The tsunami in South East Asia and Katrina in America were both natural disasters but whilst both destroyed property and took thousands of lives, the New Orleans disaster has brought into sharper focus the need for a system of development and type of government that will at once deliver for the people a free and fair society for all and respond quickly in the time of crisis.
In New Orleans it was quite clear that the privileged citizens fled before Katrina appeared, the television pictures showed the mass of cars deserting the city; but what most of us did not realise till the hurricane struck was that a large mass of people, the underclass had been left behind. Most of those left behind did not possess a car, that symbol of prosperity that we individually crave for. For some of us this was a powerful message that the symbol of free America, the champion of democracy, freedom and prosperity is flawed because at the heart of this system of plenty is stark poverty based on systematic and historic exploitation of black people.
Katrina showed to all the world, the tragic defects of the free market system, the America that we were not supposed to see, that in the midst of wealthy America, there is an America that does not care about its people, and that there are people who live in this land of the free who cannot exercise the choices that the system is supposed to bring for all.
But we already knew what the World Bank has only recently found out that the market does not work where people are concerned. A conclusion from their authoritative World Development Report is instructive. It reads 'We would expect the poor to under-invest, certainly relative to the rich, but also relative to what would happen if markets functioned properly' but we all know that the market is not perfect and that the market does not favour those who do not have access to capital and that the market is not even as efficient as promoted as the best arbiter in the allocation of resources!!
The pictures of Katrina also showed that the greatest champion of freedom has only one way of dealing with issues – you send in troops. The solution to 9/11 was to send in troops to Afghanistan and Iraq to change regimes and create chaos that will take several years to resolve. The solution to the chaos in New Orleans was also to send in troops into the empty streets long after, those who can, have deserted under their own resources.
When the disaster occurred in South East Asia, we did not see any looters. In capitalist America, there was looting, people who for long had been denied access to goods were now taking what they had been denied by the capitalist free market system that was supposed to generate wealth for all. They were looting goods that had been manufactured close to them because they could not afford the goods, much in the same way that the resources used to build the capitalist system was looted by the robber barons of the Wild West where the mantra was 'finders' keepers' and nobody cared fir their brother or sister, especially in a crisis.
But to see the military spending time searching to shoot at people who were looting brought home to me clearly that protection of property is more important than the rescuing of people in a democracy that is governed by free market economy.
When there is famine in Africa as a result of drought, it is often described by the western press as man made disasters and governments are blamed for pictures on television of starving emaciated children. Today who do we blame for the looting and rape and shootings that occurred at the New Orleans astrodome?
Should we not rightly point our fingers at a system of development that ensures that the disadvantaged and poor, whether by reason of historical discrimination or poverty, cannot enjoy the full benefits of the so called capitalist state? Why should the protection of property matter more than the health and wealth of a large section of the people?
Today we are all witnesses to the defects of capitalism; we are witnesses to the fact that even in so called advanced countries, there is poverty that renders a section of the people refugees in their own countries. Yet there is an outcry about the use of the word refugee to describe these misplaced people because this is America, the land of the free that cannot protect its own people after a natural disaster.
We must therefore caution our leaders in Africa that the path to development should not necessarily be based on an unbridled free market economy where the government role is only to create an enabling environment. Our leaders must also not buy the lie that that socialism or communism as concepts for the development have failed.
One of the reasons why in 1966, the CIA misled a group of Ghanaians from the Armed Forces and the Police to lead a coup against the elected government of Ghana was because our country was flirting with the socialists of the Eastern Europe and the communists of China.
Today these socialists are part of the European Union, a powerful economic bloc and the Chinese are increasingly becoming an economic power in the world. They are doing so because they through their own cultural revolution were able to focus on the development of their people.
The Chinese have been able to create a better educated workforce out of a peasant agricultural community. They have been able to increase the social capital and harness the community spirit of their people to ensure that they can become an economic power. They are buying up important companies that symbolised capitalism such as IBM of America and Rover of Britain. They have produced so many clothes demanded by the western world that the European Union is fighting them back with quotas on the good quality bras that have flooded the European market.
But we were made to abandon our association with the Chinese by those who came and preached to us about capitalism. They knew all along that Capital will only chase projects under a capitalist society. But we do not have capital in Africa and it is unlikely that capitalism will work in Africa.
So we need a new development agenda, a new paradigm of development that will ensure that we are able to create inclusive societies that is free and fair for all.
The way forward for development in Africa is for the leaders to use the power that they have been given by the people to create a free and fair society. Our leaders can only do this through intervention in the markets. Our leaders can only do it by ensuring that resources are allocated for development by the government. What we have in abundance in Africa are the people and the legacy our leaders can leave behind, that will outlast their period in office, is to develop the social capital of the continent so that our people will have the resources for creating social wealth, the wealth that binds our people together and enables each to look out for another.
What we need in Africa to create our fair and free society is not unbridled capitalism, what is needed is a principled approach of developing our educational system so that we can all fend for ourselves and that our health system ensures that we are able to work in industries that have been created as a result of government development plans.
This supportive environment can only be created by responsible and responsive leaders; it cannot be left to free market system.
We must be very careful about copying the free market system, because it is now patently clear to all that system does not care about the people.
Years ago Osagyefo caused to be set up several secondary schools without which half the members of parliament would not have been educated.
Years ago Osagyefo Dr Kwame Nkrumah set Ghana on the path of development in Ghana and Africa. He chartered a course through the 7 year development plan, a path based on industrialisation. This involved the setting up of factories and corporations where we had none, the setting up of commercial enterprises that challenged the foreign colonial companies that existed and had a captive market. Forty years on some of these organisations that provided employment for the people still exist, sadly some were abandoned after the inglorious coup d'etat of 1966. Today scarcely a day goes by without the President talking about the vision of Osagyefo Dr Kwame Nkrumah in setting up Valco, the Akosombo dam, the tomato factory in Wenchi and other projects that are now being rehabilitated by the present government.
Our greatest wish is that the World Bank will go where its research is leading it, to a free and fair system of development. Unfortunately in Africa, it is only the CPP that can champion this system and unfortunately in Ghana, the CPP in not in power!!
Fortunately the spirit of Nkrumah lives on in the new strengthened CPP and the people of Ghana have another choice at the election in 2008
What good is a free market system of development if it does not provide equality of opportunity for all the people, what is the use of a system of development that provides freedom but is not fair? Ade Sawyerr is partner in Equinox Consulting, a management consultancy that provides consultancy, training and research that focuses on formulating strategies for black and ethnic minority, disadvantaged and socially excluded communities. He also comments on and development issues. He can be contacted by email on ad[email protected] or through www.equinoxconsulting.net
He is an active member of thenkrumaistforum