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Friday, August 26, 2011

2011 State of the Economy and Freedom of Information Bill

According to EconomyWatch.com, Ghana leads the
world as the fastest growing economy in 2011 with 
GDP growth  pinned at 20%
A couple of weeks ago, a good friend of mine, Asiedu Acquah, a Ghanaian Harvard student currently undertaking research in London, posted these lines on his facebook wall, “No free access for me to the African historical collections at Oxford University because Ghana, by World Bank rankings, is a middle income country (not poor).”He then congratulated his country folks, but was quick to add a rather witty line “No freebies for your citizens anymore…”
Well, officially, Ghana has attained a middle income status, more specifically, a lower middle income. Lower middle-income countries are those with per capita Gross National Incomes of between $1,006 and $3,975 per year.
Let me begin by throwing some research findings at you:
a) According to EconomyWatch.com, Ghana leads the world as the fastest growing economy in 2011 with GDP growth pinned at 20% b) Ghana has the largest Per Capita Income (PCI) in West Africa and 21st on the continent c) Latest figures released by Ghana’s Statistical Service indicate the country’s economy stands at GH¢44 billion d) Ghana joined the league of oil producing countries in December, 2010 with 85,000 barrels of crude oil in a day (compare that with Nigeria’s 2.2 million per day) e) China is the fastest growing largest economy in the world, but Ghana tops the world as the fastest growing economy.
Now, here is a data from EconomyWatch.com. The data points reportedly come from the IMF’s tracker of GDP Growth in constant prices in the national currency (not in dollars).
Ghana 20.146 %,  Qatar 14.337 %, Turkmenistan 12.178 %, China 9.908 %, Liberia 9.003 %, India 8.43 %, Angola 8.251 %, Iraq 7.873 %, Ethiopia 7.663 %, Mozambique 7.548 %, Timor Leste (East Timor) 7.4 %, Laos 7.395 %.”
So, what magic wand transformed or is transforming Ghana’s economic fortunes almost at a cheetah’s speed? Oh the word cheetah reminds me of George Ayittey, the Ghanaian Economist at American University and the economic revolution he seems to be sparking among many African youth lately. You have probably heard about Cheetah Generation; if not look at Patrick Awuah and his brainchild, Ashesi University—he’s the epitome of a true African cheetah! His new campus opened last month at Berekuso. I salute you, Mr. Awuah. As a Ghanaian diaspora myself, you’re a big inspiration. Oops…where did we leave off? We were talking about a certain magic wand, huh? Ok, so the wand that is transforming Ghana is quite obvious: oil.
But, wait a second. Experience has it that oil by itself does not grow an economy. Doubt it? Well if it does, Nigeria would be the new China of Africa. Over the past 50 years, Standard Bank estimates that the country has made about $6 trillion out of oil. However, is it even ironic that Nigeria still imports 60% of its own fuel because it lacks domestic refining capacity and power outage is very common? Perhaps it’s the Dutch disease or simply a Nigerian disease or a combination of both.
Let me ask again, what forces are behind Ghana’s economic gains of late? I will attempt to provide some answers.
a. Oil. Thanks to Tullow, Kosmos, GNPC, the E.O Group (by Mr. George Yaw Owusu and Dr. Kwame Bawuah-Edusei); and the Elephant and Umbrella parties! I know some hardwired party loyalists aren’t happy–if you’re one of them, “massa”, take it easy! Who said the elephant can’t use the umbrella in dire weather conditions…hurricane Irene, for example? Or the umbrella won’t add essence to its own existence by making itself useful to the elephant? You’re laughing out loud, aka LOL, aren’t you?
b. The amazing success of the telecoms sector. You’ve got to agree with me — about 75% of Ghanaians are mobile phone subscribers, research confirms. This is certainly a record-breaking percentage in Africa. Our grandmas and grandpas are fast availing themselves to the technological dictates of today. Go to Nkrumah Circle in Accra, and catch a glimpse of a dynamic African mobile phone market. Someone once joked that Nkrumah Circle be renamed, Phone Circle. I was all for it except that it would make it into Guinness Book of Records as the dumbest idea in 2011.
Thanks to the continued liberalization of the telecom sector by successive regimes. Thanks also to network service providers – MTN Ghana (aka Areeba), Vodafone, Kasapa (aka Expresso), Zain, Tigo (aka Buzz), and Airtel.
