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Opinions of Friday, 21 February 2014

Columnist: Pobee-Mensah, Tony

Mr. Kyerematen, Is That All You Can Do?

In full disclosure, I have met Mr. Kyerematen before and he is someone that I like personally. I wish him well in his endeavors. I know his older brother who lives in the same city where I live. I am also aware of the good works that their father did in Kumasi and I take my hat off to him. Having said that, I still ask, Mr. Kyerematen, is that all you can do: call for a forum of stake holders to address Ghana’s economic problems?

Ghanaians are the primary stake holders in Ghana’s economy. Aside from that, we have “foreign investors” who do not care to pay taxes on windfall profits and newly minted Ghanaian business men and women who are for the most part “shop keepers”, to borrow President Mahama’s words. I don’t want to sound dismissive of the Business men and women doing important in Ghana, but we have had the likes of J.H. Mensah who were held up as great thinkers, and Ghana never moved forward.

Alen Kyerematen of all people should be among the leading figures on our economy having lived in the US as our ambassador, having been our Trade Minister, and having been a vote away from being the head of the World Trade Organization. So far, the only thing that I can associate with him is “Edwuma Wura”( Job Czar if you will), but the “Job Czar” turned out to be just a slogan with nothing behind it.

There are slogans in politics. Many of them have nothing behind them but the slogan that they are. There have been some serious ones like Obama’s “Yes we can”. President Obama gave a speech telling America that America must change the leadership that they had at the time, change from fighting unnecessary wars and taking care of the least of these. Americans saw the need for the change that he was advocating and elected him. Though some of what he was advocating haven’t come to pass, you could see his belief in what he was saying and America bought into it and “Yes we can”.

Mr. Kyerematen’s Job Czar didn’t seem to have much behind it and years after, if there is any more to it, he must be holding it close to his chest. People who love their country and want to lead the country often see where they want the country to be. They think through very well why they want to lead the country and why them and not others. This as opposed to people who think that God made them too pretty for them not to be Presidents or otherwise believe that they are entitled to it. Ghana at this time needs the former. Many people write books or bombard the media with Opinion Articles on ideas they have that will move the country. If Mr. Kyerematen still wants to be President, he has done no such thing, at least, not that I know of, and his one chance to weigh in on the woe that Ghana is going through is to call for a forum of Stake Holders? Come on.

I am not an economist and I couldn’t tell you how to reverse the decline of the cedi. I am not a Bishop either so I can’t command it to rise, but I know that if people have jobs and are circulating their incomes in the economy, we have a good chance to have some stability in the economy. Could Mr. Kyerematen have called on the government to take some of the oil money and invest it in small business creation as an emergency measure?

I do not know where the oil money goes. If I don’t, I am sure there are many Ghanaians like me who don’t know where it goes. This money should have been a windfall since even if we knew we had oil, we had no hope of drilling it and getting it to market and thus we couldn’t have budgeted for it. As the money came in, we could have set some of it aside to move the country. Mr. Kyerematen is in a good position to hound the government about this or maybe suggest how some of it could be used to move the country as someone who knows the “inside” of Ghana government.

As I write, Mr. Obama is in Mexico meeting with the leaders of Mexico and Canada talking about trade. What ideas does our former Trade Minister have for trading with our neighbors? Yes, like us, all African leaders want to be paid in the dollar or pound or Euro and the like, but can’t we have small farmers growing produce that they can sell across the border if they live near the border? It may not be much but these are people who will be self employed. If we can’t sell Nigerians sardines, can’t we sell them cola nuts that we grow cheaply? Have we explored the possibility of increasing our cocoa production? Do we have younger people getting into cocoa farming? Have we explored what may be hindering some young unemployed from becoming big cocoa farmers; like maybe access to farm land? I have in previous Ghanaweb opinion article touched on how Ghana can explore using our Agric students. And one more idea…

There is a company in America called TechShop. This company has shops with manufacturing equipment located in some cities where for a fee for a three month membership, or six month membership or a one year membership, anyone can use their facility to do any kind of manufacturing. This company first requires you to take a class to get familiar with equipment in your area of interest. After that, you are free to use their equipment or to learn new skills that you can use for a fee. They have classes in making silk, CNC, metal lathe, tooling and many, many things. I am not suggesting that the government have these people set up shop in Ghana, I think the government can contract this company for instance, to guide Ghana to set up something like this and have them train trainers who will in turn train people with interest to come and use this equipment either for a fee or as a program to create manufacturers. You never know where the next big thing will come from. I will be happy if we had something like this where people manufactured hoes. If you never give anyone a chance to explore, you will never get the chance to find out if it will work out. Mr. Kyerematen was the Ambassador in the US. He could have used some of his time in the US to find ideas that will help Ghana. Does he have any ideas beside forum?

If Mr. Kyerematen plans to run for office again, and I don’t know that he does, he should be in the business of thinking up ideas or seeking them and start thinking where he will take Ghana if he gets to become the President. I will be the first to tell you that President Mahama is not cutting it, but we can’t keep going from face to face, personality to personality because we are not going to make any progress this way. If we don’t have people with better ideas, then maybe we don’t need to change presidents. At least this one would have learnt something on the job. We need a lot more than slogans. We can’t buy snake oil any longer. We have been taken for a ride for far too long.

My wish is that Mr. Kyerematen will take this opinion as a challenge rather than a criticism; again, I wish him well in his endeavors.