“The truth is that most leaders in Africa have betrayed their continent…..while their domestic political skills seem good, they remain ignorant of the international system, or manipulate outside powers to suit their selfish interests.” Mathurin Houngnikpo, “Stuck at the Runway: Africa's Distress Call.”
With the December 7th polls barely 6 months away someone asked me what my defining issue for the elections was and my answer was simple- leadership, leadership and leadership.
Forgive me for sounding like a broken record but if Ghana is to rise to the commanding heights of the global system and to be able to influence global decisions in favour of Ghanaians, the caliber of political leadership in this country would be crucial in making this a reality.
Instead of our political elites stealing state lands and divesting other state property to themselves and their cronies for a pittance, they can extract some lessons in altruistic leadership from South East Asia whose leaders like Lee Kwan Yew of Singapore and Dr. Mahathir of Malaysia leveraged on good leadership skills and understanding of the global system and worked with surgical precision to position their countries to benefit from the global system.
While corruption has been rife in both Africa and Asia, corruption in Asia has not been as debilitating to economic growth as it has been in Africa.
A Western economist in Nigeria, who lived previously in Indonesia, puts it this way: “In Indonesia, the president's daughter might get the contract to build the toll roads, but the roads do get built and they facilitate traffic flow…..That sort of corruption is productive corruption as opposed to malignant corruption.”
Love him or hate him, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah was able to provide the kind of leadership that made Ghana such a major power in the global system in the late 1950's to the mid 1960's. As a country that had just emerged from decades of colonial domination, Dr. Nkrumah was able to influence the United Nations to intervene in the Congo crisis in the 1960's.
This single act of decisive leadership from an African was a major coup that earned Ghana a greater sphere of influence in the global system and tons of respect especially within the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) and the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM).
Going into election 2012, my vote and that of many Ghanaians would be reserved for that candidate who is able to show an understanding of the dynamics of the global system and how to leverage on that knowledge to change the fortunes of Ghanaians.
This leader must first demonstrate how he would move Ghana away from the suffocating clutches of the International Monetary FUND (IMF) in particular in order for this country to chart a future that is devoid of unnecessary foreign influences and interference.
This is the kind of leadership we need in this country. The kind of leadership that would transform this nation does not accept tokenism but goes for the jugular. This brand of leadership thinks generationally and has the audacity to negotiate an exit strategy out of the stultifying influence of the so-called development partners.
This is the kind of thinking and leadership that has changed the lives of the people in Southeast Asia and such strong, altruistic leadership is exactly what Ghanaians expect from the political actors in this country and going into election 2012.
But let us pause a while and educate ourselves about the global system, how it emerged and the role the super, great and major players of the world play within this system. We would also focus critically at the elements of a great power and juxtapose it against Ghana's current position in the global system.
The global system emerged after the treaty of Westphalia in 1648 when the new nation-states began to forge relationships and alliances among themselves for their mutual benefit. The global system or the international system is basically the relationship that exists between the developed countries referred to as the core and the rest of the world referred to as the periphery.
We need to understand that the transatlantic slave trade, imperialism, colonialism, neo-colonialism and the creation of the IMF and the World Bank in the city of Bretton Woods in New Hampshire after World War II came as a result of the global system.
The decision to foist the IMF and the World Bank on Africa and the damage they have done and continue to wreak on our collective economies were taken to keep us perpetually at the periphery of the global system.
In the global system both the core and the periphery interrelate and inter-depend on each other and this relationship became clear in the nature of the political economy used by the colonial system, which was established solely for the appropriation of the resources of the colonies for the development of Europe.
In order to confine us to the periphery of the world economy the colonial powers through deliberate policy did not build manufacturing plants in their colonies but rather encouraged us to produce cash crops for export.
Decades after they had left the shores of Africa we still produce cash crops and other exports in their raw and unrefined form to the markets of Europe and the Americas in exchange for pocket change in relation to what they get from us when we import from them.
In failing to export the industrial revolution to their colonies by not establishing manufacturing hubs and industrial plants on the continent, the colonial powers wanted to create a crisis of dependency in Africa which would force the continent to look outward instead of inward for solutions to our problems. And boy it has worked.
We are still addicted to foreign interventions to the extent that even NEPAD which was crafted by African experts as an African solution to indigenous problems is wholly funded by the same people whose policies now and in the past put us in the precarious situation we find ourselves in today.
