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Capitalism and Elitism: taboo words in Ghana?

Wed, 4 Mar 2009 Source: Opare-Asamoa, Yaw

On Wednesday, February 11 2009, Tamakloe Kojo’s “Danquah-Busia Dinasour, Volta Virus and Confusion” (emphasis mine) was posted on ghanaweb. As I started reading I came across this: “…..what would have happened to mother Ghana had Danquah won the election and become Prime Minister?” A very interesting question so I decided to read further so find out exactly what it was that had led the writer to such a hypothetical flourish. It soon became all too clear that the writer had a thing or two against capitalism; and to the writer, Danquah’s philosophy was “a rule by the royalty and elite and capitalism” I read the rest of the article and decided then to respond with a rejoinder. But before I could do that another article caught my attention: “Who is a Ghanaian, and who is not?” This was by one Kofi Amenyo. I then decided against a rejoinder but instead write a new article addressing issues raised in the articles mentioned above. The next day was Thursday, February 12 2009, and there was yet another article, this time by one Kwami Agbodza. He decided to write on “Free market Ghana is Ponzi Scheme for Elites” So in the course of two days, three articles with a common theme-the ills of capitalism and elitism-appeared on ghanaweb, each trying to define and redefine what they perceived to be right or wrong respectively. To Kofi Amenyo let me just say that an exercise to define who a Ghanaian is should go beyond what he (Amenyo) perceives as Ewe history. I cannot even imagine how ‘lively’ the comment section on ghanaweb would have looked like if an Asante or Akyem had written an article with the same title and then gone ahead to talk about Asante history or Akyem history to explain who a Ghanaian is. But this is the Ghana of today!!! Kofi Amenyo even has the temerity to tell us to disregard works by E.F Ward and Adu Boahen, but he (Amenyo) then decides to present to us his version of history and we are to accept his as ‘gospel’ Where do some people get off!!!! He states further that we should, instead, ‘imbibe’ history as provided on the internet. For his information, material available on the internet comes from works published by people like E.F. Ward and Adu Boahen and others. There is nothing ‘magical’ or ‘celestial’ about material on the internet. In fact some popular websites have had their material challenged and they have had to correct the misinformation and apologize to their ‘clients’ Let me turn my attention now to the other two articles.

Kwami Agbodza will do well to explain what a Ponzi scheme is, the next time he writes another article. Even if one has a target audience, a good communicator should explain technical language and unfamiliar terms just in case somebody outside one’s target group comes across one’s work. There is a history behind the term Ponzi scheme. He should tell us the first incident involving Ponzi himself and how later schemes with similar scripts become known as Ponzi schemes. That said I would also like Mr. Agbodza to explain to Ghanaians exactly what he meant by “Ghana’s liberal economy spearheaded NOT BY EWES AT THE TIME was built as a ponzi scheme for the liberal-conservative elites to live a high standard of life while the Ghanaian Majority whatever their ethnicity live on less than $2 a day”(emphasis mine). Is it the case that Ghana’s economy now is spearheaded by Ewes? And now that Ewes are in charge of the economy, are the liberal-conservative elites no longer living a high standard of life? And is the Ghanaian majority (whatever their ethnicity) now living on $20 a day instead of $2? These guys never cease to amaze me, but of course they know what they are about and they would stop at nothing to achieve it!!!

To address the two words-capitalism and elitism- I would go to the internet as suggested by Kofi Amenyo and find some definitions. ‘Wikipedia’ defines Capitalism as an economic system in which wealth, and the means of producing wealth, are privately owned and controlled rather than commonly, publicly, or state-owned and controlled. What is wrong with running a business and seeking to make profits? What exactly do our women traders do everyday when they wake up in the morning and go to sit under the sun at Okaishie and elsewhere? Are they not driven by the opportunity to make some profits from their businesses? What about the taxi and trotro drivers? Do they shuttle across the length and breadth of the country just to run losses? So yes, capitalism is controlled by profit and you find that in every sector of our lives in Ghana. One could be a student of socialism and that’s okay too. But the truth is that God created human beings as individuals and any attempt to ‘lump’ everybody together and make everybody do the same things will not work. Why do we buy tomatoes (or kenkey) from a particular woman and not from any other? Maybe this woman has added some ‘value’ to what she sells in order to beat the competition. Capitalism leads to competition and competition, innovation!! I must state here that I do not believe in Laissez-faire capitalism. I believe there should always be some form of ‘intervention’ by the government. This could take the form of regulations or the provision of certain vital services. Indeed laissez-faire capitalism does not exist anywhere in practice. All large economies today have a mixture of private and public ownership and control. The term "mixed economies" more precisely describes most contemporary economies.

