Feature Article of Sunday, 1 July 2012
Columnist: Sakyi, Kwesi Atta
.....Towards Poverty Alleviation
By Kwesi Atta Sakyi
27th June 2012
By 2015, the UN Millennium Development Goals, set in 2000 under the then Secretary General, Kofi Annan should have been fulfilled. The 8 goals which were set included areas such as poverty reduction, reduction of maternal mortality, empowerment of women, among others. These cardinal goals which were set to bridge the income gap between the rich and poor have been an uphill task for many governments in the Less Economically Developed Countries of the world because of financial constraints, poor implementation strategies, global external shocks, deteriorating or worsening terms of trade, paring of donor aid following the global economic crunch, among many other challenges.
Here is where grassroots support or bottom-up development strategy is germane and appropriate. Over more than a century, our traditional churches and religious organisations in Ghana have played a vital and no mean role in various sectors of our Ghanaian economy. We doff off our hats to the missionary pioneers who set up schools, colleges and hospitals across the length and breadth of this country. We can here think of the Birch Freemans, Balmers, Morats, Dunwells among others. The Catholics, Presbyterians, Methodists, Anglicans, A.M.E. Zion and the Baptists included. Some of these translated the bible into local languages and helped to develop our vernacular languages. They also recorded our histories and cultures. It is through these missionaries that we improved the quality of life in agriculture, music, social welfare and other spheres of life.
It is now a challenge for our religious organisations to partner with government in providing a holistic approach to development. It is heartening to see our traditional churches establishing universities across the country. They must go beyond that to develop means of creating employment avenues for the graduates of these universities, be it in the formal or informal sector. It is on record that a Catholic priest in Northern Spain developed the modern concept of cooperative societies when he saw the abject penury among his flock and congregants in that part of the world. It is also on record that in England in 1844, the cotton weavers saw how they were fleeced of their profits by intermediaries and middlemen, so to disintermediate, they formed cooperatives. I call upon the religious organisations in Ghana to encourage rural and town communities to form cooperatives to empower their followers. Apart from fulfilling their spiritual mandate, they must also attend to the physical and economic needs of their followers by way of empowerment with soft loans or seed capital or any form of intervention. When I was young in the 50s and 60s, the Methodist Superintendent in Winneba used to employ bright pupils as pupil teachers in the Methodist schools and they also recommended young men and women to enter the priesthood at the seminaries. In those days, the population of school leavers was small. I conceive of ideas along Muslim lines where they do not charge interest on loans made to their members. We need this form of zero interest rate model for young school leavers to set up start-ups. The religious bodies in Ghana can facilitate this as a form of poverty alleviation intervention. We have heard of billionaire stories of rags to riches. These used the concept of zero capital. They dreamt big and with persistence and perseverance, they kept their focus and knocked on many doors before they found their business angels or venture capitalists to fund them. It all boils down to proper networking, hard work, humility and tenacity of purpose. Today, we think of the USA as the richest country in the world but we forget that the Pilgrim Fathers who landed in Massachusetts in 1650 from Harlem in Holland and Portsmouth in the UK, started with zero capital, except that they had human capital galore. Switzerland, Israel, Japan and Singapore are examples of countries with very little natural resources yet they are rich and advanced. It is because of their strong base of investment in human capital.
1. The religious organisations in Ghana should set up rural farms and enterprises to cater for the physical needs of their members because spiritual and physical needs are intertwined and inseparable
2. The religious bodies should access soft loans from financial institutions or from their own coffers to give as soft loans to young graduates
3. Government to set up interest-free loans for university graduates
4. The churches and religious bodies to run ndoboa (self help) and susu schemes, based on old Ghanaian traditional concepts
5. Religious bodies to set up arable and livestock farms to employ the youth and teach them farming skills
6. Religious bodies to partner with government and donors in running rural enterprises such as shops, vocational training centres, rural banks, rural craft centres, among others