Marking 6 decades of Africa’s Black Star: A hopeful dance of momentum and inertia

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Ghana has quite a story to tell. It was the first country south of the Sahara to wean itself off colonial rule. With power to govern now firmly rested in her own hands, Ghana’s different leaders will over time set her destiny on many different paths, with the Ghanaian people also contributing to what will become a chequered history of bright and blight. The Ghana story of six decades can therefore not be left at the doorstep of her leaders alone.

If there is blame or praise to be shared – and there is – then the people too must feature prominently for their due. It summarises altogether in a somewhat beautiful but murky image of a tossed dice taking forever to come down, leaving a fraction of the people looking up in expectation while the rest stir in the opposite direction hopeful that the dice will soon fall. 

But it is not to blame or praise time. Having only seen for myself the second part of that story, but yet heard it told in full, I consider it a moment to pause for deep thought. 

We must confront ourselves with hard and direct questions on our stagnating economic performance, our attitude towards social policy, our democratic trajectory and not the least our collective attitudes.

The question of how a country that started life with a stable and highly promising economy; a world leader of cocoa, endowed also with some of the richest minerals of this earth and equipped with impressive infrastructure, should come to have a debt stock of about 73 percent of its GDP, needs to engage our thoughts at 60.

We must stretch those thoughts, and ask ourselves why and how countries like Singapore and Malaysia for instance, will come to be successful without us. It is a sad comparison to make, but it is good for us if it will propel us to shape our onward march right.

When in 1957, we were happily taking power from our colonial masters and being handed with such wealth to command our own affairs, somewhere across the ocean Malaysia and Singapore too were going through a similar exercise. 

But it was only similar to the extent of the act of independence, because whilst we were happy to become masters of our own wealth, theirs was a different story.

Singapore by the time of its independence did not have much to its name. Independence came for them with a price whereas it came for us with pride. Theirs was a very small domestic market. Unemployment levels were very high. Poverty rate was disturbing and 70 percent of its households lived in badly overcrowded conditions – a third of its people squatted in slums.

But whilst we embarked on a massive industrialisation agenda that was largely reckless and mostly misplaced, they, on the flip side rolled out a well thought out and carefully tailored investment drive that would make Singapore an attractive destination for foreign investment.

The success of that story was almost inevitable and by 2001 foreign companies accounted for 75 percent of its manufactured output and 85 percent of manufactured exports. 

In one single generation, it was able to move from a tiny third-world country into a first-world state, and the story is all too known to all of us by now.

Back here in Ghana, we were happily doing so much that meant so little. We built a mango processing plant (at 80 percent of the original budget) only to discover belatedly that we did not have such mango trees growing in the wild to feed the plant. Another seven or so years were needed for the plant to take off properly.

We built a sugar plant without a water system and the plant would be rendered redundant for another year. The implications of investing so much money, some of which was borrowed, in factories that will become idle for one reason or another, cannot be overstated.

There was also an element of poor political decision-making embedded in an already misplaced agenda. We set up shoe production factories that were located nowhere near areas with available leather supply. 

The finished product too was so poor the Ghanaian people simply could not patronise them, and even an attempt to force our police service to purchase them was opposed with equal force. We have succeeded in turning the saying on its head: to whom much was given, much was wasted.

It crystallises into a question of quality of leadership, held together by detailed questions of vision and priorities. Sixty years on, what have we got to display for the most basic necessities of education and healthcare?

Our expenditure on education has averaged about 5.5 percent for two decades running and even though this is not in itself bad, we spend nearly 70 percent of that money on salaries and wages. 

What is left for building and improving the infrastructure as well as improving the quality of training is as sad as the quality of academic transcripts we produce.

 If this was not enough, we cut down on school enrollment to answer the question of infrastructure deficit. That is not what 60 year olds do.

We must be innovative and aggressive in our handling of our educational sector. Education provides the only enduring material for building the much-needed bridge between the rich and poor, and I have argued before that making that material expensive and inaccessible is the one sure way of widening further the gap.

Nelson Mandela is right in saying that “education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” But changing the world around us is how we contribute to changing the world as a whole, and President Akufo-Addo’s insatiable hunger to see a total and progressive transformation of Ghana’s educational sector, which will culminate into free quality education for all, is to be commended and supported.

We must redesign our curriculum to suit the ever-evolving needs of the job market. We must pay equal attention to both formal and informal education and stop forcing people to stay in formal education by all means and at great cost. 

