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Opinions of Wednesday, 28 November 2001

Columnist: Adu-Asare, R. Y

The Need to Face Up to Reality, Not Sitting on Potential

Responses to a recent article, (“Ghanaian Businesspeople Asleep at the Wheels …”, Ghanaweb, Nov. 19, 2001) addressing the views of some Nigerians about the nature of doing business in Ghana elicited pent up frustration from Ghanaians around the world on the issue. However, besides acknowledging that problems exist in Ghana in the performance of tasks in a timely fashion with measurable results, few of the respondents provided any pointers as to why the situation is as it is. Rather, a lot of the respondents took umbrage at the mere fact that their Nigerian neighbors had the audacity even to be critical of Ghana.

Instead of addressing the fundamental issues associated with not getting things done in Ghana as might be expected, a respondent wrote of Nigerians thus, “if they claim to be this so-called effective businesspeople, why is the country [Nigeria] saddled with so much problems. Nigeria is the most impoverished oil producer in the world. They have all that one needs to create a sustainable economy, and that is oil; yet still they seem to have no clue as to what to do.” Well said, but what good do these observations do for solving Ghana’s own problems?

Continuing, the respondent cited above, wrote, “Yes, maybe Ghanaians are a little bit slow in the execution but yet still the fact remains Ghanaians are more level headed, peaceful, less corrupt, patient and better organized. Ghana has always been a leader in Sub-Sahara Africa and will continue to be. The facts are there to support that. Ghana is a more open society than Nigeria, where people are tolerant of others ideas or opinion. Nigeria is yet to gain that.

I want to suggest that the tendency towards aggrandizement and inflated views have been part of the problem associated with lack of upward mobility characterizing the Ghanaian society. The tendency I refer to comes out of backward thinking such as comparing two hopeless cases; which ever one comes on top is still not good enough, in the larger scheme of things. Ghana may have been “a leader in Sub-Sahara Africa,” yet Ghanaians have been covering their butts with imported used clothes since independence.

In the economic sphere, the tendency for Ghanaians to assume that their conditions of existence are better than their neighbors’ comes out of a culture of believing in the potential, as opposed to the reality. Ghanaians count their potential wealth in the resources yet to be harnessed as opposed to finding the means to add value to what they produce for export. Since Ghanaians have all this big talk about being the “leader” in Su-Sahara Africa, how come the country is not one of the five that have filled their quota in the provisions of the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act, which allows about 2,000 products to be exported to the United States’ lucrative market, duty free?

Ghana, the self-anointed “showcase of Africa’s independence and freedom,” after 43 years of independence has one of the most dependent economies on the African continent. Planning of government projects, since independence, has always been predicated on expectation of foreign assistance thereby reproducing conditions for low productive capacity of the economy, characterized by massive unemployment and untold poverty. The culture of economic dependency in Ghana is so pervasive that nephews and nieces sit in waiting for handouts from uncles and aunts, leaving one to ponder the role of fathers and mothers.

On the political front, it appears Ghanaians are “level headed” and “patient” enough to have allowed an individual and his buddies to misrule their country, in absolute terms, for 20 years without anybody throwing a stone, a tomato or even putrefied egg. The attitudes indicated here have a tendency to reproduce docility in the body politic to the extent even Nana Kunadu Agyemang-Rawlings, the daughter of a humble public servant, exhibits a bloated impression indicating that she has the capacity to rule Ghana, by virtue of marriage.

With all humility, I’d like to suggest to fellow Ghanaians to recognize the precarious economic and political conditions in which our country is and to address the critical issues with a view towards positive change. Sure, some few Ghanaians, by dint of providence or default, may be well seated, so to speak, but yet even they breathe the same air as others in their community. In that regard, changing attitude towards business and work, as such, must be a collective responsibility for the benefit of all of society.

At the highest level of abstraction, attitude is a predisposition for one to respond to a particular situation or event in a given manner. An employer who pays the worker $1.00 for eight hours of work should expect work-output equal or less than $1.00 in value. In this sense, it is fair to say that anybody who pays me $1.00 for eight hours work should expect that I will sit on my behind or take a cigarette break whenever the opportunity arises. This scenario goes to address the fundamental issue of wage-labor relations in society and the expected productivity.

There must be a certain level of national debate in Ghana about how much workers deserve to be paid, and what to expect of them. When workers get paid less than $1.00 for eight hours of work I wonder how they are able to participate effectively in the national economy through consumption. Numerically, there are more working poor in Ghana than ‘businesspeople” and if they cannot be paid adequately to participate in the economy it follows that there would be over-production and stagnation, as it were.

Workers in Ghana deserve to be paid “living wages” if they are expected to put in full eight hours of work-output in a given day. Where I grew up in Ghana, it was well established that the amount of work done by farm day-laborers was commensurate with the quality and quantity of lunch provided by the farmer. Anybody listening?

I have a view also that the businessperson must play the role of problem solving relative to executing tasks in timely fashion with measurable results in order for the work process to move forward. Certainly, road construction, in the 21st century, would proceed better with certain types of equipment instead of pick-axe and spade.

Since Ghana is claimed to be so “peaceful” and “better organized”, I have been wondering, from where I’m perched, why the individual’s personal security in the country has become so precarious because of rising armed robberies? And by the way, I would also like to know why shipping containers arriving at Ghana’s seaports these days are loaded with discarded used appliances. Are these some of the qualities of being better organized and peaceful?

With reference to the article under discussion, a female Ghanaian resident in the United States wrote: “I was very impressed by the constructive criticism presented in your article, and am compelled to side with the Nigerian businessmen in question. The entire business atmosphere in Ghana has forever lacked drive. We propound a lot of theories, but are never able to bring things to fruition. I blame it all on talk with no action.” Thank you, Mary O…!

By the way, whether Ghanaians like it or not, Nigerians have earned the right to be critical of any country in West Africa. It is their money that has kept the peace in the region in the past decade by putting the likes of Foday Sankoh, the butcher of Sierra Leone and Charles Taylor, the warlord of Liberia, where they belong. I hope the incorrigible dictator, Campoare of Burkina Faso, is paying attention. The world is watching him and his “blood diamonds” connections.