first consultancy contracts in Ghana was related to the TIP (Trade and Investment Programme) - working with CEPS (Customs Excise and Preventive Service) and MOTI (Ministry of Trade and Industry). My interactions went further and included GIPC (Ghana Investment Promotion Council), GSS (Ghana Statistical Service) and, of course, BOG (Bank of Ghana). In fact, I quickly learned that Ghana has more acronyms and alphabet soups than any CAA (Civil Aviation Authority). Consequently, it was not surprising that my principal involvement in development was in relation to a system baptised 'CEDIS' (Customs Export Data Information System).

CEDIS was installed at the major ports as well at MOTI and CEPS HQ. Each month the export data was collected, entered, cleaned and reported on. Quarterly bulletins were produced, distributed and sold. My life became centred around the monitoring and promotion of NTEs (Non Traditional Exports) - and with it, a remarkably positive change in Ghana's economy. TIP (Trade and Investment Programme), then TIRP (Trade and Investment Reform Programme) and finally TIPCEE (Trade and Investment Program for a Competitive Export Economy) were advanced development programmes, designed to underwrite economic growth for the people of Ghana. 

The basic understanding that we need to export our goods in order to earn foreign currency, and become a global player in trade, was my daily bread. Working on development programmes that enabled individuals was exciting - and rewarding. Overall, I believe that the work I did between 1995 and 2005 contributed positively towards the development of Ghana's trade growth. I worked alongside well known names from both poles of the political magnet - seeing them at their best - and their worst. They each have positives and negatives - and failure to accept that would be a mistake. I have no political allegiances, and I am fully committed to the positive development of Ghana.

Since 2005, I have refrained from working in the policy and trade areas, and focused on social entrepreneurship opportunities in engineering, health and aviation. Working with international support programmes is fine, but they can only lay basic foundations during a three or four year development project (or a sequence of programmes). All it takes is a change of government, minister, director - or attitude - and the whole effort is diverted, apparently lost without trace - not unlike the mystery of flight MH370!

I remain passionate about development in Ghana, because this is my home. I have settled here. I am an 'adopted Ghanaian', with a wonderful Ghanaian wife. We believe that Ghana can do and be so much more - and that the calm, welcoming, good hearted, majority of the Ghanaian people are worth the sacrifices and efforts that are needed to be living and working in Ghana today.  

Please read my following thoughts, from the heart, for the love of Ghana and everybody living here:

There is much discussion as to whether Ghana is in a crisis right now. Well, there will always be two sides to that coin! My side, is the side of the rural dwellers and, of course, how the social enterprise that I am involved with, are affected. On those counts I can declare, without doubt or hesitation that we are already in a severe and hard biting crisis. On the core business front, our revenues over the past 24 months have dropped over 90%. People can no longer afford luxuries - ex-pats are reducing their in-country spending, through lack of confidence, and - in the past weeks - the currency control system has made it impossible for us to operate anywhere near effectively. We depend on US dollar purchased items to grow engineering and aviation in Ghana - and now we cannot fuel our growth. It is simple, those earning in local currency have lost so much value - with their costs rising quicker than a cruise missile on launch. Foreign currency earners are losing the confidence to bring their earnings into the local economy. 'Confidence' is a word I will use a lot today. Some folks have left already, and many are considering leaving - ex-pat and Ghanaian. Two or three years ago, if you asked a business executive 'Can you tell me something positive about the economy?', the confidence was really high... today, that same question will result in a deafening silence.  

Despite the economic struggles, we will not give up; we are rapidly exploring alternative revenue streams to weather this challenging economic storm. Yup, to me, and those around me, we have a crisis. A deepening crisis.