On the lighter side, to make it big in Ghana as a network service provider, don’t ever go by a local name such as Kasapa. That would be a mild insult to Ghanaians’ march to civilization aka westernization, and you’d be punished severely by customers. Instead, choose sexy English names — Expresso, Airtel etc.
c. Entrenched democracy. ‘Free and fair elections’, relatively strong institutions, freedom of speech and of the press…did I miss anything? Oh yea, even professional serial callers are tolerated — a little bit of demo-cracy and demo-crazy mixed in a charged theatrical atmosphere of democratic frenzy.
For your information, politics of insult is a ridiculously easy way to become a “national hero” overnight in Ghana. Just aim at the biggest guys in office and shoot them with mortal insults.  The Police will arrest you almost always. What next? Your entire party members would swallow their brains and stand by you in solidarity –but that’s what being a true party member entails, right? The media would spice it up as usual and before you know, you’re a national hero with a towering swagger like that of Nelson Mandela.
Democracy is sweet but abuse of democracy is bitter. As Ghanaians, we need to sorely tame our long democratic bayonets, I mean our tongues. If that’s too difficult, perhaps we should set our tongues on our teeth and give them fine cuts to size.
d. Ease of doing business. Ghana is ranked 92 by the World Bank in terms of ease of doing business. Not a great rank, but a remarkable improvement over past rankings. Ghanaian politicians are coming to terms with the reality that making it difficult for investors, both local and foreign, to establish business is not the smartest strategy to grow an economy. Don’t be surprised that it took more than five decades for the smartest amongst us to be fully convinced of the wisdom in removing bureaucratic bottlenecks in the way for entrepreneurs. Well, at least, we’re getting it “small small”; we aren’t going back. That’s for sure.
The above records are impressive; Ghanaians need to take a break and pat themselves on the back for enabling their lone Black Star to shine through the often dark African clouds to the outside world. Political emancipation of Sub-saharan Africa began right here in Ghana, and economic emancipation seems to be gathering momentum here again. It’s a good time to be a Ghanaian huh?
However, folks, there’s one more thing that Ghanaians need to pay particular attention to as greatness knocks steadily on their door. There’s the need to take the bull by the horns by passing the long-overdue Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The FOIA basically “…establishes rules whereby citizens, foreign nationals, corporate bodies, and associations, etc., can request access to, and receive information held by government agencies.” Without the Act, taxpayers cannot challenge government agencies on how they spend their own monies.
The United Nations General Assembly, in 1946, actually recognized that freedom of information is a “…fundamental human right and the touchstone for all freedoms to which the United Nations is consecrated.” Barack Obama on his historic visit to Ghana reiterated the need for freedom of information bill.  Nigeria, under J. Goodluck, has passed FOIA into law in 2011. What is Ghana waiting for?
This call is even more urgent given the fact that Ghana has joined the ranks of oil producing nations and also that corruption alone is estimated to eat away between $195 and $429 million of the nation’s revenue cake annually. Quite a chunk of cash, isn’t it? It seems like the bad boys are making it big at the expense of the good guys. You don’t want to encourage that!
What you can do? When you make that call to Joy, Peace, Nhyira radio stations, mention the FOIA and request that government takes action in passing it into a comprehensive law. It won’t be too hard on your pocket, trust me. If you’re a journalist, add your voice to mine to call attention to FOIA, if you’re a politician, look at the long-term good of Ghana and press for FOIA. What if you’re simply a facebook addict reading this article at myjoyonline.com, Ghanaweb or Modernghana? Copy the link and paste in your facebook wall. The link is colorless; it won’t tarnish your wall. Together, we accelerate the tempo of Ghana’s march to economic freedom. Poverty sucks, you know that.
To conclude, Ghanaians once again deserve commendation for making it to the middle income category, and for leading Africa and the world in terms of GDP growth in 2011. At this point, it’s forward ever — there is no turning back on progress. The good news is that with the passage of the Freedom of Information legislation, the nation stands the prospect of consolidating its economic gains by giving Azuma Nelson’s right hand blow to corruption, and promoting a culture of transparency and accountability in the public sector.
