Ghana: What is our national purpose?
11/2/2011 12:01:53 AM -
If one did not know any better, reading news stories from Ghana's free and vociferous press on a regular basis, leaves the impression that all is well and that we can afford to spend our time on the politics of personality, insults, personal hurts of public officials, black magic and so on. We should not be lulled further into complacency by the various financial ratings that judge our economy to be the fastest growing in the world, even ahead of the Chinese behemoth. Then there is all the praise we get for being such a great democracy. The devil, they say, is in the details.
Managing a developing nation with serious needs is no easy task and requires well prepared, properly motivated and results -oriented individuals at all levels. Ghana has been drifting downwards on all real indices for years. For decades, we have not had the kind of leadership that has been able to articulate a comprehensive vision for development. Indeed there are many distractions but without a carefully crafted long term plan of development, we will continue to have a chaotic journey into the future. We are unlikely to meet the modest MDC goals set by external agencies like the UN. Our own goals should be more ambitious than the MDC goals if we are properly self - motivated and truly understand that democracy is simply a vehicle for uplifting the lives of our citizens in the service of continuous national development but not an end in itself.
While on the surface, we have the attributes of a successful nation state, we have no clear development plan that all reasonable stake holders can subscribe to. Our institutions are weak, poorly funded and poorly managed. They are undermined by corruption at all levels, leading to a paralysis of function. Our future, should we accept it, is that of present day Greece, a nation in which no regulations were enforced for so long that after years of corruption it has become Europe's first failed state. If we do not want to be like Greece, when we grow up, then we must chart a carefully considered course with leadership that is committed to making fundamental changes in how the business of the people is conducted.
We started off as a nation, atop of all of Africa's rankings from education to sports. We have since been in reverse gear. Our business regulatory systems are cumbersome, not investor friendly and our education system, on which our future rests, has not had a comprehensive long range review tied to our economic development needs for the decades ahead. The system has failed to provide a relevant knowledge base for learners at all levels for competitiveness in today's global economy. The dearth of technically prepared and vocationally trained youngsters is obvious, along with a poor work ethic. Essentially, the system has failed to provide an adequate knowledge base, relevant skills and a positive attitude towards work. Forty years ago, a secondary school graduate from Ghana could easily gain admission to an Ivy League school in the US with advanced standing, skipping the first and second years. Now graduates from our universities cannot pass the university entry examinations in the US. This is an objective measure which informs us that we are in the middle of an educational emergency with dire future consequences for the nation.
The pillars of our economy produce very few domestic jobs for our poorly prepared youth. The cocoa industry has not kept up with relevant scientific advancements and has not received the level of investment to make it sustainable. A new generation of well-trained young farmers is a national necessity not just for the cocoa industry but for food crop production because we continue to be a net importer of food, after over 50 years of self - government. We need a plan to achieve this degree of self-sufficiency. This requires parliamentary leadership to sustain it beyond our short -term election cycle, which is now distorting efforts at sensible decision making in the service of Ghanaians. We have rapidly become a story of squandered opportunities since March 1957. We have been good at taking the lead in many areas but poor at building on the lead and producing sustainable results. If our past looks better, then we are failing as a nation. In many aspects of Ghanaian life, this is the case.
We have a very young population. Our median age is 21.4 years. This is against the backdrop of haphazard development without an overarching national development plan which takes into account the fact that along with the high dependency ratio we still have an unenviable literacy rate of 58%. These millions of young Ghanaians have had no early education on civic responsibility and are not being prepared to lead or manage a sophisticated economy in the decades ahead. We are failing our youth by not preparing them well for the future which has already arrived.
Civic responsibility must be tied to the development of local government structures. There isn't enough de-centralization of government. There is still too much central political control and funding. A culture of local responsibility for revenue generation needs to be developed with incentives from central government for local generation of tax revenue towards local development. Our current system breeds patronage and corruption and does not promote personal or local responsibility. For the amount of corruption on the go everywhere in Ghana, precious few individuals resign when caught, and fewer people still are convicted from the discrepancy between assets and declared earnings.
Manufacturing accounts for only 9% of the total economy and we still do not have an Information and Communication Technology policy. The land tenure system is corrupted by hereditary chiefs who have no interest in the economic development of their communities. They frustrate and shakedown legitimate investors and developers for money while their citizens wallow in poverty. Chiefs need to be formally educated on these issues because their current role in land tenure continues to impede the modernization of agriculture and rural development.
There is a great degree of disorder in our institutions. This does not exclude the internal security agencies which are rife with corruption and do not have the trust of the general population. They have not shown an ability to modernize or to operate freely without political interference. The judiciary has also been accused of corruption by some members of the legal profession and the response has not been courageous, to say the least. The judiciary could be better funded and though viewed as being moderately independent, could be more progressive.
In the medium term, the president needs more than cumbersome ministries. Champions for critical areas of development requiring rapid change need to be found to produce measurable changes in chosen key areas. These include Information and Communications Technology applications across all sectors of the economy, with an emphasis on improving efficiency and eliminating loop holes in many systems that have been rendered non-functional by corruption. We need to become competitive. We are like a fertile garden whose flowers are snatched and sold before full bloom.
Our much vaunted oil revenues should be used to reduce our dependency on foreign aid and to finance massive infrastructural development to provide local jobs, improve transportation of people and goods, boost local commerce and upgrade the critical sectors of health and education to leave an enduring legacy for the next generation, placing us in the number one spot in Africa for good governance, economic growth and the rule of law. Hungry people are lawless people. Our citizens demand honest avenues for making a living. The leadership of all major parties should make comprehensive sustainable development our national priority. They need to see the forest, not the trees.
We must have a clear national purpose with clear short, medium and long -term goals. The politics of Ghana should be about who can prove that they have the best plan to get us to the desired destination. Our future should be more important to us than the heated arguments about our past. All the African countries ahead of us on the Global Competitiveness Index such as South Africa, Rwanda, Botswana and Namibia do not have endemic corruption and have more efficient business practices. It takes three times as long to establish and register a business in Ghana as it does in Rwanda for example. The race is on and we are still at the starting gate. There is no mystery here!
Prof. T. P. Manus Ulzen
October 30, 2011