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Opinions of Monday, 29 November 2010

Columnist: Baidoo, Philip Kobina

The Inadvertent Curse Of Abundant Natural Resources (V)

In the last four series I have scoured the bottom of the barrel to try and make sense of the deplorable conditions we find ourselves after 53 years of independence. Though it's not a definitive analysis of the problem, it's got its unique role to play. However, my effort is not meant to suggest that we glory in our helplessness but to give us a reason to hope for the future, perhaps, to help us put our thinking cup on and hopefully engender an endless discourse that will lead us to an oasis of 21st century development.

Now coming back to the theme of the series, I will like to emphasise here again that it is not the abundance of resources that makes a nation prosperous but rather necessity. Necessity, according to an English proverb, is the mother of invention. Invention is a function of thinking. When a people or a nation begins to think that is when it becomes prosperous. When we use our brains rather than our sinew that is when progress comes. Hard work pays but not hard work of backbreaking toil rather hard work of burning the midnight oil i.e. using our brains. The brain is only 2% of our body weight based on the standard Body Mass Index; yet, it consumes 20% of the total nutritional intake into our body. Proportionally, the brain should do much work than the other parts of the body, which currently on the average it's the other way round. Roughly 65% to 70% of the national workforce is engaged in the agricultural sector producing gross products that can be accomplished by less than 5% of the same workforce simply because we are using our sinew instead of our brains.

Spain should have been the richest country in Western Europe if abundant natural resource is the golden key to the development of any nation. Quite the opposite they are the poorest country in Western Europe regardless of the massive wealth that poured into the country from their New World colonies courtesy of the Spanish conquistador. The amount of gold and silver involved were so huge that some who felt left out resorted to piracy with the blessings of a principality to get a piece of the action. The name Sir Francis Drake echoes down the corridors of history for nothing else but the constant raids he carried on the Spanish Armada carrying their precious cargo from the New World. On the other hand, Spain failed to capitalise on the advantages of their wealth while the Brits and the French used what they had to establish their royal societies to research and increase knowledge, which by far helped them to dominate Europe and the rest of the world until America came along.

There are those who argue that the wealth of Western Europe were stolen from their colonies particularly Africa and the rest of the world. However, Germany, which is the largest economy were striped of their colonies after the first world war and the second world war literally reduced the country to rubble. From the wreckage emerged West Germany, which adopted the superior Western economic ideology that made them flourish exponentially better than their brothers and sisters in the Eastern block who adopted the communist ideology euphemistically called socialism. With the fall of the Berlin wall came the unification of east and west engendering the powerhouse economy of Europe. This is a food for thought for those who are still feeding on the alibi of colonialism and imperialism. The super powers of the 18th and the 19th centuries, the French and the British were once colonies of the Romans. Now people forget the fact that the Americans were once a British colony. The French and the British graduated from the Romans and the Americans took their lessons from the British. We can also equally learn from the Brits like it’s been the order through out history.

The atrocities of Japan in the Far East in the early part of the twentieth century running up to the Second World War was meant to secure cheap supply of abundant natural resources. However, after their ignominious defeat they came to the realisation that their prosperity is not a function of what they have in the ground but what is in their head. Unfortunately, they came to that realisation after subjecting themselves to unimaginable suffering. Now Japan until quite recently the second largest economy in the world, held that position with very little natural resources and they can legally buy every conceivable natural resource without the pain and lose of life that characterised their policy at the dawn of the twentieth century.

It is worth noting that Switzerland is one of the most prosperous countries in the world with one of the highest per capita income in the world and it was achieved in a harsh and unfavourable physical environment and next to nothing natural resources.

Though U.S. is very rich in natural resources, on the other hand it's nowhere near the natural endowment of Russia. The Russians have the largest oil reserves outside any country in the Middle East in addition to uncountable mineral deposits. Yet the Russians during the 70 years of their communist debacle struggled to feed themselves though they have one of the most fertile soil in the whole of the northern hemisphere, besides the top of the range technology and scientists.

It is clear that it’s not what we have in the ground that matters but what we do with it. It should therefore not come as a surprise that we are still languishing on an economic desert of existence. So, on a practical note, I am going to map out a trajectory to prove why we stand at the cusp of an explosive economic development if we take the opportunity that presents itself now.

When Ghana became independent our population stood at 6.2 million; now it's been quadrupled. A university graduate at the time had a job waiting, besides the trained artisans. Unfortunately, times have changed more of us have become literate in addition to geometric growth of our population within half century. Competition for the same finite resources especially land has become more acute. The resultant hardships coupled with some of the unforeseen global economic convulsions led to serious bitterness and a blame culture that still muddles our thinking and discourse today. Sometime ago I read an article at this website and the writer was literally blaming Ghanaian engineers for not coming up with the relevant inventions to solve our problems. Not too long ago a similar article called for the dissolution of the Ghana armed forces. Others blame our politicians, police, Western countries, World Bank and the IMF. The list of the villains is very long. Obviously these are the evidence of pent up frustrations of the masses, which leads to such radical sweeping statements and indictment. On the other hand, they are part of growing up as a nation. A nation is just like a family unit or more appropriately, a human life. A nation is born and its got to go through all the infantile diseases which when she survives it strengthens her. The numerous coups, tribal frictions, intolerance, religious factionalism, domination of the majority are all part of the seamier side of an evolving young nation. Then comes the teenage years, the rebellious years, finding our own way irrespective of certain laid down blue prints, reaching out for our own values, beliefs etc., and making avoidable mistakes and learning through self inflicted pain.

We have had a fair share of our whooping cough, measles, mumps, rubella etc. Our teenage years produced some remarkable atrocities, which still haunt us today. It was tough going through all that; however, we are left with its benefit. Now it is near to impossibility to believe anyone who will come through the barrel of the gun claiming to champion the course of the little guy and cure all the sickness of the Ghanaian society. We know better now that it's impossible to create a perfect society and those that embark on it end up being demonic, as we have learnt so painfully. The Akan proverb, which literally states that advice does not change a person but only through bad experiences should be a powerful sobering reminder of the needless pain, frustrations and bitterness we could have avoided. However, we can comfort ourselves with the consolation that we can no longer be deceived. Though there is a huge marshland of ill-informed compatriot there are enough literate among us to counter balance their deadly onslaught.

Philip Kobina Baidoo Jnr