A TALE OF TWO CITIES IN CALIFORNIA – A Comparison to GHANA
On March 18, 2003, GRi online reported the following headlines which should make many people intending to visit Ghana have a smile:
Armed robber "Hope" dies in police custody
Accra (Greater Accra) 18 March 2003 - Hope, The notorious armed robber on whose head the police offered 10m cedis for his arrest died in custody few hours after his arrest. Hope, 23, died around at 2000 hours of Friday after he collapsed and was rushed to the Police Hospital.
Whiles many may not realize the implications of this story, as measured among us Ghanaians and among the world community of people at large and every organization, word spreads around faster we can measure. Fear has a power that can cripple anybody, and especially business investment. The arrest of one criminal, ironically named Hope, the master kingpin of armed robbers in Ghana, as is described in this Ghana Review report, is a major victory for the Kufuor regime and the Ghana Police services. One Kudos for the NPP brag books!
Violent crime such as armed robbery and murder are perhaps the number one fear of major investors and even Ghanaians who may want to return home or invest in Ghana. The power of Ghanaian capital has been grossly undervalued. Last year’s reported $1.3 Billion transmitted officially (note the world officially), as reported by the central Bank of Ghana, may be a simple tip of the iceberg, were there to be an atmosphere of trust and cooperation in Ghana for Ghanaians overseas to channel their money. The social implications and organizations ramifications of our corrupted culture will be analyzed elsewhere in another article, and not in this write up. It must suffice for now to say that even in America, a city that has a high crime history always remains poor, shunned by investors.
Let’s review some examples, which I call a tale of two cities in California. In the Northern California area around beautiful San Francisco and her majestic world renowned Golden Gate Bridge, south of which is called Silicon Valley, the headquarters of the Computer, dot-com and Bio-tech industry, there are two cities whose lives serve as an example.
East Palo is a small town of perhaps 10,000 of nice and friendly population, mostly blacks, next to the high priced Palo Alto, million dollar homes, and home of world famous Stanford University. There is only Highway 101 which divides the two towns. Another town is Oakland, a larger sprawling city build around rolling hills, which was next only to San Francisco in population in the 1960s and 1970s when the writer was a young student. The whole Bay Area or Silicon Valley area is 60 miles diameter and a population of about 10 million. Oakland is about 400,000 population today, grown only five percent in 3 decades, overshadowed now by San Jose, the main city of Silicon Valley and now the largest city in the area. It also has majority blacks or African Americans. To segment this story with skin color hurts some of us, but that is the truth. The reasons for this are beyond the scope of this article, but in short can be attributed to the evil remnants of hundreds of years of slavery and post-slavery psychological effects on the humanity of our fellow African-Americans. Oakland is a beautiful city, but unfortunately, even though next to world famous University of California at Berkeley, the murder or violent crime rate has been very high. Last year alone it recorded over 100 murders, mostly gang related. In the 1970s to 1990s, due to the reputation of crime, as the Computer and Bio-tech industry sprouted, creating Silicon Valley, our two cities of Oakland and East Palo Alto were left behind. Again black areas are left behind, for one reason or the other. Can we make any analogy to Africa? Can we afford not to learn from others and bury our heads in the sand, so to speak, as others sometimes argue? If Singapore can build a major industrial state fro 1965 to 2000 to have a higher per capital income than the USA, who says that we cannot learn from others! Let’s analyze the social factors in terms of economic influence.
EAST PALO ALTO: In the mid to late 1990s, East Palo Alto decided to hire a police force from a neighboring town. Very soon, strict law enforcement action showed, the murder rate went down, and whites and Asians started to move in and buy properties there, making the price of real estate escalate to amounts closer to the area prices. A major company, Sun Microsystems, built a major factory there, creating thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in revenue. The last time I passed through the area, a major shopping mall was seen alongside the highway 101 that separates the rich from the poor. Today, one can say that East Palo Alto is coming on up! It’s now on its way up.
OAKLAND: In the latter part of 1990s to 2000, Oakland also started a major downtown renovation. Today Oakland’s skyline is as beautiful as any American city, with marble federal buildings offices, restaurants, and first class hotels that shine with marble and simply lovely. A few high tech companies started to move in to try taking advantage of the low housing cost. Oakland would finally attract some high paying jobs. However the pace has been slow due to the high murder rate. In 2002 alone there were more murders in Oakland than the whole UK. Oakland is doing better in attracting a few companies, but not as much as it could, considering its sheer size of land and other amenities.
The Impact of Crime on Business Development:
The impact of crime on business cannot be overemphasized. It’s demonstrated throughout Western nations. This small story illustrates that even though one may have all the infrastructures and modern buildings, crime intimidates investors, even where the locations may have other assets and be in an area with lovely all-year-round weather, core competencies such as the University of California campus to satisfy any employer to fuel innovation. Even in America, investors do discriminate and exercise choices. The world has become globally competitive. A California company like giant Intel Corporation may choose to build its next $1 Billion factory in New Mexico instead of California. As such we in Ghana and Africa must realize and face the facts, that we must make our area have some strategic competitive advantages for any investor. For any investor, small or large, foreign or domestic, to invest money, a location must have high levels of attractiveness, amenities, and be physically clean, attractive and must feel safe.
Ghanaians are culturally a gentle and friendly people, as even some recent independent travel magazines have reported even during our hard economic climate. These are some of the cheapest assets one can have, at very little cost. One African American Attorney in Oakland told me in the late 1980s that he felt safer in Accra, Ghana at night than he felt in Oakland at day. This was a major plus for the Rawlings military junta; even though we know that it was an illegal dictatorship of Marshall Laws (which didn’t help either). One can only hope that the small gains in security today, as reported, will continue as police spare no cedis in trying to apprehend criminals and work with the communities to effect safer streets and a nation whiles developmental efforts continue under able leadership.