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Opinions of Monday, 18 January 2010

Columnist: Akosah-Sarpong, Kofi

The real national development planning

By Kofi Akosah-Sarpong

If Botswana is to teach Africa one or two things about progress, the nature of development planning in Africa shouldn’t be a contentious issue. The appointment of P.V. Obeng, touted as a de facto Prime Minister in the long-running Jerry Rawlings’ military and civilian regimes, as chair of the newly constituted National Development Planning Commission, raises the nature of thinking that has planned Ghana for the past 51 years.

That, unlike Botswana, Ghanaian cultural values has more or less been touted as exotic than sober policy-making fertilizer is seen in Obeng’s grasp of Ghana. And nobody in Ghana reveals such unrealistic and poor thinking than PV, as he is fondly called. In PV, the Ghanaian elite, as director of progress, hasn’t been able to think heavily through and appropriate his/her cultural values, as a matter of logic, confidence and psychology, in Ghana’s progress. Experts argue that Ghana/Africa is the only place on earth where its development process isn’t informed by its cultural values.

A trained engineer, in his years in government PV was shielded from fuller scrutiny by the military and quasi-military regimes he was involved in, where freedoms, the rule of law and democracy were scrawny. Now recycled, PV comes face-to-face with fuller democratic scrutiny – with high octane debate about the place of Ghanaian culture in Ghana’s progress. It is in such atmosphere, too, that Ghanaians will naturally demand that PV’s development planning commission practically factor in their traditional values in national development planning for their sustainable progress, as Botswana has successfully done and made it Africa’s most fruitfully nation.

The trouble with PV and the need for innovative development planning thinking driven by Ghanaian traditional values is made clear when he gave a post-appointment interview with the Accra-based Joy FM. PV said his commission will espouse a “participatory approach in planning and in development and ensuring that all political stakeholders in national development process.” We didn’t hear participation of Ghanaian cultural institutions and values such as the National House of Chiefs as part of PV’s participatory approach. This reveals that PV hasn’t kept in line with Ghanaians’ current thinking about their development process but also the global prosperity architecture that consults local cultural values as international development literature make known.

PV’s same old, same old tragic thinking and persistent social problem show how realities on the ground are devoid of Ghanaian values fifty-two years on as a republic. While PV and his associate may journey to Botswana with humility to learn from them, they can borrow a leaf from a workshop in Kumasi workshop on culture and development planning for district planning officers that took place some few months ago. The Kumasi workshop exposed the superficiality of Ghana as a development ideal and the fact that there is also the lack of intellectual detail of Ghana as a development project.

K. Y Amoako, ex-chair of the UN Economic Commission for Africa, will tell PV and his group that Ghana/Africa is the only region in the world where its development paradigms are dominated by foreign development paradigms to the detriment of its rich cultural values and institutions. Pretty much of the development troubles start from here. Once again, Botswana is an exception. Botswana quickly balanced its progress tender after independence from British colonialism in 1966 by complementing its culture values and institutions with the ex-colonial, global development ideals. It is, therefore, not surprising that Botswana has the best development indicators in Africa. Some Ghanaian/African intellectuals such as George Ayittey (of "African solution for African problems" fame) have strongly argued for equilibrium between African sensibilities with the global prosperity principles in Africa's progress. And drawing from the wisdom of the global prosperity experiences and African commentators such as Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe and George Ayitteh, US President Barack Obama said in Accra, Ghana on July 12 that whether in democratic growth or any development venture for that matter, African traditional values and institutions should be considered in the overall schemes. The Kumasi workshop, of which PV and his associates should draw from, as a matter of wisdom and simplicity, rode on the back of these growing thoughts. But at certain disconcerting altitudes, the Kumasi workshop also sounded like a Western anthropologist teaching Ghanaian policy-makers what is their own culture than the authentic Ghanaian traditional values and institutions doing that. Against this backdrop is the fact that colonialism demeaned the Ghanaian/African culture, making sense of Y.K. Amoako's observation that Africa is at the mercy of foreign development paradigms, as if it has nothing of its own - African elites, as directors of progress, as PV exposes, as weak, confused, shallow and autistic in the face of development challenges that yearn for development planning starting from African traditional values.

In this sense, PV and his commission could seek the knowledge of those who deal with everyday cultural and development matters in planning the development for the real Ghana. The likes of the Asantehene Osei Tutu 11, Agbogbomefia Torgbui Afede Asor XIV and Okyehene Osagyefo Amoatia Ofori Panin to get a better sense of the real Ghana development process in weaving the Ghanaian culture into development planning. If PV and his commission go the Kumasi workshop way, by playing with its thematic premises, it will help right this long-running development planning glitch and free Ghanaians from the clutches of foreign development planning paradigms that have suppressed their real progress and confidence in the past 51 years.