In the end, Ghana is starved less, it grows more, and we all become better-off –including the few ‘hardworking’ corrupt nuts. You are not one of them, are you?

Friday, July 15, 2011

Ghana Transitions from REST to CESI

"Macho" politics was arguably
what brought Ghana from pieces of its past
to peace today, but it has outlived its essence
in the body politics.

Just as many countries, Ghana has had its fair share of diverse regimes: Civilian Revolutionary (CR), Military Revolutionary (MR), and Civilian Non-Revolutionary (CnR). In the light of the almost surprising outcome of the recent Sunyani Congress of the National Democratic Congress (NDC), I deem it quite fit to examine the significance of the silent but loud change occurring behind the scenes of Ghana’s political theater. I will also attempt to argue for the reasons why a transition from what I term, REST (Revolutionary-Era-Strongmen) to CESI (Civilian-Era-Strong-Institutions) represents the natural course of politics and must not only be celebrated but also protected by lovers of democracy and liberty.
Back to the categorizations above, the government of Ghana’s first president, Kwame Nkrumah (1957 - 1966) fits the Civilian Revolutionary (CR) description. The regime of Jerry John Rawlings under PNDC (1981- 1993) era started off first as Military Revolutionary (MR) but later morphed into a Civilian Revolutionary (CR)  with promise of becoming Civilian Non-Revolutionary (CnR), but for obvious reasons still maintained the character and personality of Military Revolutionary (MR). The New Patriotic Party (NPP), under John Agyekum Kuffour, which came to power in 2001, typifies the Civilian Non-Revolutionary (CnR). It ushered Ghana into an actual civilian regime.
It is worth mentioning that the Greek philosophy which gave birth to modern day democracy as practiced in Ghana today puts political sovereignty in the hands of the people under pure civilian rule or CnR. Abraham Lincoln expressed this idea most succinctly in four words , “...Government by the people”. The Civilian Non-Revolutionary (CnR) marks the natural resting place of the political pendulum. Under such regimes, democracy, no matter how imperfect it is, has a relatively better prospect of being refined and perfected.
Military take-overs can be properly understood in this context as an unnatural kink in the natural order of things whose primary essence is paradoxical: It lies not in its continued life but in its ultimate death. For it is in its demise (make way for civilian regime) that its true essence can be appreciated. Military revolutions are sudden and often violent temporal clogs which halt the wheels of existing regimes and seek to bring it to a halt. Historically, they have come about for many reasons; one of them is to correct the supposed mismanagement of a country's affairs, and so was the popular claim of the charismatic Jerry Rawlings in his heydays.
In his reasons for the 1979 and 1981 military coups, Rawlings cited “probity and accountability”, and in the name of this, executed political opponents he considered corrupt. Many civilians also suffered various levels of casualties. In the heat of the revolution, and under the “Let the blood flow” chorus by the almost Nazi-like Ghanaian mass choir, no one was safe. If someone rumored within the hearing range of ‘Big Brother’ that you owned asset A or B, or you were close friends with a political opponent, you either flee the country soonest or the ever flaring flames of ‘probity and accountability,’ like that in King Nebuchadnezzar’s oven in ancient Babylon, would literary toast you down to ashes.
Although democracy was restored and the nation was supposedly ushered into civilian rule later, morbid fear still gripped the populace so much so that freedom, especially freedom of expression, almost existed exclusively under sinister wings of dark. I remember quite vividly as a little boy18 years ago that my next-door neighbor, who liked to discuss politics, went into hiding with my mom whenever they discussed the subject.
Even though Ghana was purged of some corrupt elements and their corrupt practices, through morally reprehensible means, it can hardly be ignored that many innocent people lost their properties and lives under cruel circumstances. However, as the saying goes, there is light at the end of the tunnel. This light would challenge REST with CESI and restore the nation back to true civilian rule where macho politics was to be hurled into historical abyss, it belonged.
As it turned out, the Civilian Revolutionary (CR) regime did not last indefinitely. Its end was nearer than expected. After 19 years in power, the NPP under John Agyekum Kuffour was voted into power, and for the first time in over two decades, the political pendulum was restored to its natural resting place – Civilian Non-Revolutionary (CnR). Freedom of speech blossomed. Ordinary Ghanaians, including my mom’s friend, could express political dissent openly and freely without their eyes tweaking in all directions in constant watch out for Big Brother.
