Ghana has always been the vanguard of the OAU, now the AU, and its satellite regional organizations, such as Ghana-Guinea-Mali union formed in the early sixties and ECOWAS, but at what cost?
There is no question that through the vision and efforts of Nkrumah, many parts of Africa gained independence from their colonial masters and became liberated. There is also no question whatsoever that pan-Africanism became identified with Nkrumah more than with any other African leader between 1957 and 1965, as Nkrumah relentlessly pursued the goal of achieving political, cultural, and economic integration of Africa. Soon after Ghana’s independence, Nkrumah convened series of conferences to promote the pan-African dream, and built the necessary infrastructure to speed up the political and economic integration of Africa. He also formed Ghana-Guinea union, and later Ghana-Guinea-Mali union as a precursor of the larger Union of African States, and directly or indirectly financed many freedom fighters all over Africa in pursuit of social, political, and economic integration of Africa. Nkrumah also spent considerable amount of time on foreign trips preaching and promoting the virtues of united Africa until his government was overthrown in 1966.
Ghanaians would never know how much Nkrumah spent in material and financial resources in pursuing the illusive goal of united Africa. But what we do know is, in 1957 Nkrumah inherited $481 million in government reserves (i.e. about $1.7 billion in today’s money), and a much more promising economy and basically ran it through the ground by the time his government was overthrown in 1966. Economic growth, which had ranged from 9% to 12% per annum until 1960, dropped to 2% to 3%, making it difficult to sustain a population expanding at almost 3% per year. Foreign exchange and government reserves shrank and disappeared. Unemployment and food prices rose dramatically with the latter reaching 250% from the 1957 levels and up another 66% in 1965. There were massive food and essential commodity shortages, which affected every region, sector and individual in Ghana.
As much as we credit Nkrumah for Ghana’s independence and many of the country’s infrastructures, some observers believed that his obsession with the liberation of the African continent compelled him to create an authoritarian political system in Ghana with the passing of the Preventive Detention Act in 1958. Also, many analysts maintain that the political instability and economic problems faced by Ghana since the mid-1960’s can be traced directly to Nkrumah’s neglect of the economy and his devotion to pan-Africanism. Ghana’s economy stagnated in the 10-year period preceding Kutu Acheampong’s military takeover in 1972 and continued its downward spiral through the 1970s, culminating in political instability and social unrest that led to Rawlings’ “second coming” in 1981.
When Rawlings seized power in the height of serious economic problems in 1981, it did not take long for his government to follow the path of Nkrumah in promoting pan-Africanism. In the 1980s when Ghana’s economy was on a life-support system and required massive infusion of loans and grants from IMF and World Bank, Rawlings and his PNDC government made a determined effort to revive Ghana’s historical role as a leader in the OAU by stepping up material and financial assistance to the OAU Liberation Committee. While Rawlings was administering a bitter economic pill to Ghanaians and subjecting them to the most stringent economic recovery program ever known anywhere on the continent, his government made a substantial financial contribution of $5 million to the African Fund to assist African Liberation movements. The PNDC also contributed $1.3 million annually to the OAU budget. Again, the PNDC made generous contributions to the OAU Liberation Fund for Namibia, as well as another $5 million to the African Fund for the repatriation of Namibians to enable them to participate in pre-independence election. Rawlings also embarked on numerous foreign trips to eastern and southern Africa to shore up Ghana’s leadership role in contemporary Africa.
In the 1990s, President Rawlings who by public account, had no penchant for chairing his own cabinet meetings, and always delegated such responsibility to his presidential adviser, Mr. P.V. Obeng, suddenly accepted the ECOWAS top post as chairman and served for two consecutive four-year terms. For eight years Ghana’s domestic agenda was once again sacrificed for the ‘African cause’ as many Ghanaians saw P.V. Obeng as the man running the affairs of the country while our elected president, Rawlings, dabbled in the sub-regional politics. By the end of 2000, the few economic successes notched by his government between 1995 and 1997 have but withered away, and Ghana‘s economy was once again on a life-support system.
