What is wrong with my country… in my opinion.

Cocoa in Ghana
Cocoa in Ghana – Photo Credit: Rebecca Bollwitt

I have been thinking a lot especially in the wake of all the economic brouhaha ongoing in my dear country. There is no one day I turn on primetime news without the phrase “worsening economic crises” and this sickens me to the marrow. I end up tuning in to radio stations that would lift my spirit with good music every now and then. Not that the music is intended to let me forget the problems but to create an enabling environment for me to reflect on how I may personally contribute to changing the current situation and then get all the politically biased friends of mine to drop political agenda in favor of nationalism.

I often hear myself thinking ‘oh dear how do we sit down and blame the central bank for a currency crises when we all need to get involved’. I am in no way suggesting that the government or central bank should not get involved in creating the enabling environment for businesses and families to thrive of course they do have a large chunk of their mandates spelt out clearly in laws and statutes and it will be ignorant for any person to jump blindly to their defense. Governments, including the central bank, have the broader mandate to create an ‘enabling’ environment for businesses and people to thrive.

In my opinion, the real issues are the mandates that are not written. Those urges we need to have as a people to cause change and not to get carried with the flow are almost certainly non-existent! We all know the root of the problems and the fact that in an attempt to save face, governments will always present superficial solutions which are merely short term in nature. We can all agree that our problems stem from corruption, lack low entrepreneurship drive (I dislike the word ‘lack’ because we do not lack), reactive policies, counterproductive political agenda (usually fueled by biased media), massive imbalanced trade in favor of imports, dormant public institutions with duplicated mandates living on subventions and ostrichism .

It is about time that we decided to stop, think and act. In my opinion, enough has been said about politicians. We all know things are not going on well and state institutions are headed and directed by quite a number of personalities with myopic visions. Whether that happens willingly or not is not important as we clearly deserve more as a people. From this point onwards, I will focus this discussion on corruption, entrepreneurship and ostrichism and this is basically because these are issues controllable by us as individuals in the realm of ethics, attitudes and morality. Thank God the solution to ineffective governance has been laid out by statute… elections!

National consensus to embrace corruption!

We are all a part of the problem as we are not patient and are suffering from the get money quick attitude. We all think ‘who you know’ get you quicker result. It is almost ingrained in us all that ‘sorting out’ the policeman will prevent the time-wasting at the police station and the policeman thinks wasting your time will let you ‘sort’ him out without going to the police station. I quite remember being in trotros a number of times and pulled over by police and having the passengers hurl insults at the policeman for delaying their journeys. We are all living a life of paradox. Picture the following scenario. A couple of friends are taking a drive whiles listening to prime time radio. An issue of corruption comes up and they chastise the government, drive a couple of meters ahead, hit some massive traffic, then drive on the shoulders of the road and in so doing, chipping the sides of the roads with the car tires, pushing some dirt in the open gutters and causing pot holes on the road. A policeman pulls them over, they bribe him, he pockets the money, and the state loses revenue and pays the policeman at month-end for work not done. The policeman is agitating for unpaid allowances in arrears, and is paid. Then other’s think the government has more money and also go on strike. Now the country is on mark time.  Then the rains come, the gutters are choked, floods occur, the pot holes widen, then they chastise the government some more for not spending some of our tax money on road maintenance and constructing open drains. Meanwhile the opposition communicators are on radio chanting and calling for heads to roll. The government is under pressure, checks the state coffers but the road maintenance is not budgeted for, raises taxes or appeal to the Chinese government for a loan and they chastise the government even more. On prime time news the next day the radio stations call some academicians to reiterate the fact that government borrowing covers the entire GDP. Then the government excavates the entire road, which is less than 5 years old, sinking all funds initially used, awards contract to a minister’s wife’s uncle’s brother through sole sourcing who builds another bad road, gets paid, the minister gets his kickbacks, the guys drive on the shoulder of the new road and it starts again. And oh the emergency organizations divert some bandages into private first-aid boxes.

I asked a close friend recently whiles we were having a friendly debate about the economy this simple question. “Passports are taking quite long to get printed out nowadays. Assuming you walk into the passport office to submit your passport documentation and there is a long queue and whiles waiting you see that former classmate of yours handling the process. What would you do?” He then answered, “Why is he my friend?”  I could give countless examples where we do not help ourselves on a daily basis and the ripple effects of our actions that we deem little.

