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Opinions of Thursday, 21 July 2011

Columnist: Adoboe, Justice Lee

ODI eulogises Rawlings

: ..for spearheading Ghana’s agric reforms and poverty reduction

By Justice Lee Adoboe

The United Kingdom (UK) think-tank, Overseas Development Institute (ODI) has attributed Ghana’s current strides in poverty reduction to the successful agricultural reforms embarked upon by the Provisional National Defence Council (PNDC) and the National Democratic Congress (NDC) under the able leadership of former President J.J Rawlings.

It said, the personal commitment of Rawlings towards political and economic reforms, coupled with the dynamic leadership he provided were greatly responsible for the current success story of the country’s agricultural sector.

The ODI made these observations in its report, “Ghana’s Sustained Agricultural Growth: putting underused resources to work” launched in Accra recently, stressing, “The period of active and profound reforms was remarkable: Rawlings’ vision of fundamental change to the governance of Ghana was in great measure achieved. What is more, detailed analysis of the politics suggests that the reforms were ultimately down to Rawlings’ personal vision and his determination to change the way things were done in Ghana. LEADERSHIP IN THIS CASE, IT SEEMS WAS OVERWHELMINGLY IMPORTANT.”

The report launched just a day after another former president of Ghana, John Agyekum Kuffuor had received the World Food Awards indicated that the country’s agricultural sector has been growing five percent annually over the last 25 years, with the economic reforms embarked upon by the Rawlings-led governments from 1983 playing a pivotal role in transforming the agriculture sector.

“With agricultural growth averaging more than 5 percent a year during the past 25 years, Ghana is ranked among the top five performers in the world. This has contributed to major reductions in poverty and malnutrition, and Ghana will achieve (Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 1 before 2015,”

On the historical context of the current success story of the country’s agricultural sector, the report stated, “The military coup of J.J Rawlings in 1981 marked the beginning of an economic and political restoration.”

It continued that although “President Rawlings, rule was authoritarian, but also was based on a transformational and ambitious vision of development for the country.”

The report then quoted extensively from Adedeji (2001) and Armstrong (1996) SAYING,”The new government headed by J.J Rawlings in 1981 inherited an economy in decline; indeed, in chaos. Rawlings was set on fundamental reforms to Ghana’s political system, disgusted by the previous regimes that had delivered neither service, nor growth, had been unaccountable to the citizenry and had sought to line their pockets.”

The report co-authored by Steve Wiggins and Henri Leturque for the ODI explained that although Rawlings was of socialist leaning, he was prepared to bring in economic management in line with the advice of the International Financial Institutions (IFIs).

“He appointed technocrats to key positions in the Ministry of Finance to design and implement the changes, while he promoted the vision and dealt with the politics. This ensured that he had donors’ support for reforms: their funding made it possible for the government to invest in public goods and services,” the report said.

Steve Wiggins and Henri Leturque who did not discount the contributions by other governments in the post-Rawlings era, also noted that having raised food production per capita by more than 80 percent since the early 1980s, Ghana had become largely self-sufficient in staples, owing in part to large increases in cassava and yam production as well as improved varieties.

(Recently, at the launch of the Automated Clearing House for the banking sector, finance minister, Kwabena Duffuor stated emphatically that the reforms being carried out at the Bank of Ghana, including those carried out by the NPP government were reforms designed under the NDC government, the implementation of which commenced way back in1996.)

The ODI document continued that: “The politics was notable. The new leader’s popularity came initially from the urban groups, such as unions and students. Yet, because devaluation, restriction on public spending and wage restraints hit these groups hard, they soon protested and moved into opposition. Rawlings was not deterred. He had the advantage that, after the economic failures of the 1960s and 1970s and the difficulties in the early 1980s, which included forest fires and 1 million Ghanaians returning from Nigeria, there was an awareness that real changes had to be made.

“Moreover, the opposition was fragmented, and could not provide a convincing alternative to the chosen path; nor could they raise funds internationally without dealing with the FDIs.

“Protected by his personal charisma and his authoritarian grasp of power, Rawlings eventually built a new support base among the cocoa growers and rural populations, who gained from the reforms and appreciated public investments in the country side such as roads and electricity. He had time to build this base: from 1981 to 1992, there were no elections and no effective challenges to this leadership (certainly the authors did not find out about the over 30 abortive coups d’Etat against the PNDC/NDC regime: comments ours). By the time he faced voters, enough had been achieved particularly in rural areas, to guarantee his election, a feat he repeated in 1996.

Contacted for his initial comments on the assertions by ODI, Executive Director for the Centre for Policy Analyses, Joe Abbey agreed that evidence abounds to support that position.

“Especially after the bushfires, a lot of leadership was provided by the then Chairman of the PNDC, Flt Lt Rawlings in some of these areas,” Dr. Abbey, a seasoned economist stated.

He added, “There is no question at all about the fact that he led these things. No question at all about the fact that he took personal interest in areas such as cocoa rehabilitation and palm plantations, as cocoa production had fallen to an all time low in post-independence Ghana.”

It would be recalled that former President Rawlings became a joint recipient of the 1993 World Hunger Award. He used the cash prize as seed capital to establish the University of Development Studies (UDS) in the north of Ghana.