It is one thing to complain, but I was always told to 'bring solutions, not problems', so what could be a solution? First, let us understand where we have come from, and consider those early 1990's - when currency controls were in place, it was hard to export or import, there were very few tourists, etc. Even the airport cargo operations were chaotic, with exports rotting on the tarmac. I came along at that very time. I believe that my subsequent work contributed a little bit towards the development trends for which Ghana was applauded. So, what were the key components that moved Ghana forwards then?

a) Listening: to the advice of those who want to see Ghana develop. It should be understood clearly that 'foreigners' are not interested in collapsing Ghana... not at all.. despite the rhetoric. They really want Ghana to flourish - so that all Ghanaians can afford to purchase from their economies. Donor nations and investing companies are not vampires - they are not parasites - they are not altruistic either! They really want a symbiotic relationship. The want give and take. They are like the healthy bacteria in your body. They get something from you, and you give something to them - together we are both stronger. Take one away from the other and both suffer. I remember the so called 'conditionalities' of the 1990s - and the fights over them. 'We will release this to you if you implement this or that'. It is normal - it is how the world goes around - and if you don't want to play, you can become isolated, and take the consequences. Through appropriate conditionalities, and the work of teams interested in helping to move Ghana forward as a trade player on the international markets, by the mid to late 1990's we were witnessing growth and development - and people beginning their exodus from poverty, as momentum was established.

b) Privatisation: Governments around the world have proved resoundingly that they cannot run businesses. Simple. Running businesses is not the work of Government. Their role is to create a confident and positive environment for businesses to do business in. No matter how you feel about the selling of 'One Touch' to Vodaphone, we all now have much better telecommunications because of it. Furthermore, the Government of Ghana was relieved of a financial albatross, and today enjoys more tax, licence fees, etc - and more people are gainfully employed, with more skilled jobs, because of those changes. Other countries privatised - and it has worked. I hate the current hullabaloo about the Atuabo Free Port development - because, some say, 'It should be built and operated by Ghana Ports and Harbours (GPHA)'! I am certain that if the Government of Ghana and its agencies were to rent out the Ports at Tema and Takoradi to a well experienced operator (yes, a foreign one, with a local partner - but not some consortium of cronies, which would, of course, be unlikely), even at a peppercorn rent, the medium to long term efficiency, resultant revenues - and job creation (skilled and unskilled), would catapult the whole economy forward. Regardless of pride, we need to allow rapid development of new ports and other facilities if we are to boom. If the investors are ready to come - welcome them! Look what happened at Kotoka International Airport (KIA) when the AfGo operation started in 1994 (a deal with Gatwick Handling from the UK) - it changed air cargo operations - so positively! When the Rawlings regime signed the KIA handling contract there was great opposition - but today we all enjoy better air cargo - and let us be honest, it created jobs, training and brought our airport standards up - and there is more revenue for the government too. The short term management contract, under the Kufour Government, for GWCL (Ghana Water Company Ltd) made operations smoother, more efficient, provided skills transfer and increased revenues - leaving trained people behind in the system!

c) Confidence: was built into the system. The Ghana Investment Promotion Council (GIPC) had a policy of support and encouragement to the smallest investor. The ease of visa access - and to some extent the 'visa-on-arrival' (which has not yet reached full potential) enabled many people to come to Ghana and experience that 'Great Ghana Akwaaba'. Ghana became the 'Golden Child', and the craft markets boomed - the hotels grew and, even before the 'oil boom', there was perceivable improvement in personal wealth, and sustained growth of the middle class - whether connected to an investor operation or not.

d) Currency: the freedom of currency - elimination of the currency control forms - the introduction of the 'off shore' account - the free zones development - the ability for an exporter to receive foreign currency and use it freely to obtain a great deal - purchase new inputs for their farms - or new equipment. That freedom allowed people to keep their money in Ghana - and in the banks - in whichever currency they wanted - with confidence.

e) Infrastructure: was visibly being addressed - roads, power, water, telecoms - you could see that 'something was happening' - it had its stops and starts, but there was an overall positive feeling to it all.

f) Corruption: (in fact all of the various abuses of public office) appeared to be much less in the past than it is now. For example, I remember in the 1990s a young Peace Corps volunteer speaking, albeit out of turn, about corruption affecting her rural project at a cocktail event - and being heard by the President... within forty-eight hours, action was being taken, people moved, questions asked - and all because the putrid scent of corruption was seen as an affront on development and an insult to the people of Ghana. Corruption will always take place, and will always be hard to prove - and thus action must be taken on trust - and it should be swift - or the smell will stifle those near it, and keep others away. 

