Review: Oiling the Urban Economy: Land, Labour, Capital, and the State in Sekondi-Takoradi, Ghana

Author(s) Franklin Obeng-Odoom
Publisher Routledge
Year 2014

The twin-city of Sekondi-Takoradi was until recently better known as the site of the first of Ghana’s modern seaports, and as the place where the now almost defunct Ghana rail system started from in 1902. Since 2007, however, when offshore oil and gas deposits were discovered in the Cape Three Points area of the Western Region of Ghana, it has gained recognition as an ‘oil city,’ at least within the West African sub-region.

Commercial production of oil started in late 2010 while that of gas began only a few months ago. Estimated quantities and exports of oil from the Jubilee Fields and the gas from the Atuabo gas infrastructure to feed the thermal plant close to Sekondi-Takoradi for electricity generation form the basis of the current optimism Ghanaians have about the future prospects of the national economy. On the other hand, civil society organizations and the media have voiced public concerns about the transparent use and fair distribution of financial gains from this sector. These sources have also raised issues about the environmental consequences of oil exploitation.

The impact of the new oil and gas industry on national, regional and urban development in Ghana is yet to be fully assessed. With respect to urban development, indications are that oil production would accelerate the rate of urbanisation both within and outside the cities where oil will be mined (Obeng-Odoom, 2009). Thus Sekondi-Takoradi, being the hub of companies involved in the oil industry and service companies providing services to the oil and gas industry, becomes a good candidate for such an impact study.

It really heart-warming that the author of this book, Franklin Obeng-Odoom has been able to provide the first comprehensive and detailed study of the impact of the oil industry on the twin-city of Sekondi-Takoradi. He has examined closely and in detail the critical issues of the impact of the oil industry and the implications for the development of the twin-city in terms of land, livelihoods, capital and governance.

The book comprises 10 chapters organized into three parts. The first part captioned The economics of ‘black gold’ consists of three chapters. In the first chapter, the author provides an overview of the aims and objectives as well of the structure of the book. In the chapter titled: ‘Africa’s oil wealth and crude interpretation of its ramification,’ the author presents the various notions about how the relationship between the oil and gas wealth of African countries and the record of their human development are seen in terms of the ‘resource curse’ doctrine. However, the author finds the application of the ‘resource curse’ doctrine to the oil cities in Africa rather problematic and therefore justifies the need for their substantive study in order to ascertain in what ways or to what extent Africa’s oil cities confirm, confound or conform to the ‘resource curse’ doctrine. He makes reference to inadequate existing studies of African oil cities paying greater attention to the role of their oil economy rather than on other natural resources such as mining.

According to Obeng-Odoom, the book does five things: It problematises the resource curse doctrine at the macro and urban levels; it demonstrates the class nature of the expectations and ramifications of oil at the urban level; it shows how the colonial experiences can shape the nature of present day institutions and investigates how those dynamics constrain the experiences of oil cities; it analyses the various ways in which neo-liberalism over the long haul has encountered urban institutions within oil-rich economies, focusing on the relationship between natural and the built environment; and finally, it considers and appraises existing and proposed social policies that have been developed to deal with the impact of oil extraction on the Western region of Ghana where the oil city of Sekondi-Takoradi is located.

The book is written from the perspective of urban political economy but the author also draws on ideas of contributors to works in several social science disciplines such as economics, sociology, economic anthropology, economic geography, role of institutions. The book focuses on the urban dimension of the political economy of oil. It presents a critical analysis of the ‘resource curse’ doctrine as well as that of other generalization theses such as the ‘staples’ view that considers oil production as entirely good for economic development.

In chapter two of the book titled Oil in orthodox theory: repudiation and riposte, Obeng-Odoom critiques the various theoretical frameworks for studies of this nature, notes their inherent weaknesses and develops a plural political economic framework around the ideas of four authors from political economy and Marxian literature: Henry George, David Harvey, Hossein Mahdavy, and Chibuzo Nwoke. He considers the framework he developed as a more satisfactory ‘way of seeing’ how the discovery, exploration and production of oil affects urban economic development. Having provided an overview of the oil and gas industry in Ghana in general in Chapter 3, the next three chapters, which constitute Part 2 of the book, titled From fishing settlement to oil city, focus entirely on Sekondi-Takoradi. They look at its history from humble beginnings, its rise to prominence during the colonial period, its decline and resurgence now with the oil and gas economy (Chapter 4). The chapters also delve into Sekondi-Takoradi’s urban economy in the age of oil and its massive transformation, driven jointly by the oil companies, the private sector generally and the public sector. The transformations are seen particularly in terms of employment, real estate development, urban transportation, changes in night life (Chapter 5); and farming and fishing in a changing twin city where the footprints of the oil and gas industry on these two traditional livelihood activities are analyzed (Chapter 6).

The third part of the book titled Towards the good city has four chapters. The author discusses some of the possible solutions to the challenges posed by the oil and gas economy through urban and national planning actions. Chapter 7 is on compensation and betterment; Chapter 8 on taxation; Chapter 9 is on socialiasation of oil rents. Here Obeng-Odoom discusses a wide range of options that could benefit the economic development process of Sekondi-Takoradi. He pays particular attention to the need to revive the collapsed rail transport rather than focus on investments in road transport, which is the key area of investment by the state. In the concluding chapter (Chapter 10), the author brings together the key findings, presents challenges and discusses prospects and lessons from the research.

The book is written in a clear, concise language and contains a lot of empirical material that should be of interest to any social scientist with interest in the city of Sekondi-Takoradi. Other researchers may wish to apply the methodology the author used in researching oil cities elsewhere and even those cities whose economies are driven mainly by other natural resources such as mining. As a follow up to this study, researchers may wish to examine the impact of the oil city on the Western region of Ghana and indeed on other cities in Ghana.


Obeng-Odoom, F. 2009: Oil and urban development in Ghana, African Review of Economics & Finance 1(1), pp. 17-39


Paul W.K. Yankson is a Professor of Geography and Planning at the University of Ghana with special interest in urban planning, urban governance and decentralization, industrialization and regional development. He has consulted for a number of local and international organizations including the World Bank, ILO/JASPA and UNDP.

Photo via Berardo62

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