Elitism is also defined as “the belief or attitude that those individuals who are considered members of the elite—a select group of people with outstanding personal abilities, intellect, wealth, specialized training or experience, or other distinctive attributes—are those whose views on a matter are to be taken the most seriously or carry the most weight; whose views and/or actions are most likely to be constructive to society as a whole; or whose extraordinary skills, abilities or wisdom render them especially fit to govern.” With this in mind can we say our parliamentarians are elites? What about our medical doctors? Where do we place our friends in the media? What about University professors? All these groups of people either have specialized training or some form of distinctive attributes. Their views on matters relating to their particular fields are taken seriously and, by and large, are expected to be constructive to society. We have so demonized the word ‘elitism’ so much so that just being tagged as elitist portends a certain ‘calamity’ for you if you are a politician. Or do you become elitist by having the privilege of a good education? Are you elitist if you speak very good English and maybe speak it with a non-Ghanaian accent? Are you elitist if you work hard to become a successful businessman, Or if you happen to come from a very rich family? What if you belong to a particular tribe? When the Gas say “Shiekpon wo no ni” is that elitist? What about when the Asantes say “Yeegye ye man” and the Ewes say “miawo dede” It is about time we address these issues and put them to rest. Post-independence Ghana saw two philosophies of governance-socialism and capitalism. I leave the reader to make up his/her own mind as to which of the two has been successful so far. Evidence around the world is there for all to see. When the pro-capitalist group argued for “independence in the shortest possible time” they were labeled as ‘traitors’. The other side pushed for “independence now” and with that posits “the Blackman is capable of managing his own affairs” Now dear reader, tell me which aspect of Ghana Airways’ management supports this assertion? What about Ghana Railway Corp. or Ghana Black Star Line and all the many others that we run aground one after the other. If we are capable of managing our own affairs, we certainly have not proved it yet!!! Are Ghanaians willing to accept that, maybe, just maybe, we were not ready at the time and “independence now” was not exactly the ‘end-all-be-all’?

Tamakloe Kojo made a number of definitive statements in his write-up. One was “Capitalism depends on private initiative and controlled by profit” Another was “Capitalism thrives on exploitation and profit” He tried a ‘hurried’ summary of Ghana’s post independence politico-economic situation and concluded that J.B. Danquah and his ‘disciples’ were wrong and that with the recent ‘troubles’ of the financial markets, Nkrumah would have said “I told you so”

Let’s have an objective analysis of the two systems-capitalism and socialism (or whatever other pseudonym it wants to assume) and draw conclusions based on facts on the ground.

I believe many Ghanaians have heard, so many times, of the comparison that is made between Ghana and Singapore or South Korea or Malaysia. Many a Ghanaian has asked why the economies could be so different now when (Ghana) was either better or at par with these countries at independence. This is my first question to Tamakloe Kojo: what accounts for the present Ghanaian situation? He clearly favours socialism as practiced by Kwame Nkrumah and he believes it was a ‘blessing’ that Danquah did not win that election. So if Danquah’s victory would have taken us on the path of Capitalism, which to Tamakloe is exploitative and profit-driven, then certainly Nkrumah’s victory and subsequent socialism made all the difference for Ghanaians, right? Tamakloe, Kojo would want us to believe that Ghana was such an economic paradise at Nkrumah’s overthrow!!!

Let’s look at some facts and figures:

According to Herbert Werlin: ‘Ghana and South Korea: Lessons from world bank case studies’ the two countries had about the same annual per capita GDP in 1957, but 30 years later South Korea’s annual purchasing power per head was about 10 times that of Ghana’s. Factors or reasons for this ‘performance’ by Ghana range from hyperinflation, over-regulation, production disincentives, through institutional demoralization, to deterioration of human services. On the other hand South Korea introduced an export-oriented economy that developed export pride, national leadership, market sustaining incentives, labour incentives, and technical education. The success or otherwise of these policies by the two countries are there for all to see today. It must be noted that both countries used state-owned enterprises but somehow South Korea managed to do so successfully. They introduced a Performance Evaluation System and backed it with sufficient political will to overcome the inevitable problems and opposition. So this is how one study by Herbert Werlin of the University of Maryland saw it. To all those who would like to think of this as another ‘whiteman’s’ unpalatable analysis of the Blackman’s situation, the question is this: does the evidence on the ground support these findings or not? A quote from another report by Todd J. Moss-research Fellow, Centre for Global Development-says “Beginning in the 1960s, South Korea pursued an outward export-oriented strategy and invested in a skilled workforce to achieve rapid industrialization. At the same time, Ghana borrowed heavily for wasteful state-led industrial projects and virtually destroyed its two export bases by nationalizing the gold mines and taxing its cocoa farmers nearly to death (emphasis mine). Is the counter argument going to be that all these reports are inaccurate because they were written by non-Ghanaians? In any case I do have another ‘paper’ written by Benjamin Asare (Ghanaian) and Alan Wong. They focused on Ghana and Malaysia and I will reproduce some of what they found from their research and studies. Their premise was that Ghana and Malaysia had so much in common four decades ago and that provided a sound basis for comparison: Ghana and Malaysia were both British colonies and they attained independence in the same year, 1957. Both began with a rich mix of resources, significant gold and foreign-currency reserves, strong British legal and political institutions, and similar educational systems. Malaysia’s GNP per capita was about $200 and Ghana’s $170 in 1958. By 2000, Malaysia had ‘developed and progressed’ to a GNP per capita of $3,884 with Ghana making it to $285. Again, Malaysia has become highly industrialized, with the agricultural sector contributing only 14% to its gross domestic output. Ghana, on the other hand, has the agricultural sector contributing 36% of the gross domestic output. This group also listed some factors responsible for the current situation: political stability, investment in human development, product diversification in the economy, the local population’s entrepreneurship, and the economic impact of regional countries. Nkrumah spent almost all the foreign currency reserves on revolutionary movements across Africa, and on massive government projects like roads and mass education. One can argue for or against the relevance of undertaking such projects on such a massive scale but that is neither here nor there. The fact is such expenditure led to the depletion of the foreign currency reserves and Nkrumah then resorted to deficit financing and foreign borrowing. Why is it that all those who parade as ‘Nkrumahists’ and the like, never reveal any of these details as to the true state of affairs at the time? By 1965 Ghana was ‘enjoying’ economic mismanagement and had a huge debt with rising inflation at 26%. The point of all these facts is to let people of Ghana come to terms with what went on and then make decisions based on information and not rhetoric! So this is how we started after independence and like Nkrumah himself said, it was ‘forward ever’ after that and we have not looked back since. We are the same people with ‘sankofa’ as part of our folklore, and sometimes one has to wonder whether we do understand anything at all from our folklore. ‘Sankofa’ reminds us to look back, take stock and regroup. In regrouping, ‘sankofa’ symbolizes that with an egg in the beak of the ‘bird’. The egg is supposed to represent new beginnings!!!!! So ‘sankofa’ simply put, is taking a retrospective look at the past, and with the benefit of hindsight come up with new ideas to move forward. It does not mean looking back to the past and remaining in the past (as some people would have us believe).

Tamakloe, Kojo then continued with Kotoka and the coup, through Apollo 568 and the Aliens Compliance Order, to Kutu’s overthrow of Busia. I have a few things to say here and, once again, I will quote from the study earlier cited: “The leaders of the 1966 coup took steps to restore democratic government. Elections were held in 1969 and Kofi Abrefa Busia and the Progress Party formed the government. The new government was concerned about the overwhelming influence of foreign nationals (Asians, Lebanese, Syrians, and Europeans) in the retail-trading sector dating back to colonial times. It made a drastic move by requiring all retail trading concerns, whose capital outlay did not exceed half a million cedis, to be reserved for Ghanaians. This move was followed by an “alien compliance order” which forced all aliens without proper documentation to leave the country within two weeks. This led to an exodus of African labourers from neighbouring countries, leading to a near collapse of the cocoa industry due to labour shortages”. Now the policy on retail-trading was singularly responsible for the current situation where we have Ghanaians in charge of retail trading particularly in the Okaishie area. If there is any Makola woman or trader in the Okaishie area and elsewhere in Ghana today, but Accra in particular, I would argue that it is because of that policy to retain retail-trading in the hands of Ghanaians and not foreigners. Yes the ‘aliens’ compliance order’ led to labour shortages but the issue is this; which serious country on the face of this earth does not have a proper database of the people in the country? 50 years after independence we still do not have a national identity system in place. Just across the border, in Burkina Faso, they have one and if you go there from Ghana, you will be made to know, feel and understand that you are no Burkinabe!!!! So if foreigners with no proper documentation are asked to leave so that a proper system can be put in place where those who come in will have proper documentation and can be monitored and this is seen (by Tamakloe Kojo) as one of the ‘worst periods’ in Ghana’s history then are we surprised with the present state of affairs? Are we making any headway in combating armed robbery and other forms of crime that seem to be overwhelming the police? We just assume that a lot of this is caused by our cousins from the subregion but do we really know for sure? What are the systems in place to monitor such people once they enter the country? Do we even know when and where they enter the country?

