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Opinions of Saturday, 12 November 2016

Columnist: Enimil Ashon

Shall we put Africa up on stock exchange?

It takes nothing to be president of an African country. Perhaps, I’ll modify the statement slightly. It takes something: greed.
To trace the causes of poverty in Africa is like playing a mid-20th century 33 RPM gramophone vinyl-made album with the pin stuck in the groove.

I am convinced beyond any shade of doubt that, it is the pitiful lack of vision, combined with the inordinate greed of our elected or appointed national leaders, especially our Executive Presidents (civilian or military) - and not the Trans-Atlantic slave trade or colonialism, evil as they were - that is the cause of our poverty.

Seventy-five per cent of the world’s poorest countries that face extreme poverty are located in Africa, where extreme poverty is defined as living on $1.25 or less a day. The statistics is that 48.5 per cent of the population in Africa lives on less than $1.25 a day!

The United Nation (UN) Millennium Project has calculated that, a child in Africa dies from malaria every 30 seconds, or about 3,000 each day. To the shame of our shameless political leaders, the scourge of malaria in a continent of 1.2 billion people of Africa is being tackled with money from one man – Bill Gates. We have received treated mosquito nets, free: it has not worked; antimalarials have been shipped to us; it has not worked.

Why? Because, our over-educated African politicians have failed to realise that drugs cannot stop malaria: only good hygiene practices can, and our elected leaders cannot even teach the people to be clean!

Don’t tell me the cooked rice seller at Kaneshie Market selling next to the public toilet from which there is a spill of human excreta, the tro-tro driver’s mate who sleeps under his master’s vehicle all night all year can be relied upon to keep their surroundings clean! They do not care. That is why we vote for Presidents every four years to appoint ministers and District Chief Executive (DCEs) and Inspector General Police (IGPs) to ensure that we (average Ghanaians) are kept within the law and are protected from ourselves.

Hate Mensa Otabil all you like, his statement is true, that if you populated the United Kingdom (UK) with Ghanaians and brought Britons to live in Ghana, something would happen in two weeks: Ghana would be clean and the UK will be dirty. The difference is leadership.

In Ghana, we import food from Sahelian Burkina Faso. Can you imagine! I cannot promise that I will be the best African President, but there is one thing I can promise: I can feed the people. I can make Ghana self-sufficient in food production. After all, it does not take the brains of a PhD rocket scientist: it takes the vision of a Senior High School (SHS) certificate holder. At the time General (late, Mr) Kutu Acheampong, achieved that feat, he had nothing but a commercial school certificate and a few years in military academy.

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), potentially one of the richest countries on earth is a land with unimaginable wealth of natural resources. It is on record that 75 per cent of the copper that went into the making of the brass casings used by the Allied Powers in World War I was from DR Congo and the uranium for the nuclear bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in World War II came from its mines.

Yet more than two-thirds of the people of this country live on less than one dollar a day!

Blame colonialism, yes; blame slavery, yes; but I will also tell you the story of its former President, General Mobutu Sese Seku. Till his overthrow and death, he was arguably the richest Head of State in the world. He built a $100 million palace for himself, with an ultra-long airstrip next to it, designed to take the Concorde aircraft which he constantly chartered for shopping trips to Paris.

What has not been done for Africa? We have had ‘Development Decades’. We have had PAMSCADs; we have had ERPs. If acronyms developed a continent, Africa will be the riches. Hundreds of billions of dollars has been sent to African nations in the form of direct aid. The consensus is that the money has had little long-term effect. Large proportions were invested in weapons and the remaining was directly misappropriated by corrupt governments.

Someone has observed that corruption is not only about stealing funds. It is also about putting bad people in prime positions; people who have neither the passion (sincerity) nor the qualification (skills) to do the job.

We have pushed, and are pushing, for debt relief. However, the example of Ghana has shown that the solution is not necessarily debt-forgiveness. So soon after receiving about $3.7bn in debt relief, Ghana is back to unsustainable debt. We are HIPC without wanting to be so declared.

How do we get out of this stranglehold? Some say Africa should be sold on the stock exchange; that as well as its citizens, foreigners should be free to buy shares. The problem I can foresee is that, if the likes of Dangote do not buy enough of it, there is the fear that European, North American and Chinese billionaires will gobble up our continent and take over not only the economy but also the politics.

Let’s face it: but for pride, could this not be the solution for Africa?