J.H. Mensah's New Development Vision

Wed, 18 Apr 2007 Source: Akosah-Sarpong, Kofi

Kofi Akosah-Sarpong examines J.H. Mensah, President John Kufour’s development planning czar, new “Made-in-Ghana” development planning vision

The suggestion by Mr. Joseph Henry Mensah, chair of Ghana’s National Development Planning Commission, that “Ghana reject World Bank crafted policies” by making development policies that have “Made-in-Ghana” inputs, as carried by the Accra-based “Statesman” (28/03/2007), comes in the face of the growing discussions Africa-wide that Africa’s history, norms, values and experiences be factored in when developing policies for the continent’s development process. Unlike other regions in the world, as Dr. Y.K. Amoako, former chair of the U.N’s Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), has observed, Africa is the only area in the world where its development paradigms are foreign dominated – to the detriment of its norms, values and traditions. This partly explains the distortions in Africa’s development process in the face of its rich values waiting to be tapped for progress.

J.H Mensah’s submission of the fusion of Made-in-Ghana and World Bank policies in development planning is telling, as the continent struggles to have a better development policy regime driven by its history and values in the context of globalization. Still, J.H Mensah’s proposal reveals a man who has had a new understand of Ghana’s and Africa’s development process after years of pushing heavily Western-minted neo-liberal development policies down the throat of Ghanaians without any significant inputs from Ghanaian/African norms, values and traditions. In Ghanaian intellectual circles, J.H. Mensah is highly respected man, touted as very a brilliant man and a magician in development planning, with 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 impassioned political spectrum, the Danquah-Busia tradition and the Nkrumahist camp, including dabbling one of the military regimes. J.H 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. J. H. Mensah was a member of the African Advisory Council of the African Development Bank (1993- 1997).

In the history of Ghana’s development planning, J.H. Mensah is an eclectic man; a technocrat who has swam through the rough-and-tumble of Ghana’s national development making. Perhaps his deep-seated nationalism emanates from such broad background but, for long time, he has had weak grasp of the holistic values that are to drive Ghana’s development, skewed more or less in neo-liberal ethos against Ghanaian/African values. Having seen it all in the making and in the unmaking of development policies for Ghana, J.H. Mensah, is, effectively, talking of hybridization of development planning toady – Made-in-Ghana values mixed with multinational development paradigms. More pointedly, taking on the World Bank, which, with the International Monetary Fund, most of which policies J.H. Mensah has for long helped imposed on Ghana, is partly responsible for the development crisis Ghana and Africa have come to experience. Before J.H. Mensah’s new development planning vision, as the prominent Indian economist, the Nobel Prize winning laureate Amartya Kumar Sen, of Harvard University, says “the world of banking and that of culture are not thought to have much in common.” But argued Amartya Kumar Sen, “cultural issues,” with its in-built history and experiences, “can be critically important for development,” the links taking many different forms as they related to the “objectives as well as instruments o£ development. If development can be seen as enhancement of our living standards, then efforts geared to development can hardly ignore the world of culture.”

Though he did not mention culture openly, what J.H. Mensah is saying is not different from Amartya Kumar Sen is saying – in making development policies for Ghana, let Ghanaian values talk to multinational agencies so as to come out with better and holistic policies that reflect the values of both sides. Reflecting the on-going thinking, J.H Mensah said, “Do we want the dialogue between Ghana and the donor community, which will come happen just five months down the road, to be conducted on the basis of our own home-grown agenda, produced after a comprehensive dialogue with Ghanaian civil society and with our own best scholars in disciplines of national economic development, or on the basis of another Washington-manufactured document which, in the absence of any alternative, our official negotiators will once more be compelled to adopt  as 'the Ghana document?”

In the coming years, Ghanaians will see whether J. H Mensah can creatively come out with development policies that reflect the mixing of Ghanaian/African experiences with neo-liberal paradigms that will help open up Ghanaian values for progress. If J.H Mensah could do this, by drawing heavily from his vast experiences, he would have confirmed the continental belief that if Ghana is good at anything, it’s good at “ideas” and that in fact Ghana is a virtually “idea factory,” leading Africa in development ideas.

Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.
Columnist: Akosah-Sarpong, Kofi