So, what has changed? 

a) Listening: appears to be going out of fashion. We have some great minds speaking out right now, but it seems that 'if you are not wearing the right colours - of skin or party - and not singing to the right tune' you are 'off frequency' and simply not being heard. Who cares where a person comes from, or which party they belong to, or whether they belong to a party at all? If they are speaking sense, let us take it on board - and stop the personality politics, PLEASE. There is talk of 'going to the IMF' for a bail out - and if we do we will have to listen to the IMF rules! Why not start now, with our in-country people? Surely it is better that we listen, and act, before we are forced to embrace the shackles of an IMF bail out?

b) Privatisation: really could offer a rapid resolution to so many things. I realise that we have developed a less attractive economy recently, and thus decreased the value and attractiveness of our assets, but we could still 'offer concessions for', 'rent-out', 'lease' or 'licence' many of our assets to boost growth, and reduce costs. Utilities, sea-ports, airports, lake-ports, state transport solutions (road and lake), in fact any area that the government is still unsuccessfully 'trying to do business' in, could be removed from the public burden, made more efficient, increase training opportunities and thus boost long-term employment and development by strategic partnerships. So, what is the problem with making that happen? Basically companies are getting frustrated whilst trying to cut such deals. They imply that there is too much corruption, nepotism, wheeling and dealing and general 'delays' around agreements - and that has to be chased out of the system immediately. Then, and only then will we see the serious, competent and long-term minded investors bring their much needed skill, money and development to our nation. They have 'other country options', and so we must make the 'Ghana option' more attractive.

c) Confidence: is getting harder to find these days - even amongst some of the 'incumbent party faithful'. Confidence needs to be restored - and fast. When I speak to business people they feel that they have lost confidence in what will happen next. 'Will the currency collapse?' 'Will they reverse the banking decisions in May or June... or ever?' 'Will I get a visa?' 'Will the tax office be correct with me?' 'Will I get paid?' 'Will I be able to afford fuel next month?' 'Will there be fuel available next month?' 'Will I have power/water for my production?' 'Will the road/bridge/etc be completed in time?' 'Will the contractors be paid by Government?' These are issues that really do affect us all - because if they affect a current business, or dissuade an investor, they affect the entire economy. Confidence must be rapidly restored to our systems. Whilst we are at it, let us not forget restoring confidence in tourism; we could, perhaps, do away with short-term visas to boost visitors to Ghana. Why not allow the first 2 weeks in Ghana without a visa, for visitors from selected countries - such as those with a positive history of interacting with our nation? I hear so many complaints about obtaining a visa for Ghana - and some even abandon applying when they perceive other countries as more welcoming of their spending. Why not simply charge a reasonable visa-on-arrival charge (or on-exit as Taiwan did to boost business visitors)? If you want to stay more than 2 weeks, then you should be able to quickly, and without hassle, get a visa sorted out - we need more visitors, and their cash - who knows, they may even become investors! Foreigners bring currency to our economy - lots of it - so why not bring them in, let us boost the airlines, airports, hotels, tourist destinations and craft markets with foreign currency and a brisk trade! Many small drops really do make a mighty ocean! At the same time, we should re-introduce the small investor options at the GIPC - because the new rules have stopped the 'small foreign investor in small Ghanaian business' options - and that is negative for overall development.

