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Opinions of Friday, 17 September 2021

Columnist: Alordey Susu

An open letter to the President of the Republic of Ghana

President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo

Dear Mr. President,

Social justice and the development dilemma in Ghana: Why ends are not meeting

I would like to acknowledge the efforts you and many other successive governments have made to promote development and improve the welfare of ordinary hard-working citizens of our dear nation.

However, although we pat ourselves on the shoulder for marginal economic progress, as you can see, we are too far from any significant improvement in people’s lives.

I had hoped that coming from a human right law background, you would have favoured a course that secures and leverage opportunities of welfare for every Ghanaian who has suffered chronic disadvantages because of their gender, age, location, ethnicity, economic and social status.

As a citizen of this country, I am deeply concerned about the future of the many fellow country members whose daily lives are characterised by the apparent lack of voice and access to the basic needs of every human.

While I pondered over the state of quality of welfare of most Ghanaians compared to how far we have come with our development as a nation, I drew one conclusion: the dilemma of social justice in the development agenda.

So, I asked: to what extent do we pay attention to social justice while we seek economic development?  Mr. President, I would like to draw your attention to what social justice is and why it matters so much for 21st Century Ghana.

I read a paper recently written by Li & Wang (2020) on the subject, “Is social justice the superior economic growth model?" The authors, citing Helpman (2016) painted a picture of inequality in modern human society where only one percent of the rich control 99 percent of the wealth of nations.

I am inclined to believe that the same context applies to our country, if not worse—where less than one percent of the rich possibly control almost everything.  

A better picture of inequality was provided by a 2018 Oxfam report, which asserted that “just one of the richest men in Ghana earns from his wealth more in a month than one of the poorest women could earn in 1,000 years” (Oxfam, 2018:2). Similar images of inequality cut across almost every aspect of our lives as Ghanaians.

I do not want to venture into any irrelevant theoretical dogma of social justice, but as a reminder, social justice is more than equal access to wealth, opportunities, and privileges within our society as the literature tells us.

I consider social justice as a deliberate action at ensuring equity— something I will call “a deliberate discriminatory equality.” Social justice is about giving priority to the most disadvantaged in society to access opportunities and privileges that maximise their potential to participate effectively in the development processes of the country.

As Robeyns (2017) puts it, social justice efforts must build on the capabilities of people to function as humans.

While I appreciate the social protection efforts in Ghana such as the LEAP cash transfer program and health insurance exemptions, I contend that our current social protection systems are tokenism and do not reflect the full value of social justice. They failed to build and harness the capabilities of people to function as humans and to participate fairly in the social and economic process of the country.

Why should we seek more social justice in Ghana?  In answering this question, I would like to draw on what Li & Wang (2020) said: “social justice is like the steering wheel and brake of the automobile of economic development. When the state attaches too much importance to economic growth to ignore other values, social justice will step on the brake and adjust its direction” (Li & Wang, 2020:13).

From this assertion, we clearly see the implications of pursuing economic growth targeting favourable macroeconomic indices without corresponding attention to fairly distributing the resources, opportunities, and privileges within the country.

The lack of fairness in access to opportunities will eventually destabilise the economic gains we have made.  

Another reason we must pay attention to social justice is the need for social cohesion— the extent to which we live in peace and harmony with each other. I argue that the spate of social vices including, open disrespect and public insult of authority, the proliferation of unwarranted social media freaks who do nothing but fight among themselves, modernised sex trade, and armed robbery are direct manifestations of a lack of social justice.

There are too few opportunities for our fellow countrymen to take part in the economic and social process of the country— and predictably, it is just a matter of time when Karl Max’s conflict theory will openly manifest by such an unprecedented eruption as never witnessed before in the country. I fear by that time, all the gains we have collectively made will be an exercise in futility.

Mr. President, I know you mean well for the country, but the inequality gap is widening every day. You have an opportunity to change the narratives, but I would like that you prioritise the key principles of social justice— a fairer distribution of (a) the resources of the state, (b) opportunities of economic and social participation, (c) privileges, and (d) power.

As we always say, Ghanaians are hardworking people, all we need is a fair chance to use our capabilities. Give us a fair chance to access opportunities to be useful to ourselves, our families, our communities, and the nation at large.

Finally, Mr. President, I am of the view that pursuing social justice without full devolution of government function and services will yield little or no effect. Thus, while I invite you to consider maximising the benefits of social justice to improve economic development, I also invite you to think about our local government system, which can be a critical conduit for promoting and grounding social justice.

Unfortunately, it is sad to say our current local government system has become a white elephant with little power for any significant local and people development— the cradle of social justice. (I will have a follow-up conversation on this later).

Overall, my argument is that the ends of social justice and economic development are not meeting because we have ignored social justice for far too long. We also know that pursuing an economic agenda without attention to the chronically disadvantaged members of society to participate effectively in the process is a development naivety.

As a member of the clergy and also a social policy analyst, my theory is that we can only grow when we grow together; and when we grow from the bottom-up.

When everyone, regardless of age, ethnicity, gender, religion, and location, are given a fairer chance at resources, opportunities, and privileges; we can transform our nation into a more human society.

Mr. President, please make social justice a top priority and empower the local government system to drive the process. This way, we may, perhaps, secure the future of our beloved country and the people who call this place home.

I thank you for your audience.