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Opinions of Monday, 16 January 2012

Columnist: Okoampa-Ahoofe, Kwame

Busia on Ghana’s Economic Development

By Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D.

We often talk about the democratic ideological underpinnings of the Danquah-Busia Tradition, but not much is discussed about what Ghana’s Oxbridge-educated second premier in the postcolonial era stood for, in terms of our national development agenda. In the coming months, I intend to highlight the quite well-known but rarely discussed perspectives of Dr. Kofi Abrefa Busia on the direction of development which this great scholar and statesman envisaged for sovereign Ghana. What is rather ironic is that although no postcolonial Ghanaian leader wrote and published more scholarly works on Ghana and African, in general, than this first African to be named professor at the University of Ghana, including Mr. Kwame Nkrumah, of course, when it comes to meaningfully assessing his works, much of the latter comes in the form of his political detractors merely taking potshots at a few moments of transient governance in which this most gentlemanly of Ghanaian leaders was deemed to have committed an egregious error, or two, in judgment.
Still, one aspect of his leadership on which nearly all students of African politics and history agree, is the fact that absolutely nobody can accuse Prime Minister Busia of being a dictator or a self-absorbed megalomaniac, in the way that President Nkrumah is routinely envisaged. And for this write-up, as it were, I have chosen the address which Dr. Busia presented to the Plenary Session of the Third Biennial Congress of Ghana’s Trades Union Congress (TUC) at Winneba, Central Region, on July 31, 1970. The title of the address in question was “The Way to Industrial Peace,” and readers are strongly encouraged to read the original; it is only six pages long and characteristically reads like a public conversation with the proverbial average Ghanaian.
In his introductory paragraph, the renowned and astute sociologist and thinker highlights the fact that Nkrumah’s dictatorial personal political culture had unduly stampeded the emergence of a salutary unionized workers movement, thus occasioning the imperative necessity for a new kind of workers’ union to be reconfigured, if the onward march of the country into modernity and an appreciable level of economic development were to be realized in the offing. To the latter effect, Prime Minister Busia observed: “This Congress makes history. For it is the first in the Second Republic, and for the first time, you are meeting in a free and democratic Ghana. Genuine trades unionism can only flourish in such an environment, and I am therefore happy to be associated with this Congress.”
And in what clearly appears to be a poignant jab at the Nkrumah-led Convention People’s Party’s notorious intolerance and abject insensitivity towards trades unionism, the speaker further observes: “If there is a time the country needs the mutual trust of the unions and employers [i.e. the Government], it is this. If there is a time the country needs the employer and his men to work together, it is this.” That the term “employer” almost synonymously referred to the central government of Ghana, was due primarily to the fact that back then, as even now, the Government of Ghana was the single-largest employer in the country.
For Prime Minister Busia, the fundamental aspect of national development ineluctably entailed an efficient food production and distribution system. To this effect, therefore, he notes: “In order to reduce the cost of living[,] my Government has [instituted] measures for increasing agricultural production, measures which emphasize the expansion of production of food crops such as rice, maize and sugar-cane. It also has measures [in place] for expanding livestock production. These food crops must reach the people in the towns and cities – the clerks, the masons and carpenters, the taxi drivers, the factory workers and the teachers. Therefore there are plans to set up appropriate marketing arrangements, one of the most important of which is a comprehensive feeder roads program. We wish to develop other cash crops and agricultural raw materials, to feed our factories, and we shall place emphasis on cotton and bast fiber, oil seeds, rubber and citrus.”
In all likelihood, the preceding blue-print for national development must have informed the celebrated Operation Feed Yourself (OFY) program launched by the Acheampong-led National Redemption Council (NRC) some two or three years later. Needless to say, a comprehensive and systematic research project may have to be conducted in order to objectively establish the plausible nexus between the Busia development blueprint and its apparently quite successful implementation by the Acheampong junta.
Further, the leader of the Progress Party highlights the need for rural development: “As we improve our agriculture and roads[,] we would like to provide some of the essential social amenities like good drinking water, electricity, health centers and low-cost houses for our rural areas.”
