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Opinions of Tuesday, 9 May 2017


Ghana: An economy that wobbles

If Ghana’s 60-year-old post-colonial economy had a human form, it could be on retirement with an ambivalent score. For what is it that blows cold today and hot tomorrow? Ten years ago, in an attempt to better understand it, I assembled a galaxy of 20 economists, development specialists, politicians and diplomats to explain its nature.

It included: the late President John Evans Atta Mills; one-time finance minister Anthony Akoto-Osei; for years a policy expert on this economy and Vice-President of Africa, World Bank, Gobind Nankani; London School of Economics expert Gareth Austin; maverick economist Jeffrey Sachs; investment banker and currently Finance Minister Ken Ofori- Atta and the academic economist Ernest Aryeetey.

Later published as, An Economic History of Ghana- Half a Century of Challenges and Progress, the Washington, DC-based International Food Policy Research Institute found it interesting enough as part of a policy advisory document for the country.

Ghana was then under Highly Indebted Poor Country (HIPC) with President John Kufuor having defied, like Nkrumah before him, his economic advisors (with the former his cabinet and the latter, the distinguished St Lucian economist, W. Arthur Lewis who would later win the Nobel Prize in economics.)

Pre-HIPC were bad years. Forty-two per cent of government revenue was being spent on interest payments alone. HIPC saved a bad situation and Nankani in his conversation with me said he was hopeful : “In fact, we are more credit-worthy now because of HIPC and free of any possible stigma HIPC could have given. The only thing is, now that our debt capacity is low and we’re able to borrow in fact well under the financial crisis of today, is another complication. We have to be absolutely sure that we don’t get into that trap again.”

Nankani, who was at the time the President of the Global Development Network, sadly died a couple of years after and could not see Ghana’s return to the trap he dreaded: the International Monetary Fund for fiscal indiscipline and an economy worst off by 2017 with a growth rate of 3.5 per cent to his pre-death of nine per cent.

Ten years after, Ernest Aryeetey, former Vice Chancellor of the University of Ghana, and his long time collaborator, Ravi Kanbur, the T.H. Lee Professor of World Affairs and Economics at the Cornell University (both described by a fellow economist, Kwame Pianim as having the economy of Ghana at their fingertips), have edited an inter-generational, The Economy of Ghana Sixty Years After Independence (2017), which is published by the Oxford University Press and a sequel to an earlier one that looked at Ghana at 50 by the two editors. The interesting point is, of the four parts, 415 pages of review: Thematic Issues, Macroeconomy and Finance, Sectoral Perspectives and Human Development, the 35 academics, mostly Ghanaians and of the University of Ghana, have as citizens lived through this economy and in terms of comparative analysis (with similar economies),also have some international understanding.

The econometricisits among them may be frightful to the uninitiated with their curvy graphs and the unavoidable statistical interpretation that economics demands but, a large portion of this book is economic history, whether you are reading chapters like: Ghana at Sixty : Learning from a Developing African Nation’s Past by the editors or, Economic Growth in Ghana: Trends and Structures, 1960-2014; Sixty Years of Fiscal Policy in Ghana : Outcomes and lessons; Monetary Policy and Inflation Management in Ghana; Inflation Targeting and Outcomes; Industrial Policy in Ghana : From a Dominant State to Resource Abundance.

Coverage of humanity

Since economics and development studies are coverage of humanity, you will find in this collection, reviews of The Prospects and Challenges of a Youthful Population in Achieving Economic and Social Transformation in Ghana; Education in Ghana: Access, Quality and Prospects for Reforms; Health and Healthcare, 1957-2017; Social Health Insurance in Ghana: The Politics, Economics, and the Future.

Of course like other excellent books, this should have policy interest: from our Parliament to the corridors of executive power. The problem is that, our political class are largely not readers and sometimes postulate policies which have been tried and failed but because of their detachment from the literature, feel full in ignorance though with good intentions.

Dr Mahamudu Bawumia, perhaps the most confident intellectual Vice-President on record, recently accused the Minority in Parliament of not understanding finance and economics because they do not read. That I believe. But it is true on both sides. People over the years have occupied sensitive public service positions above their merits in the name of politics.

During a visit to the island of St Lucia some years ago, I watched a vigorous debate in their Parliament of less than 30 members with the opposition accusing the government in a manner that opposition parties do everywhere. And then I realised that the man who was leading the charge and invoking the name of Arthur Lewis was one I had accidently met at the tombstone of Lewis at a primary schoolyard named after the great economist.

He had told me he needed spiritual guidance from the Nobelist, his tombstone one of the island’s tourist attractions. Ironically, when Lewis returned to the West Indies many years ago as Vice Chancellor of its federal University and later as the director of the Caribbean Development Bank, his rejected advice was the cause of celebration decades after in the Parliament of his homeland.


Africa has many nauseating rhetorics. One is the comparative analysis between Ghana and Malaysia and sometimes South Korea on their economic histories : Malaysia got the palm crop from Ghana to become what it is. You go to Nigeria and they argue that in fact the palm crop was taken from Nigeria.

Our achievement is reduced to someone taking something from you and making the best value out of it and your pride lies in just that.

If you follow South African politics and the massive anti-Zuma posturing which is destroying the African National Congress ( ANC), the revived liberation songs like, Zandile and UmKhonto with such as accompanying toyi-toyi dance, you see activists gather at Albert Luthuli House (the headquarters of the ANC) and invocation to the photos of him, Nelson Mandela, Govan Mbeki, Walter Sisulu and Oliver Tambo with some shedding tears. They believe in a fiscal discipline of their economy and to those who made the initial critical sacrifices; the protests are to halt the economy’s downward spiral.

Do economies, whether it is ours that wobbles or that of Nigeria or South Africa in which The Economy of Ghana Sixty Years After Independence makes references to (in some instances), have their matriarchies or do we need them? Are we going to turn back to the pages of this volume 10 years from now and make some (since not all the essays have the same strength) holy words?

The times we live in should propel hope to the despair of the past so that our shadows would not shrink.