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Feature Article of Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Columnist: Fordjour, Asante

Why Must John Mahama Accept Free SHS Now?

A Comparative Study of Cuban Free Education: Asante Fordjour at justiceghana.com argues that free SHS could be less expensive than the cost of fighting economic blockade...


Free education is one of the greatest successes of the 31 December 1959 Cuban Revolution. Before the revolt one quarter of Cuba’s population received no education and was illiterate. Since the revolt, literacy levels have soared due to comprehensive education policies introduced to Cuba. Today the literacy rate stands at 95% as all education is free to its citizens. The Brief economic profile of Cuba: Nominal Gross Domestic Product (NGDP): US$57.65 billion; NGDP per head: US$5,128; Inflation rate: 3.1%. Main industries: tourism, export of professional services (e.g. medical personnel) nickel, tobacco, sugar, agriculture and biotech. Cuba calculates its GDP to include “social services”. These estimated figures are provided by the Economist Intelligence Unit (2010 estimate), and are based on figures provided by the Cuban regime, which are yes, strongly contested by independent economists. Cuba has an area of 110,860 sq km (42,803 sq miles) and with a population of 11.2 million. This is vast in contrast to Ghana’s, with 25 million people and huge resources.


At the dawn of independence, Gold Coast encountered two schools of thought: Whereas the Convention People’s Party (CPP) demanded self-rule now or never; the United Party (UP) desired it but said that the Colony has a huge number of illiterates who after some 113 years of colonialism, couldn’t read and write the Queen’s English so it needed the Brits’ guidance on parliamentary democracy. It was yes, not affordability but a case of professional interests or Ghana’s political heritage- “two legs good, four legs bad”. So you can confidently predict that President John Mahama might fail if at the last hour, he were to consider an executive instrument on free SHS for urgent bi-partisan parliamentary passage.

One of the greatest achievements of Dr Kwame Nkrumah was free secondary education to the North. I support the free SHS because it could effectively open up our forests, marshlands and savannah to prosperity; employment and wealth. I dissent however; on the argument that all free secondary school converts, ought to be its unblemished Apostle Paul or missionary workers. I am inclined to reason that Mahama-led Ghana is complex to be reconciled with Ghana’s political dynamics under Nkrumah. Unlike in our generation, perhaps, Nkrumah, inherited a more patriotic citizens who loved one another, thought more about Ghana than themselves and desired less, to have a university degree or travel abroad.
At the crow of the Cuban revolution; education of the rural masses of Cuba, as kwintessential.co.uk (March 29th, 2010) puts it, became a top priority. For eight months, all schools in the city were closed down and teachers and students were sent into the rural areas en masse to provide education to rural communities. Today in Cuba, special rural schools have been set up to cater for the rural communities. These schools are, in the words of kwintessential.co.uk, located amongst the local communities making it easier for children to receive their education while living at home. In addition, the education provided at these schools takes into account the rural lifestyle of the students and provides time for students to work on agriculture in the fields at the same time as receiving an education.

So why the debate on whether or not free SHS might be poison chalice or a port of gold for Ghana? Yes free education for our cousins in the North was introduced at independence partly because of the inherent colonial injustices that allegedly, sought to make the Territory, “hewers of-wood-and-drawers of water” or a subservient to the said socio-economically vibrant South. But there might have been some families; down- south, who were much poorer than perceived needy families in the North. Yet the CPP’s free secondary education failed to capture their needs. As an indigenous southerner or a southern-born northerner or settler, add this to the struggles in educating yourself or your inabilities to do so and you might certainly, understand the collective underdevelopment of our Territories.
Ghana has an area of 238,533 sq km (92,098 sq miles); has 25 million population (UN, 2011). Its GDP, according to the World Bank (2011 report}, is $39,199,656,051. The GNI per capita is US $1,410, GDP growth is pegged at 14.3% and inflation put at 12.5%. Life expectancy: 64years (men), 66 years (women) (UN). The main exports: Gold, cocoa, timber, tuna, bauxite, aluminium, manganese ore, diamonds and more recently, crude oil. These potentials could arguably, put Ghana far ahead of predominantly service-led economy Cuba. Cuba’s agricultural sector, accounts for example, less than 5% of GDP and is particularly said to be inefficient, and as a result imports up to 80% of its food. But Ghana recently sent 250 students to study medicine in Cuba not only because it was cheaper to do so but probably it has reliable infrastructure and patriotic “surplus nurses and doctors” in offer.

Indeed Cuba stands out from the rest of Latin America and the Caribbean as one of the world’s few enduring centrally-planned economies in which the State is the sole important economic actor, controlling some 90% of the economy and employing around 85% of the total workforce. It is also saluted for its perseverance in the face of years of US embargo since October 1960. The blockade that President John Mahama, called for its dismantling in his recent UN speech, is defined as a partial commercial, economic, and financial sanction, imposed some two years following the overthrow of pro-US Batista regime. This was in response to nationalization of properties belonging to US citizens and corporations in Cuba.
In his recent encounter with Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA, 18 October 2012); President Mahama, seemed not only helpless about finding lasting answers to Ghana’s donor support and overreliance but also how it could be put at bay, the mass-dumping of frozen chicken from abroad which as the representative of Ghana Poultry Farmers’ Association puts it, had been killing their trade. True he was right on the need to balance enough legumes or maize production to ease production costs so as to be competitively viable on the market. But his fears over trade reprisals were over-dozed as most States, wield protective domestic measures. This could not only be imposition of prohibitive import or excise duties but also, effective civic education on the necessity in promoting one’s homemade goods and services.

