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Opinions of Sunday, 2 April 2006

Columnist: Bannerman, Nii Lantey Okunka

Our Ostrich Economy Is Not Ready To Fly

The Third Option Is The Only Way Forward

If you are like me, the latest news distilling out of Ghana provides no indication that our economy is moving in the right direction. Indeed, it is more of the same and the visionless government of the NPP continues to quicksand in the economic muck that we?ve been frolicking in for years. There is not much to be hopeful about for as long as we continue to operate, gleefully I might add, a neocolonial economy. It is for these reasons that Professor Okeye Asenso?s sycophantic shriek championing an economic take off is mind numbing. To claim that the fundamentals are in place was all the more shocking. There is nothing more further from the reality on the ground. I am well aware that the good professor is entitled to his views and has every right to be optimistic erringly but it borders on irresponsibility to mislead people when the obvious facts blatantly indicate otherwise. Coming from a professor makes it all the more disturbing. For starters, the good professor must note that our economy has been readying for take off since 1957. For some reason, this take off either does not occur or ends up in all the wrong places when it secretly and invincibly occurs.

I am here to say, and yes I am not an economist and don?t need to be one to say that, we are running a flawed economic paradigm. My assertion is based on sheer commonsense and I challenge any economist worth his salt to posit otherwise. Ghana has an economy that cannot sustain itself from within. This is so not because of a lack of resources but instead leadership, ably warranted by a languid populace. Our leaders seem to be resigned to the notion that we cannot survive or do well from within. We can?t self reliantly develop our motherland. So, they?ve literally given up on the heavy lifting from within that will unleash our potential and have resorted to full time begging from without. If they are not begging from without, they turn to schemes aimed at fleecing diasporans to better the lot of our kinsmen at home. Not too long ago, diasporans were told cavalierly that their kith and kin at home confer their rights as Ghanaians. So why must they now pay for development at home? Are diasporans the new cash cow even as they take undeserved abuse and scorn from the stay at home Ghanaian? Are we the same folks who don?t deserve to vote? It is as if we are not doing enough as it is. This government should note that diasporan perform a lot of its functions and should not even think of plotting to pick our pockets. We are not going to give anymore to this resource rich government. Especially, a government that is closed to most ideas and continue to be oblivious to the resources that lay at its feet. This government must do the hard work or forget milking the diasporan.

The economic structures and strictures that hold our economy are broken. We?ve become a consumption society without a productive base. The little effort that goes into competitive production is met with abysmal failure because the cost of the factors of production and the efficiency with which they are activated make it impossible to produce locally on a competitive basis. Our private sector has been choked off by a string of daffy and patently bad policies. The informal economy has become a jaded catch basin of illegality and subsistence existence while our population growth primes for explosion. Dead capital continues its rigor mortis while prime real estate sits stoically beckoning to be freed from its perpetual gulag for productive use. Our educational system is broken and the quality of manpower leaves a lot to be desired. Yes, some Ghanaians are doing a fine job given the circumstances but overall, there is a real case for concern. Unemployment is rife and we are producing graduates primed to be successful in all other economies but ours. Doctors and other medical staff continue to hemorrhage out of the country because our medical system is near collapse. There are places in Ghana now without doctors or nurses. The latter situation has been ossifying for years. All our self-serving leaders can do is to sit, watch and cry for help from the IMF and other colonial organizations.

