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Opinions of Thursday, 6 May 2004

Columnist: Plange, Paa Kwesi

No Excuse For Staying Poor

The richest man on God?s earth today is Bill Gates, Founder of Microsoft, the leading computer programming company in the world. Worth a whopping $46 billion and counting, Bill Gates is so rich that he can afford to give every single person on earth $7.

That is how loaded the bloke is. Indeed Bill Gates net worth is more than the yearly budgets of all West African countries put together. But his life hasn?t been all glory, cash and fame. As a child Gates was diagnosed with Attention Deficiency Disorder (ADD), a condition that affected his performance at school and he had to be home schooled by his parents for a while before he went back to the mainstream school.

Ditto Albert Einstein. The man who gave the world the theory of Relativity and the laws of Gravity was also a victim of a slow learning disability. He too was schooled at home for some time. He later became the father of modern science and was the architect behind the atomic bomb that was used to win a decisive victory in the Second World War.

?To punish me for my disrespect for authority, nature made me an authority? Einstein once said. Yes this German-born Jew who fled Nazi Germany to the United States and later became an American citizen was by every stretch of the word an authority in his area of expertise.

Another product of home schooling later became the President of the United States of America (USA). His name was Harry Truman.

Mr. Truman led the free world to victory in the First World War and was also in the vanguard of the struggle to extend the right to vote to American women. Another person who has made a major impact in her area of expertise is network television?s favourite brand name, Ms Oprah Winfrey. The opening chapters of her life (preamble) were not promising to say the least.

A product of a broken home, an early pregnancy at the young age of 14 after she was raped by a close relation, Oprah found solace in books and through the influence of her strict, disciplinarian father she read her way to media stardom.

Oprah?s work in the media has been trendy and cutting edge earning her $150 million a year. Her syndicated flagship talk show programme, Oprah is produced and distributed by her own company Harpo Productions Inc (which is Oprah spelt the other way around). A Magazine, which is a spin off of her TV programme and the Oprah brand name, is equally successful with a very decent market share. This woman of colour has broken so many records in a male dominated business and also in a country where black people only had the right to vote in the 50?s almost three decades after suffrage was extended to white women.

Early this year, Oprah scored another first when she became the first black woman in the world to become a billionaire. She is by far the most powerful woman in the television industry and the most successful and she is only 50 years old.

So what is the rationale behind this winding introduction someone might ask? Well before I get to the ?point? I just want to ferry your minds away from the seeming impossibilities with these stories in order to encourage the average Joe and Jane out there to hold on their dreams because dreams are meant to come true. However we need a lot of preparation and hard work to reach the end of our dreams. Both Bill Gates and Albert Einstein had to overcome learning disorders at an early age before they could attain the stature they have today. History would be kind to Oprah for breaking the colour barrier in the Television industry and for being successful in a business dominated by the white male- the most powerful class of people in America. This was a woman who was a pregnant teenager sometime in her life and a black woman at that.

What we need to do in the face of great challenges and difficulties is to strengthen our resolve to plod on and to soldier on.

Opportunities always await the prepared person. It does not discriminate.

GO TO GOOGLE

Google, the fastest search engine in the world was founded by two college students from the University of Stanford. When these two friends (used to be hard sworn enemies) started Google as a small company five years ago it never crossed both their minds that they would become billionaires some day. Well in a matter of days that is after the public offering of Google shares they just might become the youngest billionaires since the internet bubble bust. The rich are what they are because they put their minds to work. They think, they innovate, they dream. Ghanaians have to dare to dream and not to limit their dreams merely to traveling overseas. A classic story of another dreamer is that of Michael Dell, the founder of Dell Computers.

Michael Dell started Dell Computers from the garage of his parents. Dell, a college student at the time used the summer vacation period to work on old computers. With time he manufactured his own brand of computers and he is now CEO and chairman of Dell Computers one of the major computer firms giving Microsoft a run for its money.

?Life is not fair. Life would not give you what you deserve. You have to work hard to get what you want out of life.? This was one of the major principles I was raised on and really galvanized me in my journey through life. Through life?s most difficult challenges and in the face of insurmountable difficulties that life threw my way I have always kept my head above the waters and made the most of every situation. The success stories of these individuals have always been a source of encouragement to me over the years. The moral here is that if they could make it so can we.

IF CHINA DID IT, GHANA CAN

As a nation we can draw some valuable lessons from countries like South Korea, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines, Thailand and China. We practically started our lives as nation-states just around the same time with the exception of China, yet we lag way behind these countries.

The success story of China and the rest of the Asian Tigers is a rallying cry for Ghana and all developing nations to pause and to reflect on.

