- Did Ghana Lose a Great Vision or Not?
As our President goes globe-trotting trying desperately to invite foreign investors to set up industries to create employment for our youth, a look at Ghana's recent history will show where we went wrong and why our economy is in such a terrible shape after the 1960s.
Job creation is the number one priority of most leaders of the industrialized nations. They know that without keeping the youth and their workforce gainfully employed, there would be no cash to purchase houses, appliances, cloths and other goods, and consequently no payment of taxes to the state. The result is a downward spiral of their economies.
There are many growing up in Ghana today who are desperate because they cannot get jobs to earn income and make ends meet. Many of them are graduates of our secondary schools and even our universities. Many aspire only to go overseas and look for gainful employment.
There is a debate on some of the Ghanaian internet forums that show the lack of understanding even among our educated elite, on how Ghana started on the path of industrialization, and how we ended up today as HIPC. In a recent debate on the Ghanaian Okyeame internet forum, statements were made by those opposed to Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah's political and economic policies that seem to illustrate that the negative propaganda that was unleashed following his overthrow in 1966 has had a damaging effect on the direction of industrial development in our country. In fact, the negative and sometimes vile propaganda has reached a point that even young highly educated men and women growing up today do not know the real facts about what our first Prime Minister and later President did that could have propelled Ghana into an industrialized nation with a viable economy like those of the South East Asian nations today.
In this article, I present facts regarding the foundation started by this illustrious son of Ghana, as well as his planned programme for industrialization which was sabotaged by the NLC and their political allies. The Economist, a reputable UK publication captured the political allies of the NLC, who opposed Nkrumah, in a leading article of the publication on 16 November, 1957, sections of which I quote below:
"The criticism that has always been leveled against the N.L.M., and which is much more applicable to the present assorted bunch of critics (the United Party), is that while accusing the government of corruption, totalitarianism, destructiveness and inefficiency, it has offered no alternative policies of its own. The opposition has two rather contradictory answers to this; first, that the United Party [UP] is soon to announce a constructive policy (which has never come) and, second, that its programme has to be vague or the government will appropriate, and spoil, its ideas".
Nkrumah's bold step in preparing Ghana for industrial take off was his concentration on education. The accelerated education programme and the setting up of the Ghana Education Trust (GET) which enabled the building of secondary and technical schools all over Ghana were the first steps in training the skilled manpower required for Ghana's industrialization. To enable the reader put things into perspective, I would like to quote relevant sections from the last sessional address of Nkrumah to Parliament on February 1, 1966, only three weeks before his overthrow:
"Technical education is also progressing steadily. Already a Technical Teacher TrainingCollege has been built at Kumasi to train teachers; it is expected that within five years this College will have trained an adequate number of technical teachers for our Polytechnics, Technical Institutes and Training Centers. A third Government Secondary Technical School was opened in Obuasi in November last year and a fourth one, under construction at Koforidua is near completion.
While higher education advances on a broad front, I have directed that emphasis be laid on education in science and technology with a view to Ghana producing in the shortest possible time not only the Administrators and Managers required to implement our development programme, but also the Scientists, Technologists and Technicians needed in industry and agriculture.
At the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, the former Faculty of Science has been reconstituted into two Faculties, namely the Faculty of Applied Science and the Faculty of Technology. In the new Faculty of Applied Science courses in Meteorology, Nuclear Physics and Applied Bio-Chemistry have been introduced, while courses in Chemical and Textile Technology and Glassware are planned for the faculty of Technology”.
One of the first steps taken by the NLC and their political and economic advisors, who had always opposed Nkrumah as illustrated by The Economist above, was to halt Nkrumah's progressive educational programmes. Several Teacher Training Colleges were closed down, scholarships of Ghanaians studying abroad withdrawn and the provision of free textbooks which enabled thousands of children from poor families stopped.
Not only did the NLC halt the expansion of primary and secondary education but the reconstitution of Faculty of Science at KNUST into the Faculty of Applied Science and the Faculty of Technology was halted. Thus courses in Nuclear Physics aimed at providing qualified Ghanaians for the Kwabenya Atomic Energy project were abandoned. It is worth noting that our own Professor Allottey completed his Ph.D. from Princeton in 1966 with international recognition to have enabled him head the Nuclear Physics department. The importance of meteorology in a basically agricultural country like Ghana cannot be overemphasized but this programme was also stopped by the NLC. So was the course in Applied-Biochemistry, which is today's biotechnology and biochemical engineering. Nkrumah with his foresight, in establishing such a programme would have enabled Ghana to be at the forefront of today's biotechnology revolution.
As regards the Faculty of Technology, the courses in Textile Technology and Glassware Technology were abandoned. In fact, the course on Glassware Technology would have included Ceramics and hence brick manufacture. Perhaps, trained technologists in brick manufacture could have helped save the President's own brick manufacturing business which failed. The only course proposed under the Faculty of Technology not abandoned was Chemical Technology but was retained in the original Faculty of Science until 1976 when it was moved to the Faulty of Engineering.