Yes it must be incumbent upon the indigenous producers or service providers to prove their salt why given the choice; the Ghanaian or the foreigner, would have to settle on the local fried yam or plantain but not on imported fried potatoes. This is true of all local products which have its foreign composite on the market that governments have had fast no power to dictate its patronage? But all around the world, responsible governments are capable of educating or influencing its people on choices. This might be in the form of a deliberate policy direction: educational curriculums or syllabus as well as regulatory bodies. So it might be for example, extremely difficult to import certain products or endangered species from Ghana to the European Union if you were to be unable to meet the Union’s Health and Safety rules- all because of free trade? The issue is not you being a Ghanaian but because each Member State- here, the UK, can for instance, refuse entry to even an EU citizen if the exercises of his/her free movement rights, compromise Britain’s health and security policies.
While the president exhibited knowledge and fluency on Ghana’s international obligations- specifically on the ECOWAS protocol, his response to the Fulani question appeared disenchanted and arms-throwing and again on, the free trade, especially where ECOWAS seems to undermine its founding protocols on free movement of goods and services let alone its peoples? The argument here is that even in the developed EU Treaty, there are limitations of free movement based on considerations of public security, public policy, public health grounds and employment in the public sector. How, then, might you perceive the State if it were to compromise your rights in the name of ECOWAS protocol?
For most Ghanaians the State and Government are congregations or embodiments of the affluent and the rich who occupy magnificent state buildings with their large families and relations. They drive the latest manufactured cars at virtually low or no cost and where possible, had for example, brought heavens on earth, in procuring to themselves and relations cocoa or [sheabutter] marketing board’s scholarships for their choosing even where they had been found ineligible. A free SHS could therefore, be a cure to corruption and unpatriotic tendencies, a solution to threats of trade reprisals or embargos that are making many families/guardians economically destitute and have to swim on their own but without identifiable social safety-net. Yes like all good things there is indeed a down side. In this case free SHS might mean the possibility of parting with other equally-important aspects of the country’s development: potential damage to basic education and of course, at tertiary level.

Some might also say it will retard Ghana’s overall development agenda due to budgetary constraints and on more serious note, a production of half-baked labour force, which have been rushed to the job market to bite more than what they can chew. I personally do not subscribe to these arguments because we have been told of a similar debate decades ago where the target of objectors was “Veranda Boys”. Fore, there were no women or men who wore suit and tie but trainers and bare-footed when the ‘suits’ threw their arms up in frustrations and uncertainties. So don’t be tempted to ask who won? Yes in the Towards Colonial Freedom, Dr Nkrumah cited Wilhelm Liebknecht- the founder of German Social Democracy- as saying: “To negotiate with forces that are hostile on matters of principle means to sacrifice principle itself. Principle is indivisible. It either wholly kept or wholly sacrificed.”

Yet in the past where competitive Common Entrance Examination seemed to many of us like an East-West ideological battles, the case had been one of the hassles of the farmer’s or the carpenter’s child, whose dreams about such schools as Achimota or Mfantsipim had been more of a fantasy than a reality. The ambitious switch-over from the norm, to the wholesale JSS, arguably, took off poorly-planned and to many rural folks, with infrastructural deficiencies. It has however, offered hope to thousands of kids, whose dreams of making it to a publicly funded secondary/technical schools, would have been a nightmare. The Cuban rural education took similar patriotic bait and if it is now deemed successful, why can’t Ghana?
One of the greatest legacies that a true people’s revolution or its successor government might bequeath to its citizens could be comprehensive free education; affordable housing and an equitable health delivery system. Notwithstanding decades of economic blockade the United Nations Education, Scientific Social and Cultural Organization (UNESSCO) acknowledges that education expenditures continue to receive high priority in Cuba; as the government, spends 10% of its central budget on education, compared with 4% in the UK and just 2% in the US (Latin lessons: What can we learn from the world’s most ambitious literacy campaign? The Independent UK, 07 November2010).


This article sought not to resolve Cuba’s known socio-political or ideological contestations fore even in the Kingdom of God, there had always been critics. I have attempted to argue that socio-economically; Ghana is in a pole position than where Cuba was, some 53 years ago and therefore, cannot continue to defer its State obligations to its future leaders. Liebknecht is right – “Principle is indivisible. It either wholly kept or wholly sacrificed.”

1. Gross Domestic Product (GDP): Inflation adjusted monetary value of all the finished goods and services produced within a country’s borders in a specific time period.
2. Nominal Gross Domestic Product is a figure that has not been adjusted for inflation.

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