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Opinions of Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Columnist: Mohammed, Umar Najeeb

The Tyranny of My Fellow Few Ghanaians

The two Ghanas is why we can’t have sustained economic growth. No, I am not talking about the literates and illiterates. No, I am not talking about unequal opportunities between the haves and the have-less. What I’m talking about is the politicians and the non-politicians.

Those who are politically connected are promised of a well-functioning and efficient institutions—from the DMV to the Passport office. It’s called political protocol. Those who are not politically connected do not only come to expect incompetent institutions but know it to be that way. It’s called nothing (no institution) works in Ghana. The later was how I lived my life in Ghana, always saying to myself that no government institution can work well until I came to America.

American government institutions are not perfect but at least the people are treated equally, from the DMV to the passport office. Expedited service means expedited service. Regular service means regular. You don’t have to know your local politician to get your passport in two weeks neither do you have to be a politician to get an expedited passport service. If you can pay for it, you can get it.

In America, politics end at the door steps of government institutions. In Ghana, politics starts at the door steps of government institutions. And it is wrong, we must stop it.

Ghanaians here in America know too well what I am talking about. They are in agreement to my observation. The difference in opinion is what to do about Ghana’s institutions. Some have said, well, Ghana’s institutions are different but there is nothing anyone can do about them. This sort of mentality sends chill down my spine. Others say the conventional wisdom, Ghana’s politicians have to make Ghanaian institutions work. To which, I reply, the politicians are the problem.

Suppose for a moment, we get rid of political protocol. Whom do you think will feel the heat? Your guess is as good as mine. The politicians obviously. If you think I am overstating the case, apply for a passport in Ghana without any political clout or financial clout to bribe your way out. You will be lucky to receive it within four months.

The enormous benefits of political protocol make it lucrative and acceptable to the politicians. The NDC, the NPP and other political parties are guilty of this crime. They use the ‘so called political protocol’ to receive efficient services from the Ghanaian institutions we think of as incapable working efficiently. That is the problem. We are led by politicians who are part of the problem. We play the game of heads the politicians (and their cronies) win, tails they win and we (the not-so politically connected) lose. Hence, the politicians have no incentive to make sure our institutions work.

Go ahead, you are entitled to ask why you should be concern or why I should even write about this. The truth, however, is moral and economic reasons.
Political Protocol has created a quasi-two-class citizens: the political class as the rightful upper class and not-so political class as the deserved lower class. No wander politicians are treated like special super stars from Mars in Ghana. Let me be very direct, I am not advocating for a utopia. What I’m only advocating for is institutional fairness in anyway humanly possible.
The second and the more grievous sin is the economics. Straight text book economics says that, a nation long run economic growth depends on its technological progress—i.e. research and developments. Some nations like the United States achieve this by doing real research to come out with new ideas like the Internet, Google etc. Other nation(s), whom we all know, I’m not mentioning names, do(es) so by copying. Granted that; in Ghana we neither do research nor have the resources to copy others. Does it mean Ghana cannot achieve long run growth? On the Contrary. Having an inclusive institutions (aka fair working institutions) can help us achieve long run economic growth. Don’t take it from me, take it from the research of an economist, Professor James Robinson of Harvard University. In his paper Why Nations Fail: The Mexican Case, concludes that “What to do about this [extractive institutions]? The theory says that to solve these problems political institutions have to become less extractive. Once this happens, inclusive economic institutions will followed and poverty and inequality will fall”. Needless to say that it’s not only professor Robinson conclusion, it’s the consensus among economists that a nation cannot achieve a sustained long run growth with extractive institutions such as Ghana’s own.

The two Ghanas is anathema to progress. Let’s abolished it. One group, either the politically connected or the not-so politically, cannot abolished it without the support of the other. Let the not-so politically connected treat their elected officials as their consultants (and not as their special super stars from Mars). And the next time you see your MP, ask him/her to fix the delays in immigration services, motor vehicle or some institutions that isn’t working well. Let the politician knows that he/she was elected or nominated to serve the people and not to be a special person from Mars. And the next time your constituent ask you to use your political protocol to get them a passport or something after following all the legitimate means, haul the Director of Immigration Service or that department before Parliament to answer to the Ghanaian people. Together, we can make Ghanaian institutions less extractive and more inclusive. Together, we can proudly tell our children and grandchildren how we contributed to make Ghana a better place. Together, we can achieve the true ideals of equality we hold so dearly.