Nkrumah's achievements in education aimed at preparing Ghana for an industrial take off, prior to his overthrow, may be summed up by the following facts: In the 1964-65 school year, there were 9,988 primary and middle schools with an enrolment of 1,286,486 (nearly 1.3 million). There were 89 secondary schools with 32,9721 pupils; 47 teacher training colleges with an enrolment of 10,168; 11 technical schools and 3 universities. All this, in a population of 7,500,000 (7.5 million) put Ghana in the lead among independent African states.
Further damage to Ghana's prospects for successful industrialization occurred when the NLC sabotaged Nkrumah's programme for Research and Development (R&D). Again, I quote from Nkrumah's last sessional address to parliament:
“The Ghana Academy of Sciences which celebrated its 6th anniversary last November has been rapidly expanding its scope of scientific research activities to provide the necessary scientific and technological basis for our economic and social development. Last year, the Academy established no less than five new research institutes in the fields of food science and technology, aquatic biology, geology and geophysics, industrial standards and marine fisheries. Many more research institutes are in an advanced stage of physical development or of planning. These include the Institute of Glass and Ceramics, the Institute of Metallurgy, the Institute of Wild Life research, the Institute for Research Development, and a Centre for the Production of Scientific Instruments. The Academy, as a full-time, national research organization is conducting development research required in the utilization of natural resources of the country. This work should proceed up to the pilot plant stage so that the Academy can advise Government on the feasibility of agricultural and industrial projects being established by Ministries and Corporations. The Academy is thus the spear-head to the scientific and technological development of the country. The Academy will also assist the universities in the training of postgraduate students by providing facilities in its research institutes".
Those of us working in the area of Research and Development (R&D) whether in academia or industry know that R & D is an expensive business. For this reason, only the big multinational companies have the resources to do their own R & D, which they securely guard and protect. Further, an eye on the bottom line, forces most companies to avoid undertaking potentially useful R & D that does not immediately improve the bottom line. Thus in the industrialized countries like the USA, government laboratories such NIST (National Institute for Standards and Technology), laboratories of the USDA and others carry out such potentially useful research to develop processes to the pilot plant scale using public funds before such processes are taken over by private industry. In fact, cathode ray tubes used in our TV sets and radar used at all airports were developed in Government laboratories supported by public funds before private industry took up the processes for mass production.
This was precisely what Nkrumah started and wanted to do by further enhancing R & D capacity at the Ghana Academy of Sciences, now called the CSIR, but was sabotaged by the NLC. In fact, of the Institutes of Glass and Ceramics, Metallurgy, Wild Life Research, Research Development, and a Centre for the Production of Scientific Instruments planned by Nkrumah, only the Institute of Industrial Research and a Scientific Instrumentation Centre were set up. The two, which the present writer is very familiar with, were mere shadows of what Nkrumah planned. The Glass and Ceramics Institute would have provided hands-on training for students at the Faculty of Technology that was sabotaged by the NLC; today most of Ghana's houses would have been built with brick from local clay thus reducing our dependence on imported clinker for cement. More importantly, the Institute of Metallurgy that was sabotaged would have enabled Ghana do her own R & D, and thus exploit the huge iron ore deposits in the country to produce iron and steel required for our industrialization. It is, however, worth noting that in Ghana those who preach free enterprise and champion market economics conveniently claim amnesia when it comes to government support of R & D, and subsidizing of agriculture and iron and steel production in industrialized countries.
Nkrumah's detractors are always quick to point out that fundamental liberties were suppressed and the country was economically bankrupt prior to his overthrow. Firstly, the enemies of Nkrumah always fail to tell Ghanaians that investing in education and the infrastructure are essential for industrialization, even if it means temporarily experiencing economic difficulties. How many Ghanaian families have not invested in their children's secondary and tertiary education, with the hope of ensuring their future economic success, by borrowing or even leasing their farms? Nkrumah dismissed the bankruptcy charge and the stopping of his development programmes when he broadcast to the people of Ghana on 20 March, 1966 from Conakry, Guinea with his own charge, and I quote “….[members of the NLC] were too ignorant to realize that a planted seed takes time to germinate before sprouting into the glorious foliage that is visible to all”.
Yes, Ghanaians were experiencing economic difficulties before the overthrow of Nkrumah but those who bore the brunt were the Europeanized Ghanaians living in the big cities and towns who could not get their supplies of Exeter Corned Beef (imported from Argentina), Peak Milk (from Holland), Tate and Lyle cube sugar (from Britain), St. Louis cube sugar (from France), Geisha or “Tinapa” (from Japan) Ship Brand and Titus sardines, and worst of all wheat flour from Europe and North America for making the extremely unhealthy white bread. However, for the majority of the Ghanaian population living in the smaller towns and villages, we saw progress all around us, as evidenced by the building of new roads, clinics and health centers, and secondary and technical schools under the Ghana Education Trust (GET).
