19.09.2002 Feature Article

A Haunted Country? Maybe But

A Haunted Country? Maybe But
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...It Must Move Forward Reasonably intelligent people know that because of the “lag factor” between policy decisions and their effects, every government should be given some time and space to fashion out their policies and implement them before we can credibly subject them to critical examination. So thinking of myself as a reasonably thoughtful person, I have been disengaging myself from the economic and political discourses in Ghana in the last few months. However, I have soon realized the need to peel myself away from the fence, because when it comes to politics in Ghana one cannot have a hermit's streak, especially if one still wants to be a citizen of the polity. Watching from the fence, I have observed that the political landscape in Ghana recently has been dependably awful, allowing itself to be rattled by the illusions of a delusional. It is incredibly pitiful that the “monster” called Rawlings we created, in our national polity, whose monstrosity we have willingly provided the fertile souls to nurture, continues to hang around our necks like an albatross. The Ghana that Rawlings created is a haunted one indeed! So when he sneezes, we all seem to be catching a cold. That is why recent pronouncements by former president Rawlings have been met with panic responses rather than enlightening responses. How unfortunate! The beauty of constitutional processes and pluralism is that there is room for every opinion, at least theoretically, however twisted that opinion might be. So Mr. Rawlings, as a citizen of Ghana, has the right to speak his mind within the confines of the constitution and the general laws governing the country. I don't think this point should even warrant intellectual discussion. Obviously, it is easy to understand and maybe forgive the knee-jerk panic response of a segment of the public to Mr. Rawlings's recent speeches, given his history as a connoisseur of coup d'etats. After all as the adage goes, once bitten twice shy (in this case, twice bitten thrice shy). Yet, I find it amazingly disappointing that some people fail (or refuse) to see the skullduggery and hypocrisy of Mr. Rawlings. Mr. Rawlings is paragon of self-contradiction, and his utterances have a ring of insincerity and hauteur to them. For instance, it is very disingenuous for him to describe the present NPP administration as the worse in the history of Ghana, when two decades of his rule have brought our country to its present state of economic collapse. Those “frightened” by his utterances are victims of fear-based propaganda espoused by a morally bankrupt and hypocritical man who would be far better to shut up his own mouth than to lecture Ghanaians about “Positive Defiance” (whatever that means), and try to impose his privileged pseudo-puritanical drivel on everyone. I am heartsick about those who are tempting to give a new definition of chutzpah by desperately trying to instill in our national conscience what they call “Rawlings Factor”. Surely, there was a “Rawlings Factor”, but this factor invokes such wincing bitter memories of human atrocities and degradation to most people that it should be allowed to deservedly sink into oblivion. The euphoria and renewed sense of optimism for a positive change that greeted the present administration, following a long period of lassitude, are becoming but a frail memory, fading away as fast as bushfires in the savannah. Was all this sense of positivism and enthusiasm a chimera or more accurately a phoenix after all? Ghanaians are patient people, but when it comes to political expectations and particularly, electoral promises, their patience can easily wear thin. No wonder the initial optimism is gradually being replaced by the usual cynicism Ghanaians have about politics. And there lies the danger of retrogression because cynicism is a route for escapism, and a cheap way to view our circumstances that does not require thinking. And any situation that does not require thinking can easily lead to fatalism – which underlies much of the economic and political culture in Ghana today. The paradox of a misfortune is that it has a creative side: anyone that has had to live the gruesome life of rural Ghana can handily tell inspiring stories of how one has to be creative in order to survive that kind of life. Unfortunately, however, the creative side of our economic and political “misfortune” is yet to be displayed at the national level. I always wonder (and I presume most people do too) why any time we are presented with an opportunity to climb to the mountaintop there appear to be elements that pull us back to the piedmont. In our part of the world change has increasingly become the substitution of one static state for another. Our unhealthy obsession with the utterances of Mr. Rawlings takes our attention from more pressing and relevant issues. Let me briefly highlight three of these issues: 1. The economy We sometimes behave as if we have not still come into grips of the nature of the task of ahead of us, especially economically. Needless to say, the task ahead of us – lifting our people from the pawns of poverty – is monumental indeed, and at our current pace and apparent lack of urgency I am afraid it will take us centuries to reach this goal. For instance, Ghana's Gross National Income (GNI) per capita [which is the new preferred term for measuring income levels of countries] using the Purchasing Power Parity approach is estimated as 1980 international dollars in 2002. If we want to raise this to the level of Botswana's [which is estimated as 8,810 international dollars in 2002] at our current economic growth rate of about 4 percent, it will take us thirty-eight years to achieve that. That is scary indeed! Thus the Minister for Economic Planning and Regional Cooperation is dead right in saying that in order to lift people from poverty, we have to increase economic growth well above the current rate. But, I have not yet seen any innovative and radical approaches being put in place to realize this objective. The slash-and-burn economic policies of the past two decades did not help in any significant way and it is unlikely to do so currently or in the near future. 2. Education We all know that a country cannot achieve sustained economic development without substantial investment in human capital. However, instead of debating how and when education brings economic and social payoffs, national debates on education have been concentrated on the replacement of mother-tongue languages by the Queen's language. Our obsession with all things foreign is legendary indeed! As far as I am concerned, the central issue of education [that is less discussed] is the distribution of education in Ghana. Empirical studies show that distribution of education matters greatly to economic development. People in rural Ghana equally deserve access to better schools and other learning facilities. Still on education, I recently read that the British High Commission in Ghana had awarded 20 Chevining Scholarships to selected Ghanaians to study in the United Kingdom. This is noble on the part of the British government. But it is an open secret that the objective for which these scholarships are awarded – to help develop the needed skilled manpower for our national development, more often than not, do not get fulfilled. A vast majority of the recipients (or beneficiaries) of these scholarships, more often than not, do not go back home on completion of their courses (studies). Instead, as rational economic beings, they prefer to stay in the host scholarship-donor countries for "greener pastures", thereby contributing to the development of those countries rather than to Ghana's. I wonder why we cannot ask the donors of similar scholarships for the money to strengthened our local institutions of learning and thus increase access to education for a greater number of the populace. [I have written about this issue before and those interested in that article can read it at “Re-examining Aids and Grants from the Rest of the World.”] 3. The Generational Leadership Gap Even though I am not a supporter of the National Democratic Congress (NDC), the current contest for the leadership of that party has brought to the fore once again the phenomenon of “recycled politicians” in Ghana politics. Who the NDC chooses as its presidential candidate is an issue only registered members of the party can argue about, even though when national elections come in 2004, we will all have the opportunity of asking the chosen candidate relevant questions about what they knew and did in the past and what they can do differently for Ghana in the near future. But it seems to me that we should brave ourselves for a presidential showdown among old familiar faces. Which leads the question: who are the future leaders for Ghana? I personally thought that it was refreshing to see Goosie Tandoh on the political scene as a bridge between the old generation and the new generation even though I never supported him. It is apparent that there is a generational gap in political leadership in Ghana. Who will fill this vacancy? This is a question for the new generation, in particular, and Ghanaians in general to ponder over. These issues raised above, together with many others, are begging for national debates. So let us geared our energies towards discussing some of them rather than being rattled by Mr. Rawlings. The scars left on its conscience by two decades of Rawlingsocracy may still haunt Ghana, but the country must move forward.

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