Ghanaians may never know the opportunity cost of Rawlings’ material and financial support for the OAU in the 1980s, and his leading role in ECOWAS affairs in the 1990s. But what we do know is, the IMF blamed Rawlings for a lack of “transparency” and sufficient commitment to Ghana’s economic problems during his tenure as president. We do also know that Ghana’s inflation rate was about 30% by the end of 2000, and our currency – the cedi – had depreciated by 50 percent in 2000. According to the Financial Times, Ghana’s fiscal position was dire, with high domestic borrowing made worse by mounting arrears. Interest rates were more than 50 percent, and foreign direct investment in 1999 was just $70m – low by even African standards. GDP per capita had nearly halved to $232 in 2000 from the 1999 levels, as Ghanaians in every part of the country, particularly, the Northern and Upper regions, not to mention, Volta region still live in pre-historic conditions in a country that abounds in human and natural resources.
Perhaps one person who exemplifies the sad reality of our leaders’ misplaced priorities is the current President Kufour whose approach to his sworn duties as leader of our country defies all logic. Leading one of the finest men and women Ghana has ever produced in government, but also inheriting a severe economic burden left behind by the Rawlings regime, Mr. Kufour has become an enigma with his frequent trips abroad - junketing from one foreign trip to another right from the day of his inauguration in January 2001. Critics estimate that each of Mr. Kufour’s 71 trips abroad costs the Ghanaian taxpayer not less than $100,000 (i.e. more than $7 million to date and counting) in a country that finance 45% of its annual budget with foreign aid.
Unfazed by the mounting criticism of his continuous absence from the country, our president, in November 2002, confounded his critics by accepting the position as chairman of ECOWAS in just under two years in office. Since accepting the position at ECOWAS, President Kufour has been immersed in sub-regional politics during one of the most tumultuous periods in the region, to the exclusion of all pressing domestic needs. Mr. Kufour may have won accolades from the international community for helping to broker peace in Ivory Coast, Liberia, and Guinea Bissau, but the long suffering impoverished Ghanaian is not amused.
What price are Ghanaians paying for Mr. Kufour’s lack of focus on Ghana’s domestic issues? After almost three years in office it has become apparent that the Kufour government has no vision and no direction in addressing Ghana’s social and economic problems. According to a report released in September by the Center for Policy Analysis (CEPA) of Ghana, the Kufour government has failed in many economic fronts since it assumed power. The NPP has failed in meeting targets set in a three-year loan agreement with the IMF. Public spending is on the increase, and public sector domestic debt has risen sharply to 29 percent of GDP. With an average half-year inflation pegged at 29 per cent, and interest rates hovering at 35 per cent on average, the promise of change by Mr. Kufour in resuscitating Ghana’s economy has been nothing but a farce. It is no wonder that the so-called development partners (IMF/WORLD BANK and others) are withholding funding because it is apparent the Kufour government, just like its predecessor, has no mettle.
Apart from Nkrumah who genuinely believed in the political and economic emancipation of the continent, and mounted a strong platform on the subject before and after his election as president of Ghana, Rawlings and Kufour never once broached the subject on ECOWAS or AU when they sought their mandate from Ghanaians to govern. For these two leaders, the ‘African cause’ has become a feigned display of statesmanship and a
convenient escape from their listless leadership at home. While leadership in many regional organizations, including ECOWAS, is on rotation basis among the participating countries, Ghana alone has chaired the 16-member ECOWAS leadership for a period of nine years since 1990. Indications are that Mr. Kufour would serve another four-year term when his current term expires.
Let us make no mistake, political strife and instability particularly within the ECOWAS sub-region is the direct result of irresponsible leadership and poverty, as events in Liberia, Guinea Bissau, Sierra Leon and Ivory Coast have demonstrated. We in Ghana have treaded this path before in the mid 60s and the 70s when economic hardship led to one coup after another, and we should not delude ourselves into thinking that with our new democracy, those times are behind us. Mr. Kufour can spend all the time he wants away from Ghana putting out fires in the ECOWAS countries, but unless responsible leadership prevails in his own country and elsewhere in the sub-region, conflict resolution in that part of the world would continue to be an exercise in futility.
Ghana has always been a country of first on the African continent. Ghana was the first black African country to attain independence, then the rest of Africa followed. Dr. Nkrumah fought hard to win Ghana’s independence first before helping other countries to attain their independence. President Kufour must channel his presidency into solving Ghana’s myriad economic problems and make Ghana another first on the continent in economic growth and advancement. This of course is his mandate, and nothing short of that is acceptable to Ghanaians. In this way, Ghana would become a role model for all the warring factions in the region to emulate, and peace, order, and good government would spread across the sub-region, just as Ghana’s independence spread across the continent. Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.