Unlike Nkrumah, before him, Busia saw the future development of Ghana in terms of rural industrialization, as opposed to urban industrialization and the unsavory massive rural population drift that invariably attended the latter: “What about the problem of unemployment which gives us so much concern? This will be tackled on several fronts – by expanding our agricultural and industrial products and coordinating them in such a way that industries will be established in areas other than the existing main centers of population, and by effectively coordinating our educational system, and applying the facilities for training in a better way.”
One subject on which virtually all postcolonial Ghanaian leaders agree in toto regards the laziness of the proverbial average Ghanaian worker. Some scholars and labor experts have suggested that this has more to do with the remarkably inclement climatic conditions prevailing in the entire West African sub-region, as well as the high incidence of sickle-cell anemia and sleeping sickness that take a heavy toll on the manpower and human resources of the people. Some have even suggested reconfiguring the work schedule in order to synch with the region’s peculiar climatic conditions and thus maximize labor output and the resultant outcomes. Busia, on the other hand, clearly appears to have envisaged such chronic lassitude towards labor in terms of culture, rather than sheer environmental inclemency: “I suggest that trade union education should first change the attitude of the Ghanaian worker to his work. Whatever you may do to improve the skill of a worker, if he has not got the right attitude[,] his productivity will not increase. Many Ghanaian workers don’t seem to want efficiency. They want to take as long as possible on the job. They are probably afraid of losing their job. But this attitude restricts their own progress as workers and that of their factory and of the whole country. It is important for them to realize that the individual worker’s lot will not improve appreciably unless everybody else’s is improving.” Collective responsibility, thus, is the idiom here, in so far as work ethic is concerned.
Busia also highlights the fact that the evolutionary relationship between employee and employer, in the antagonist manner in which it has developed in the West, is very different from that which prevails in postcolonial Ghana, and Africa, in general, where the government is often the single-largest employer. In the latter instance, the imperative need is for both employer and employee to work collaboratively in order to guarantee the greater national good. For the employer, needless to say, is almost invariably a government executive and a public servant just like the ordinary worker.
The preceding notwithstanding, Busia is of the view that executives of public corporations could be more sensitive, in a legion of instances, to the welfare of their employees: “But the development process is a two-way process. The unions cannot go it alone. What about management? What about employers? I would like to say a few words to them also. Employers must also change their attitude to labor. We must remember that the worker is the source of all human necessities and therefore he determines our standard of living. We must take an interest in him as a fellow human being. We must show concern for his welfare, and the care and upbringing of his family. We must awaken his desire to cooperate with us. A mere plan of cooperation drawn up by an employer or the Government will achieve nothing if the worker does not want to cooperate. We must show that we are interested in improving his standard of living and not just interested in our profits. We cannot get much out of a worker who does not trust us and has no joy in working with us.”
The foregoing words, spoken some 41 years ago, still has great relevance, resonance and currency today. Several weeks ago, for example, we learned to our great horror and utter dismay that quite a sizeable percentage of Ghanaian civil servants had not been paid their salaries over the Christmas holidays of 2011. Ironically, this happened at just about the same time that President John Evans Atta-Mills took two vacation trips to New York City, within a couple of weeks of each other. It is this kind of abject insensitivity towards labor and national development that Prime Minister Busia alluded to in his historic address to Ghanaian trades union leaders. And, of course, when such leadership irresponsibility comes from the chief executive of our republic, then it verges on nothing short of the downright treasonous!

*Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D., is Associate Professor of English, Journalism and Creative Writing at Nassau Community College of the State University of New York, Garden City. He is Director of The Sintim-Aboagye Center for Politics and Culture and author of “Dr. J. B. Danquah: Architect of Modern Ghana” (, 2005). E-mail: