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Opinions of Wednesday, 19 January 2005

Columnist: Amankwa, Kwame

Amanfuo ? Ohiameter, the powerful poverty measuring tool

Amanfuo, these days anything can be theorised, researched, analysed and reported as the truth, nothing but the truth. Researching and producing a fufu pounding machine is one such exercise. On a more serious note there is one issue, which has been agitating my mind for sometime ?poverty.

Amanfuo, in recent times I have been dismayed and troubled by certain events in our part of the world. All of a sudden, the issue of poverty has reared its ugly head again big time in every economic discussion around the globe. I have heard Tony Blair refer to our ?poverty? as a scar on the conscience of the world. I therefore decided to sit down and look into the whole question of ?poverty?, to determine it?s true definition, when and where it first originated from, whether we as a nation, never mind the continent of Africa was poor, what makes us poor, if true, and all the questions one can relate to this concept.

Amanfuo, I also have a surprise for you ? to test the world?s very first, accurate, user-friendly and uncomplicated poverty measuring equipment ? the Ohiameter (ohia ? poverty, meter ? measuring instrument). Amanfuo, I recently took this meter to Ghana and will relay my wonderful findings to you in my next article.

Amanfuo, as I have mentioned in my previous articles, I am no socialist, crusader or latter day saint. I am not even an economist but then economics have never made sense to me anyway. As the unedited email below (in response to a previous article) demonstrates, my writings are not meant for the average chacha player or the easily provoked person. My writings are very unconventional and devoid of statistics, quotes etc because I do not believe in such make-ups. Sometimes one needs special lenses to pick between the lines of my writings. Now it must be evident to readers by now as to which person needs re-education.

Desmond T Frimpong

I have read your article and I cannot see any sense and meaning at all. You need to go to school again, becuase your foresight and difinition of the whole enterprise of state building is out of ignorance. Please refrain from speaking the untruth. God bless you. Teddy

Definitions:

Anyway, back to the more serious business of determining whether our nation is so poor as they say. Amanfuo, the thing that I find intriguing is that there is no acceptable or single worldwide standard definition of poverty. Canada and a host of other developed countries do not have a definition. American economists use a federally defined poverty line to define it. In the UK it is the same story. Just look at the definitions below;

"The most commonly used way to measure poverty is based on incomes. A person is considered poor if his or her income level falls below some minimum level necessary to meet basic needs. This minimum level is usually called the "poverty line". What is necessary to satisfy basic needs varies across time and societies. Therefore, poverty lines vary in time and place, and each country uses lines which are appropriate to its level of development, societal norms and values." (The World Bank Organisation)

The European Union?s working definition of poverty is: ?Persons, families and groups of persons whose resources (material, cultural and social) are so limited as to exclude them from the minimum acceptable way of life in the Member State to which they belong?.

I turned to dictionaries but ended back at square one. One famous dictionary defined it as; ?The quality or state of being poor or indigent; want or scarcity of means of subsistence; indigence; need. Any deficiency of elements or resources that are needed or desired, or that constitute richness; as, poverty of soil; poverty of the blood; poverty of ideas?.

At this stage many more questions started going through my mind. If there is no standard definition in the advanced countries, how come it is possible for them and us to define our ?poverty?. If I go by the World Bank version, it means poverty or it?s line is not even static and also subject to variations in time and place. That material circumstance is important. But who on earth has the right to say, because I do not have a TV set or four-wheel drive car means I am poor. Or maybe it is these poverty definitions and solutions that have themselves created the poverty. Sort of self-fulfilling prophecy.

Our people have been spat upon at the various foreign embassies in Ghana and crude and demeaning things said about our dear country on our very own soil without fear or inhibition at all, in the name of what they see as our poverty. Some expatriate managers have even been known to beat, kick and insult their ?poor? Ghanaian workers. Filthy and nonentities have had the bold courage to bring their exploitative recording equipment to sexually exploit our ahenemaa because this thing. Where once we had pride, we now have shame, indignity and irrelevance. Last year someone applied for a visa in one of the famous embassies in Accra and was refused on the clear grounds that Ghana was poor, as a result they were not likely to come back if issued with the visa. Hmmmmmmmmmm. Anokware !!!!!! Amanfuo there was one more place to turn for a proper definition ? religion. What came across was that all the religions do mention or acknowledge the existence or possibility of some form of human depravity at an individual level, with many exalting their followers to do something about it. The trouble is, most of the religious perceptions of this dreadful human condition stands at odds with what the economists and all the ?palaver sauce? academicians have been telling us all these years. The bible talks about material poverty but richness in the spirit and even goes further to instruct believers to aim at ?storing their riches in heaven where no ants or thieves can destroy or steal it?.

This juncture of my search was where I realised that discerning reality from chuff was going to be an unusually tedious and tricky affair. Amanfuo, we have a very big problem. However, I am hoping to clear the clouds and establish the facts hopefully once and for all. Amanfuo, when is poverty not poverty and when is poverty truly poverty? Problems in the past: Shortly after independence, our colonial friends whispered into the ears of Osagyefo that the only way for the country to prosper was through what they called industrialisation, whether big or small. Nkrumah took us on the path of westernisation or modernisation as some will say, except that we never properly arrived. Our railways have since crumbled, our posh buildings have deteriorated, our electricity dam have had its fair share of problems, our health facilities have been badly traumatised, our state institutions have become bureaucratic nightmares. We have commissioned so many poverty reduction programmes ? PASCAM, Operation feed your self, HIPPC etc. all in the name of poverty eradication. In the midst of all these turbulence, we have not run out of the natural resources Odumankuma endowed us with. Yet we still wear the poverty label. Amanfuo, nearly all the international agencies are hell bent on reducing what they consider to be ?our poverty?, but their success has been patchy. Does this not tell us something? Again, this perception of acceptance of the condition has often given some of our countrymen the excuse to force themselves into government under the pretext of eradicating this canker. Misplaced assurance, however, is what I remember after the revolutionary hurricanes of the 60?s, 70?s and 80?s. Amanfuo, these days you cannot be the best finance minister in the world unless you know all the important people at the world bank or have worldwide connections where loans can easily be secured, even if the creditor turns out to be a hairdresser, all in the name of ?poverty?. Some past finance ministers have even worked so hard as to sleep with the daughter of the creditor so that we can get some langa to meet our material needs. Amanfuo, qualities such as knowledge of the financial systems, dedication, strong qualifications, honesty, integrity etc required for the finance post are becoming irrelevant. We all want the one who can borrow more. This was not the mentality of the people some years back.

Our president and everybody have been cast into the role of the deserving poor (of course that is not true because I know people who live in Ghana but pay child school fees in pounds sterling or hard US dollars abroad whilst there are citizens of such countries who can hardly afford a square or quarter meal a day). Our ?poverty? pictures have become good material for western politicians seeking fame and glory and sometimes the serious business of re-election in their home countries.

Amanfuo, I am still confused. How can they call us poor when we have cash to buy their military helicopters and a presidential jet? Maybe they are mistaken us for something else. Could it be the case of slowly developing rather than under-developing? Maybe it is our unique lax attitude to maintenance, accountability, irresponsibility, greed etc that has resulted in this mismatch between our western aspirations and our current ?under-development? status.

We are made to believe as most economists do in the spirit of competition (but we are a people who have no stomach for competition as the just ended elections shows), reduction of state subsidies (but our society is built on the notion of ?the state is my provider? or each one being the others keeper), and market flexibility (but our governments have always acted in different ways to stifle market flexibility because of what they often perceive to be dangers to their own vested interests, security and that of their families). So what we go do? As one of my friends will say.

