From refining to smuggling: the everyday politics of petrol in Ghana
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Skaten, Monica Hauge
This thesis presents an ethnographic study of the downstream petroleum industry in Ghana focusing on trade, infrastructure, flow, politics and social relationships. In 2010, the West African Republic of Ghana started pumping crude oil from the offshore Jubilee-field. The rapid development from discovery to extraction, along with economic expectations generated by the development of the new upstream industry, led to exponential growth in the downstream industry. A liberalisation reform of the downstream industry was initiated in 2005 and the state started to redefine its role in the petroleum industry, allowing a range of private entrepreneurs to participate in the downstream sector. On the back of these key transformations of the industry, this thesis demonstrates the continuous politicisation of petroleum products on a national level and the significance of this politicisation on infrastructure, networks and social relationships throughout the industry. This thesis argues that the trade, distribution and price of petroleum products in Ghana facilitates and shapes political and economic reciprocity between the government, the publics and profitable economic networks. Even though there was adequate infrastructure such as refinery, pipelines and petroleum storage depots, petroleum products in Ghana were distributed in a way that allowed the most number of people to come into contact with petroleum, by having access to the actual product, but also through enabling job creation and profitable economic activities. The petroleum infrastructure would obstruct profitable networks and informal markets. I propose the term ‘Politics of Petrol’ to emphasise how the industry and the commodities were part and parcel of the political and social fabric in Ghana. Reflecting the negotiable nature of politics and reform alongside the changeable practices and networks in the industry - Politics of Petrol - demonstrates the productive purpose of petroleum in Ghana’s democracy.