There is not a single country in sub Saharan Africa that I have visited, through my work, where I have not come across a teaming number of people who are unable to make ends meet. There are millions of people both in urban and rural areas who can barely have a meal a day let alone afford decent clothes to put on. If they live in urban areas, they live in slums. And their only means of accommodation will be shacks made of aluminium sheets/cupboards. The available infrastructure is scanty. For instance, to go through daily ablutions is a real humiliation. If you have not heard of flying toilets, just visit a slum in Nairobi or Accra where the most common means of disposing of faeces is through black polythene bags. In the rural areas, the majority of the people live in mud and thatched roof shelters-most of them cannot even be described as houses. Children born in this environment are likely to have serious health problems. Very few will finish primary school. They will not have the requisite skills to make a decent living. Some of them will resort to a life of crime and prostitution.
The persistent poverty across sub Saharan Africa represents a huge blot on our collective image as Africans, especially those of us who have had the good fortune to acquire skills that enable us to have a decent quality of life. I strongly believe that as long as the overwhelming majority of our people continue to wallow in poverty, the rest of the world will look down on us.
And yet, it is entirely possible to reduce if not, eliminate poverty within our midst. It requires men and women in government who are committed and are willing to come out with sensible poverty alleviation strategies that are sustainable. Such policies must focus on empowering the poor. The poor must be given the capacity to earn income or generate enough wealth for their families.
The recent cassava and textile initiatives by President Kufour are hugely significant if they are fully implemented. I am being careful here, because in Ghana, we have a history of making high-sounding policies and never carrying them through.
On the textile initiative, there are some African countries that have already blazed a trail. And we can learn from them! Just last week, I happened to visit Mauritius to evaluate a project. As part of the assignment, I paid a visit to a garment factory owned by Hong Kong businessmen. The garment factory is located in Cure pipe, which is about 45 minutes drive from Port Louis, the capital of Mauritius. The factory makes mainly trousers and shirts for export to the United States. It is a huge operation, employing 3,500 workers. Of this total, 70% are females. Most of the workers have low literacy skills. They have not completed secondary school and yet with a monthly salary of 4,000 Rupees (about $137 or 965,000 Cedis), they are able to have a relatively good standard of living.
The demand for textile workers on Mauritius Island is so high that most factories resort to bringing "foreign guest workers" from India or China to make up the short fall. The factory I visited in Cure pipe had 1,000 Chinese guest workers-mainly young unmarried females. This represents 29% of the total workforce of 3,500.
The President' s textile initiative seeks to attract 10 big textile-manufacturing firms to invest in Ghana. If the Government succeeds in attracting even a third of the target, Ghana will be making a huge dent in combating poverty in our cities and towns. The Government should go all out to ensure that the initiative is brought to fruition.