Feature Article of Tuesday, 30 November 1999
Columnist: Maxwell Oteng
Much of of the public discourse about economic development in Africa has centered mainly on democratization or re-democratization of the political processes, as if to say that democratize your body polity and "all other things will be unto thee." So we did as our "masters" said. And happily, Ghana now seems to be on course for political stability, even if we needed outside prodding to do so. Yet as we're all learning, it takes more than re-democratization of the political process, and its concomitant measure of stability to attract foreign investments which we've been made to believe to hold the key to our national economic development. It's least surprising that foreign investment has been slow in coming to Ghana. In fact, most foreign investors, especially those in the so-called West still view the African continent with skepticism. To most of them, Africa doesn't have the quality of labor to support their investment endeavors, and in addition Africa is too risky a place to invest, for obvious and not-so-obvious reasons. If you live outside Africa, for example, you hardly hear political pundits, business leaders and government officials discuss business opportunities in Africa. In America and Europe, in particular, all that matters is Asia. Unfortunately, while foreign investors continue to show little or no enthusiasm about Africa, the continents political leaders, including our own in Ghana, still pin their hopes on foreign investments for the redemption of our economies much to the detriment of small-and-medium-scale businesses in our respective countries. To be able to move the Ghanaian economy forward either without or with foreign investments, there a couple of things that need to be done. These include, inter alia : 1. The Quality of the People: Needless to say, economic development is greatly antecedent upon the quality of the people. An appropriate level of education is important for various types of workers. Education enables the peasant farmer to see and understand things beyond his individualized milieu and to make rational economic and scientific decisions. It enables the factory worker to absorb new-fangled ideas and information and adjust to the ever-changing economic and technological circumstances. If the oodles of print publicity about the morass of complaints of education in Ghana is anything, it tells of a system in abject deterioration and near failure. The graft and corruption in high places, amongst educated people is ample evidence of the ills in our educational system. In the light of this, it isn't inappropriate to suggest a return to basics, whereby we'll forcefully enshrine in our curriculums, especially at the pre-university levels, that education shouldn't only be to impart knowledge but also to teach moral and civic values which will exhort people to be disciplined and duty-oriented to fulfill their obligations to their families, communities and country. Much of the deterioration and near collapse of our educational system has to do with budgetary constraints, a lack of priority for education or a combination of both. It's very easy to justify that as a developing country we're highly constrained in what we can do to ensure quality education for the people. But the simple concept of opportunity cost should guide us to know how to prioritize our needs. For example the cost of a presidential jet is the improvements in our schools that we have to forgo. And if you have political leaders, including a President, who wouldn't want their kids to be part of an educational system ( by sending them abroad for schooling ) because of deterioration of the system, it shows the place of education in our national priority bracket. However, whether we like it or not, a greater part of our national budget still has to be devoted to education because of both its intrinsic and extrinsic value to national development.
2. Asceticism: The importance of asceticism in economic development was brought to the attention of economist for the first time by the noted German socio-economist Max Weber in his book "The Protestant Ethic and the Rise of Capitalism". This still has practical importance to modern-day development. As Weber observed, by enjoining its adherents to practise diligence and frugality, Protestantism made it possible to accumulate wealth, and as a result, brought about capitalism in Western Europe. As a poor people, we must learn to cut our coat according to our size, and stop extravagant lifestyles. It's nice to want to "dress to kill", or want to drive the latest Benz, Lexus, BMW or any flashy car for that matter. But in doing so we help develop other economies while ours continue to stagnate. As said by the white co-star in the movie "White men can't jump" to his black co-star, the black man wants to feel good before he wins, but the white man wants to win before he feels good. So we must all try and develop "investment minds" instead of "consumption and commercial minds", because money spent on conspicuous consumption means investment and capital accumulation forgone. 3. As I always say, instead of waiting for some foreign investors to come and invest in our economy, we should give great attention to small and medium scale businesses. Most of these businesses required little capital and simple technologies which fit the nature of our economy. For example how much capital does one need to produce soap from cocoa which we have in abundance? These small and medium scale manufactures have the potential to push us to the next level of economic development if we give them the necessary support.
4. Building strong technological communities: The importance of technology in economic development cannot be overemphasised, and in Ghana the historic near-absence of indigenous technological communities is one of the fundamental problems of economic development. Where there exist indigenous technological communities ( such as Suame Magazine ), we been slow in according to them national attention and support to enable them flourish full-fledgedly and diffuse their benefits to the rest of the country. It's imperative that we start building technological centers especially in our rural communities to help farmers and other small and medium business increase productivity.
5. Co-operation: By co-operation I mean people pooling their resources together to undertake joint-stock investments. With incomes very low and individual savings also low in Ghana, it seems that the most viable way to go as far as investments go is for Ghanaians to pool their resources together. And the government must encourage people to do that as was done in Japan in the early stages of its economic development efforts.
These are not the only things we must do, but if we're able to follow through them, it'll help us to move a significant step forward in our march towards economic freedom.