We must build quality technical and vocational institutes across the country to absorb students who are not able to make it into our not so many universities, or who perhaps show better competence and a keener interest in the areas of technical and vocational work. That way, we will be building an all-round human resource pool that is fit to be fed into the development machine.

We continue to record over 10 million cases of malaria every year in our hospitals, infant mortality is still at a disturbing high, about 12,000 children die every year of under-weight related ailments due to malnutrition and majority of the Ghanaian people do not have access to quality healthcare. 

Nothing is more devastating than the sight of overcrowding in our healthcare facilities, with the sick spending long hours that sometimes run into days before they can finally be attended to.  This too is surely not the way of 60-year-olds and we need to invest more aggressively but wisely to meet our ever-growing healthcare needs.

We must invest more seriously in research and data collection work for improving healthcare in our country. We must equally make an investment in healthcare facilities and equipment a top priority, and government must collaborate more closely with the private sector for quality healthcare delivery.

Closely tied to the issue of healthcare delivery is the rather nauseating issue of sanitation. The amount of filth that surrounds us in every corner and space of our country is a sad commentary. Cleanliness is next to age, or so I have always thought, but ours is clearly a case of dirt coming with age.

We must change this together, and government must show the way by paying greater attention to this problem. It is again refreshing in this regard to see that the President has appointed a Minister for Sanitation who has the mandate to oversee a massive sanitation drive across the country. We should all support him to succeed.

Citizens must join hands and minds with our governments. We must consider ourselves, regardless of what we do or where we stand, as ambassadors of the government. We must continue to challenge ourselves to attain world-class excellence in our respective fields of endeavour.

We must eschew mediocrity and believe in ourselves as people endowed with all that is required to be the best anywhere. Our attitude towards work is a matter of great importance. 

A public servant thinks Ghana’s work and property are not for him and without any surprise, therefore, he shows a lackadaisical attitude towards anything Ghana. We need a renewed spirit inspired by a thinking that what belongs to Ghana belongs to all of us.

If you are a public servant and you show up at work at 10:00 am and close by 2:00 pm, your unproductivity has a direct bearing on the future of your own children, and we must all bear this in mind. What has come to be accepted shamefully as ‘Ghana-man time’ needs to be abolished with immediate effect by all of us.

We cannot sit around and think that a day will come when Ken Ofori-Atta will abolish this one too. It is a tax that we impose on ourselves and only we ourselves can abolish it.

We must do away with the habit of thinking that doing things by half is a ‘Ghana thing’. That is not even as sad as how we speak of people who try to do things right and well for Ghana.

The disgraceful attitude of asking such people whether Ghana’s property is their father’s must stop. We cannot treat with such disdain and negligence what belongs to Ghana and yet expect that our children will come to inherit a better society. That logic is a flawed one.

We must hold our leaders accountable to the Ghana project. It is a collective effort that begs constructive criticism of our governments when they go wrong whilst giving positive words of commendation when they go right. We must stop saying four years is just around the corner and so we will keep mute till then to vote out a non-performing government.

Think about the number of children that die of malnutrition in Ghana each year, and do the simple math to see how many die in four years. If that figure scares you then speak out each day you have to, to save at least one child.

I have stuck to the basic issues of economic growth, education, healthcare and sanitation, because without the basics there is no basis to go any further. I should admit without any doubt, that there have been times when we have picked ourselves up from our poor start but before we could consolidate our gains, we have retrogressed again. The partisan political contribution to that picture cannot be overlooked.

When governments change, the good in the outgoing administration must not go away with it. Governments must retain good policies even if they were started by a different administration and pursue them with the same devotion as it would its own policies.

We can achieve these and more, if we see and treat the Ghana agenda as if it was our private enterprise. It actually is our own private enterprise; we have just not stopped to think about it yet. Henceforth, we should.

When I was much younger, barely 11 years old, I heard proclaimed all around me a certain vision 2020. Then, I saw the years as so far away and wondered if they will ever come for Ghana to attain the much-touted sustainable socio-economic development.

Today, with only three years left to hit 2020, whether or not Ghana has attained that feat, or has even laid the necessary foundation for attaining same, is not for this paper alone to say.

We have had as a nation, a very bumpy journey, and while we have been an excellent example sometimes, today, like most times in that journey, the showing has been poor. Our President’s call for a modest 60th anniversary celebration is apt, and he is equally spot-on in asking us to look within ourselves and reflect on the many virtues and values that bring us together as a nation. It is in that collective coalescing around our strengths and aspirations that we find the energy to herald together the Ghana agenda.

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