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Labourers in Ghana's capital, Accra, push a cart past a billboard depicting Ghana's President John Atta Mills and United States President Barack Obama. Mr. Obama visited Ghana in July, 2009


Ghana joined the ranks of African oil exporters on Wednesday, turning on the taps to new revenues hoped to further bolster one of the continent's fastest growing economies.

President John Atta Mills, wearing safety gear and blue overalls, opened the valves in a televised ceremony at the 330-metre-long floating platform some 60 km off the West African country's Atlantic coast.

Initial production of around 120,000 barrels per day (bpd) will rank Ghana as sub-Saharan Africa's seventh largest producer, with output set to double within three years.

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The start of commercial production came just three years after discovery of oil at the field, named Jubilee to mark the timing of the find 50 years after independence in 1957.

Mr. Mills was due to be helicoptered back to an airbase at the coastal town of Takoradi for an event with Jubilee operator, U.K.-listed Tullow Oil Plc and other project partners.

"Oil will be a blessing and not curse," Mr. Mills said in comments distributed ahead of the ceremony, echoing widespread hopes among the 23-million population that it can avoid the strife and corruption which nearby Nigeria's oil has brought.

"I'd also wish to restate that revenue from the oil will be used for the benefit of all, and not the benefit of a few."

Ghana is the world's second largest cocoa producer after neighbouring Ivory Coast and Africa's second largest gold exporter. It has a $750-million Eurobond currently yielding around 6.4 per cent.

Ghana expects Jubilee's oil and gas to help double its growth rate to just over 12 per cent next year, funding projects to boost its infrastructure and laying the foundation for new industrial sectors.

The event underlines the importance of the Gulf of Guinea region as a growing source of energy to consumers including United States. The area already counts Equatorial Guinea, Gabon and Congo Republic as exporters and others such as Liberia and Sierra Leone are hopeful of joining the club.

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Washington estimates the Gulf of Guinea will supply about a quarter of U.S. oil by 2015 and has sent military trainers to the region to help local navies secure shipping.

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