Children Abandon School?To fend for themselves: A Rejoinder

Wed, 9 Feb 2005 Source: Jeffrey, Peter Nee

The story of nearly 85% school children abandoning school in a village in the Eastern Region of Ghana to undertake menial jobs to fend for themselves is a sad reflection of the plight of children in sub-Saharan Africa.

Since the debt crisis of the 1980s when sub- Saharan African countries? economies were restructured through the Structural Adjustment Programmes, the little progress that African countries made in the 1960s and 70s have been eroded. Africans poor (mainly children, girls and the old) are now the poorest of the poor in any region and their plight is getting worse. Majority of these poor people go to bed on empty stomachs.

Since the plight of Nkosi Johnson was documented and his subsequent death, the number of orphans on the continent has doubled. Although the G7 finance ministers meeting in England have put the debt crisis of Africa on the top of their agenda, this writer believes the issues that needs to be seriously addressed is the huge amount of money stolen by the African elite and banked in London, Washington, Switzerland and the numerous off shore accounts. Ghana is not unique in this respect. The sort of activities and behaviour that would not be tolerated in the developed countries should in the same breath be applied to sub-Saharan Africa (i.e. return the money stolen by the elite back to the countries the money was taken from). It is true that the world trade regime is not equal, and thus sub-Saharan African countries have been discriminated against since they came of out colonial rule?what has greatly disadvantaged African is the sheer misrule and stealing of her resources by the ?so-called elite?. Since the late 1990s a group of African leaders have emerged (including many traditional rulers) who have realised that without halting the rapid decline, Africa, as we all know would be heading towards liquidation. Thus In West Africa, leaders such as President Obansanjo of Nigeria and President John Agyekum Kufuor of Ghana have declared Zero Tolerance on corruption in their countries. However, as Presidents Obasanjo and Kufuor knows, fighting corruption alone without setting clear policies to eradication poverty is not enough. Nigeria and Ghana are two of the leading African countries that lost considerable number of their skill labour and are still losing them to the developed world. Despite huge improvements in economic and political transparency by the Obasanjo and Kufuor governments in Nigeria and Ghana respectively and adopting all the harsh austerity measures imposed on them by the IMF/World Bank, the huge debt owning to the Rich Industrialised world is holding them back.

The story of school 85% children abandoning school in a small community in Ghana is a phenomenon that can be seen through out sub-Saharan Africa. Until the 1970s, the word ?Street children? was an alien word in the African vocabulary. However poor the children were, every African child had a home to go to. Today ?street children? can be seen roaming aimlessly in towns and cities across the whole continent. People like Ken Sara Wiwa, Steve Biko and others who sacrificed their lives for the freedom/economic emancipation of Africans should not be in vain.????..Africa has been aided since they emerged from colonialism, and yet Africa is the only region where her people still remain in extreme poverty as majority of the African politicians (the so called elite) spent thousands of pounds to educate their children in public (private) schools in the developed countries of the West.

Although attention is now being given to the debt crisis, its link to the rapid spread of HIV/AIDS and in effect poverty is not being taken serious. Sub-Saharan African debt repayments alone are more than what it spends on health and education. Every African child born comes to the world owing US$310 (Devraj 2001) to the developed countries of the West. The question that needs to be asked is ?Can Africa ever turn round?? In a study conducted by the World Bank economists ?Can Africa claim the 21st Century?? (2000), they argue that Africa can make a turn round in the 21st century. Well, as the report from Ghana illustrates, school children have to abandon school to undertake menial work in order to fend for themselves because their governments have to pay the debt of their country instead of educating them. Yet the Bank/Fund economists are proclaiming Africa can claim the 21st century?this is a fallacy and pure nonsense. This writer is not advocating that the rich world want to see Africa liquidated?but sadly that is what would happen. This illustrates that Late President Nkrumah?s vision of uniting Africa under one umbrella has been vindicated. Dr Nkrumah saw this coming. His vision of one Africa was far ahead of his time. The enlarged European Union and other regional blocks such as NFTA leave Africa in economic wilderness and a political football for the developed countries.

Although Africa and the rest of the countries in the developing world emerged in the 2nd half of the 20th Century from a past of which political colonialism and economic imperialism predominated, Africa is the only region where poverty still remains on a massive scale. It is also the only region that manifests great inequalities in patterns of accumulated wealth and unequal income distribution. Majority of the countries in Africa suffers from infant mortality, malnutrition or persistent hunger, contagious diseases and high illiteracy and inadequate programmes of education, health and welfare.

In the 1990s the Bank/Fund and various financial institutions hailed Ghana?s successful implementation of the Structural Adjustment programmes as ?African success story? and an ?economic miracle?. However the structural measures and the subsequent growth that was achieved did not benefited the ordinary people. In Ghana and Nigeria, traditional rulers and hometown associations have taken on the role of social providers. Inequality has grown further, intensifying the conditions under which the poor, majority children who have been orphaned as results of HIV/AIDS killing their parents and with no choice, are compelled to fend for themselves thereby abandoning school.

The impact of HIV/AIDS and poverty at the micro level in Ghana has been dramatic. There is intense burden of suffering for individuals and households. The large number of orphans ?the so called street children? is making it hard for the government to reduce poverty among this group and thus improving social conditions. This writer, in various forums and periodicals advocated for a large chunk of the inflows from the Ghanaian Diaspora to be spent on social development. Other studies (Ro and Seo, 1988; Carolyne Ndofor ?Tah 2000) have demonstrated that with better economic management a country could benefit greatly from inflows from its nationals in Diaspora in the fight to reduce poverty

Like the children documented in the article, most of African school children are forced to leave school to care for sick parents or orphaned siblings or parents cannot pay their school fees (due to the introduction of user fees as results debt crisis). The economic loss of such potential human capital would be felt for years to come.

Peter Jeffrey MSc BSc(Hons) Lond.

Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.

Columnist: Jeffrey, Peter Nee

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