Amanfuo, my argument arises out some ?unfortunate events? in recent times. A man, well educated, is tasked with managing an expensive state institution, looking into petroleum exploration and production. The funds end up being diverted into salt production leaving the state and everyone dry. A man is entrusted with running one of the most crucial institutions in the land, generating electricity. The institution is cash-strapped. Yet the first act of this CEO is to import many expensive Volvo cars for management. Someone may put up an opposing case for these expenditures or resource diversion, but the biggest test of all for me is whether the people lending us the money will do same were we to reverse the roles, and my honest answer is no.

I honestly think we need a complete reversion of the whole question of development, definitions of poverty, the equitable distribution of the nation?s resources, the question of governance, security etc.

Amanfuo, I still believe the purpose of telling someone that they are poor and making them believe this to be so through the use of crafty indicators, tables, comparative analysis of situations etc, is to permanently keep them enslaved and deprived. The downside is that people lose their ?marbles?, their sense of identity, inertia creeps in, creativity goes though the roof, their self-esteem is dampened, and they become even more ?dependent?. I see it as a control mechanism meant to perpetuate a servant-master relationship. It has also been the case since the beginning of creation, that it is the best form of exploitation.

We should have defined our own ways and means of defining ?ohia? before all these minim minim people stepped in.

Amanfuo, look at this way. You give me something because I have something valuable (collateral security they call it). This means that I am not poor in the real sense as I have something valuable to replace whatever I am receiving (exchange). Call it batter trade if you like. So how does the classification of rich and poor within this context add up?

Measuring poverty:

Amanfuo, I do not want to delve into history to fish out what should have been or what went wrong. But one of the forms in which this poverty scenario has come about is through debt creation. Amanfuo, common sense shows us that you don?t lend to someone who cannot afford repayments. The banks do not do it to individuals, so why on earth does these foreign bodies do it to our country or continent. The innocence of such offers of loans since independence has often come with it?s own unique and hidden problems and has been the bane of our current problems and woes. Now we have to travel miles on end around the globe from one donor conference to another begging for debt relief, a tragedy of monstrous proportions.

These days they use all sorts of mechanisms to determine ones suitability for a loan ? credit scoring, the most popular one, which gathers and analyses ones personal details in a way that I sometimes find dehumanising. The personal level that is. When this process is replicated at the national level, we can expect to see the whole of the nations ?secrets?, dignity, displayed on an open tray for all to see.

Amanfuo, ohia titi ntuma (poverty can bring all sorts of wahala). Poverty can force one to wash their dirty linen in public. For instance, it is very easy for me to get so called sensitive and privileged data on Ghana?s economy etc from the world international financial bodies than from the ministry of finance. The reason being years of regularly compiling our problems, our sorrows, the list of our resources, our way of living (GLSS), our internal troubles, our savings etc in a format or report style that is recommended or prescribed by and acceptable to outside bodies. The reason? So that they can lend us more money because we are ?poor?. Now which one is better; to be poor without any debts, to be rich with a host of debts, to be rich without debts, or to be poor with huge debts hanging around your neck.

Measuring poverty in Ghana:

Economists and other academic professors have developed an extremely sophisticated method (s) of ?defining?, measuring and analysing and prescribing poverty, yet many decades later we are still stuck in the slow lane of ?no mans land?. People are making millions in the name of ?almighty poverty?. Maybe it is time to shift the emphasis, resources and energies to tackling something that is real and not imaginary.

Amanfuo, I intend to continue next time still exploring the issue of poverty as it relates to our dear country. More importantly I will be presenting the findings of my wonderful instrument, the ohiameter which will render some of the economic surveys and data known to man obsolete and cause some economists to want to tear out their hairs and smash their lap tops.

Amanfuo, we send home at least $1bn every year. Amanfuo, is all of Ghana really poor as we are made to believe? If you cannot see something does it mean that it does not exist? If there is poverty, is it as bad as they say it is, and what should we do about it if that were true.

May God bless our dear country and Africa. The richest and most peaceful nation on earth.


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