These “blunt thoughts” certainly resonate with the temper of the times – an emotional reaction to what has become an endemic problem. Which problem is a mix of economic dysfunction and self-limiting political leadership. There is despair in the air, body, and soul.
Hence, a blustery of “blunt thoughts”. The political establishment, in particular an incumbent leader, is a custodian of the public trust. Most Ghanaians believe that our public officeholders do not conduct themselves to advance the common good. So, with a broad brush our politicians are painted as a corrupt cohort. A national malady, corruption has been rife since independence.
Nkrumah’s CPP, being the pioneer ruling political class, set a very low bar, regarding probity and accountability for the public officeholder. This set a consequential precedence for succeeding regimes. The CPP’s conduct burdened us with the rude shock of a first mover disadvantage.
We have not recovered from that shock – despite so-called liberations, redemptions, and provisional interventions in our polity. Whether we have been under a civilian or a military regime, our fortunes haven’t changed for the better. We remain a nation in search of its mojo. Under the fourth republic, the situation israther getting out of control.
On the song sheet of the public officeholder, corruption is the leitmotif of that office. Unabashedly. In part, politics is seen as the surest way to achieve a measure of personal welfare and financial security. In part, there appears to be a collective lack of societal confidence with which to construct a modern political economy, which is undergirded by credible institutions of state. Rank corruption, though, isn’t contained within the boundaries of public office. It has been woven into the fabric of the national aesthetic.
It is the unspoken rule that consummates many a transaction – political or economic, or social. Just as in politics, the arena of private enterprise is soiled with contaminants of odious corruption. Gainers continually ratchet up the stakes, that soar ever higher. Losers are caught flatfooted. Honesty has but no purchase, no store of value – except, implausibly, in the ethereal realms.
Such charade as is played by the avowedly ravenous, such stranglehold they exert on our struggling society. The physical and emotional violence visited on society is seen in, say, an under-equipped public hospital, dilapidated infrastructure, a classroom under a tree, a bloated public payroll, a poorly educated university graduate, an under-resourced and underpaid university lecturer. In all this, the poor majority have neither the locus nor agency.
Yet a national asphyxiation threatens us all. The incumbent President, Nana Akufo-Addo, has about missed the golden opportunity to treat the metastatic cancer of corruption that has ravaged our body politic, from time immemorial. This is Ghana’s sore loss. Also lost has been a unique chance for him to have enlivened the political arena with deeds of verve. Nana Akufo-Addo assumed office, having bagged many years of public service in his favor.
A scion of the Big Six, Nana Akufo-Addo grew up a privileged child – the all too familiar crippling poverty was alien to him and his siblings. Meanwhile, professionally, he had been a very successful lawyer and an astute businessman. Politics, to all intents and purposes, could have been his take on noblesse oblige – in the lustrous footsteps of his late father.
Significantly, he entered office in the 8th decade of life – by which period many a Ghanaian, whose average life expectancy is 65 years, is dead. As an eminence gris, Nana Akufo-Addo could have pivoted the landslide victory, Ghanaian voters had ladled upon him, in 2016, towardssubstantive statecraft. This would have involved rallying the country to answer a clarion call for a national renewal: the restructuring of the foundational structure of our political economy.
To elicit public sympathy for the new course of action, that he intended to chart, the President should have limited the size of his government. This signally would have been a clear departure from what his predecessors had done, under the fourth republic. It would have been a measure to which his party folk wouldn’t have taken a liking. (Regrettably, he caved in, under political pressure.)
But the mass of the Ghanaian people would have applauded him for a display of political valor. Having dented the armor of patronage, which the innumerable appointments are intended to partly cater for, the President could then have deployed genuine statesmanship to initiate structural economic reforms. Without temporizing. (All this notwithstanding, the lion may yet roar – in the next two years. For a marathon runner of a politician President Akufo-Addo has been.)
In much of the 1980s, and long before the advent of the fourth republic, in 1992, PNDC, a military dictatorship, had embarked upon substantial economic reforms, under aegis of the Bretton Woods institutions. State enterprises were divested. Banking and financial services were deregulated. Civil service reforms were pursued with alacrity. In one fell swoop, the military junta altered our economy from its proto-socialist demesne.
Today, Ghana has open borders, the Ghana Cedi is allowed to float within a band, and interest rates are, by and large, market driven.
International trade is the status quo. All this faithfully accords with liberal economic tenets. But there is a grand supposition. When a nation opens its borders to unfettered international trade, it had better, in turn, deploy an ability to export massively to the rest of the trading world. This is grand supposition that shouldn’t be taken for granted.
As an example, export-led economic growth, as opposed to import-substitution economic development model, has accounted for the impressive gains in prosperity acrossselect Southeast Asian nations- which, in the 1950s, were at similar levels of economic development as Ghana.
In the case of the PNDC-led reforms, we resolved one part of the economic jigsaw puzzle: Liberalization of the economy. Imports of every strain and stripe now flow into our country. The other part of the puzzle, which must include intensified and diversified range of exportable goods and services, wasn’t put in place. It still is a yawning gap to fill.
The picture of our economy is thus incomplete. Hence, our perennial problems – and the associated non sequitur broadsides we hurl upon one another. Now, though, the foregoing analysis is the easier part of our challenge. Any human endeavor that has potentially huge payoffs has attendant huge risks. As it is for the individual, much more so for an entire nation.
