In “The Road Not Taken,” a narrative poem dating back to the year 1915 and penned by Robert Frost, he writes:
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Today, Ghanafu), as I ponder the crossroads we are at as a people – and how low we have sunk in myriad facets of our national life, I am forced to wonder, especially on the back of Founder’s Day – which we now call Nkrumah Memorial Day: what if we had gone down THE OTHER ROAD? The last portion of the final stanza of this poem gives a lot of food for thought. It reads: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
We have, as a people, gone down a road, which, unlike others have trod, has given us nothing but grinding suffering and the never-ending gnashing of teeth! Singapore needed just 3 decades to make it to the land flowing with milk and honey! Rwanda, a war-torn, ethnocentrism-ravaged country has transmogrified, right under our noses – from a laughing stock – to the star of Africa. Ghana used to be the brilliantly bright Black Star of Africa. Now? We’d be lucky to even be dignified with the status of a COMET!
Dr. Yaw Adutwum, our Education Minister, very recently shared, in a United Nations meeting, that for far too long our educational system has been one where learning by rote has been the norm, rather than the exception, culminating, thus, in the large-scale production of students who fail to question anything but simply accept, hook, line and sinker, what they are taught – and regurgitate it accordongly – with the best person able to do so deemed the “Smartest Student” – when, in fact, they could be the least innovative or able to apply, creatively, what they have been taught. I agree wholly with the Minister on this point – though I am not certain he has done enough, having served as a Deputy Education Minister and now Substantive Minister in that very crucial sector, to stem the tide of same. In agreeing with him, then, I also thank God I grew up, as a youngster, in a family that allowed some free thinking and questioning of authority. Now, that, coupled with the President’s calls, at his inauguration as our leader in 2016, for us to be Citizens, not Spectators, puts me in good stead to question the very ills this same system is visiting copiously and unmeritoriously on us!
I found it very curious, to say the least, when I read an article penned by the Minister for Public Enterprises, Joseph Cudjoe, recently. He hit the nail smack on the head when he spoke of how we were sorely losing out on the international market – by selling most of our products in raw or barely processed form. This, many of us have known for decades; but throughout all these decades – and over these 6 years of this administration, what, exactly, has been done to put us in a better stead in this regard? Practically nothing! We are still doing the rudimentary – so other countries will add value – and milk our system dry – thanks to our failed leadership! I admit, on this score, that the failure did not start today – but the question is, ought it to continue unabated? Are our leaders thinking through our problems or merely doing the foxtrot around them, while pretending to actually be doing something! Look at us! Blessed with everything under God’s sun – including year-round sunshine – yet as filthily poor as church mouses! It’s despicable! It’s a crying shame! It’s pitifully disgraceful! What we have is a useless system with an antiquated operational mindset that needs to be changed now! Not tomorrow, but now!
But even now, with the gold, bauxite, manganese and all these other boons of nature, what, specifically, do we do with them? What I’m about to share next should get us all scratching our heads: Are you aware that the American State of Nevada is one of the largest sources of gold in the world? In 2018, Nevada produced 5,581,160 troy ounces (173.6 tonnes), representing 78% of US gold and 5% of the world’s production? Did you know that? Now, in 2020, Nevada was home to 2 of the 10 largest gold-producing mines in the world. In that same year, 2020, when Ghana was still the number one gold producer in Africa, our country produced 5 million ounces of gold – which also means that Ghana produced more gold, per square kilometre, than the whole of Nevada! But shockingly, in the 21st century, most of our gold is sold unprocessed; it is then refined and sold back to us as finished products! Pure madness, you say? Well, why else would we still be begging, even today – when we sit on such vast wealth? Alas, even in the midst of plenty water, the fool will still thirst!
If we do not get our national strategy right – and soon – the young – and the generations to come – will suffer terribly for sins that we all – especially these misleaders – have committed! Why? Consider this: Africa’s current population, which is very aptly represented in Ghana’s own population, is largely youthful. In fact, per the latest statistics, Africa has the youngest Median Age of all the continents with a Median Age of 18.
By 2057, when Ghana celebrates its centenary anniversary, our population, per projections available, will hit between 55 and 57 million and will have a youth component of just about half the population. By 2100, it is estimated that Ghana’s population will be 71 million – with more youth than any other group! By 2100, it is projected that about half of the world’s children aged 0 to 4 years will live in Africa!
But I ask: “If we keep misusing, defiling, despoiling, mismanaging, misapplying, politicising and wantonly dissipating the FINITE RESOURCES we now have in this manner, what can we expect when these resources run out in some 50 to a 100 years – and we bequeath nothing but debt to the generations to come? If we think the world is hot now and agriculture in our part of the world is being frustrated and food security is under threat – consider what life will be like for them then, in the not-too-distant future, with next to no resources – and with all our water bodies polluted because we failed to make the needed sacrifices to tackle galamsey – and because we failed to build an economic platform on which they could stand and build upon. Imagine for a few seconds, fellow Ghanaians, what will happen to them then! Just picture it!