According to Tamakloe Kojo, Kotoka “…..was used to do the dirty work” and so cannot be held responsible for anything apparently, but Kutu Akyeampong was this “idiot” who ….hang on pushing things from bad to worse” Very interesting!!!!

I would like Tamakloe Kojo to tell the people of Ghana the TRUE circumstances that led to the infamous statement by Victor Owusu. Afterall, there is ‘action’ and then ‘reaction’ but before either is “cause’. I would also like to know which royal house Busia was from and if he was from a particular royal house, what that had to do with anything? Is he saying that there was no royal amongst Nkrumah’s people and there has not been any (in any of the pseudo and quasi-Nkrumah parties) since? The same person who says “….destruction and violence” was used to remove Nkrumah, and apparently unhappy about that situation turns round to say “Luckily a group of young army officers took Busia out of his confused misery…” But hasn’t this kind of attitude been the trademark of such individuals and their like? It is good and ok when it is coming from them but if it’s from the other side then it is wrong and bad and all attempts should be made to resist it. Which part of Nkrumah’s socialist and communist leanings does Tamakloe Kojo refer to as lies? We were all in this country when Nkrumah actually sacked a Chief Justice!!! This is not done in any ‘normal’ democratic society. The president, as leader or head of the executive, does not have the authority to sack the Chief Justice, leader or head of the Judiciary. But of course, Nkrumah’s Ghana was far from normal. These are facts that you will never hear from the Nkrumah apologists. Mr. Tamakloe will refer to Busia’s ‘no court’ but will not say a word about this. In any case what was the ‘no court’ all about?

Busia said no court could force him to work with people that his government did not feel comfortable with. That was it!! What was the crime in that? When Pres. Atta Mills decided to ‘fire’ those career diplomats at the Foreign Affairs Ministry, did anybody tell him he did not have the right? Or was anybody going to force him to work with them even when he perceives that they would not exactly push his agenda forward? This is done everywhere. New governments decide to work with people who would best help them achieve their ‘campaign promises’

Tamakloe kept referring to ‘trokosi’ and the volta virus. I still cannot see the connection between them but anyway that is his right. If he will keep the practice of ‘trokosi’ to himself and maybe his family then that is fine but why is he trying to convince the rest of us that it is okay? This is the challege to Tamakloe Kojo:

When we look at countries that have practiced communism or any form of socialism and compare to capitalist countries, I believe the verdict is clear as to which group has developed over the years. Even in the midst of the current financial meltdown in the capitalist economies, there is not a single ‘socialist’ country that would outperform the economy of any country from the ‘west’!! China preaches ‘communism’ but practices something else. China is more capitalist than many people think. I believe Mr. Tamakloe knows this.

The truth must be told; Nkrumah loved power and did not want any form of opposition to him-politically or otherwise. Yes Nkrumah believed that socialism was a better system than liberal capitalism for the rapid modernization of Ghana and that it could offer Ghana true independence, avoiding the possibility of Ghana becoming beholden to foreign business interests. But he was also more concerned and wary that following true traditional methods of industrial capitalism could create an indigenous entrepreneurial class that would offer strong counterbalance to his personal power within the country.

