The History Of The Volta River Project












The Volta has been called "a sovereign river". A thousand miles long from where its main tributary, the Black Volta, rises in the Black Volta rises in Upper Volta (Burkina Faso) until it joins the Atlantic swell in the Gulf of Guinea, it draws its waters from a land area of some 150,000 square miles and from a host of tributaries-some small, others such as the Black Volta, large rivers in their own right. During the course of this long journey to the sea, the river through many kinds of landscape.

The Black Volta, for it enters Ghana in the north-west in a setting open parkland and continues, a natural boundary with the Ivory Coast , until it swerves east to run now through a country of orchard bush, a low-lying in contrast to the Northern uplands with their Savannah vegetation. Similarly, with that other among many tributaries, the White Volta .

This, too, rises beyond Ghana 's northern border and also the uplands behind-but to curve west in this case until the Black Volta . At the point of confluence about 40 mile of Yeji and 230 miles from the coast. But there are still other rivers to add, they are waters most notably the Afram and the Oti. Already, for Instance the east at Kete Krachi, the land is rising again and the bush gives way to rain forest, while still further south, the river bed leads through a series of densely wooded gorges until at last, broad and majestic, the Volta enters the Accra plains and saunters slowly now, to its Atlantic tryst at Ada. The Volta , then, is no ordinary river. And like other sovereign rivers – the Indus , The Nile, the Hwang-ho, the Tigres-Euphrates – it boasts a long history of service to mankind. Along its banks there have been settlements of farmers and fishermen from time immemorial.

Its providential waterway provided, it is said, he route by which the people of the ancient kingdom of Ghana fled south from the Islamic invader in 1076. It was discovered, to European eyes at least, by the early Portuguese traders who reached the coast of West Africa in 1471 and gave the river its name-and an apt name, too, as a glance at the map will shown, for Volta means "to meander".

 Again, the river was the route by which J. T. Bonnat, a French trader and Robert Bannerman, an African merchant, reached Salaga from the coast in 1876. Bonnat appears to have been much impressed by Salaga market, with its caravans from Timbuctu, Lake Chad, the Niger and Senegal , and wanted to set up a chain of trading stations along the river. In the event, however, it was Bannerman who took the initiative in this direction. So, for nearly forty years, the story of the Volta continued. Steamboat services were introduced in due course on the lower reaches and palm oil casks were now floated down the river. But higher up the Volta was still navigable only by canoe, as it had been in Bonnat's and Bannerman's day.

Then, in 1915, a geological survey by the then Gold Coast Government was carried out under A. DO (later Sir A Albert) Kitson. One of the possibilities which Kitson pointed out was a large hydro-electric development to provide power for the production of aluminum from local bauxite deposits-and the site for a possible dam was suggested to be Akosombo. Here, then, exactly fifty years ago, is to be found the first stirrings of interest in a Volta River Project. As a dream, it was exciting no doubt, but many a year had to pass before the dream even approached fulfillment. For how could a dependent country, with too few schools, too few hospitals, and a mere skeleton of roads, afford the required capital outlay? And how could a colonial power with a world war on its hands, hope to come to the rescue? So it was that Kitson's idea was condemned to gather dust while Europe struggled for survival in the bloodiest war known to history, and after, while Europe gathered itself together slowly and painfully, only to flounder again in the Great Depression of the late 1920's.

As a result, it was not until the calmer times of the middle and late 30's that interest revived in the Volta River as a source of hydro-electric power. This time, the proposed site for the dam was envisaged as Arena, about two miles upstream from Akosombo. But otherwise, the main idea remained unaltered. The waters impounded behind the great dam would be used to generate electricity which would be used, in turn, to produce aluminum out of the bauxite deposits at Mpraeso in Kwahu and Aya-Yenahin in Ashanti . In due course, plans began to be prepared and fresh survey of conditions was made by a South African engineer, Duncan Rose. Once again, however, the world - or the lion's share of it – was plunged into war; and once again, the plans for be shelved. Whether, without the war, there would have more constructive outcome is, of course, a ma On the whole, however, it seems unlikely. As they envisaged and as finally implemented, demanded not only vast capital expenditure but other essential, if less tangible, qualities. It involved, in particular, the active those many thousands whose homes have beer ever under the rising lake, and of all those other thousands whose efforts have been directed, in one way or another the dream come true. The spur, the motive, behind these requirements is self-help. Ghanaians realize to a very marked degree that sacrifices are inevitable if their country is to enter the new era of progress and development, which is its goal. They realize that the Volta River Project will supply power not only for the aluminum smelter (though that is a major factor in the feasibility of the whole scheme) but for national transmission lines through the whole of southern Ghana .

There will be power, in short, for what has been called "a minor industrial revolution" in Ghana , and for a large-scale program of agricultural development. In other words, the Volta River Project will diversify the country's economy, hitherto so largely dependent on cocoa, to an extent that no other single scheme. In addition, the project will open up possibilities of developing a system of navigation and transportation through a network of harbors on the banks of the huge Volta Lake , and provide the development of inland fisheries on a large and decidedly worthwhile scale. Irrigation is yet another fruitful prospect - and many of these factors will interact to produce still greater benefits. For instance, the availability of hydro-electric power will slash Ghana ’s foreign exchange expenditure on imported fuel oil, hitherto the principal source of the country’s motive power. Again, lake transportation will be cheap and will encourage the movement of agricultural produce which, in turn, will have been grown and, where applicable, processed (thanks to the hydro-electric power available - on the fringe of the lake. All this people of Ghana realize. But it would have taken more than maturity for such realization to come about if the project had been imposed, however altruistically, by a colonial power, or less altruistically no doubt, by outside commercial interests.

 The first key to the success of the project half a century after its original glimpsing by Kitson's survey is, therefore, to be found in the fact that it is being carried out in an independent Ghana. And this truth was expressed by the President, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, in 1958 when he said: "My Government has always felt that no final decision should be taken about this great scheme until the country was independent." The second key is less obvious but no less pertinent. It is to be found further in the African continent of which Ghana is part. In this wider context, the damming of the Volta was conceived as the first step in the overall economic planning on a continental basis which Ghana believes is essential to African union. That such co-operation was not forthcoming in the long years of negotiation which Ghana had to undertake alone is a matter for more regret. But the ideal was there-just as it is there today. The River Volta, so long untamable, has now been tamed. But the fruits of that taming can still be incorporated in Africa 's joint economic planning. The scheme is still an asset, and an important one, which Africa as well as Ghana can draw on in a more united future. To quote Dr. Nkrumah again: "It is most important that African leaders must now begin to find the best and quickest means by which we can pool our economic resources to ether for our mutual benefit. If we achieve this, we shall raise in Africa a great industrial, economic and financial power comparable to anything the world has seen in our time."


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