And just how tragic is the picture? Let me cite the issue of galamsey. The Lands and Natural Resources Minister, Samuel Abu Jinapor, has charged that we bring an end to the “culture of impunity” fostering illegal mining; but is he aware of the impunity, within his own political circles in terms of those merrilly engaging in glamasey and getting away with it? Some 3 days ago, we heard, once more, from the Ghana Water Company Limited. Yes, they have told us before that we could be importing water in the near future if we don’t watch it. Now, the tale is getting even scarier: The Ghana Water Company Limited now reveals that it has been on the verge of shutting down operations in the Ashanti region due to the activities of illegal mining. The cost involved in treating water, according to the company, has taken such a toll on its finances – that it nearly threw in the towel! Chew on that!
If we stay on these desert paths we have so often trod, doom and gloom await us in times not too far away – and our leaders to come – together with their people then – will be even more easy pickings for the West and the East – and maybe even our own neighbours, right here in Africa, who get their act together – while we continue in the witless bliss of developmental slumber! Yes, the young will suffer – if we keep up with the talk shop – and the sort of crass developmental delivery that has characterised large portions of our 4th Republic.
Bright Simons, a Vice President of IMANI Africa, posited, while speaking at the latest Kwadjo Baah Wiredu Memorial Lecture, that we have a “problem of systemic waste” which causes the economic malaise we currently suffer. I concur completely! He also suggests that no data shows Ghana is the worst-hit – or has been that badly hit by the Russo-Ukrainian war – economically speaking. Again, I am in agreement with him. Shocks? Every country on this rock called earth has faced them – on the back of the twin dynamics of Covid-19 and the Russia-Ukraine standoff; we cannot claim to be an island in that respect, for crying out loud! But an even more scrutinous view would require asking the question: are we on the frontline of these double-headed shocks – as we are being made to believe? That is the crux of the matter! For how long are we going to hide, rather conveniently, like the COWARDLY LION in FRANK BAUM’S ” 1900 Classic “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” – behind the fence of these global issues – when, right here in Africa, other economies are head and shoulders above us in terms of shrugging off the effects of same – and many, even, without having to go to the IMF!
In fact, before the UN General Assembly just 2 days ago, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo stated that – “every bullet, every bomb that hits Ukraine – hits our pockets directly!” But is that the whole truth? Let’s consider some of the metrics, shall we?
Russian exports to Ghana in 2019 – before Covid-19 struck and the war was launched – was some US$ 122 Million – according to the United Nations COMTRADE database on international trade.
In 2021, Russian Exports to Ghana were US$166.39 Million.
In 2022, according to OEC Data, Russia exported $9.2M and imported $7M worth of goods from Ghana in January alone. Between January 2021 and January 2022 the exports of Russia increased by $5.76M (168%) from $3.44M to $9.2M, while imports increased by $1.34M (23.7%) from $5.66M to $7M. This trend, while slowing somewhat during the war, has continued – even in the midst of the standoff between Russia and Ukraine.
From Ghana’s end, we exported goods worth US$ 71.2 Million to Russia in 2020.
For Ukraine, Ghana’s Exports to that country amounted to US$75.04 Million in 2019, according to the United Nations COMTRADE database on international trade.
Per CEIC Data, Ghana’s Total Exports generally (that is, not just to Russia and Ukraine), reached 1.6 Billion USD in Jun 2022, compared with 1.4 USD Billion in May 2022. The trade value actually reached an all-time high of 2 Billion USD just this past March 2022 – after the Russia-Ukraine war had started!
Again, per the same data, Ghana’s Total Exports grew by 32.3%, year-on-year, in June 2022!
These clearly show that, on the trading front, at least, and in terms of where we get the big bucks, we have actually fared better in many respects especially considering our export receipts compared to previous years.
To add to all this, if we claim the situation in Ukraine has taken such a heavy toll on us, then what should countries like Egypt say? Egypt, by the way, is the world’s largest importer of wheat – with a significant reliance on Russian and Ukrainian supplies. To add to that, Egypt is considered to be a main destination for millions of Russians and Ukrainians. Tourists from both countries account for a third of all foreign tourists in peak years. Some 700,000 Russian tourists visited Egypt in 2021 and 125,000 others did so in the first two weeks of 2022. In 2019, 1.6 million Ukrainian tourists visited Egypt, which was an increase of 32 percent from the year before. This is nothing close to our situation. We can go on to mention how Russia and Ukraine, for example, provide more than half – that is 50-plus per cent of the wheat imports of Senegal, Burkina Faso, the DRC and Madagascar. Again, we do not carry such a burden. True, in April this year a World Bank report showed that Ghana imported about 33% of wheat and a little above 20% of fertilizers from Russia – but, we have more varied chains of supply and, this still doesn’t place us in the highest rung of African countries facing the worst of these shocks – as I have amply demonstrated. To boot, some of these countries I have named and many others on the continent have had no need for an IMF programme. That should tell us something.
