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21.08.2014 Feature Article

Ghana: Where Did We Go Wrong?

Should Those Who Took Ghana To The IMF In 1983 Be Allowed Near Economic Decision Making In Ghana Today? Asks Zaya Yeebo
Ghana: Where Did We Go Wrong?
21.08.2014 LISTEN

In recent months, the poor state of the Ghanaian economy has become a major international topic. That the Ghanaian economy is on a downward slide is not in doubt. However, what is most disconcerting and worrisome is the fact that some key architects of the 1983 Economic Recovery Programme, which can be credited with starting bloc for the current mess are rearing their old heads once more, claiming to be the new 'saviours' of the current quagmire. Is history repeating itself?

Ghana's current predicament is captured by the acclaimed Kenyan writer in Kenya's leading 'Daily Nation' (http://www.nation.co.ke/oped/Opinion/). He writes: “The wheels are coming off Ghana's economic miracle. The cedi has fallen 40 per cent this year. Interest rates have gone through the roof. Inflation is at 15 per cent and rising. Landlords are demanding rent in dollars”. Cabn things get any worse before they get batter?

So where have we gone wrong as a nation? Firstly, the Government of the National Democratic Congress (NDC) convened a national gathering where a 'consensus' of some sort was reached. I must admit that I have not read this report, but if the debate on radio and the lack of analysis of the Senkyi Consensus report is anything to go by, I can safely rest in the comfort that I have not missed much. What I am not sure is if the Senkyi meeting recommended this new concept (in Ghanaian terminology) of a bailout to President John Mahama and his NDC administration. If it did, I ask a rhetorical question: ' Have we not been here before?

The National Liberation Council (1966 – 1969) which overthrew OsagyefoDr. Kwame Nkrumah surrendered Ghana to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the United States of America. The Supreme Military Council 11 regime under General Akuffo took Ghana again to the IMF. General Akuffo begged for the country to be recolonised. So the IMF hatchet men in their well ironed three piece suits came and went. The economy did not recover. The crisis leaped from bad to worse until the June 4, 1979 uprising swept away the General Akuffo regime and his IMF cohorts in the Ghanaian bureaucracy. Aware of the implications of going to the IMF, and structural adjustment that follows naturally as night follows day, and vice versa. The President Hilla Limann government prevaricated, shilly shallied, and dragged itself over the issue. Meanwhile the economy got worse, prices sky rocketed, welfare systems collapsed, and the cedi became weak at the knees. There were numerous debates about the role of the IMF in Africa. Generally, there is an agreement among progressive thinking minds that the International Monetary Fund has never succeeded in rescuing any African economy. Ghana is living proof. Then verdict of the role of the IMF in Africa so far, is harsh.

Following the December 31st coup and the 'revolution', there were endless debates on this issue. Some of us argued that we needed to follow OsagyefoDr. Kwame Nkrumah's example, reverse all the policies of the National Liberation Council. It did not make economic sense then, and it does not make sense even now. The anti IMF front argued for 'home grown' policies, for self-reliance as the General Kutu Acheampong's Supreme Military Council 1 tried with some success. There were those, led by Ft. Lt Rawlings and 'neo Marxists' converts to the IMF who argued that the IMF option was the only one in town. History has recorded that we did not lose the debate. In times when a debate is won by how many guns you can marshal, losing the IMF debate was easy.

So at was that at the behest of the pro-IMF neoliberal Ministers, the IMF/World Bank wagon rolled into town in 1983. Rawlings became the chief apostle of the IMF and chief architect if the Economic Recovery Programme (1983-1985) and won international acclaim; while Ghana was praised by western journalists and their consultants as a “success story”. It was the former Nigerian premier, Tafawa Balewa who is quoted as saying that “when the West praises an African leader, he must be doing something wrong to his own people”. How prophetic?

Under the Rawlings regime, in the era of the IMF led structural adjustment, Ghanaian workers were laid off in their thousands, welfare systems were closed down, and Ghana's education system suffered immeasurably. The few manufacturing industries that survived the onslaught of the NLC regime,were sold off to family and friends. Need I remind anyone who was in charge? The local and international hypocrites of the IMF success story now claim that we have to return to the same IMF.Some think that changing the name of the game from structural adjustment to something called a 'bailout'will change the narrative. These Rasputins are not helping the NDC government and the President.

