Ghana @ 59: Surely, we can do better!

Sat, 12 Mar 2016 Source: Agbai, Stephen

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Newly born babies bring unmatched joy to their families, especially their biological parents. Their births mark new beginning and new hope. Such was the case when Ghana, after decades of battling merciless and ironhanded colonial domination, successfully gained political independence. Being the first nation south of the Sahara, and arguably with most of the leading lights in the global fight against colonialism being its citizens, Ghana’s Independence was most heartily welcomed by many freedom fighters — home and abroad. Ghana held the key to opening the floodgate of freedom for the rest of Africa and other oppressed peoples as succinctly captured by Dr. Kwame Nkrumah: "Our independence is meaningless unless it is linked up with the total liberation of the African Continent."

Dr. Kwame Nkrumah in fulfilling this dream and vision to lead the path towards perpetual liberation of the entire African continent, inspired and reinvigorated the rest of Pan African freedom fighters — notably Patrice Lumumba, Marcus Garvey, Nelson Mandela, W. E. B. Dubois, Ahmed Sékou Touré and George Padmore. So strong and indomitable was the wave of change led by Dr. Kwame Nkrumah that within three years after Ghana's independence, many countries within the sub region — Guinea (October 2nd, 1958); Senegal (April 4th, 1960); Burkina Faso (August 5, 1960); Cameroon (January 1st, 1960); Congo (August 15th, 1960); Congo DR (June 30th, 1960); Cote d'Ivoire (August 7th, 1960) and Nigeria (October 1st, 1960), etc. — in quick succession had also gained their political freedom from colonial domination. This trendsetting effort is to be celebrated today by Ghana and the rest of the world.

While working hard to liberate the rest of Africa politically, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah gave equal attention to the economic growth of this country, bearing in mind the fruitlessness of an Independent nation that still relied on foreign aid for development. Although he introduced Ghana to the Breton Wood Institutions, that was supposed to be a temporary measure to set Ghana on a sound footing whiles finding its permanent economic solution in homegrown sources of funding for most of its long term projects. Between 1957 and 1966, Ghana under the visionary leadership of its founder labored to establish an egalitarian society that would provide improved standards of living to all and sundry. Among many laudable interventions, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah established vital public corporations and institutions to cater for the agricultural and industrial needs of the country – ultimately providing employment for citizens. He introduced social services such as schools, hospitals, roads and highways, free medical care and compulsory free education. The Accra-Tema motorway, Akosombo Dam, silos for food preservation and factories such as the Ghana Cement Factory at Takoradi, Ghana Shoe Factory, Ghana Glass Factory at Abuoso and Tarkwa, Gold Processing Factory at Prestea and Paper Processing Factory are also some of the achievements of Kwame Nkrumah during the period. Indeed, Nkrumah’s impact in the post-independence development agenda of the nation remains unparalleled by subsequent Heads of State. After the overthrow of Dr. Kwame Nkrumah on February 24, 1966 by elements in the Ghanaian security services with support from Western allies, his lofty vision and for that matter the hopes of many citizens were lost. Much of what he bequeathed have been run down, sold off or exist only in name. Both military and democratic governments from Lieutenant General Emmanuel Kwasi Kotoka, who spearheaded Dr. Nkrumah’s overthrow in 1966, to current President John Mahama, can only boast of the little things that do not matter in the comity of Nations. Alas, our nation is reeling on the floor of penury and absolute hopelessness. Assurances of recovery have all turned out to be gimmicks.

Critics of Dr. Kwame Nkrumah have argued that he was not a saint and so should share in the current state of the nation. This, they argue, is because at the time of independence, Ghana had 200 million British Pounds of reserves, but he left a total external debt of 350 million British Pounds in 1966 when he was overthrown. Critics also hold against him the capricious introduction of the contentious and draconian Preventive Detention Act (PDA), which was used to imprison and kill internal political opponents and pave the way for a one-party state.

While I cannot gloss over these atrocities, it has to be said that Dr. Kwame Nkrumah’s positives far outweigh his negatives. The fact that Ghanaians and the world at large still hold him in high esteem fifty years after his overthrow speaks volumes. The fact that his achievements in all the areas of economic and social importance dwarf the those of all who have come after him put together speaks of his greatness.

At 59, a year to retirement, if Ghana were a civil servant, it would have little-to-nothing to compare with its contemporaries at Independence like Malaysia, Cuba, South Korea and Singapore. Perhaps, the only thing that we can boast of is the semblance of democratic peace that blows across the nation. Today, Ghana is recording negative growth in areas it should be making substantial progress had it continued from where Dr. Kwame Nkrumah was forced to stop. Agriculture, industry, manufacturing and mining have all been recording negative growth with a towering debt portfolio and its concomitant interest rates. This is the state of Ghana – that burgeoning and promising country Dr. Kwame Nkrumah founded.

In 2014 alone, the country recorded US$1.5 billion foodstuff import in– an area we are supposed to be doing well in if we are to prop up the decrepit Cedi and empower our people. The service sector, which gives the nation a glimmer of hope, is growing below projection, recording 4% growth below the preceding year, 2015. Until January 2016 when Ghanaians received some form of respite from a four-year power instability, poorly managed power cuts were the order of the day. As a result, many indigenous companies have folded up and many more pretending to be in business. Others, in what many industry watchers term prudent decision, have relocated to neighboring countries like Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso. The overall effect of this is a colossal $680 million revenue loss to the economy in 2014 alone, according to the Institute for Social Statistical and Economic Research.

Education is said to be doing well in many regards, notably infrastructural development. But that's minuscule when compared with what the country’s contemporaries are recording. In a recent report carried by most media houses in Ghana, basic schools in Ghana still have no desks for pupils to sit on in dignity and learn. Quality educational materials are nonexistent in many public schools. Schools are run under trees and children and teachers are at the mercy of the inclement weather. Universities are being built without existing ones having adequate support to train employable graduates or potential entrepreneurs. Polytechnics are being converted into technical universities for cosmetic political ends. Today the first thing that the university graduate thinks of after graduation is how to get employed by others or leave Ghana for greener pastures. With an estimated 68,000 graduates churned out annually from our universities (this number is expected to double in the near future with the mushrooming of private universities) and about 600,000 unemployed graduates already in the system, the situation is not expected to improve anytime soon, considering the numerous challenges facing industry and a freeze on public employment, which is an IMF conditionality. There are about 6,000,000 more employable Ghanaians on waiting list, adding up to 25% of the population.

The foregoing are but a few distressing stories about the sorry state of Ghana as it commemorates its 59th anniversary. These stories can change if our leaders stop paying lip service to our challenges and deal with them frontally. The perfunctory attitude to work by our leaders after Dr. Kwame Nkrumah has done us in, and until that stops, Ghana can as well curse itself to the abyss. The few FIRSTS H.E. President John Dramani Mahama smilingly boasted of during the commemoration of our 59th Independence are noted with hope. But those are only preconditioned on their sustainability and FIRST in the remaining areas Ghana hitherto led.

All hope is not lost, though. Before Ghana retires from active service in a year’s time, let us join hands in unison and help Ghana wake up from its slumber and retire in dignity. Lets work together to give Ghana a genuine and true meaning to economic and political independence.

Let us work together to return Ghana onto the map of envy. It is possible. It is attainable.

Long live Ghana!

By Stephen Agbai

The writer is a Supply Chain Management Practitioner, teacher and the producer of Accra based Prime 89.1 FM's weekend current affairs programme, Wonsom Wonsom. All contributions and questions relating to this article can be sent to agbai49@gmail.com.

Columnist: Agbai, Stephen