Our competitive politics, in the manner it has evolved, begs the questions our economy throws at us. As alluded to below, the political class has lacked the spine to act. Still, we must address the fundamental mismatch between our demand for imported merchandise and services, on the one hand, and our ability to export merchandise and services to the rest of the world, on the other. Failing in this task, we are bound to experience a predictable depreciation of our national currency – irrespective of which political party is in power.
Auspiciously, the policy tools with which to drive prescient economic change are abundantly in stock. What we need is the concomitant political and communal will to launch a putative economic transformation. For one thing, defenestrating the blame game must be for starters. Finger pointing, one may surmise, points to nowhere.
It only generates and exacerbates the heat of emotion, but hardly any light of reason. It resolves nothing. For another, the ruling elites must feel duty-bound to save our teetering republic. The group is constitutive of the political class, as well as the raft of non-political actors in our society; in particular, civil society organizations that lend ample girth to our thin democratic waistline. First, we must summon the courage of conviction to admit that we need to reform our economy. Structurally.
Today, Ghana’s liberal economy is one-sided; tilted in favor of imports. Thus, the decline in the value of the Ghana Cedi is inevitable. So, too, the absence of jobs that earn livable wages. So, too, the chronic deterioration in our living standard. We must goad a national consensus on the need for structural reforms.
The non political actors may stand in the unique position to inspire a consensus. The political class, enfeebled and beholden to unwieldy phalanx of interest groups, is at the end of its tether. Thus, a neutral facilitator could focus our collective energies more productively.
Second, as citizens, we must have a buy-in, as to the necessity to repair our economic structure. This is because the process of genuine transformation will range from medium to long range term – over several years, if not decades. Genuine patience is called for. Here, too, the non-political actors could be effective interlocutors. Our political class suffers from a trust deficit.
A critical success factor may be to redefine the role and composition of the National Development Planning Commission (NDPC). It should be an a-political institution of experts that researches our political, economic circumstances, as well as our sociology to fashion a dynamic development plan for the country. A catalog of developmental priorities may be identified and proposed. Public policy may emanate therefrom. Political parties may consult NDPC, having become a veritable Rosetta stone. They may craft their manifestos, accordingly – having borrowed liberally from NDPC.
It is hoped that in the process, analytical rigor would serve policy formulation and the public purpose. This way, that which might be merely politically expedient, and shillyshally, would lose its seductive appeal. Meanwhile, we should rethink the manner we act out political drama on the heaving stage of our fourth republic. Clearly, as an example, a radical campaign finance reform would be in order.
This would, if thoughtfully implemented, reduce, if not eliminate, patronage and its corrupting influence on our politics. We might critically consider state funding of political parties if they meet strict requirements. Reshaping the size and scope of the central government could be an agreeable corollary to a campaign finance reform.
A right-sized administrative state – political office, the civil service, and public service in general – should truly leave room for the currently hobbled, private sector. Saliently, the ethos of the private sector must also evolve away from the unsavory symbiotic relationship with the state. A reformed private sector could substantially contribute to our national development and economic growth. Herewith, a sampling of transformational possibilities:
The vast Accra Plains and Afram Plains should be treated to scientifically, ecologically sensible irrigation development and management. Exportable produce – grains and fruits, and legumes – as well as animal husbandry could be sustained on these large expanses of national estate. Cocoa and other cash crops must receive plantation level attention – away from a peasantry-based crop cultivation.
The much talked about processing of primary crops, and minerals should receive national priority. Added value processes generate both domestic jobs and enhanced foreign exchange. Ghana lies on the Great Meridian – smack in the middle of the sub-region. It sports English language as the national lingua franca – the language of science and commerce. It has two major ports.
It is a compact country – less that 1,000 kilometers north-south, less than 600 kilometer east-west. It has a man-made lake and river drainage systems that are a huge asset. So, too, are our forest reserves. Besides, the population of 30 million-plus, if appropriately educated, could provide a trove of human capital that is foundational to a modern economy. Investing in a national and sub-regionally connected highways is an absolute necessity.
So, too, would a railway network that connected our ports to our borders with Cote d’Ivore, Togo and Burkina Faso. Modernized to scale, Tema and Takoradi harbors could be turned into entrepôts. This could be a huge foreign exchange generator. The public universities could be earners of foreign exchange if we consciously upgraded them to meet internationally acclaimed standards. KNUST is a potential M.I.T or I.I.T for our subregion. Appropriately arrayed, the sample potential advantages could be harnessed to turn Ghana into a Switzerland of the subregion – the service center for ECOWAS.
Finally, one may return to the “blunt thoughts” that motivated this writeup. The failure our economy is not solely due to rapacious greed and corruption – serious, though, the problem is and must be tackled. However, fundamentally, our skewed economic structure has made it hard to create mass prosperity. In fact, economic dysfunction, among other things, feeds the sense of insecurity, as well as engrossing, systemic corruption.
In summary: Our open borders, under a liberal economic regime, dictates that we invest in an aggressive export-driven growth. We must build upon areas of our economy, where regarding international trade, we have comparative strength.
Second, we must also explore and develop new areas that could further burnish our trading strengths. In tandem, we should confront corruption with an intense passion. There are no quick fixes. But we must make deliberate course correction to redeem ourselves from the crutches of immiserating poverty and retrieve our republic from the verge of collapse.
R. O. (Ro) Akosah
September 2, 2022
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