Let us be clear, the current economic mess dates back to the period from the 24, February 1966 coup, when the ConventionPeoples Party (CPP) government was overthrown. And to those for whom this is too far, rewind back to 1983 and the PNDC's Economic Recovery Programme, designed and fronted by Dr.KwesiBotchway. Herein lies the root cause of the current crisis. It is the neo-colonial economic system which is at the heart of the crisis. We have been tinkering with it since independence, and any attempt to change it is frustrated by the same forces. It is difficult to fathom why former President Jerry Rawlings of all people will bemoan the current crisis when he created it in the first place. No one can blame the current President for this. Both Presidents Mahama and John AgyekumKuffourinherited the mess created and sustained by PNDC's Economic Recovery Programme. The late President John Atta Mills (God bless his soul) tried to manage it in his own quiet way, and could have been successful if only the same self-serving anti-progress brigade had helped instead of undermine him relentlessly.

It is therefore saddening and indeed disheartening to see the same elements parade themselves in front of TV cameras as the saviours of Ghana's economic decline, engage in empty annoying platitudes about corruption and hardships, when they planted and watered the seeds of the current crisis. These same purveyors of doom claim they can return Ghana to a haven of economic peace and tranquillity in which Cediwill find saving grace. Sorry, some of us will not buy this hypocrisy. A Kenyan friend of mine used to say that you cannot do the same thing over and over again and expect different results. I could not agree more.

The pro-IMF brigade in Ghana is having a field day, promising us peace if only the IMF is given a chance once more. We have given the IMF too many opportunities to help. Each time, our dalliance with the IMF has ended in disaster. In 1982, some of us posed the question, 'tell us a single country the IMF has rescued from disaster'. We got no answer then, and will not get it after almost thirty years. Yet, we are asked to trust this same IMF. There are those genuine Ghanaians who think the IMF can promote fiscal prudence and discipline. There is no evidence of this either. No Ghanaian citizen expects the IMF to tell us how to lead decent lives, how to spurn corruption and recognise the needs of poor Ghanaian children for milk and school text books.

In recent years, Ghana was touted as a rising star. Some economic gains were made. We maintained our position as the second largest producer of cocoa, benefitting from the chaos in nearby Ivory Coast, while the middle class grew by leaps. With the discovery of oil in 2007, I was one of the well-meaning but ignorant ones who thought the salvation day had arrived. I am not so sure anymore.The facts and figures in David Ndii's article in the Daily Nation (Kenya) confuse me the more. He writes:

“Oil was discovered in 2007 and came on stream in 2010 adding to gold, of which Ghana is Africa's largest exporter. Ghana is also the world's second largest exporter of cocoa after neighbouring Cote d'Ivoire. Ghana's oil production started in 2010, and is running at about 80,000 barrels a day”, yet “Ghana's trade balance has worsened”. The Kenyan writer offers a very good explanation for Ghana's economic decline: “Ghana's management of its public finances was never great to begin with. However, following the discovery of oil, the Ghanaian state seems to have opened the floodgates. Government expenditure has ballooned from 20 per cent to 27 per cent of GDP in the last two years, against revenues of 20 per cent of GDP”.

I am one of those Ghanaians who are “intrigued as to where all the money is going”. The judgement debt scam remains one huge hole into which state resources disappear. Yes, I call it a scam of some sort. Our own dear President Atta Mills admitted that “his Government had paid equivalent of Sh28 billion in judgement debts”. Add other problematic areas such as SADA, GYEEDA, and others that I am beginning to worry that living in Ghana like living in a “gangsters' paradise”, if I can borrow the words of a rap song.

I have no doubt that the NDC administration under President John Mahama is under pressure to stop the downward decline of the cedi, improve people's living conditions, and reverse the problems which a neo-colonial economy brings. I believe that the President is well intentioned and can deliver on his promises. I have only one concern. This cannot be done by the same old facesand forces of neo-colonialism who led Ghana down the path to near ruin with their IMF solutions to the nation's headache. Where are the new young economists with fresh ideas to help the President? For a start, I will suggest that radical economists, both young and old from Africa who can help us should come and do so.Instead of new 'consensuses', let us return to source: combine OsagyefoDr. Kwame Nkrumah'sradical and ground breaking Seven Year Development Plan and General Kutu Acheampong's radical plans for self-reliance, Operation feed yourself and Industries, etc. These two documents contain the ingredients for a successful home grown policy.

Keep out the IMF from our business. Keep out what Rawlings himself called the 'has beens' from economic policy and decision making, they are tired, tiresome and bereft of any fresh and radical ideas for todays globalised world. The western owned and directed IMF is like the owner of a funeral home, waiting for bad news. Ghana is not dying.

As for those who are clamouring for the President to take Ghana back to the IMF, I say they are being opportunistic, dangerous and unreliable allies not worth listening to. They have taken us along that dangerous path before. A little bit if humility on the part of these elements would have been advisable. Time for them to stay behind like failed Generals and allow new energetic soldiers to lead Ghana once more. It will not be too much for them to have some humility, and leave President John Mahama to try his own dose of medicine. Maybe, it will work, maybe it will not, but that will be his legacy. The IMF can only make things worse, mark my words.

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