It is important to note that no country in the world has industrialized without sacrifice by its population. We can in all honesty only compare conditions in Ghana during Nkrumah's industrialization drive with other countries during similar stages of their development. I challenge any of Nkrumah's critics to provide evidence which shows that conditions Ghanaians lived under during Nkrumah's industrialization drive was any worse than during the Industrial Revolution in the England. For those not aware, the free education some of us enjoyed under Nkrumah, while growing up as teenagers, should be compared with the following British Committee of Parliament report in 1832 on child labor during the Industrial Revolution:
Q. At what time in the morning, in the brisk time, did these girls go to the mills? [the cotton mills]
A. In the brisk time, for about six weeks, they have gone at three O'clock in the morning and ended at ten or nearly half past at night
Q. What intervals were allowed for rest and refreshment during those nineteen hours?
A. Breakfast a quarter of an hour, dinner half an hour, and drinking a quarter of an hour
Q. Was any of the time taken up in the cleaning of machinery?
A. They generally had to do what they call dry down; sometimes this took the whole time at breakfast or drinking
Q. Had you not great difficulty in awakening your children to the excessive labor?
A. Yes, in the early time we had to take them up asleep and shake them
Q. Had any of them any accident in consequences of this labor?
A. Yes, my eldest daughter…..the cog caught her forefinger nail and screwed it off below the knuckle
Q. Has she lost that finger?
A. It is cut off at the second joint
Q. Were her wages paid during that time?
A. As soon as the accident happened the wages were totally stopped
It was not until 1819, that employment of children under nine (9) was prohibited in cotton mills; in 1833, a forty-eight- to sixty-nine-hour week was decreed for workers under eighteen (who comprised about 75 percent of all cotton-mill workers); in 1842, children under ten (10) were barred from coal mines; in 1847, a ten-hour daily limit (later raised to ten and half) was set for children and women.
Nor is the charge that Nkrumah suppressed all fundamental liberties under his rule, with the a one-party system, any worse than during the periods of industrialization by the advanced countries. In Britain for instance, after the Reform Bill of 1832 only 10 percent of the adult population had the vote and it was not until 1918 that there was universal manhood suffrage. Women had to wait till 1928 in Britain for Woman suffrage. In the United States the system was built on slavery and Woman suffrage established in 1920 and Blacks in 1965. Considering the hardships which ordinary people had to endure for the present political and economic systems in the advanced countries to be fully establish to enable them deliver what we see today, the question that should be uppermost in the mind of the reader is whether poor people would willingly have voted for an economic transformation which would have yielded a "pay out" only after 40 or more years? What the citizens of the industrialized countries are enjoying today (both political and economic) is the outcome of the sacrifices of their forebears together with the ruthless exploitation of other peoples in their former colonies.
It is also worthy of note that the recently industrialized South East Asian countries, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan cannot be said to have been more democratic than Nkrumah's Ghana.
In conclusion, I would like quote verbatim, Mr. Lee Kuan Yew's letter of 11 March, 1966 to Nkrumah, while in exile in Guinea. Mr. Lee Kuan Yew, a very good friend of Nkrumah was the first Prime Minister of Singapore, who transformed Singapore from a Third World country to a First World. He was invited by Nkrumah to Ghana as one of the foreign dignitaries for the inauguration of the Volta Dam that was to have catalyzed Ghana's industrial development but was sabotaged by the NLC:
“ I have taken two weeks to compose my thoughts to tell you how disturbed I was at the shocking news of what took place in Accra so soon after we last met. I visited Ghana twice and I do not believe that political changeover has written finish to the chapter of what has gone before. I do not know what exactly happened nor how things will turn out, but I am sure you know that there are many people who wish Ghana and you all the best. The Ghanaians are a vigorous and lively people and they deserve all the vision and leadership which you strove to give them, to make Ghana into a strong, modern part of an Africa whose unity you have always espoused. My colleague, Rajaratnam, and I remember your kindness to us and your support for Singapore and would like to express our sympathy for you in your moment of distress.
May what you stand for, a united Africa and a great Ghana, triumph and flourish”.
Nkrumah had a vision for Ghana as illustrated by an objective third party, who shared notes with Nkrumah, and turned his country from Third World into First World. But alas, the myopic NLC and the self-seeking enemies of Nkrumah could not see the forest from the trees and thus sabotaged our industrialization drive which has led us to our present economic mess.
Michael Gyamerah, Ph.D.
About the Author: The Author's interests are Chemical and Biochemical Engineering/Biotechnology teaching, research and development, and their application to national development.