One can dismissively, if not derisively, say that the picture I just painted above is neither novel nor seminal, so why bother? Certainly, I had the same tug but was impulsed to restate because there are times when I come off with the feeling that these pranksters operating under the leadership moniker do not seem to understand the context they are operating in thus their inability to define it and opt for far reaching sane economic initiatives to spur us forward. I believe deep in my heart and with every fiber of my soul that you cannot and will not be able to solve a problem if you cannot define it in scope and magnitude. So therefore, our continued subscription to wrong policies and prescription of asinine solutions can only be attributed to one and only one problem. Our inability to size up our economic cancer. Not just the latter but also communicating the truth to our people. Note that you cannot make far-reaching changes without preparing the people with the truth. We have no courageous leader to tell the people what the real situation is and what must be done because everyone is afraid of losing votes or stirring up the hornet?s nest. So the rot continues and indiscipline rules high. Until we come to a common understanding of our economy reality, we may never solve this problem. Sometimes reading the news makes you wonder if you are reading about a HPIC country called Ghana. My favorite is the 30 million dollar mansion. Is it really worth building a presidential mansion when doctors are escaping the torture chamber called Ghana?

Let us assume for a moment that we?ve got it right and we know what the problem is. Can we safely and boldly say that the current policies or discontinued policies of the past hold the key to our economic salvation? What economy can take off when land acquisition or transfer can be likened to unwillingly undergoing a root canal? What economy can take off where properties have no legal registration? What economy can take off without a credit system? What economy can take off where law enforcement is corrupt to the core? What economy can take off without a rigorous educational system? What economy can take off without a steady healthcare system? What economy can take off with over 50% unemployment? What economy can take off with 50% illiteracy? I take no interest in list these things but what options do I have if professors paint the wrong picture? Folks, this ostrich economy of ours has no wings to fly. Well, if it can?t fly, can it run? Yes, it can run but only backwards with the kind of leadership that we see. There is nothing more destructive than to hide your head in the sand and run backwards.

This economy can do back flips, jumping jacks, summersaults, gyrate and even skip ampe, it is not about to take off. It is just not ready and the facts are there for all to see. We have no enforceable comprehensive economic plan, systemically designed to trigger development from within. Frankly, we have no national, regional, district and village economic plan. We cannot snap out of the vice grip of the IMF and World Bank. We cringe and cower like fledglings anticipating a hawk swoop. We cater to these vampire predator organizations that have nothing to peddle but mayhem, confusion, decadent economic policies, dependency and western economic dogma. This kind of ad hoc economy, often characterized by neglect of certain districts and shored up by moribund presidential initiatives, is not going to cut it. How can a whole economy take off on cassava and mango? Have we not been growing cassava for years? How much can mango exports earn us? Our economy will not move ahead by providing primary agricultural good to others and being a favorite destination for extractive companies seeking raw material to feed their factories. Such organization leave us with nothing but a ruined environment with very little to show for it.

Our president has frankly been very lazy. Some claim he is a placeholder and so, the transformative economy that we look for will not materialize on his watch. Is that why he has zero tolerance for private sector development? Is that why he lacks vision and continues to spend energy in all the wrong places? Even some ardent NPP folks that I know are fed up with Kufour?s abulia. Their furrowed brows and beads of curled forehead skin speak to their frustration. These are not NDC folks. These are bonafide NPP folks patently and angrily fed up with the president and his men. This president, oblivious to the stark economic realities, is caught up in reviving historical relics like chieftaincy, maintaining a brilliantly sputtering neocolonial economy and projecting a visionless future. He just does not seem to show a good grasp of the dire economic situation. Everyone I talk to has nothing better to say about this economy. Not even one!! I am no fun of Rawlings but he did a far better job communicating with Ghanaians than Kufour is doing currently. The president?s attitude is more like a chief. Just coasting without any bold or radical initiatives that will move the country forward. This president does not want to dirty his hands and like George Bush on Iraq, wants his successor to do the heavy lifting. He is more worried about challenges to the speaker and chief justice that he is defining a lucid economic vision for the country and helping to accomplish it. Despite this sub par performance, he still believes that a 30 million-dollar mansion befit him. This president is not leading economically and must be told that in his face.

