Only if an ocean could speak: High customs duty in Ghana

Sun, 24 Jul 2016 Source: Osei, Nana Yaw

You might not endorse Madam Akua Donkoh’s presidential ambitions even so her conviction on import duties in Ghana is worthy of economic thesis at any reputable research institution. Youth unemployment has gathered a great deal of momentum over the years. Many youth including graduates are hovering between hope and apprehension as they wake up every day trusting their maker for non-existing jobs. Necessity, they say is the mother of invention. Thus some of these youths embarked on a very dangerous expedition to Europe through the desert. Most of us are familiar with the horrifying tales of the Saharan carnage, by kind courtesy of the survivors of this aforesaid dangerous journey. They go through these ordeals to Europe only for their assets to be confiscated at the Tema harbor by the very government who heretofore failed to provide them with jobs. The aim of this article is to look at the origin and implications of high import duties on citizens of Ghana especially those in diaspora.

Customs tariffs originated from an economic philosophy known as mercantilism which dominated Europe in 16th and the 18th centuries. The philosophical underpinning of mercantilism was high export as against less import. Mercantilists opined that increasing net exports is the smoothest path to national prosperity. To put into perspective, the notion that the only true measure of a country’s wealth and success was/is the amount of gold that it had accumulated in its treasury. For example, if Ghana has more gold than Nigeria, it means that the former is in her height of economic glory and better off than the latter per the aforementioned economic philosophy. This idea had important consequences for economic policy. The best way of ensuring a country’s economic might was to make few imports and many exports, thereby generating a net inflow of foreign exchange and increasing the country’s gold stocks. Thus the mercantilists embarked on protectionist policy to save their local industries from foreign competitions by putting custom duties on imported manufactured goods.

Throughout history, several measures were put in place before adopting mercantilism by putting high taxes on imported goods. Britain in the 1830s had embarked on railway building. The revolution in transport which accompanied the railroads motivated the demands for coal and iron, and stimulated a counterpart revolution in the heavy industries, especially in mining and metallurgy (Thomson, 1957). Britain’s coal production, only some 16 million tons in 1815, rose to 30 million by 1835 and 50 million by 1848 and the same could be said on her output on iron. The railroads also led to the rise of big contractors, and offered employment to thousands (Thomson, 1957). Thus, a country like Britain under this period of study could put high tariffs on foreign goods to protect her factories from competition by expatriate companies.

As a country, the railways built under colonial governments have not only been abandoned but devoid of regular maintenance. We need several measures in place, such as industrialization, better transport systems like rail transport before we can think of putting high tariffs on imported goods. It only make sense to put high taxes on imported cocoa beans because we are cocoa producing country. Ghana is not an automobile producing country so why high tariffs on imported cars while every now and then lives are being claimed through road accidents which, are partly caused by the moving coffins that plied our roads. I will have to agree with American politician, Mario. M. Cuomo (1932-2015) who said that politicians campaign in poetry and govern in prose. Are Ghanaian governments governing in prose relative to import duties? Are high import duties remnant of European imperialism or a deliberate attempt by governments to subject with impunity their fellow countrymen into servitude? Are things just not working in the country? No wonder, we live in a society where the sick goes to hospital in a “trotro” bus while the dead goes to necropolis (cemetery) with ambulance.

The western imperialists introduced capitalist greed to Africa; but without capitalist discipline. They brought to us the profit motive, but not entrepreneurial persistence and risk-taking. Western materialism was transferred to Africa without western rationalism (Mazrui, 1986). Absolutely, we cannot built our economy by imposing high tariffs on imported goods while we don’t produce those goods. In a video entitled: “Underworld Inc season 2, episode 2,car jackers, circulating on the youtube.com, one car jacker asserted that a brand new car from garage cost $20,000.00 in USA while the import duties at Tema ports is $30,000.00 which does not make sense. This almost invariably motivated him to engage in such a nefarious act.

I understand the contributions of import duties to Ghana’s economic development. However, instead of preventing high engine capacity cars from entering Ghana for the fear of fuel consumption, government must encourage those vehicles and rather remove fuel subsidy on those vehicles. More fuel consumptions means more jobs for the youth. Private oil investors must be encouraged to invest in importation of crude oils. Government cannot manage oil business single handedly. For the purpose of employment benefits for the youth, import duties must be decreased. The reduction of import duties will attract other neighboring land-locked countries such as Burke Faso and Mali to use our port. This can generate funds to construct more ports at places such as Cape Coast, Keta. The Keta Sea defence project could be converted into a harbor to create employment in that catchment area. We will receive more patronage on our port from the neighboring countries if the reduction of customs duties on goods is factored into policies and programs. Local industries will also grow.

Ghanaians in diaspora are contributing enormously to the economy of Ghana. Why do we rob them of their monies at the port through import duties? Where must they get resources to create jobs in the country? What is particularly lamentable is that substantial portions of import duties go to wrong hands not to the government. “The fate of our times characterized by rationalization and intellectualization and above all, by the disenchantment of the world” are the words of Max Weber. Indeed, imports duty in Ghana remains one of the disenchantments of the world evidenced by the video at the youtube.com mentioned above. Why must fellow countrymen make profit from other Ghanaians as if they created the ocean? Import duty must be one of the main issues of Ghana’s economic policies as we approach November polls. Presidential candidates must be tasked to present alternative tariffs plan to ameliorate the customs tax systems. Only if an ocean could speak: high import duty, confiscation of luxury cars on the ground of inability to pay high tariffs, the use of seized cars by government officials and political party stalwarts and aficionados depict not only insensitivity but wanton disdain for Ghanaians happiness.


Mazrui, A. A (1986). The Africans, a triple heritage, Boston, Toronto, Little, Brown and Company.

Thomson, D (1957). Europe since Napoleon, New York, Alfred A Knope

I am intelligent because I know that I know nothing (Socrates). I humbly stand for Corrections. Feedbacks must be emailed to


Nana Yaw Osei (Padigo), PhD Candidate, Psychology

College of Doctoral Studies

Grand Canyon University, Arizona, USA

Columnist: Osei, Nana Yaw