Feature Article of Thursday, 12 April 2007

Columnist: Baffour Ennin

What's wrong with Property Owning Democracy?

A story published on joyonline on March 2, 2007 quotes a Professor Ata Britwum of the University of Cape Coast as saying that “the ideology of property owning democracy is inimical to Africans since it serves the interest of the west and not the continent.” He was quoted as saying that property owning democracy means “wanting power to serve the whites and this is pernicious to the African.” Prof. Britwum is quoted in the same article as saying that Ghana’s First President, Kwame Nkrumah boosted industrialization during his rule by opting for a philosophy of communal property ownership. Ironically, all the factories the professor cited are not operational today simply because they were established under the so-called philosophy of communal property ownership.

The Cocoa Farm

In Ghana, the most successful enterprise is privately owned. I’m not talking about giant factories. I’m talking about the cocoa farm. Next time you go to any farming village in Ghana, ask to see the communal farm. You can search as hard as you want. You won’t find any. There is no such thing as communal cocoa, coffee or plantain farm. There is no truth to Professor Britwum’s statement that property owning democracy is inimical or pernicious to the African. In my ancestral towns and villages of Akrofuom, Akrokerri, Bobiriase, Sikaman, Domiabra, Ayaase all in Adansi and Techiman and Kwapong in the Brong Ahafo Region, every cocoa farm is privately owned. Every farm belongs to somebody. In the cocoa industry as a whole, every segment that is government dominated or owned is beset with corruption and mismanagement. Regardless of who is in power, the cocoa farm is the exception and it’s a success story because it is privately owned. Prof Britwum should sit in his ivory tower and dream on and posit unworkable solutions to Ghana’s problems but I dare any government to follow his misguided advice and nationalize all cocoa farms in Ghana, make them communal property and see what happens.

Left-Wing Ideologues

A small minority within our academic clerisy is notorious for propounding unworkable and unsustainable political and economic models purportedly to advance and protect the interests of Ghana’s hoi polloi. Writing from their ivory towers, their commentaries had misled generations of university students in Ghana to believe that “scientific socialism” was the ultimate panacea for Ghana’s ills. These aging left wing ideologues should post on their bedroom walls Bernard Shaw’s favorite quote “a man who is not a socialist at age 20 has no heart and a man who is a socialist at age 40 has no head”. It should be the first thing they see when they get up in the morning and the last thing they see when they retire to bed each night. They need to examine their heads because the unexamined life is not worth living.


When I was growing up in Obuasi, I was taught that you could only share wealth and not poverty. If we create a country of poverty-stricken citizenry, what else is there for us to share? Property owning democracy does not promise or guarantee any citizen success in life. What it promises and guarantees is ‘opportunity’. Property owning democracy is an equal opportunity enabler of dreams. There is nothing wrong with being rich. I’ve lived the greater part of my life in the US. I’ve met many hardworking people who are not rich and I’ve also met very hardworking people who are very rich. The common thread I find among all of them is that, what they hunger for is not money per se but success at creating value. The profit incentive is the motivation for their struggles. It’s too late in the day for the isolated pockets of pseudo intellectuals and its cabal of leftover revolutionaries from Nkrumah and Rawlings’ regimes to still advocate the nebulous concept of communal ownership. So long as a fortune is earned (as opposed to stolen, squeezed from governments or otherwise extorted from citizens) there is no justification for the misguided utterances that emanate from the lunatic fringes of Ghana’s politics. Property owning democracy created the likes of Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Larry Ellison and Steve Jobs. Better than convincing Ghana’s 22 million people to stop chasing filthy lucre or looking for creative ways to confiscate it, we should understand that wealth is an enabler of everyone’s success. The so-called philosophy of communal property ownership rewards mediocrity, it also stifles initiative, creativity and competition and it almost invariably engenders laziness and dependency. What Ghanaians want is less government. We don’t need additional bureaucracies to oversee the so-called communal properties.

Guinea pig of socialist experimentation

Albert Einstein is quoted as defining insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” We seem not to learn from our mistakes. Professor Britwum and his likes should abandon any hope of establishing a communist utopia in Ghana. It failed in China, the Soviet Union, Cuba and Eastern Europe and it will not succeed in Ghana. We tried it under Nkrumah and Rawlings and they both failed. Look at Ghana’s socialist ideologues of yesteryears. They have all aged and grown wiser. In their heydays, they promised brimstone and fire. But now, they are enjoying their lavish parties, luxury Jaguars and Mercedes and watching flat panel TVs in their expensive mansions.

These ideologues once had nothing but disdain for hardworking people who have been rewarded for their toils. They used subtlety and dishonesty to confiscate the assets of hardworking people. Remember what they did to Mr. Siaw of Tata Brewery fame? The hardworking Mr. Siaw was an illiterate trader who was far smarter than many of us with multiple degrees from top notch universities. Through his toils he set up Tata Brewery. What did the state do to him? His brewery was nationalized and sold eventually to a foreign entity. I bet you that hiding behind the government, were the so called intellectuals of the caliber of Mr. Britwum who used obfuscation to justify the takeover. Because they have not achieved anything in life, they think any rich person used dubious means to acquire his wealth.

Bill Gates spent countless hours in the lab, library and in his parent’s garage in Seattle with his pal Paul Allen to come up with Windows. So were Steve Jobs and his pals. Look at the great value these pioneers in innovation have created for the world. They have all been rewarded handsomely for their toils. Where is the justification for confiscating their assets all in the name of socialist experimentation? If these pioneers had been born in Mr. Britwum’s Ghana, Windows, Apple and Oracle would have still be sci-fi. What Ghana needs to do, is to create equal opportunity for advancement for all its citizens. Propounding theories to confiscate properties of hardworking people all in the name of creating a nation based on the philosophy of communal property ownership is an exercise in futility.

Baffour Ennin Washington, DC

Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.