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12.05.2004 Feature Article

No Excuse For Staying Poor II

No Excuse For Staying Poor II
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Africa and most of the developing countries in the world are way behind the rest of the world because we have had a very bad patch with leadership over the years. Our leaders have raped us of our wealth by stealing our money and stashing them in foreign banks. Many people from our part of the world have paid the ultimate price in government sponsored violence and various acts of skullduggery have been perpetrated against us.

Our story cannot be completely told without mentioning the countless and senseless civil wars which have killed many of our people and displaced millions, coup d'etat's, military forays into governance and other self-defeating actions have had an unprecedented toll on our way of life.

At a time when the economy of the former Zaire now Democratic Republic of Congo was basically belly up, the President of the country had almost $5 billion dollars in his foreign bank account. Mobutu Seseseko also had mansions in the upscale French Riviera and a bevy of concubines to boot. His wealth profile estimated in the billions could pay off the debts of his impoverished country even with interest. $5 billion could have been used to build help finance businesses, factories, hospitals or even placed in a revolving fund and used to support other economic ventures that would benefit the country.

Nigeria is still searching for almost $40 billion stolen by its former head of State, General Sani Abacha. In spite of its colossal oil industry and wealth, the annual per capita of the average Nigerian is a paltry $235. Without oil, Ghana's per capita of almost $495 is what the Nigerian can only dream about. There is no sense in referring to Nigeria as the economic powerhouse of Africa when majority of its 100 million people are living in abject poverty and squalor.

Villains like the late Uganda leader “Field Marshall” Idi Amin Dada aka the conqueror of the British Empire, Samuel Kanyon Doe of Liberia and a host others killed and maimed their people in their bid to maintain a throttle-hold over their people.

Amin helped himself to the wealth of his country to the extent that he could waltz in and out of the Ugandan Central Bank at his pleasure with bags of money in tow.

Another classic case of bad leadership is defined in the tragic story of Ethiopia and Eritrea. These brothers have spent and continue to fork out millions of dollars building weapon stockpiles in a battle over territory while their people starve and die. People from these countries have suffered through the years under the dictatorship of Mengistu Haile Mariam. The Marxist leader ruled that country with an iron hand and sent many of his people to unmarked graves. Those who were lucky enough to escape his unchecked power trip later became the subject of one of the major humanitarian crisis unprecedented in the annals of history.

AFRICAN ADDRESS AND WORLDVIEW

Years and even decades after this chapter of our lives was closed somewhat, the worldview of many people in the West about Africa is mainly focused on the baser, mundane issues that come out of Africa even till today.

The only reason news from Africa makes the news in the western world is when there has been some violence or a major natural disaster like an earthquake, flood etc. But here is the thing; no major media organization would send a correspondent to cover a quote-and quote positive story about Africa. Rarely would CNN sponsor a news crew to come to Africa to cover a story that portrays us in a positive light.

Their sense of news about us is, is usually fixated on the violence. The horrible imagery of hungry, emaciated, malnourished children fighting flies in the horn of Africa have all become the staple diet in the media's reporting about Africa.

CNN and the major global media networks have known about the great news coming out of the Ghana Stock Exchange (GSE) for years. The GSE has been churning out great results in its work for almost a decade since it was founded yet these media organizations have always chosen to focus on the less than glamorous events that occur in Africa.

Almost six years ago CNN sent Peter Annett, its famous war correspondent to Ghana to do a story about the Gambaga witch camp in the northern part of Ghana. To those who haven't heard about the Gambaga witch camp it is a place where old women who have been accused of witchcraft are held and condemned to a life of slavery and servitude. As a journalist myself I know a human interest story when I see one. This was a classic in that category of news.

Our African address and the stereotypical imagery we have been portrayed in by the media have been one of the major drawbacks in Africa's fight to land a fair share of capital from Foreign Direct Investment. For many of the reasons why the African economy is still in a convulsing mode, this is one of the strongest yet.

No self-respecting business person would even consider putting his money in Africa because when they turn on the news chances are that they would see a negative story about Africa.

Ghana has been making a lot strides since we embraced multi-party democracy more than a decade ago. We made history in 2001 with a smooth hand over of power from one party to another without incident, we have a vibrant press that holds public officials accountable to the people, good governance has become an art of governance and the electorate have developed political sophistry.

All these are positive developments that should be captured in the coverage of Africa by the major news organizations. Recently BBC has been reporting on the spate of bomb threats reported in Ghana. The last time Queen Elizabeth II paid a visit to Ghana the tawdry press of the United Kingdom ignored the news of her visit. Those who accompanied her on the visit however reported on the matters of trivia that occurred during her 3-day state visit.

For instance one newspaper did a story on the brand of gin that was used in the pouring of libation to welcome the Queen and her entourage.

Now that is an oxymoron.

News like this only enforces the stereotypes about Africa and as a people we have to be worried. We have to be worried about the legacy we would be leaving behind for our children and for posterity. Our leaders failed miserably to lead us to the Promised Land because they were set in their ways. Their only motivation for seeking political power was self-seeking and self-serving.

It is now our time to take up the mantle and show the world the stuff we are made of. We can make a difference because we are more educated, we have more opportunities and above all technology has shrunk the size of the world and made so many things possible. Our dreams are within reach if only our reach would exceed our grasp.

What we don't have is time.

POSTCRIPT

There has been some amazing feedback from last week's article. People from every part of the world have sent rejoinders in e-mails to me offering words of praise, encouragement and some criticisms too. The wonderful responses have come mainly from Ghanaians and Africans living abroad. The surprising part of the package was the e-mail I received from Mr.Peter Schaefer, a senior Fellow of the Institute of Liberty and Democracy (ILD), a Washington-based Economic think-tank founded by the respected Peruvian Economist, Dr. Hernando De Soto . Schaefer was nice enough to correct some factual errors in the previous article and I want to go on record to say a big thank you to him. I should have credited Woodrow Wilson and not Harry Truman for leading America and the free world to victory in the First and not the Second World War. President Wilson was also the President who encouraged Congress to extend suffrage rights to women in America.

I thought making a foray into this arena and basically placing a temporary freeze on my previous articles which have leaned more towards political issues was a miscalculation. Well, I guess I thought wrong. At least this amazing development has convinced me about that. Paa Kwesi Plange For Gye Nyame Concord Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.

Paa Kwesi Plange
Paa Kwesi Plange, © 2004

The author has 52 publications published on Modern Ghana. Column Page: PaaKwesiPlange

Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author(s) and do not neccessarily reflect those of Modern Ghana. Modern Ghana will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article."

Reproduction is authorised provided the author's permission is granted.

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