d) Currency: Oh, boy, I really fail to grasp what possessed us to take the most recent, negative impact on business, foreign currency decisions - and fail further to understand why we have not reversed those actions... So, let us work towards re-establishing a fairly stable local currency - but please, at the same time, make it easy for all in the country to take, change and bank foreign currency too - it is money after all! Rural areas possibly suffer the most... the nearest public, 'licensed' Forex Bureau to where I live is about 50km away - and they are not open on a Sunday either... Please, allow people to spend their money freely (Ghana Cedis, US Dollars, British Pounds, Euros, etc) - and with confidence - I promise it will help boost the economy - and investment. 

e) Infrastructure: the current approach appears rather haphazard to me. We see more potholes than roads under development around the country... our transport infrastructure is not improving. It is becoming more and more evident that we have a power crisis developing, with industry experts unsure as to whether gas can even be put on line this year. The lake level is dropping as we rely more on hydropower (we have about 11ft to drop to the 240ft minimum, and the levels normally only start to rise again in July). The thermal power plants seem to be having challenges... the load shedding is touching all on the National Grid. Simply put, 'without a stable infrastructure you cannot have sustainable industry'. Stable power, safe and reliable water, well maintained roads, good quality (affordable) fuel supplies along with working data and voice telecoms - are the base upon which our country will grow its exports - and thus its economy - sustainably. It is good to talk about these things - and I love the regular headline promises - but talk is not enough, they need to be in place, reliable, functional and affordable. There appears to be a feeling that we have a less stable, and in some ways retrogressive, infrastructural outlook at this time. We need to reverse that - not with talk, but with prompt action. We hear that the government doesn't have the money (or needs to borrow it) for needed developments? Then, we should give industry players the real freedom to work - reducing bureaucratic overheads, cutting delays, taking away any nepotistic demands, refraining from implied cronyism related constraints and simply giving them business development freedom. What is wrong with enabling those with the money and the skills to grow our industries and create jobs? Many industries want to bring experts in to do the job, and to do the job well - and THEN to train the local staff.... that is the way around that it has to work - if you want fast results - it must all be working, profitable and sustainable, before sustainable skills transfer can securely happen. There appears to be too many artificial restrictions imposed on development projects which are strangling growth - making investment unattractive. We must accept that Ghana lacks sufficient suitable, trained and able to deliver skilled personnel. It will take many years to secure the skills set within the national labour force. Our graduates may be bright - but they lack experience (and often the relevant knowledge set) - and thus they must accept starting work at the bottom, getting their hands dirty. Then they can honourably and proudly work their way up to their level of aspiration. In the short term, it means that we need those with experience from outside to come and be the mentors - and for them to spend their money with confidence in our local economy! Whilst we are at it, why not make such skilled, economically desirable foreigners more welcome? Is there any reason not to let them bring their families and settle in Ghana? Long term residents visas, perhaps a simple naturalisation process for those who want to make Ghana home could be made more readily available. Sadly, too many feel unwelcome and chased away (including those from the Diaspora) - and that is really not good for our development. Take a look at the UK, it welcomes millions of non-British folks, many of whom naturalise... it is estimated that over 2,500,000 foreign born individuals are living in London alone. In fact London has 270 different nationalities living and working in it - because it needs and wants them! London has a vibrant Ghanaian population of many tens of thousands, which probably makes London amongst the top cities with Ghanaians living in it, anywhere in the world - including Ghana!

Finally, it is the lack of a clear and cohesive plan that is frustrating - whether short or long term - a plan with everybody knowing their role within, and how it benefits the overall plan and objectives is necessary. For example, when we are building an aircraft, everybody knows which part of the plane they are building, and are proud of it. If you cannot see the big picture, and do not feel a part of the big plan, you are just pulling rivets and cutting metal, and it has no meaning, no purpose and there is no team spirit which leads to a loss of pride and the end result is not going to be what anybody hoped for.

Let us all work to restore confidence in all the people in Ghana - our nationals, our investors and our tourists - let us do it together, and without delay.

Capt. Yaw is Chief Flying Instructor and Chief Engineer at WAASPS, and Pilot/Engineer with Medicine on the Move, Humanitarian Aviation Logistics ( e-mail