Does Mr. Tamakloe seriously believe that all those agencies that formed GIHOC would have failed like they did if they were private capitalist enterprises? Capitalism depends on private initiative and controlled by profit, remember?? To answer Mr. Tamakloe’s hypothetical question as to how Ghana would be like if Danquah had won the election instead of Nkrumah, let me recount this story published on Global Envision. Divine Chocolate Company in the U.S. (a fair-trade enterprise) is partially owned by cocoa farmers in Ghana. In 2007, it launched a new company, the Day Chocolate Company. The point is that after years and years of government policy that cocoa farmers can only sell their cocoa beans to the government, trade liberalization policies introduced from 1993 made this possible. Kuapa Kokoo is a farmers’ cooperative that was formed by farmers to take advantage of the new trade opportunities. In 1997 Kuapa Kokoo decided to create its own chocolate company. They got support from 3 organizations and bingo, the Day Chocolate Company was the result. This is a company already profitable and with plans to issue dividends. Kuapa Kokoo farmers receive a fair trade price and a premium per ton of cocoa.

This is my whole point. This is what South Korea and Malaysia did and we did not!!!

Just consider how many entrepreneurs would have gone into the cocoa and chocolate industry to transform our economy if they had been allowed to participate instead of rigid state control. Any wonder then at the ‘magic’ that Malaysia had performed with its Oil Palm? Private enterprise leads to innovation!!! Period!!! A look at TV broadcast in Ghana will tell the story perfectly. GBC and TV3 or Metro or the others.

The most painful aspect in all of this is the fact that, after spending our money on the rest of Africa, what did Nkrumah get to show for it? Nothing! Why? Because nobody trusted him. They saw him as not being genuine. Why did Gamel Nasser and Julius Nyerere and the others kick against the Africa Unity thing? Nkrumah wanted to control everything and be the ‘monarch’ of all he surveyed. If he was so interested why couldn’t he just let somebody else be in charge? These guys had followed the political situation in Ghana and they knew about the PDA and all that had happened to those Nkrumah perceived as enemies. They had also heard of the treatment meted to some members of the ‘big six’ by Nkrumah and so why would they be so foolish to think that he (Nkrumah) would not pull a fast one on them like he did the UGCC? He had divided the then Asante region to create Bono Ahafo. He had his own agenda for doing that. For somebody, supposedly fighting for African unity, wasn’t it quite disingenuous for him to divide a region that was already united? He took Ghana out from sub-regional bodies instead of building on them towards greater inter-regional cooperation (like the West African Court of Appeals, West African Cocoa Research Institute, etc)

So how does he convince anybody that, o yes, he is still for African unity but he just had to get Ghana out from these sub-regional groupings before he could proceed? Nobody should get me wrong. There are things I admire about Nkrumah and one of them is the creation of the Trust Schools. The presence of secondary schools (boarding) has been the one thing responsible for national cohesion over the years. Also when Mr. Tamakloe talks about the discontinuation of Nkrumah’s projects, I believe that is a valid point. The NLM/PP was not entirely blameless either. They also messed up some. In a multi-ethnic society, anytime one group, disproportionately, bears the brunt of a government policy it is a source for concern and worry. It does not matter whether the policy was well-intentioned or not. It is in light of this that I believe Apollo 568 was wrong. The explanation given by the UP tradition, over the years, to explain it away does not hold water. The Ewes may well have been the ‘majority’ in the civil/public service, but in trying to restructure the civil/public service, if the number of Ewes affected is not ‘proportional’ the policy cannot be justified. The UP tradition would do themselves a lot of good if they acknowledge this blunder and apologize for it albeit belatedly. In the same way, Ewes who defend Rawlings’ revolution should acknowledge that there could be no justification for the murders of the military officers and the excesses of the Assets Confiscation Committee. Saying that many Akans fell within the ‘net’ because they happen to be the ‘majority’ in control of economic activity and commerce is similarly untenable.

Would we ever be objective enough to discuss politics as dispassionately as we should? Are we not selling short the present and future generations? How many of our youth today know the true story of Ghana’s fight for independence beyond what is shown on GTV every independence day? One would expect ‘privilege’ members of our society (like Tamakloe Kojo) to put their privileged education to some good use. Did I just label Tamakloe Kojo elite? Yes, he belongs to the privileged group of the educated and by his analysis that ‘privilege’ makes him elitist. ino bi so??? There is nothing more dangerous than the ‘dishonest’ intellectual!!!

We can debate any of these issues extensively, anytime but for now the focus is on Nkrumah and his socialist policies, and where those policies took the country. So yes if Danquah had won, Ghana more than likely would be looking something more like Malaysia or South Korea!!!

Submitted on March 2, 2009

Yaw Opare-Asamoa oasamoa@gmail.com

Columnist: Opare-Asamoa, Yaw