When the NPP lost power to the NDC under the leadership of Prof. Mills in 2008, some Ghanaians were happy, but none failed to wonder in awe if Mills’ government would maintain the Civilian Non-Revolutionary (CnR) legacy that the NPP under Kuffour ushered Ghana into.  Being a rather mild-tempered gentle Professor who was co-opted into the business of politics by Ghana’s revolutionary godfather, no one could be absolutely sure how things would turn out.
It was not until the recent Sunyani Congress of the NDC that Ghanaians could breathe a sigh of relief that Mills, after all, was his own man. Judging from his overwhelming endorsement by the delegates, a lover of freedom could not help but notice with firm affirmation the bridge that Ghanaians have been able to cross or are crossing, at least. A new era seemed to have dawned and those not humble enough to succumb to it are being swept by the democratic tide into oblivion. The significance of this feat lies not in the fact that President Mills carried the day (of course, it was obvious from the beginning), but in the fact that he commanded a whopping 96.9% of total valid votes cast. Who ever thought the revolutionary golden boy, aka Junior Jesus, whose wishes transformed into holy commands by speed of light some years back, could ever suffer such an abysmal defeat from his own party members?
In his speech at the Sunyani congress, Rawlings expressed distrust for the judiciary institution probably because contrary to his whims it did not arbitrarily throw members of the opposition into jail – a typical REST tendency. He directed his anger at President Mills in particular for not perhaps going outside of the constitutional tenets to force the judges into acquiescing to his wishes. He spared no opportunity to hurl contemptible remarks at the justice institution. He brought the independence and integrity of the judiciary as an institution of state into question. According to him, there were judges “…who serve the justice of their political masters.”  He continued, “No wonder we are in power and they are still in control of the judiciary…”
It is my hope, however, that relevant civil societies and think-tanks such as IMANI Center for Policy and Education will investigate Rawlings’ allegation and find out if it holds some truth.
Remarking on Rawlings’ speech, Dr. Jonah, a Political Scientist at KNUST told Citi News “…it will be disastrous if the president attempts to address all the concerns of Mr. Rawlings.” He added, “There are some of the concerns that the sitting president can address, there are others that he cannot do anything about. For example, if he takes somebody to court and the court says the person is not guilty, there is nothing the president can do.”
This is one reason why Kuffour's regime will continue to occupy a respectable place in Ghana's political history: For the first time in decades, he demonstrated to Ghanaians that it was possible to be president and strong without being necessarily macho. Revolution or Macho politics was arguably what brought Ghana from pieces of its past to peace today, but it has outlived its essence in the body politics. A new era has come out from the turbulent tides --it washed ashore a fragile but potent seed called democracy and it dictates people rule, not a one-man show. The tongue is its bayonet and institutions of state are its life force.
Ghanaians have made a significant transition from REST (Revolutionary-era-strongmen) mentality to CESI (Civilian- Era-Strong-Institutions). It is satisfying to note that the political pendulum is resting at its natural place -- Civilian Non-Revolutionary (CnR). This realization should serve a clarion call for all.
Ghanaians, especially its youth, to wake up to the task of jealously guarding Ghana's fragile democracy and its ideals from being trampled over. Long live Ghana’s democracy!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Can Women Claim the 21st Century?

The issue of women empowerment has been given much media attention in recent times. On March 25, Dr Kofi Amoah and the management of Citizen Kofi with support from the Media Foundation for West Africa World Bank Ghana Office, organized series of dialogues on how the Ghanaian media portray women. Two days before that on March 23, Myjoyfmonline published a rather flowery speech by Kwaku Sakyi-Addo, the renowned Ghanaian journalist, at the Legon Center for International Affairs (LECIA) on the theme, “Women Empowerment: Empowering the 21st Century woman to transform her community”. He concluded his speech in part by a powerful statement, “I believe this century will not be China’s… It will not be Africa’s century either. This is the Woman’s Century”.
The Woman’s Century? Well, after reading his speech, I paused for a moment to ask myself some hard questions: Was Kwaku Sekyi-Addo simply being overambitious about the prospect of women claiming the 21st Century? Was he aware of how the ingrained forces of culture and religion have combined to shape the Ghanaian psyche toward women and women in leadership positions?
