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Opinions of Thursday, 13 November 2003

Columnist: Asibey, Akwasi

Political Leadership and the Challenge of Economic Dev't

Until recent times, our country or for that matter the rest of sub Saharan Africa, was not blessed with political leaders who had a firm grasp of the principles of good economic management. The end result was widespread poverty and misery experienced by a good proportion of the general population. For instance, during the almost twenty year administration of Flight Lieutenant Jerry John Rawlings, the standards of living of the majority of Ghanaians actually stagnated.

Now if we compare the record of political leadership under former President Rawlings with that of Malaysia under former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who stepped down at the end of October this year, it is like day and night.

Mr. Mahathir Mohamad delivered a near first-world economy to his people, which is characterised by high standards of living. Malaysians today have much higher levels of income than twenty years ago when Mr. Mahathir Mohamad first came into power. They live longer and are much more educated than their Ghanaian counterparts. A real manifestation of the success of Malaysia under the political leadership of Mahathir Mohamad is when Malaysians ventured into our economy as investors.

Indeed there has been a fundamental transformation of Malaysian economy/society and its people. In contrast, after almost twenty-years in office, Ghana under the P/NDC leadership did not experience sustainable growth in a significant way that led to vast improvements in the lives of the people. National and individual incomes did not improve in a substantial way.

We cannot resist asking this fundamental question: Why did Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s government succeed where the government of former President Rawlings failed?

There are a whole range of factors that could be assigned to the success of Malaysia and the failure of Ghana.

We will over simplify the reasons by attributing the success in Malaysia to superior political leadership.

Former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad by his utterances was not a supporter of western values but he was not an anti capitalist either. He understood the requirements of the market place. He knew and accepted that the survival of Malaysian enterprises and the economy as whole depended on market expansion. Policies were therefore put in place that took advantage of access to advanced knowledge and new technologies that facilitated the growth of Malaysian enterprises. The introduction of innovations led to the creation of new industries and improvement in the productive capacity of the economy generally and, in so doing, cemented the survival of Malaysians within the context of globalisation.

In Ghana, the political leadership in recent past took a lukewarm approach to economic development, to be precise development based on private enterprise and individual initiative. Some economic reforms were initiated all right but these lacked ideological rigour, which could have led to sustainable growth and development.

We even dare to say that the old regime lacked a deep understanding of the requirements of the market place to the extent that the policies that were initiated did not prevent us from being marginalized within the context of the global economy.

This lack of understanding of the historical mission of the then political class, in ensuring the expansion of the productive forces of the economy, was manifested graphically in the dawn destruction of a newly built hotel in the vicinity of the airport in Accra. It was a real rebuke to private enterprise and individual initiative.

The past political leadership utterly failed in its role of creating the enabling environment to facilitate sustainable growth and development. In a recent article in Trinidad and Tobago Review published in the Trinidad Express on Monday, 3 2003, entitled “Globalisation and the Crisis of the Caribbean Intelligentsia” the authors, Trevor A Campbell and Reginald Knight argued that “ to be effective, political leadership must be able to respond to the objective demands of a given society…In a world that is undergoing major economic upheavals resulting from the global restructuring of entire industries, all social classes and individuals are compelled to address the issue of their own survival”.

In the current world of global capitalist onslaught and competition among nations, political leaders are required to use advanced scientific thinking to advance the interests of the society that they seek to lead. The past political leadership in our country failed miserably in appreciating this basic challenge and principle.

And yet they are asking us once again to put our future in their hands come December 2004. Judging from their past record, should we accede to their entreaties? They had almost twenty years in power to bring prosperity to Ghanaians but they could not. What makes them think that they have thoroughly reformed their ways and this time they will be able to do so?

We leave you to draw your own conclusions!


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