Rise of the Progressives in Ghana

Sun, 16 Dec 2007 Source: Jeffrey, Peter

My junior sister was over from Ghana last week, where she attended a meeting for a major pharmaceutical company. We talked about the extraordinary economic boom in Ghana, with everybody from bankers to industrialists beating a path to our motherland to do business there. My sister, a senior medical practitioner in London, said what is most striking is how young the business elite in Ghana are.

My sister, who is a compassionate conservative and ardent supporter of Dr Arthur Kobina Kennedy, said ‘the thing about these guys is that they happened to be in the right place at the right time’. She said most came from ordinary families and many were the first from their family, like Dr Kennedy, to work and study abroad during the 1980s, often referred to as the ‘lost decade‘ for sub-Saharan African countries..

The 1990s and 2000s, gave these Progressives a huge advantage when Rawlings and Kufuor embarked on ‘Bretton Woods Structural Adjustment and “Highly indebted poor countries” policies’ respectively, privatising large swathes of the economy and opening up all sectors for investment. The Progressives are the ones driving the economic growth in Ghana. The Progressives are the group to guarantee equitable distribution of resources among all Ghanaians.

Majority, educated at the best universities in the west, had contacts with major transnational companies and international financial institutions and are well connected. They are using their contacts to encourage inflows into the Ghanaian economy, including the large inflows from the Diaspora.

The smart ones, like Agyeman Akosa, Kwame Mpianim, Papa Kwesi Ndum, Kwabena Osafo, and Kobina Kennedy among others junked their jobs in the West to come home and contribute towards the “economic and social” development of their homeland. My sister reminded me that if the Kennedys, Osafos and other Progressives had been a bit older, they would have been more established in their careers and families and therefore less willing to take a risk. Can the ‘Progressives, with their Ivy league PhDs and Masters degrees in economics, medicine, finance, politics, technology and engineering, turn ‘corporate Ghana’ into an economic giant in the Western African sub-Region?

As we talked, my sister reminded of another gilded generation of young Ghanaians eager to make fortunes at the cutting edge of technological revolution in Ghana. The ‘Progressives’ with their skills in international business have accumulated huge fortunes and are investing in Ghana, as their older folk gritted their teeth and cursed their misfortune not to have been born a few years later. However, like their counterparts in the West and Asia, the Progressives are a broad church, comprising of ‘compassionate conservatives, social democrats and Christian democrats’ who believe in country before self, and believes the poor must be helped to help themselves.

Discussion on possible model of development for Ghana during the “miracle years” dominated intellectual discourse in many Ghanaian forums throughout the 1990s. A number of developmental models have been floated around. The East and South Asian model of economic development “the Asian Tiger economic success” and lately the Chinese model of gradual economic reform since the mid 1990s. Indeed the Chinese system has changed the economic, political, economic and even environmental pattern of development in the world, with its huge implications for countries in sub-Saharan Africa.

During the 1980s (lost decade), Ghanaian policy makers discovered that the world was not divided only into two large competing camps of socialism and capitalism. The Progressives began to study the spectrum of different approaches to political development, economic transformation and social reforms.

The discourse on Ghana’s development was quite a unique phenomenon, not only in Ghana but also among the Ghanaian Diaspora, because of its intellectual implication. In order to understand this phenomenon, it is important to assess the historical background of debate on African’s economic/political development and emancipation and to analyze the context of the 62 years intellectual debate among Ghanaian intelligentsia, from the 1945 Pan African Congress held in Manchester, England to the debates among Ghanaian intellectuals in the modern era.

In the 1990s (the miracle years) Ghana went through a drastic economic reforms. Ghana was the first country to ‘voluntary’ adopts the Bretton Woods Structural policies. In the 2000s, Ghana again became the first sub-Saharan African country to adopt the "second phase" of the Bretton Woods structural policies "HIPC" under Kufuor. Ghana’s model of development revealed a desperate search for sustainable development. Representatives of international financial institutions who assisted with the implementation of the structural reforms believed that the experiences of the Asian economies could be implemented in Ghana and the sub region as a whole.

The Progressives in the CPP (they are credited with the immense transformation of the party) have displayed a genuine intention to replicate the economic growth rate the Asian Tiger economies. The Progressives in NDC (Ekow Spio Gabrah) and NPP (Arthur Kobina Kennedy) are fighting with reactional forces in their parties respectively

They emphasized on the CPP 7 year development plan which includes: A) Market economy based economic growth with high rate of investments. Investments in health, education, housing and agriculture through public/private partnership. B) Development of infrastructure, particularly Transport and communications and C) Open, Transparent, Professional and Efficient government.

Since the early 1990s the country has been developing and urbanizing quickly. The level of Ghana’s urbanization reached 50%, with the capital Accra, choking to the brim. As part of their land reforms, the Progressives want to transform Ghana’s agricultural sector from subsistence to export oriented large farms.

The Progressives have demonstrated strong enthusiasm for radical political and economic changes where politicians cannot use political office to acquire ill gotten wealth. The 21st century Progressivism is to uplift the poor and dispossessed.Dr Arthur Kobina Kennedy, who left a brilliant career before returning home, told the Diaspora during his " Mission crusade in Illinois" that they has a special duty. After recounting that majority of Ghanaian professionals chose to work in the West a few years ago, he said, "If the best and brightest of today try to figure out how to fix the health care system instead of figuring out how insurance companies can make huge profits from poor folks, we would not have to spend more on health care". Dr Kennedy's words clearly touched the audience. One Ghanaian professional said, " I think it’s great for professionals to have reminders that there's so much to be done home".

Like Kobina Kennedy, Akosa also speaks as a "Social Democrat and a compassionate conservative" who seeks to build a pro-growth progressive consensus.Akosa said, "It is important to recognize that we live in an age in which transportation and communications revolutions have accelerated change to a frightening speed. I firmly believe that as progressives, we have a collective responsibility to design public policies that lifts all, business and the poor".

Speaking of his progressive values, Badu Akosa stated, " I have the belief that government has responsibility to ensure that more jobs are created, that people can live in economic dignity, that government should make it possible for many to have jobs and pay their dues to rise socially and economically, and that government should provide sufficient educational opportunities to guarantee that where one is born, and to which tribe or region, does not close doors and shut down opportunities". For example, Akosa supports helping Ghanaian businessmen to grow their business and take opportunity of the huge market in the ECOWAS sub region. Akosa said he would increase rewards for the low paid by extending government earned income tax credit and reducing the financial burden of transportation by introduction of affordable travel permits.

Akosa said he would help middle-class, low income and rural people to purchase their own home by encouraging banks to offer affordable mortgages. Akosa said these programs are achievable through private/public partnership. Akosa emphasized that sound economic policy requires balancing competing principles and goods.

Talking about his ambition for the country and his mission statement, Akosa said "If per capital income is higher, people can expect to live longer, fewer of their children will die in infancy, and both children and adults will suffer less from malnutrition and disease". The essence is to provide everyone with clean water and basic sanitation, better access to medical care and education in general.

Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.

Columnist: Jeffrey, Peter

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