Why Have We Failed To Develop Since The British Left?

Fri, 14 Oct 2005 Source: Agyepong, Benjamin Opoku

To the average Ghanaian, the answer(s) to this question is(are) very much obvious since in the daily discourse of the ordinary Ghanaian, he/she comes across arguments purported to ascribe reasons for our slow or much worse our inability to develop our economy.

According to the economist William Easterly, and according to our own economists like my former professors at Legon, Including but not limited to Professors? Henry Jackson, Nii Kwaku Sowa and etc., Ghana had almost all the necessary requirements for economic growth and development, At independence, she had the best schools in sub-Saharan Africa, Ghana supplied 2/3 of the world?s cocoa, had limited railway network, comparatively good roads, Ghana had the services of some of the best brains in economics; including Arthur Lewis, Nicholas Kaldor, and many more. Besides these, quite substantial amount of money was left for our development by the British, on top of bequeathing a rich language that fostered national unity in dialogue (the English language).

After independence, Ghana continued to receive massive amounts of development Aid, and FDIs (foreign direct investments), we have expanded our schools and reduced illiteracy considerably, In recent years, we have borrowed quite heavily in the name of developing the economy (qualifying us as a heavily indebted country, a badge we proudly wear on our shoulders as we walk the corridors of IFIs-international financial institutions- for help), and have increased the export of non-traditional crops to say but a few. All these imply that Ghana by now, should be quoted in development literatures as a textbook case of a country that has evolved from underdevelopment to middle income or semi-developed nation but instead Ghana is still underdeveloped with the standard of living presently of the average Ghanaian, worst than it was at independence. The real disaster is that Ghana is as poor today as it was in the early 1950?s according to Easterly. The question is what accounted for this sordid state of affairs? Why have we squandered such a noble opportunity to grow and develop? In simple terms, Why is it that the average Ghanaian could afford three squared meals with dissert at independence but the same Ghanaian can barely afford two ?make do? meals whiles dissert is taking out from his vocabulary?

Many economists have advanced theories to explain why countries like Ghana have failed to develop. Such theories include the existence of the poverty gap and the inadequate development aid from donors, the existence of injustices in the world?s trade system that put us always at the loosing end, others have theorized that the tropical harsh weather is unfavorable for hard working, and with the prevalence of diseases such as malaria, and now HIV that combine to lower productivity it is impossible to grow. Still, others believe that, military takeovers, corruption, and a culture that is unfriendly to development are to be blamed for our lack of development. There are still others who are cynical of the west and believe in conspiracy theory; they contend that, the west intentionally want to keep us underdeveloped to provide raw materials for their own industries, such people believe that any leader who is serious about development will eventually be overthrown by the CIA like they did to Nkrumah. One thing is certain, that is, none of these theories, in isolation holds the key in explaining our failure to develop as a nation.

In this series, I will attempt to provide some rationales for our underdevelopment, some of which will fall outside the main stream economic thinking. That is, it my conviction that some factors beyond economics have also contributed to economic stagnation in Ghana. First to be explored here is the Ghanaian culture and attitude.

Is our culture inimical to development?

Many a people in Ghana will scoff at the idea that, our culture is to say the least, part to blame for our inability to develop, yes we all at some point believed that we Ghanaians have a rich culture, a culture that is hospitable to foreigners and etc., but in retrospect, when we talk of culture, we mean more than the ?akwasidae, the odwira, aboakyire and many more that we celebrate as cultural festivities. Culture entails everything that encompasses our way of life; the way we relate to each other, the food we eat, our pattern and style of dressing and our religious beliefs and etc.

Let us examine how our culture dictates how we relate to each other, the interactions between adults and the young of our society, between seniors and juniors at the work places, and between rulers and the ruled. Let us start this analytical exercise by looking at our traditional settings, the chief of a village has absolute power that nobody in the village has the right to challenge. The sub-chiefs swear the oath of allegiance to follow the chief, rain or shine, and will constitute a violation and betrayal should any of them question anything that the chief does. Chiefs can use the stool or skin?s money to marry ten wives, deny the town or village of development projects and yet, none in the village has the power to question his behavior without suffering the alienation of himself and sometimes his family.

In Ghana, any young person who challenges an adult about a wrongdoing is considered insolent, disrespectful, and scorned at sometimes. This behavior has entered the workplace and had indirectly become part of the work ethics of our society, subordinates cannot question their bosses for wrongdoing, they cannot question even in the face of ample evidence of gross mismanagement, incompetence, embezzlement and etc., those who do, are considered arrogant, disrespectful of authority and often called many names. Sometimes, they are even dismissed from the workplace for merely challenging the authority and their lives are shattered.

In similar vein, this aspect of our culture had metamorphosed into a mild form of some cultic behavior where politicians are worshipped and believed to posses the key and power to everything. It becomes an abomination to call them to account for their stewardship to the same people who put them in power. Politicians become rich overnight, yet we dare not say it or challenge them. JJR refused to account for his stewardship to Ghanaians after 20 years rule yet nobody has the moral or legal power to challenge him. JAK will eventually follow his footsteps and go scot-free.

What can we achieve as a nation with these cultural practices if even our police fear to bring the powerful to justice? The judicially has no willpower to prosecute cases involving the executive, I pause to ask this simple question, ? If Bill Clinton were a president of Ghana, do you the reader, think that he would have been scrutinized the way he was subjected to during this impeachment proceedings, much less brought to try? The answer is anyone?s guess.

It is sad that the whole nation is engulfed in this culture of don?t ask don?t tell policies to the very detriment of our own progress. Sorry to say that, unless we become a nation of accountability, we cannot develop.

To be continued??????

Benjamin Opoku Agyepong
Columbia University -NY

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

Columnist: Agyepong, Benjamin Opoku