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Opinions Wed, 24 Nov 2010

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Is Good Statistics Equal to Good Life?

By Kofi Akosah-Sarpong

The news from the United Nations and Ghana’s Statistical Service about

Sierra Leone and Ghana is good. At least from statistics point of view.

Since 1990 Sierra Leone has been at the bottom of the United Nations Human

Development Index. The Index measures human well-being globally. With good

governance, Sierra Leone is bouncing back not only from its brutal civil

war that lasted over ten years but the well-being of Sierra Leoneans.

The 2010 United Nations Human Development Index Report reveals that Sierra

Leone has remarkably moved up the development ranking, from 167th to 158th

position. On the other hand, in Accra, the latest figures, after

re-evaluation, released by Ghana’s Statistical Service say Ghana’s economy

stands at GH¢44 billion, that’s 60 per cent more than earlier estimated.

Per this new figure, Ghana is deemed to have attained a “middle income

status.” That makes Ghana’s Per Capita Income the largest in West Africa.

While the Sierra Leonean progress was greeted with many cheers, Ghana’s

was lukewarm. The centre-right columnist Ebo Quansah, in a piece entitled

The Paradox of a Middle Income Nation carried in the Accra-based The

Ghanaian Chronicle, skeptically argued that, “What is it that makes the

Government Statistician waver in her presentation? After all, we have just

worked out a miracle beyond the reach of any nation on earth. Barely 10

years ago, were we a Heavily Indebted Poor Country. We have a head of

state who said his predecessor did nothing. He himself is a Professor

Do-Little, according to his main challenger in the 2008 elections. We have

transformed the economy beyond any imaginable thing by doing nothing. Is

that not a miracle worthy of a grand feast?”

Such skepticisms aside, Sierra Leone’s rise in progress has come about

through hard planning and good governance, considering its recent bloody

affairs. Sierra Leone’s President Ernest Koroma is among a new generation

of Africa good leaders who have been praised globally. You’ve got to be

good to turn things around if you have passed through horrendous civil

war. There is no two ways about this.

Analyzing Sierra Leone’s progress in a write-up entitled Joy, as Sierra

Leone shoots up the UN Human Development Index, the editor and academic,

Leeroy Wilfred Kabs-Kanu, in the USA-based Cocorioko News, said “The

dramatic socio-economic and political turnaround brought about in Sierra

Leone by President Ernest Koroma ‘s Agenda For Change has started reaping

rich dividends…saw Sierra Leone impressively moving up the ladder from 167

to 158 in another undeniable indication that the All People’s Congress (

APC ) Government has succeeded in improving the quality of life of Sierra

Leone, even though many challenges remain for the nation, which is still

recovering from one of the bloodiest and most destructive wars in human

history.”

Whether Ebo Quansah is a centre-right journalist with sympathies for the

main opposition National Patriotic Party of Ghana or Leeroy Wilfred

Kabs-Kanu is a darling of the ruling All People’s Congress of Sierra Leone

that has appointed him the Minister Plenipotentiary to the Sierra Leone

Mission to the United Nations, at issue is whether the good statistics

equal good life. The Quansah and Kabs-Kanu interpretations, with some

political twist, nevertheless, do not affect the statistics from the UN

and Ghana’s Statistical Service.

Most Ghanaians or Sierra Leoneans will tell you they aren’t living

comfortable life, that their material conditions aren’t so good, that they

aren’t seeing gains from the statistics on the ground, that life

expectancy is still not encouraging, that some children still attend

classes under trees, that unlike Brazil over the years millions of

Ghanaians and Sierra Leoneans have not been lifted out of poverty, and

that even in good number of places it is hard to find water to drink or

toilets to use.

All these hard lives are true and make nonsense of the good statistical

news but so also is the fact that the statistics (despite some of its

abstractness) actually come from real life in the real world. How easy it

is to eat three-times-a-day? Has homelessness being reduced? How many

toilets have been built to deal with the poor sanitation? Those who agree

with the good statistics will tell you that part of the successes have

come about because of Ghana’s “Better Ghana Agenda” or Sierra Leone’s

“Agenda for Change” that have created the conducive atmosphere for the

rule of law, good governance, human rights, freedoms and democracy to

drive progress.

This is unlike years ago when brutal military juntas and autocratic

one-party systems destructively infested Ghana, Sierra Leone and other

parts of West Africa and suppressed the tenets of democracy and freedoms.

No matter the Ebo Quansah and Wilfred Kabs-Kanu take on the good

statistics, what have garnered some upliftment of Sierra Leoneans and

Ghanaians are the emergent democratic tenets, especially freedoms. The

Indian economist and Nobel Prize laureate Amartya Sen will not dispute the

implications of freedoms to the two countries’ progress.

In Sen's Development as Freedom (1999) the inherent implications of

freedoms as cruise for progress is very much examined. The relevance is

seen more in Sierra Leone and Ghana, where long-running unfreedoms had

stifled progress but are now flowering because of the growth of freedoms.

In both countries, Sen’s scrutiny of the connection between freedom and

progress, the ways in which freedom is both a basic constituent of

advancement and an enabling key to other aspects of progress, are made

clear.

The Sierra Leone and Ghana success stories show that there is no

propaganda in this. With long history of tyranny, military juntas and

autocratic one-party systems, freedoms as fertilizer to grow progress in

Sierra Leone and Ghana have been weak, and in some cases extremely bad, as

we saw in Sierra Leone, where the absence of freedoms helped collapsed the

states.

No doubt, Wilfred Kabs-Kanu’s joyful take on Sierra Leone’s vivid escape

from the bottom of the progress Index is a reflection of not only Ghana

but the entire West Africa, where democratic tenets are flourishing backed

by new generation of leaders and mass media genuinely committed to

democratic rule. We cannot be pessimistic about this.

Writes Kabs-Kanu: “The result of all this transformation is that Sierra

Leone is no longer among the 10 least developed nations in the world. At

158, there is still much room for development but a UN official told me

today that President Koroma has provided the enabling environment for

Sierra Leone to move even further up the human development index.”

Kofi Akosah-Sarpong,BA,MJ,MA

338 Jamesville Avenue, Apt#1C, Syracuse, NY 13210, USA

Tel : (315) 450-4680 or (313) 796-6238;

E-mail: kakos064@uottawa.ca

Columnist: Akosah-Sarpong, Kofi

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