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Opinions of Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Columnist: Asher, Bernard

A Return to the Gold Coast. A thought worth Considering

A cursory joke with a couple of colleagues in the office led me into deep thought. As part of a lunch hour chinwag, Sean, a white Zimbabwean immigrant had jokingly quibbled to Mark, while winking in my direction for support “Bernard and I have returned from Africa to reclaim what you British took from our continent”. I shouted an exaggerated “YES” in agreement. But then it was Mark’s rather poignant albeit factual retort that set me thinking and actually motivated this article. “Yes but then look at the mess you lot made of the continent since we left. We [the British] would have made a far better job had you not kicked us out”. Sean shouted some obscenities in return to which we all laughed. Soon enough lunch was over and we shuffled back into the office. I couldn’t help thinking about what Mark had said earlier. What a mess Africans had indeed made of the continent, I thought. Perhaps the British would have made a better job Africa in general and Ghana in particular if they were still in charge. Horrible as this thought seemed I could not dismiss it. Perhaps had Ghana not demanded her independence from Britain in 1957 and had it still been a British territory the myriad woes that plague that country could have been averted. The preceding has led me to the following hypothesis: The Gold Coast under British Rule would have been, in all probability, a more prosperous and a better-led country than what it is today. Now before I am dismissed as an imperialist apologist let me provide a near scientific basis for my hypothesis. These are obviously open to critique.

The first reason for my hypothesis goes thusly: current British Overseas territories [a status that Ghana would have had had it still been a part of the UK] are all much more prosperous than Ghana is. A few examples will suffice. Bermuda currently has GDP per capita of approximately $69,900, surpassing the G8 average by far. The Cayman Islands’ GDP - per capita purchasing power parity was estimated at $43,800 in 2004. The Falklands GDP per capita was estimated at $25,000 in 2002. Gibraltar’s GDP per capita was estimated at $35,400 in 2005. Anguilla’s GDP per capita was estimated at $8,800 in 2004. Hong Kong which is now part of China but used to be a British Territory until 1997 has a GDP per capita (PPP) of $44,413. Contrast the preceding with Ghana’s GDP per capita purchasing power parity which is estimated at a paltry $1500 in 2008. If these figures are anything to go by then surely it can be extrapolated that Ghana is likely to have been a more prosperous country than it is today.

The second reason is that: No British Overseas Territory has had any military intervention in its history. Contrast this with the innumerable putsches and subsequent stratocratic regimes that have plagued countries such as Ghana, Nigeria, The Gambia and Sierra Leone since demanding and obtaining independence from the British. It is in the light of above that Nkrumah’s fallacious and rather foolhardy proclamation that “the [Ghanaian] is able to manage his own affairs” must be questioned. Ghanaian historiography has made it evident that the Ghanaian is indeed not able or rather has not been able to take care of his own affairs and as such had had to return again and again to the former colonial power for assistance. Ghana’s economy is today still principally dependent on foreign munificence and is still largely managed by the Bretton Woods organisations and other donors. The begging question then is what benefit has independence from Britain been to Ghana? Disturbingly besides the much ballyhooed national pride I have not been able to identify any tangible benefit independence has brought to Ghanaians. Indeed given the chance most Ghanaians today would rather live in Britain rather than in Ghana.

Thirdly: Corruption in British Overseas Territories is far lower than in Ghana. According to the 2010 Index of Economic Freedom which ranks Ghana at a dismal 87th place “Ghana’s overall economic freedom is mainly curtailed by an ineffective judicial system that remains vulnerable to political influence. Corruption and the weak rule of law undermine Ghana’s capacity to attract more foreign investment”. It goes further to assert that “Ghana’s judicial system suffers from corruption … and political influence. The courts are slow to dispose of cases and face challenges in enforcing decisions, largely because of resource constraints and institutional inefficiencies. The legal system recognizes and enforces secured interest in property, but getting clear title to land is often difficult, complicated, and lengthy. Despite laws to protect intellectual property rights, very few cases have been filed”. Contrast the above to Hong Kong’s number one status on the same index. Corruption in Ghana still dominates the national psyche and filters down from the very top echelons of power to the school boy on the streets of Accra. A recent publication on Ghanaweb attributed to one Daniel Fisher, a Senior Editor at Forbes Magazine specialising in macroeconomic and legal issues, allegedly “showcased” Ghana as the 9th “worst-managed country” in the world. [see: Ghanaweb 16th June 2010].

This writer is forced to accept the analysis made by Harrison and Huntington (eds. 2000) that culture indeed matters in the development of a people. In their seminal work ‘Culture Matters’ Samuel Huntington laments the fact that in the 1960s Ghana and South Korea had comparable “levels of per capita GNP, similar divisions of their economy among primary products, manufacturing, and services; and overwhelmingly primary product exports” (p.xiii). Crucially the two countries also received comparable levels of economic aid. Thirty years later the latter country had become an industrial powerhouse with the fourteenth largest economy in the world, multinational corporations, major exports of automobiles, electronic equipment and other sophisticated manufactures, and a per capita income approximating that of Greece. Sadly no such changes had occurred in Ghana during the same period. The country’s per capita GNP remains about one-fifteenth that of South Korea. In answering why the above massive disparity is the case, the author is of the sobering view that “culture had to play a large part of the explanation”. He reckons that whiles South Koreans “valued thrift, investment (not in funerals), hard work, education, organisation, and discipline, Ghanaians had different values” (p.xiv). Now he keeps an eerie silence on what these crippling Ghanaian values are in the initial pages of the book and allows the reader to discover these in subsequent pages- a shrewd move given the sensitivity of these patently backward value systems that has confined Ghana to the economic dark ages.

Historically the quest for political independence by former colonies from their colonial masters should have been at once both a demand for political sovereignty and economic self-determination albeit the latter was mostly downplayed. Sadly the attainment of sovereignty did not necessarily precipitate the advent of economic prosperity. Indeed former colonies like Ghana have largely become ever more dependent on their former colonial masters since gaining political independence-a phenomenon which has been described in Marxist writings as a new and even more dangerous form of imperialism- neo-colonialism. (Nkrumah, 1965). An inherent part of these Marxist theories is the doctrine of economic determinism which, at its very simplest claims, that the ultimate basis of social behaviour and distribution of power lay in the realm of economics. Economic power therefore determined political relationships and as such real power lay with the countries that were economically powerful. (Mazrui, 1966). In other words political independence of states was highly dependent on economic strength- an idea that was eventually accepted by potentate Nkrumah himself after he had realised the futility of pursuing political independence without a corresponding economic prosperity.(see ‘Nkrumah. The Leninist Czar’ by Ali Mazrui, 1966).

Now unless a cultural revolution of sorts is started and sustained in Ghana it may be worth appealing to the United Kingdom or even China (Africa and Ghana’s new benefactor) to redefine their bilateral relations and reclassify Ghana as an overseas territory- a status that, in fact, comes with significant political autonomy and sovereignty in all but name.

Bernard Asher- Lecturer of Business and Economics & Associate Tutor (Reading University, College of Estate Management) E-mail: