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Opinions of Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Columnist: Anis Haffar

Made in Ghana; the approach to advance into the First World

Some nations – both big and small - go to great lengths and spend large sums of money for international television networks - such as Bloomberg and CNN - to promote the business opportunities in those countries. Malaysia, Indonesia, Croatia, Singapore, and Nigeria readily come to mind. But the advertisement I found quite revealing was a recent one about India. Among its other attributes, what got my interest was the slogan, “Make in India”.

The slogan cast my mind back a few years to a reception area of an office in Accra where I met a man attired in a business suit. I commented on his necktie as follows: “That’s a pretty tie and it really matches your suit. Is it from Italy?” He replied, “No, the tie is not from Italy. It was made in India. In India we make everything, unlike Ghana where even tomatoes pastes are imported from Italy. How can an agricultural country do such a thing?”
Business and entrepreneurs
The truth hurts, and this insightful one struck like an upper cut. On recovering from the daze, I saw it fit to change the ground on which things now stood: I stepped softly to say what an idol Gandhi was. And here too, there was a clash. The man said, “Gandhi was an idealist, and anti-business. He did not encourage industrialisation.” For this man, the business of India was business and entrepreneurs, nothing less.
Years later, when someone suggested that I could publish my books more cheaply in India, I found the suggestion quite appealing, but I reverted to that serendipitous encounter and consciously opted for Buck Press, Accra. I’ve been with them ever since.

[Mahatma Mohandas Gandhi (1869 -1948) spent 21 years opposing the system of apartheid in South Africa. He returned to India in 1914 – famously sporting his symbolic loin cloth and native sandals. His struggle for independence from Britain - through the Quit India movement - led to India’s independence in 1947.]

Dependence on imports
There’s an outer world that mesmerises poorer nations, and it keeps them in the throes of permanent depravity. It is the world of superficial appearances; the things that capture the fancy of small minds. But hidden from the timid view of the static mindset is the more important world, the inner one that informs and activates discerning minds: How the things that we crave are made. How things actually function. What are their anatomies or composition? What are the parts that work together to form a whole, to form a product or service that is sensible, practical, and functional?

Today, Africans are importing larger and larger amounts of food than ever before. However, a carefully planned expansion of agriculture as an industry will guarantee jobs and create wealth through the value additions in each step of the process. In Ghana, for instance, there has to be some planning for specialisation where each region or district concentrates on producing the agricultural products best suited for the area.

Cotton and corn example
Take corn, for example: Out of that commodity one can produce corn flour, corn starch, corn syrup, corn flakes, corn oil for cooking, corn feed for livestock, and industrial oil for vehicles and machines. Similarly, out of cotton, there are textiles for Friday-wear for office employees, school uniforms, back packs for children, cotton wool for hospitals, feminine towels for women’s and girls’ hygienic needs, curtains for both private residences and government offices, and so on. From cattle, besides meat, there are milk, cheese, butter, yogurt, and so on. The key economic strategy for Ghana is simply to produce enough for the nation to eat, and then process the surplus for export. I have yet to see an economic theory or model more sensible than this one! Ghana is packed full of such possibilities across the regions.

Recently, driving through California – from the San Joaquin Valley to the high tech Silicon Valley and San Francisco, I noticed that almost every suitable acreage was cultivated for agricultural produce to support the various industries and economics there. Wealth and jobs are not created on the back of lofty speeches and sweet promises declaring all things “free”. Neither are people’s needs created from all night and all morning sermons.

Focus of India
In his book, “India Arriving: How This Economic Powerhouse Is Redefining Global Business,” Rafiq Dossani writes: “the globe’s largest population of young people, and a thriving middle class, India is developing into the world’s newest star and the second-largest destination for foreign investment.” Its rallying cry, its image, to the world at large, worthy of emulation, is simply that they produce: they make things for themselves and for other countries. Hence, the advertisement, “Make in India”.

The central focus of India is on production and IT applications for service provisions. Dossani reflected that there is an ecosystem for entrepreneurship in many enclaves such as Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad, and Mumbai. The start-ups are supported by “the central government through the medium of the Software and Technology Parks of India (STPI); the lobbying arm of the industry.” All these things can be emulated right here in Ghana to create wealth through efficiencies in the delivery of services and products.

Generally speaking, the pessimists and other reactionaries everywhere may be reminded of the boxing legend Mohammed Ali: “I am the Greatest. I said that even before I knew I was.” For Ali, impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact; it’s an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration, it’s a dare! Impossible is a potential. Impossible is temporary.

[Email: anishaffar@gmail.com]