13.04.2020 Opinion

When Covid-19 Infects A Sick Country

By Bernard Botchway
When Covid-19 Infects A Sick Country
LISTEN APR 13, 2020

N95 masks, face shields, PPE. All items that till recently year many people went about their quiet lives with no knowledge about or need for. Today, in all corners of the earth, people are feeling the effects of the novel coronavirus spreading across our planet. The spread and range of this virus is so vast that it has worked its way into the most remote parts of the Amazon. Let no mistake be made; this is a health crisis. It requires the best scientists and public health officials to harness all our resources to curb its spread, and the sorrow it leaves in its wake. This must be the first and foremost concern. Yet as we battle this pandemic and also look to the future, we must ready ourselves for what economic woes are headed our way.

The global economy is in recession. For the past few years, the investment and finance climate has been bullish. Record profits were being made and indices were hitting all time highs. However, months prior to the advent of this pandemic, the world’s markets were showing signs of cooling. Covid-19 has shown us what it looks like to take the stairs up the financial growth building and take the elevator down. With this situation comes global job losses in the millions. For places where employment figures were already horrid, this bodes ill. Ghana represents one such place.

I could tell you about how Ghana’s official unemployment as of 2019 was around 6.5%. I could also tell you about the rise in youth unemployment numbers and its relation to GDP and Inclusive Wealth Index (IWI). Yet, none of these numbers and graphs tell the story better than the millions of young Ghanains roaming the streets of Accra with an assortment of clear and brown legal sheet envelopes. Each containing resumes and references. All searching for non-existent jobs.Their faces tell the story of a country struggling to boost its private sector to sustainable levels that can generate a steady stream of living wage jobs. The lucky few who manage to secure a position now find themselves furloughed or completely out of work as the companies they work for close down. Covid 19 is set to leave in its wake an army of unemployed youth in a country that has had its GDP hit by global financial pressures as well as a prudent need to shut itself down to combat a public health crisis. Alas, this begs the question, what is to be done.

Ghana, like many emerging African countries, is a land filled with opportunity. Many foreign investors recognise this and swoop in as any savvy investor would. The reason why so many roam the streets seeking pre-existing positions is because of three key issues; lack of 21st century training, lack of access to cheap capital, and the over dependence on irregular channels. The cocktail these three brew is a potent one that would floor any economy. The covid-19 crisis adds an extra shot to this already tedious situation.

The Ghanaian education system is set and efficient in training people for a 20th century economy. One that prioritises handwriting skills over typing speed, and rote memory rather than understanding. Today, the global economy requires a workforce that is able to use the tools of today to solve problems. Abilities to think outside the box; which are sadly discouraged as one travels through the traditional Ghanaian educational system. A system that equates towing the line to success. Breaking this image of education will create students who are ready to go out there, and identify and solve the problems around them. In solving these problems there will start small and medium sized companies that are the backbone of any advanced economy. They will hire workers and pay much needed revenue to the government. The rewards of this paradigm shift in thinking will be borne for years.

However, a proper training, no matter how ingenious will be repressed if one lacks access to capital. Ghanaian interest rates are back breaking. They are in no way designed to help the average citizen start a business. Ghanaians are creative people, bursting with ideas and plans. Yet these ideas remain exactly that because of funding. A banking sector reform and low central bank rate is useless if it does not translate into affordable credit for would-be business owners. Until an enterprising private sector is created and sustained, any better ghana agenda will remain a pipe dream.

The complexity of navigating Ghanaian bureaucracy is mind numbing and frustrating. Many people have walked away from investing in the Ghanaian economy because of the snail pace of the official government channels. These channels remain slow because Ghana often tries to use outdated laws and regulations to govern 21st century ideas. They also remain slow because there is much more money to be made by certain unscrupulous characters the more choked the formal paths are. Ghana must prepare itself to catch up to this century and brace itself for the decade ahead.

The covid-19 crisis put the ineptitude of Ghanaian leaders on full display. The struggles faced by families due lockdown requirements is a testament against the persons Ghanaians have for decades trusted their country to. Countries everywhere are struggling, yet the degree of deprivation in Ghana is for all to see. Sadly, even in this quagmire, Ghana is better off than many other African countries. Yet one cannot rest here. To be a black star of hope requires setting the pace even in these most dreary and dark moments of world history. When this pandemic passes, Ghana must work on curing our underlying conditions that aided covid-19 make us sicker. Ghana must find its cure.

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