Currently Ghana's position in the global system is weak. Until the oil discovery, Ghana's relevance to the global system was dependent on our export of cocoa, coffee, timber, gold as well as the other non-traditional exports to the core. And the story is not different across sub-Saharan Africa.
As the periphery (developing countries) our relationship with the core (developed countries) is undergirded by their need for our raw materials. Conversely the core's (developed countries) relationship with us is defined by our need for their finished products which invariably is the raw material we exported to them.
We have to understand that the developed countries are interested in maintaining the status quo as it is. This is what the global system is all about and the sooner we came to terms with it and confronted it comprehensively from an informed position, the better it would be for us and posterity.
The elements of a great power are geographical location, level of industrialization, size of army, application of science and technology and the quality of political leadership. These elements define a country's position in the global system and invariably its sphere of influence in the world.
Ghana and by extension Africa was not originally a part of the global system. At the time the global system was being forged Ghana and the rest of the Africa were still under colonial domination and were not yet nation-states. This meant that at the time the world was taking decisions on significant issues like global trade and the global economic order, Ghana and the rest of Africa were not represented.
Secondly, Ghana and the rest of the continent did not participate in the industrial revolution that changed the face of the world in the 18th century. While Europe moved away from manual to mechanized way of production, Africa still stuck with the old way of doing things.
The consequence of our non-participation in the industrial revolution and the age of enlightenment that preceded it according to Immanuel Wallenstein accounts for the weak position of Africa in the global system.
I am sure you know who the dominant countries in the global system are and so I wouldn't bore you by listing them. But if you look at them critically you can't fail to realize that they are all industrialized and depend on science and technology as a basis of maintaining their position in the global system.
The US is the known super power in the global system because apart from being a highly industrialized country and a promoter of science and technology, it has the biggest defense budget in the entire world, has a relatively high quality of political leadership and also controls over 50 per cent of the entire resources of the world.
The US controls over 70 per cent of the entire stock of cobalt that is produced by the Democratic Republic of Congo annually. Cobalt from DR Congo is what drives the automobile and aviation industries in the USA and this important resource is responsible for the humongous automobile and aviation industries in the world.
Ghana and by extension Africa's weak position in the global system as explained above was not self-inflicted, however our leadership response to this crisis has not been good enough. We continue to operate from a position of weakness in the global system because collectively leaders have not shown total commitment in working to dismantle this unfair and unfriendly system that has kept Ghana and Africa on the margins of global trade.
But this would not come easy. We have to think strategy, strategy, strategy. Leaders in our country must begin to act in a manner that sends a strong signal out there that we are pursuing a trajectory of weaning ourselves from the IMF and the World Bank. As a people we must begin to demand that our leaders take the decisions that place the Ghanaian in direct control of our economy.
Leadership is the key if we are going to be able to unshackle ourselves from the position of weakness that we find ourselves in as a country. Poverty and illiteracy have contrived to weaken our bargaining power in the global system and as a nation we want our leaders to accelerate action towards empowering our people to escape the debilitating scourge of the twin evils of humanity.
Unfortunately one of the major problems of Ghana and the continent is the educated elite. These guys equate elitism with entitlement. They operate on the thinking that getting an education gives them the license to perpetrate and perpetuate their own micro version of the scramble for the continent's resources.
The recent story about the Jake Obetsebi-Lamptey saga and other albeit low profile land grabbing escapades involving public officials and other political actors in Ghana underscores the mindset of the educated elite in our part of the world.
If our leaders are going to change the fortunes of our people they have to start looking inward instead of outward for solutions to our problems. The people of Ghana are not lazy. In the midst of the myriad challenges they face on a regular basis the farmers, the fisher folks, the traders, the hawkers, the artisans, the teachers etc find the motivation to work to keep this country moving.
It is time for the political actors in this country to return the compliment by working to protect the hard working people of this great country against the treachery of the global system. We have put them in public office and given perks and other incentives in order for them to work on our behalf and we want them to follow the example of Lee Kwan Yew and Dr. Mahathir who leveraged on their knowledge of the global system to push beyond the glass ceiling and transformed their countries as a result.
Going into election 2012, we want to encourage our political actors to speak decisively on how they intend to reverse Ghana's weak position within the global system. It is about time we took our destiny in our hands and moved towards building a more sustainable development paradigm that would bring change the fortunes of our hard working people and veneration to our political actors long after they are gone.
*The Writer is a Freelance Journalist, an Author and the Executive Director of the Center for Investigative Reporting Ghana (CIRGHA). He lives in the Ghanaian Capital of Accra.