Feature Article of Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Columnist: Bid, Kwame E.

The State of Ghana's Economy in 2011

and need for Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)

Last week Thursday, a good friend of mine, Asiedu Acquah, a Ghanaian Harvard student currently undertaking research in London, posted these lines on his facebook wall, "No free access for me to the African historical collections at Oxford University because Ghana, by World Bank rankings, is a middle income country (not poor)." He then congratulated his country folks, but was quick to add a rather witty line "No freebies for your citizens anymore...”

Well, officially, Ghana has attained a middle income status, more specifically, a lower middle income. Lower middle-income countries are those with per capita Gross National Incomes of between $1,006 and $3,975 per year.

Let me begin by throwing some facts at you:

1. According to EconomyWatch.com, Ghana leads the world as the fastest growing economy in 2011 with GDP growth pinned at a whopping 20% 2. Ghana has the largest Per Capita Income (PCI) in West Africa and 21st on the continent. 3. Latest figures released by Ghana’s Statistical Service indicate the country’s economy stands at GH¢44 billion. 4. Ghana joined the league of oil producing countries in December, 2010 with 85,000 barrels of crude oil in a day (compare that with Nigeria’s 2.2 million per day). 5. China is the fastest growing largest economy in the world, but Ghana tops the world as the fastest growing economy.

Now, let me give you data from EconomyWatch.com. The data points reportedly come from the IMF’s tracker of GDP Growth in constant prices in the national currency (not in dollars).

GDP Growth (Constant Prices, National Currency) Value *Ghana 20.146 % *Qatar 14.337 % *Turkmenistan 12.178 % *China 9.908 % *Liberia 9.003 % *India 8.43 % *Angola 8.251 % *Iraq 7.873 % *Ethiopia 7.663 % *Mozambique 7.548 % *Timor Leste (East Timor) 7.4 % *Laos 7.395 %

So, what magic wand transformed or is transforming Ghana's economic fortunes almost at a cheetah's speed? Oh the word cheetah reminds me of George Ayittey, the Ghanaian Economist at American University and the economic revolution he seems to be sparking among many African youth lately. You have probably heard about Cheetah Generation; if not look at Patrick Awuah and his brainchild, Ashesi University—he’s the epitome of a true African cheetah! His new campus is opening on Saturday at Berekuso. I salute you, Mr. Awuah. As a Ghanaian disporan myself, you’re a big inspiration. Oops…where did we left off? We were talking about a certain magic wand, huh? Ok, so the wand that is transforming Ghana is quite obvious: oil.

But, wait a second. Experience has it that oil by itself does not grow an economy. Doubt it? Well if it does, Nigeria would be the new China of Africa. Over the past 50 years, Standard Bank estimates that the country has made a whooooping $6 trillion out of oil, but is it even ironic that Nigeria still imports 60% of its own fuel because it lacks domestic refining capacity and power outage is very common? (Forgive me if you happen to be a Nigerian reading this piece...I wish I mentioned something positive instead)

Let me ask again, what forces are behind Ghana's economic gains of late? I will attempt to provide some answers.

1. Oil. Thanks to Tullow, Kosmos, GNPC, the E.O Group (by Mr. George Yaw Owusu and Dr. Kwame Bawuah-Edusei), and the Elephant and Umbrella parties! (I know some hardwired party loyalists aren’t happy--if you're one of them, my friend, shut up! Who said the elephant can't use the umbrella in dire weather conditions...hurricane Irene, for example? Or the umbrella won't add essence to its own existence by making itself useful to the elephant?) You're laughing out loud, aka LOL, aren't you? Lol!

2. The amazing success of the telecoms sector. You have to agree with me -- about 75% of Ghanaians are mobile phone subscribers, research confirms. This is certainly a record-breaking percentage in Africa. Chale, our grandmas and grandpas are fast availing themselves to the technological dictates of today. Go to Nkrumah Circle in Accra, and catch a glimpse of an African mobile phone market. Someone once joked that Nkrumah Circle be renamed, Phone Circle. I was all for it except that it would make it into Guinness Book of Records as the dumbest idea in 2011.

Thanks to the continued liberalization of the telecom sector by successive regimes. Thanks also to network service providers -- MTN Ghana (aka Areeba), Vodafone, Kasapa (aka Expresso), Zain, Tigo (aka Buzz), and Airtel.

