J. H. Mensah, Confidence & Progress
Recently I had the privilege of having a long, broad, and incisive conversation with Dr. William Cowie, a respected international development consultant and an Adjunct Professor of International Development and Globalization at the University of Ottawa and Carleton University respectively, about Africa’s development process. Though the subjects range from the rough-and-tumble of Africa’s development, especially the heated issue of “primitive accumulation,” to national development planning, what struck me was the issue of confidence in Africa’s development process. “There is a serious issue of confidence in Africa’s development,” Dr. Cowie quietly told me. And Africa development planners have to deal with this in a continent that has experienced wide-spread abuses through slave trade and colonialism.
Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana’s first President’s answer to dealing with confidence and progress was his famous proclamation of “We are going to see that we create our own African personality and identity. We again rededicate ourselves in the struggle to emancipate other countries in Africa; for our independence is meaningless unless it is linked up with the total liberation of the African continent.” Yes, Africa today has no colonial rule but Nkrumah and his associates could not broaden and deepen the African personality and identity enough to heighten the Africa’s confidence, dignity and personality in its progress. His harsh marginalization of traditional rulers, a key confidence booster in the development process, was one of them. No doubt, for its weak confidence in its development process Africa is the only region in the world, as Dr. Y.K. Amoako, former head of the UN Economic Commission for Africa, will tell you, where foreign development paradigms dominate its development process. The lack of confidence is seen in African norms, values and tradition, for long suppressed in nation-building, not informing national development planning, as the Southeast Asians have done. At issue is trust of African elites in Africa’s history, experiences, norms, values and traditions in Africa’s progress. From the work of the prominent American social scientist Francis Fukuyama to the Asian economic Tigers, confidence is a key factor in the development process. But the confidence should critically emanate from one’s innate values and enriched with other values in the development process. It is confidence that enabled communist Vietnam, which went through horrendous war with United States from 1959 to 1975, to mix its indigenous values, the neo-liberal free market enterprise and socialism (the mixture is called "Doi Moi" or "Renovation") in its development process, and emerge today as the fastest growing economy in the world with 8 per cent annual Gross Domestic Product growth. It is in this frame of mind when I read a Ghana News Agency report (May 30, GNA) about Ghana’s Development Planning Commission czar, Mr. Joseph Henry Mensah’s assertion that in the long-run it is counter-productive to “leave decision-making” to foreign development partners “for them to try and micro manage” Africa's “development by remote control.” What Mr. Mensah is saying is that Africa has confidence challenges in its development process. For over 50 years, Africa’s development process, either seen in macroeconomic or microeconomic planning, has been minted either by international donors or foreign governments, without any input from local African experiences and values. The result is partly responsible for the long-running distortions in Africa’s progress. Such development history also reveal the fact that African elites, as directors of the continent’s progress, have no confidence in themselves, have no confidence in their experiences, have no confidence in their histories, have no confidence in their norms, values and traditions. And the sum of all these is that the entire African development process is driven by weak confidence and dignity. This pretty much explains why African states like Sierra Leone and Liberia collapsed. After projecting immense lack of confidence in driving Africa’s progress and their inability to hybridise Africa’s values and experiences with the dominant neo-liberal paradigms, as Vietnam, Malaysia and South Korea have done, now, Mr. Mensah and his associates across the continent, who have for long being in the forefront of Africa’s development planning, have had a re-birth, as proponents of the emerging “African Renaissance” process will them, a la Dr. George Ayittey, of the American University’s “African Solution to African Problems” fame proclaim. "The only successful model is to leave the task of developing Africa to the African people and their chosen leaders,” Mr. Mensah thundered to fellow policy planners in Accra. Similar conference had taken place in Abuja, Nigeria.
The difference between the Accra and the Abuja conferences is that the Accra one demonstrates African development policy-makers attempting to extricate themselves from years of lack of confidence and dignity, which largely have come about because of colonialism that suppressed African values, and propagandized that African values are “backward.” In recognising this fact as one of the foundational challenges of the African nation-state, Mr Mensah roared, in a measure of the emerging African developmental maturity, that Africa “could only elicit the confidence and get the appropriate response from development partners through a process of re-examination of the fundamentals of national development and the mind-set regarding the global relationship between national development and Official Development Assistance.” This means African development planners, as Mr. Mensah envisioned, and of which he has been involved extensively, have to “reposition their thinking to understand the manifestations of poverty” on Africa. At issue here is not necessarily poverty, the issue goes beyond bread-and-butter: at issue here are values that are to help eradicate poverty, and there are huge untapped values in this sense to tackle poverty. The trouble is that African elites have not thought deeply about their innate values, as confidence driver, in their development process. As the Southeast Asians and the World Bank will tell you, it involves raising African values to the national level and mixing them with the dominant neo-liberal ones in an attempt to resolve not only poverty but also other troubled development indicators. Mr. Mensah’s talk of confidence in Africa’s progress is not only drawn from the impact of the long-running damaging effects of the trans-Atlantic slave trade and colonialism but also from his extensive global involvement in development planning. Not only has Mr. Mensah been involved in national development planning in almost the entire 50 years of Ghana’s corporate existence, Mr. Mensah has global experiences stretching from the United States to Europe to Africa, including the United Nations. For most of his almost 78 years life, he has been involved in development planning in both sides of Ghana’s political spectrum - the Danquah-Busia tradition (the conservative-capitalist) and the Nkrumahist camp (the social democrats), including dabbling one of the military regimes Ghana experienced. Mr. Mensah was in charge of economic planning in the Kwame Nkrumah government. He was Finance Minister (Commissioner) in the National Liberation Council military junta. He was Minister of Finance and Economic Planning in Kofi Busia’s government. In the first term of incumbent President John Kufour’s government he was Senior Minister of Government Business and head of Economic Management before becoming chair of the National Development Planning Commission in the second term. Mr. Mensah was a member of the African Advisory Council of the African Development Bank (1993- 1997).
With such extensive background, Mr. Mensah talk of Africa’s development process short of confidence is instructive. But injecting confidence into Africa’s development process means African elites have to move skilfully between their indigenous values and the dominant neo-liberal ones, and adroitly mixed the two in their progress.