Opinions of Wed, 31 Mar 20109

Resuscitating a crippled economy-The case of Ghana

I have for a very long time been seeking the opportunity to express my modest opinion on how the crippling economies in most African countries could be put back on track. While I must admit that this can be difficult given how many competing ends (problems) the governments of these countries are saddled with, I still believe a simple algorithm is worth presenting. I do not intend to dwell on who is or is not to blame but to put forth my ideas in order to stimulate meaningful discussions.

It seems to me that Ghana is in its best and most opportune moment ever; because she has at its disposal all that it takes (resources: human capital, experience from other countries, history and recently the oil finds) to make the fastest and the most remarkable progress in her development endeavour. In fact the oil finds could not have come at any better time. The main problem now is how to make the right decisions and prudent judgement when it comes to economics.

I wish to introduce a simple concept that I will call Basic Life Support for a crippled economy (BLSE). By this I intend to outline in order of importance what constitutes the BLSE. It may make sense to strike a parallel between a human being that has suffered a cardiac/respiratory arrest (think of CPR) and most of the economies in Africa. In this case, the ABC is as follows:

A stands for: provision of constant uninterrupted electricity/energy B stands for: provision of portable drinking water to all C stands for: provision of quality and affordable healthcare to all

I know many will wonder why education is not on the list and why it is neither the A, nor the B nor the C in this case. Before I delve into the discussion of why education in my view is not a topmost priority, I will like to say why this ordering is plausible.

Electricity in any society and in fact in modern Ghana is without doubt a necessity in our daily lives. It powers our businesses, hospitals, schools, homes and in fact every aspect of our lives (think of mobile phones, freezers, ultra sound machines, etc). It is clear that without excellent power supply many things including our schools, hospitals and even our professors cannot function optimally. A quality healthcare is linked up to power supply, for example, artificial ventilation, x-ray machines, MRI etc all require power to function. Quality education also depends heavily on electricity thus power feeds into all the areas of developments. What the economic and other consequences of the power shedding in Ghana?

Portable drinking water is also a critical aspect of our lives. Imagine how many people who will be saved from water borne diseases such as guinea worm, diarrhoea (WHO estimated that between, 4-6 million children die every year from diarrhoea alone) and so on. Our hospitals need water to provide quality care to their patients- for instance doctors need water to wash their hands before and after operations. Good hygiene is fundamental to our quality of life and water is needed for this to be achieved. Our people mostly the girls use much of their time searching for drinking water instead of learning. Think of the economic sequel of all the above mentioned and more. I remember a calling a friend in a high position in Ghana and he told me how he had to work up after midnight to fetch water because the tapes were opened at night. How can such a person perform function well the next day?

Quality and affordable healthcare for all are again other very critical necessities for any country to develop. When I was in Ghana 18 months ago, I was very perturbed by the age at which many of our brothers and sisters die. The obituary notices included overwhelmingly young people around their early 50s. Many of our well-educated men and women die just too early. Most die when they have just reached the peak of the professional carriers. This is partly because of lack of and/or inaccessibility to good medical care. While in many countries, the average longest time to a hospital in an emergency is under an hour it can take a couple of days in Ghana. Most of the technology in our hospitals today relies on electricity thus making electricity an ingredient for a better healthcare. How many of the ordinary Ghanaian can afford medical treatment abroad?

Education has always ranked up as the number one priority of almost all underdeveloped countries including Ghana. Politicians have time and again considered education as very important to the development of their people and countries. I followed the campaign of the 2008 elections and it was like every candidate thinks education is the problem in Ghana and once that is solved then everything follows. I think this is not the case in Ghana at this point in time. First for us to have quality education for our kids, the ABCs must be in place. Gone are the days when we used “bonbon gas” locally made lantern to learn at night. Owing to the above reasons, electricity which is the driving force and which powers our hospitals and schools comes ahead of education. Portable drinking water is another very essential necessity. It reduces disease incidences and hence infant/child mortality. Quality and affordable healthcare are all necessary ingredients for quality education. Yes, the standard of education in Ghana needs to be improved and one way is to have the ABCs in place.

In my opinion, while Ghana appears to have receded in many areas of its socioeconomic endeavours, the only area I can say it has made positive strives is education. We still have the three major universities and in fact several new ones including private institutions have sprung up. In my small town for example, when I was a kid we had only three primary schools and no secondary school but now we have several primary and a couple of senior high schools. I remember when we were in the primary school almost all our teachers were from other parts of the country and now majority comes from my own town. Higher degrees are now a commonplace in every small town and city across Ghana. In contrast, as a kid in my small town, we used to have pipe born water 24/7, now you hardly get water once a week. Most of the public tapes have vanished. The district hospital used to have 2 doctors and a pharmacist but we hardly have one doctor at the hospital.

I learned that Nigeria after its oil finds had invested so much in education that anyone who wished to have a degree could get one yet Nigeria is still where it is today, no good hospitals, no electricity and portable drinking water for its people. Even Ghana is considered better in these areas. But look at Libya and Saudi Arabia who in terms of education are ranked lower than many African countries. Where did the president of Nigeria go for his treatment? How many doctors and professors in Saudi Arabia are citizens of that country?

What we need to move forward are the ABCs that I mentioned earlier. If any country in Africa should solve these problems first education will follow suit. Many educated citizens would return home and non citizens that are highly skilled will move to these countries and more importantly majority of the youth will stay home. Investing in education without these basic necessities of life will compel the educated to leave their countries for other well developed ones. When one has a bucket that is leaking it does not help topping up more water but the leak must first be stopped. Many people left Ghana not because the educational system was bad but for the lack of these ABCs. I remember an article about Nigerians moving to Ghana and when they were asked what their reasons were for running away from their own country, the answer was lack of electricity and security.

In essence, what I am trying to say is that no matter how much is done to improve the quality of education in Ghana if we do not get these fundamental things in place our development efforts will not be sustainable. Ghana will educate and train their citizens only to loose them again. Remember there are myriad ways that countries can solve their lack of skilled workers problems- the USA, Canada, UK, Australia have encouraged migration of skilled workers through various avenues.

Finally, I think it is much easier to for any government to get immediate results from investing and solve the ABCs than trying to improve the quality of education without the BLSE. Dear readers how would you rate any government in power that can boldly say we have solved the power and water problems in Ghana? Thank you.

By Amin Ussif a_ussif@yahoo.com

Columnist: Ussif, Amin

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