Folks, what we need now more than ever is to define the problem called Ghana in a comprehensive way and propagate this definition throughout the country. We have to bring the real news to the people. Not the cock and bull stories laced with phony figures that the government continue to peddle. The most important responsibility that we have now is to get past the lies, games, tricks, magic and dust that our government persistently throws at the people. We have to let the people of Ghana know that we are stewing in a mess of an economy. The pillars that shore up the economy are precariously weak. The next step is to be equally truthful and candid about the amount of work that needs to be done to begin to prepare us for the real take off. We have to be brutally honest with our people by telling them that Ghana is not going to develop based on economic handouts or inordinate taxing of the working few. Neither will the fleecing of diasporans do the trick. At best, this neocolonial paradigm sticks a finger in the dike. It does nothing to stop the levee from breaching.

Let me now fatten richly the purpose of this write up with this anecdote. Not too long ago I talked to one of the senior officers at our electricity corporation about his organization. In our discussion, he was very forthright with me in saying that everyone knows that only a few people are carrying the organization forward. He said cronyism and nepotism is rife and with the latter comes incompetence. He also said no one has the courage to tell the nonperforming workers that this situation cannot persist any longer. The political damage is so pyrrhic that no politician wants to venture. So what we have is an economy held hostage by extended family relationships and gross incompetence. From our conversation, it also became obvious that the average Ghanaians worker does not seem to understand how organizations make money to pay them. They assume that they can either under perform or not perform at all and still expect pay from the government. We have allowed these dead weight organizations to offload debt onto the budget for so long that it is becoming impossible to tell the ugly truth to our beloved brothers and sister. No matter how you look at it, truth telling will have to be the starting point. A huge dose of business process education must be taught to all employees throughout the country if we want to make the kind of changes that is needed to loftily fly this economy like a kite buoyed by the wind. Maybe business 101 will not be such a bad idea during family time on TV and radio. Just the basics!

My fellow Ghanaians, the naked truth is that the mercantile elites in charge of both the NDC and NPP are not in a position to take us to the promise land. Most of these potentates are nothing recycled politicians with nothing novel to offer. What we have in control of these parties are power hungry leeches whose sole aim is to perpetuate the neocolonial economy for as long as they can suck the blood of the weak and poor. They seek to feed like ticks till they explode. Theirs is not about the people. Because of their goals and the need to collude with the purveyors of our economic mess, they have no choice but to continue the lies. Our economists know the truth but most of them are compromised by a system that will seek and destroy them if they try to sprout any economic sense based on experience and commonsense. So for now they must tout a lot of the useless economic indexes that only speak to half-truths.

Like the critical mass in animal farm that came together to overthrow the economic system that enslaved them, we must come together to pull this economy by its roots. We must for once put aside partisan bickering, tribal influences, and ideological differences. Party or tribal loyalty when our country is sinking is plain wrong and disloyal. A group of like-minded folks, intent on making fundamental economic changes, can get it done. Our redemption does not lie in either the NPP or NDC. What we are going to need is a third force whose sole purpose will be the building of a self-sustaining economy. Yes, we must organize and yes we will have to wrestle power but it cannot be politics as usual. We don?t need politicians! We need radical nationalist with the people at heart. It will take a group of selfless individuals who seek power for a great purposes. A group that is selfless and willing to make all the tough decisions so that we might be free for good. We have a lot of convincing to do and the time to start is now. Let me end with a quote from Robert A. Caro, ?no one can lead who does not first acquire power, and no leader can be great who does not know how to use power.? Caro also says, ?many people want to be leaders, but very few are leaders in the sense that I mean it: using great power for great powers?. Power for a great purpose is what I am talking about here. Let us prime for the hard work ahead.

There is a great purpose to be met. Where are the leaders baying for power with the sole purpose of getting the job done? Nothing short of a civil revolution run by a fearless movement will work. We have to make fundamental changes and only a covenant with Ghana will suffice. Let us organize, organize and organize to take back our country. May all the leaders raise their hands!!

Nii Lantey Okunka Bannerman
Organization Development Specialist/Consultant

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