To respond to these questions, I descended the luxurious ivory tower of intellectual rhetoric to face the facts and the practicalities of the real Ghanaian world. So what does Women Empowerment entails, and how do ordinary Ghanaians treat and view women and women leaders? I will attempt to address these questions using personal experiences gathered from different parts of Ghana.
During a field trip to Northern Ghana as an intern at United Nations Development Program/Small Grants Program (UNDP/SGP) in 2009, I was astonished to learn that women could not inherit properties from their own parents. They were prohibited from openly expressing their thoughts in community circles in the presence of men. In fact, the women could not even shake hands with me or the rest of the team. These practices were perpetuated not based on anything other than an unearned natural attribute -- sex. I discovered that the women were systematically ‘programmed’ by their respective societies through early socialization to be dependent on men. They had no independent self-worth other than that derived from their husbands’. Once such dependency situation was established through systematic economic disempowerment, it became much easier for the men to exert their control, and in most cases, abused women with confidence and impunity. Although the chasm of ‘institutionalized’ inequality among the sexes may be wider in some parts of Northern Ghana, the reality is that sex-based discrimination is a general problem in Ghana as a whole.
In a separate development again in 2009, I was part of a campaign team determined to break the status quo and put a woman in the presidency of one traditional hall in University of Ghana. During that campaign spree, I came to understand fully the psychology of many college students regarding women and leadership: People did not care about our candidate’s leadership credibility and potentials. Their chief concern was the fact that she was a female. Period. They thought it inappropriate for a woman to seek to become the president of a mixed hall. They hurriedly cited scriptural quotations to back their dogmatic stance and to show-off how high they stand on the moral Richter scale. To them, it was a de jure divine arrangement for a woman to follow instead of lead. These students therefore deemed the perpetuation and consolidation of such a system of injustice, an act of obedience to God or Allah. Ironically, not males alone, but some females also held similar views.
I was not swayed nor amused by the knee-jerk tendency of these students to dig into their favorite pages in the scriptures to justify their entrenched position. This was partly because I was aware that not too long ago in the history of humankind, the same scriptures were used to justify Apartheid, racism, and ‘holy’ wars against people of different race, nationality, and religious backgrounds. I also knew that somewhere in the middle age, a scientist known as Galileo Galilei was intensely pursued by the Church and eventually forced to renounce his belief that it was the sun and not the earth that was in the center of the universe. Galileo was lucky – the Church only excommunicated him. Many scientists and independent thinkers at the time were burned at the stake for heresy. Why? Because the Church, inspired by the letters of the scriptures, was convinced that it was the divine ordering of things for the earth to be placed in the center of the entire universe. Scriptures such as Ecclesiastes 1:5 which states, "And the sun rises and sets and returns to its place”, was taken literally. Today, we all know the Church was wrong. However, are we learning from the past?
College education was meant to increase our capacity for critical thinking, which will also mean challenging the status quo if necessary. I personally do not believe it was just and fair for that University of Ghana woman to be denied the opportunity to attain her leadership goals and aspirations based on her sex. I also do not buy the idea that any particular sex is superior or inferior to the other. Just as none would like to be the victim of a gender-based discrimination, none should strive to be the privileged either. Should not people be judged based on the content of their character and not the biological constitution of their genitalia?
In the context of these mental blocks on the way to women empowerment in Ghana, does Kwaku Sakyi-Addo’s optimism about women claiming the 21st Century realistic? I respond in the affirmative, however, with a clarion call on all institutions in the country to proactively work to ensure that women are fairly represented at all levels of society.  Religious institutions and their leadership need to take the lead by challenging the way their members view and treat women. University institutions and relevant stakeholders should give more research attention to issues of women empowerment. Relevant policymakers should strengthen the existing affirmative measures aimed at attracting and supporting women political leaders. The fact that the media is giving more attention to concerns of women lately is a promising sign that Ghanaians are slowly moving in the right direction.
In line with the United Nations (UN) definition of Women Empowerment, we should all work in concert to challenge outdated systems of religion-inspired patriarchy, which creates conditions where women a) do not have access to opportunities and resources b) are denied the right to influence the direction of social change c) are denied the right to determine their own choices as they deem fit and, d) are stripped of their independent self-worth.
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