On the lighter side, to make it big in Ghana as a network service provider, don't ever go by a local name such as Kasapa. That would be a mild insult to Ghanaians' march to civilization aka westernization, and you'd be punished severely by customers. Instead, choose sexy English names -- Expresso, Airtel etc. ‘Chaley, eye asem oo.’

3. Entrenched democracy. 'Free and fair elections', relatively strong institutions, freedom of speech and of the press...did I miss anything? Oh yea, even professional serial callers are tolerated -- a little bit of demo-cracy and demo-crazy mixed in a charged theatrical atmosphere of democratic frenzy. For your information, politics of insult is a ridiculously easy way to become a "national hero" overnight in Ghana. Just aim at the biggest guys in office and shoot them with mortal insults. Next, convince the Police to get you arrested, and your entire party members would swallow their brains and stand by you in solidarity --but that's what being a 'true' party member entails, right? The media would spice it up as usual and before you know, you're a national hero with a towering swagger like that of Nelson Mandela --courtesy of John Kumah and the rest. If you're one of the rest, learn to tame your long democratic bayonet, I mean your tongue. If that’s too difficult, set your tongue on your teeth and give it a fine cut to size. Lol…but seriously, Ghana ‘dey bee keke’

4. Ease of doing business. Ghana is ranked 92 by the World Bank in terms of ease of doing business. Not a great rank, but a remarkable improvement over past rankings. Ghanaian politicians are coming to terms with the reality that making it difficult for investors, both local and foreign, to establish business is not the smartest strategy to grow an economy. Don't be surprised that it took more than five decades for the smartest amongst us to be fully convinced of the wisdom in removing bureaucratic bottlenecks in the way for entrepreneurs. Well, at least, we're getting it small small; we aren't going back. That’s for sure.

The above records are impressive; Ghanaians need to take a break and pat themselves on the back for enabling their lone Black Star to shine through the often dark African clouds to the outside world. Political emancipation of Sub-saharan Africa began right here in Ghana, and economic emancipation seems to be gathering momentum here again. It’s a good time to be a Ghanaian huh?

However, there's one more thing that Ghanaians must pay particular attention to as greatness knocks steadily on their door. There's the need to take the bull by the horns by passing the long-overdue Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The FOIA basically "...establishes rules whereby citizens, foreign nationals, corporate bodies, and associations, etc., can request access to, and receive information held by government agencies.” Without the Act, taxpayers cannot challenge government agencies on how they spend their own monies.

The United Nations General Assembly, in 1946, actually recognized that freedom of information is a “…fundamental human right and the touchstone for all freedoms to which the United Nations is consecrated.” Barack Obama on his historic visit to Ghana reiterated the need for freedom of information bill. Nigeria, under J. Goodluck has passed FOIA into law. What is Ghana waiting for?

This call is even more urgent given the fact that Ghana has joined the ranks of oil producing nations and also that corruption alone is estimated to eat away between $195 and $429 million of the nation's revenue cake annually. Quite a chunk of cash, isn't it? It seems like the bad boys are making it big at the expense of the good guys. You don't want to encourage that!

What you can do? When you make that call to Joy, Peace, Nhyira radio stations, mention the FOIA and request that government takes action in passing it into a comprehensive law. It won't be too hard on your pocket, trust me. If you're a journalist, add your voice to mine to call attention to FOIA (I'm not a journalist though), if you're a politician, look at the long-term good of Ghana and press for FOIA. What if you're simply a facebook addict reading this article at myjoyonline.com, Ghanaweb or Modernghana? Copy the link and paste in your facebook wall. It’s colorless; it won’t tarnish your wall. Together, we accelerate the tempo of Ghana's march to economic freedom. Chaley, poverty sucks!

To conclude, Ghanaians once again deserve commendation for making it to the middle income category, and for leading Africa and the world in terms of GDP growth in 2011. At this point, it's forward ever -- there is no turning back on progress. The good news is that with the passage of the Freedom of Information legislation, the nation stands the prospect of consolidating its economic gains by giving Azuma Nelson's right hand blow to corruption, and promoting a culture of transparency and accountability in the public sphere. At the end, Ghana is starved less, it grows more, and we all benefit –including the few 'hardworking' corrupt nuts. You are not one of them, are you?


About the author:

Kwame E. Bid is a 2009 alumnus of University of Ghana currently studying for his Master's degree at Heller School for Social Policy and Management, Brandeis University, Massachusetts. He is a columnist for major online news media in Ghana and some parts of Africa. Visit VOR blog for this and similar articles by author: http://bidi-kwame-emmanuel.blogspot.com.