This highlights to the core, what I call ostrichism. We choose to be corrupt and turn a blind eye where it benefits us, and makes our lives and the lives of loved ones comfortable. But so often would jump at corrupt politicians or persons when it doesn’t hold any benefit for us. It is part of our socialization, we tend to accept the wrongs from a very tender age. Our parents have bribed policemen whiles we looked on from the back seat from very early stages and it becomes acceptable when we become adults. That illusion is very expensive for us in a modern era and countries that have moved past this will always be ahead of us. We so often talk of lack of political will power but in my opinion, I think we are all suffering from low personal will power (low because we choose to enforce the right thing only if someone else will get all the benefit). That power to move away from our comfort zones. That power to join a queue and wait an extra minute. It appears there’s almost certainly a national consensus to inflict pain on ourselves.

Why is entrepreneurship the key?

Jobs! Jobs! Jobs! It’s almost election year again. When our radio stations will be most listened to. With political party faithful clinging to FM dials most akin to their adored political parties listening to countless promises of jobs coming in the next years. I have always held the view that any government’s attempt to solve unemployment by naming social intervention initiatives like GYEEDA, etc are just putting superficial achievements in place to secure another term. I am by no means saying those interventions are of no value. Of course they are! I have personally seen people benefit from training in carpentry, sewing and the like but I think politicians misunderstand us when we say job creation. It is not about only just physically training a person to gain some skills but to create an enabling environment for existing businesses to survive and keep people in employment as well as employ new persons through business growth. A clear example is the mining sector lay-offs in the wake of the energy crises. It cannot get any simpler than that.

In my opinion, social intervention initiatives should stay as such. Beyond that, the rest of the people who have started some business on their own, those inexperienced students who just graduated from school and the medium enterprises cannot benefit from social interventions and do not need it. The economic factors that would move these small and medium companies to large companies could create employment for fresh graduates.

Whatever I will say in the next few paragraphs may not be new to you. Mostly because you have thought about them before. Our attitudes and lifestyle as people are completely opposite of the country we want to see. We import everything and export mainly raw agricultural produce. We do not patronize Ghanaian made products mainly because we deem them inferior and would opt for more expensive items. The effect of all those seeming insignificant choices is that we are not helping the Ghanaian Cedi. Retailers are motivated to bring more imported goods into the country instead of from local manufacturers because demand is at an all-time high. Since we do not control our markets, our demand directly affects the supply. We have abandoned our culture and adopting foreign lifestyle means demand for items manufactured in foreign countries. We are killing the local industries and local entrepreneurial drive is low.

It is certainly more difficult to produce directly for export if we cannot convince visitors that we love our own products. Our importers demand more foreign currency to get us our beloved foreign products and when the Cedi is declining, we as individuals quickly demand more foreign currency to enrich ourselves (even though inflation makes the real gains marginal) instead of banking the funds for financial institutions to make them available as loans to entrepreneurs. Credit becomes difficult to access and more expensive to repay because these local companies are paying a premium for fueling their generators as a result of dumsor (energy crises) and the above factors causing banks to halt funding and buy risk-free government treasury bills and increasing government borrowing.

Technology has caught up with us and we basically cannot do without it but science, engineering and innovation is still at the infant ovulation phase in Ghana. This can only mean one thing, absolutely everything technology is imported. We clap hands for the likes of RLG (at least before the alleged scandals) for taking the step in engineering but when you lift the veil, what we actually do is import and assemble electronic parts mostly imported from China. Most of my undergrad school colleagues who studied physics end up in the services industry and the stubborn ones who go in that direction are left to work in foreign countries and usually end up naturalizing because their contribution is invaluable to their host countries after working for decades. I specifically mention technology and innovation because these are main vessels of transforming and adding value to the raw output we export and pride ourselves as the leading producers of. Recent studies show we are even at risk of descending these top producer positions because other countries are applying modern methods to expand production while we are arguing about fraudulent fertilizer deals by public officials. We can only lift our country when we lift ourselves as individuals and groups.

I am totally convinced that we can each make a difference by not going with the flow. In my opinion, the moment we decide not to settle for mediocrity, identify our talents or passion, look into the competitive market place and try to be authentic in our own small way, we begin to challenge a lot of the things we have accepted as normal and will ultimately make Ghana into the country we all wished it would be.

“You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” Mahatma Gandhi