After going through several years of economy turmoil, famine, poverty and one of the most deadly civil wars, leaders of this communist country have turned the fortunes of China around over a period of 30 years. From a country that was timed to self-destruct and left to its own devises by the Western nations, China managed to beat the odds through the combination of vision by its leaders and the spirit of enterprise exhibited by its citizens and the will power to succeed.

The late Prime Minister, Mr. Dao Chao Peng set the country on the right path by placing China?s future in the hands of its people. By creating a property owning economy that was under girded by a strong, mechanized agricultural base, the communist government opened up the country for international participation in its economy. Today China is just few steps away from shedding its third world status as capital from all over the world flows inexorably into that country.

Land in China is not sold out outright. It is given out on a 70 year lease and the good thing about this is that this lease could be used to access a bank loan. Cheap labour is by far one of China?s greatest assets. With a population of a little over a billion, China is leading the world as the first port of call in the area of outsourcing. Every major multinational company has moved their manufacturing plant to China making China the greatest manufacturing hub in the world.

Yet many businessmen still complain about cronyism in the allocation of capital, lack of adequate electricity in some industrial areas in the country which slows down business and the slow development of land policies.

Ghana?s most potent problem is in the arena of capital formation. We don?t seem to have a problem with land. We have a very fertile land mass which is very conducive for agriculture. With capital flowing into the country Ghana could become the bread basket of Africa if not the world.

Why we still struggle to feed ourselves and have to import to balance out the shortfall of our production capacity in spite of the rich land mass God has blessed us with beats my mind.

Ghana and in deed the developing world still lags behind in the area of capital formation. This situation has been made worse especially in a post 9/11 world. Two years since 9/11, Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) to these parts of the world has been dwindling. This bleak scenario has been captured in the yearly reports of the United Nations Council for Trade and Development (UNCTAD). The good news however stays in south Asia where a large chunk of the global capital is always operating.

Among a surfeit of good policies been implemented in that part of the world which have contributed to the amazing results in that region over the past 20-30 years, the Asian Tigers are also growing entrepreneurs to manage defunct state enterprises. Instead of embarking on a wholesale divestiture of State-owned companies they raise entrepreneurs from among the ranks of talented and vision-oriented Civil servants and Public servants to manage these distressed companies.

Today they have a crop of entrepreneurs who can hold their own against people from every part of the world. We need to educate and expose our top civil and public servants on the intricacies and workings of the global market system.

LAND REFORMS AND VENTURE CAPITALISM

Dr. Hernando De Soto, the respected Peruvian Economist tried to sell us on his theory of using land to form capital when he visited Ghana at the request of President John Kufuor in 2002.

He is right on the ball because it is working in China. Without land reforms, the chiefs, the tribal families and the notorious land guards would still be running an exclusive show and we would continue to palycatch up with the rest of the world.

For now we are beginning to do the right things. For instance a commission has been inaugurated by the Kufuor Administration to study the land reforms programme in the country. That is a very important first step which could bring a lot in benefits to the nation. We have to do our homework to be able to mainstream our economy with the rest of the world. Africa?s share in global trade is less than 10 per cent so how do we expect to become prosperous. Our governments need to set up funds to support Venture Capitalism.

Venture Capitalism is a modern variant of capitalism where people team together to invest in business that demands long term capital and investment. A clear example of this kind of enterprise is in the Silicon Valley of the United States. It is the place where most of the chips used in the IT industry are manufactured for a long list of blue chips costumers including Microsoft, Dell Computers, Apple, Lockheed Martin and a host of military contractors. There is no gainsaying in the fact that Silicon Valley has made a lot of people rich in America and today it still is a draw for young ambitious scientists from every part of the world. India with its ICT programme is also supporting venture capitalism in a very dedicated and committed fashion. Today IT professionals from India are among the highly sought after in the entire world. India is right at the heels of China in the fight for the outsourcing market and the dollars are raining on that country. Another good thing is the journey this nation has began to attain the status of a middle income earning country by the year 2015 and invariably raise our per capita from the paltry $450 to a $1000.

As an optimist I believe we can achieve that objective with good leadership, adequate and detailed planning, hard work and determination. The realist would think differently and that is good too. We need Ghanaians to jaw-jaw on the way forward for our dear nation. We need to seize the moment and make a contribution to the development of our nation. The role of the government is to formulate and implement the right policies that would deliver development and the role of the citizenry is to rise up to the challenge and make use of every opportunity.

Life is how we make it and not what the World Bank and the IMF dictates to us. We need the help of the IMF and the Bretton Woods institutions but we have to set the agenda for our own development and not the other way round. We have to invest in education because that is the foundation of every great nation and stop spending too much money on the military. It is an investment our budgets cannot support ad infinitum. Where do our priorities lie? I dare to ask.


Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.