But someone may ask: how about the crude oil price shocks on the back of the war? That, I agree, is a reality – but that, too, remember, cuts both ways. In fact, we tend to forget that in 2020, Ghana exported $2.71B in Crude Petroleum, making it the 27th largest exporter of Crude Petroleum in the world. In that same year, Crude Petroleum was the 2nd most exported product in Ghana! I agree, therefore, that we’ve had our crude pricing challenges – but when we subtract our economic boons from same, it’s not a loaing situation for us!
Yet, today, Ghana still ranks 2nd – only to El Salvador – in terms of countries most likely to default on their debt. This is corroborated by Ratings Agency, Fitch, whose Senior Director, Mahin Dissanayake, has warned Ghana of a possible sovereign debt default, saying, any kind of debt restructuring could threaten the local banking sector. According to him, “Default is a real possibility and; Ghanaian banks hold large volumes of government securities, so debt distress is going to put a lot of stress on the banks.”
Just yesterday, we found out that Ghana had ranked 1st in Africa with the largest outstanding debt to the International Monetary Fund. Yes! According to the Fund’s Quarterly Finances as of the end of July, 2022, the country’s outstanding loans were estimated at 1.31 billion Special Drawing Rights equivalent to about $1.69 billion. The country’s outstanding loans to the IMF represent 9% of the total number of African countries indebted to the Fund – which is also equivalent to 178% of its quota or share of money borrowed from the Fund. This, however, excludes the Covid-19 support of which the country received more than $1.2 billion from the IMF to fight the pandemic and aid economic recovery.
It makes for even worse reading when you take a look at Johns Hopkins Professor, Steve Hanke’s Inflationary Dashboard, which shows we are experiencing even higher inflation, year on year, than UKRAINE – where the BULLETS and BOMBS our president speaks of – are actually dropping! We find ourselves, per that estimation, at 81% inflation, just a notch beneath Myanmar’s inflation, higher than Laos’ at 80% South Sudan’s at 76% and – much higher than Ukariane’s – at 70%!
Did Covid-19 or the war create all that?
So, why all the hue and cry about Covid-19 – for which we recieved tons of cash we very well could have utilised to prevent the economic turmoil we now face – even with the war in Eastern Europe now on board? Why does it have to be so darn difficult to swallow the bitter pill of the simple truth – that we have spent beyond our means, been fiscally imprudent and cut far more than the proverbial cloth available to us for sewing the nation’s coat – and that now, as a direct result, we have to suffer the economic ‘ignominy we now see? How difficult is that? I’ll say this as forcefully as I can: TRUTH is PAINFUL MEDICINE to take – but it HEALS far faster than SUGAR-COATED LIES which appear glamorous to the eye and promise much – but deliver NOTHING!
As I conclude, dear friends and fellow citizens plying this road of hope for national development, I would like to quote from JOHN DONNE’S 16th-Century THIRD SATIRE – the same portion from which my former Hall at the University of Ghana, Commonwealth Hall, takes its motto:
On a huge hill,
Cragged and steep, Truth stands, and hee that will
Reach her, about must, and about must goe;
And what the hills suddenness resists, winne so;
Yet strive so, that before age, deaths twilight,
Thy Soule rest, for none can worke in that night.
Let us learn, as a people, to speak the NAKED TRUTH to power – to our authorities – so the “NIGHT” of UNTRUTH does not ENGULF us! And let our leaders come to grips with the fact that TRUTH, while being a PAINFUL MEDICINE to take, HEALS much faster than SUGAR-COATED LIES which appear glamorous to the eye and promise much – but deliver NOTHING! Let TRUTH STAND! Let leadership strive to sow the seed of trust in the hearts of the people and we promise to reward that with our support – come hell or high water. But, if leadership decides to project vile lies as opportunistic truths, then we shall have no other choice but to call them out for what they TRULY are: two-faced, misleading liars!
I firmly believe that while the future does look scary – but, with the right leadership – and followership – we can make it rosy!
My name is Benjamin Akakpo. These are my BLUNT THOUGHTS. As always, they are raw, unedited and undiluted!
GOD RICHLY BLESS GHANA AND MAKE HER STRONG – AND – GREAT!
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