Since President Nana Akufo-Addo launched his “Ghana Beyond Aid” agenda we have been treated to the same partisan responses. Sadly, none of it goes beyond the usual partisan debate that we are used to hearing from our learned parliamentarians.
Once a in a lifetime in the history of any nation, a leader appears who embodies the fears and aspirations of the people by offering a vision, sense of nationhood and pride in his or her citizens, must come up with ideas that stand the test of time and must flow from the leader’s ideological underpinnings. Such ideas must be seen within the ideological pitch or tent from which the leader emerges.
A leader with ideas makes a difference
Leaders who made a difference to their peoples’ lives like Fidel Castro, Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah, Robert Kennedy (USA), the late Meles Zenawi (Ethiopia), and several others started with a clear vision of where they would take their nations and people. In contemporary African politics, perhaps President Paul Kagame exemplifies this trend, in spite of what some see as his descent into dictatorial methods. Their ideas set the tone form, which their countries emerged, from conflict, underdevelopment or lack of development to more prosperous societies.
Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah was successful in Ghana and did more than any ruler to define the new Ghana after independence. This stemmed from his belief in a socialist, pan African, self-reliant and prosperous Ghana.
His Seven-Year Development Plan, the most ambitious plan for economic transformation of any leader in Ghana, was influenced by this. Apart from Kwame Nkrumah, General Kutu Acheampong, also of Ghana, and his policies of self-reliance: Operation Feed Yourself, Operation Feed Your industries, seizing the commanding heights of the economy. Such good examples were not to last as imperialism and local saboteurs sabotaged their policies through sanctions.
In Ghana, after a brief period of what was called a “revolution” and an attempt to recapture the commanding heights of the Ghanaian economy from neo-colonial forces, Rawlings did a U turn in 1983 at the urgings of the United States and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), abandoned all “revolutionary” pretensions and handed over the Ghanaian economy hook, line and sinker back to the IMF once again.
Rawlings was rewarded with accolades such as “IMF baby” which he shamelessly accepted and wore as a badge of pride. Ghana’s economy stagnated irreparably under the Rawlings era as he went on a rampage, selling everything of value to his family, friends and international investors. His party, the National Democratic Congress (NDC) continued with the same trend.
The Rawlings flip flop to disaster
Since 1983, Ghana has been bereft of any political direction or honest political debate and conversations about political and economic direction. Leaders have failed to present a viable vision that could propel the country into prosperity by even defining their vision of a prosperous Ghana.
The Rawlings era, the longest serving ruler in Ghana was defined by his relationship with the IMF and his neo-liberal Economic Recovery Programme and Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) and excessive human rights abuses. I should add that Rawlings and his neo-liberal faction jettisoned more radical home-based alternatives of economic development.
The John Agyekum Kufuor era was defined by Highly Indebted Poor Countries, a neo-liberal policy so condescending and patronising that it was almost shameful to admit to being a Ghanaian in those days. Successive governments of the NDC have been held back by their inability to jettison what Rawlings left behind and chart a more progressive and nationalistic path, which could clarify their claims to being a “social democratic” party.
What I am driving at is that since 1983, Ghana has not seen a leader who has tried to define, refine, and promote a political and economic system that was not given them by the global neo-liberal elite.
Frequent trips to the World Bank and the IMF and to western capitals and so on. Yet, the Ghanaian economy has been tottering on the brink of complete collapse. Yes, all may not be “doom and gloom”, but how come we achieved so much under the Kwame Nkrumah administration between 1957 and 1966 and under General Kutu Acheampong in a short period of times even when Ghana had limited resources?
Ghana’s shameful reliance on donors
To put it mildly, Ghana has become so donor dependent that rely on donors for too many things. Everything in Ghana is either paid for by the European Union, USAID, UKAID, Norway or Sweden. Departments and Ministries of State, the non-governmental sector, academic institutions, and even hospitals go with begging bowls to some donor somewhere to come and save us.
In 2016, an official of the US Embassy in Accra told us that Ghana should not see the United States as “Father Christmas”. As painful as this was, he was right. And when donors make grants, loans and aid available, this is siphoned off by the middle class to support their lucrative, ostentatiously corrupt lifestyles.
What is more worrying is that this over reliance on western donors also weakens the Republic’s ability to defend its sovereign against encroachment by those with deep pockets. And it is not unusual for some western donors to use their influence over African governments to their national and geopolitical advantage. So, when we say as a people, “How could our governments do this this to us?” this could be one reason.
The Nana Addo agenda: Ghana Beyond Aid
Then comes President Nana Addo Dankwah Akufo-Addo and his government. His initial social intervention programmes have been lauded by the poor in society, and predictably questioned by the opposition NDC.
The New Patriotic Party (NPP) has never claimed to be a radical political party. It believes in the “private sector”, as the “engine of growth”. Any analysis of the performance of this government should be understood within this ideological framework. However, it seems to have some nationalistic, developmental, welfarist and patriotic sentiments, which cannot be ignored. That is the source of the “Ghana Beyond Aid” (GBA) agenda.
This new Agenda, presents Ghana with an opportunity to generate a serious debate among people with differing political ideologies. This is probably more important than knee jerk reactions from those with partisan political interests for whom anything the current government proposes should be is jettisoned.
Then there are those who contend that the GBA agenda is neither sustainable nor practical. That it will not take Ghana out of neo-colonialism. Was it meant as a tool in the fight against neo-colonialism or neoliberalism? Partly. The GBA agenda definitely questions our dependency and neo-colonial status as a country.
Understanding “Ghana Beyond Aid”
Addressing the nation on the 61st anniversary of Ghana’s independence, President Akufo said, “Ours is a country that is well endowed with many natural resources such as gold, bauxite, diamonds, oil, timber, cocoa, water, fertile land etc. The truth, however, is that the state of our nation does not bear out that we have these natural endowments. Poverty continues to be our lot. We have huge infrastructural deficits.”
To understand GBA, we must listen to the man himself, “Mismanagement, corruption and high fiscal deficits have become the hallmarks of our economy, which we finance through borrowing and foreign aid. It is time to pursue a path to prosperity and self-respect for our nation.”
He continues, “We are not going to achieve the transformation in our economy which is necessary for a Ghana Beyond Aid by just talking about it. We have to do something about it! As a start, we have to do things differently. Business as usual will not do it. It cannot happen by waving a magic wand. And it cannot be achieved overnight. Indeed, the most rapid cases of economic and social transformation in history, those in South East Asia, generally spanned a period of about 30 years; about a generation. We cannot wait that long; we have wasted enough time already. We have to hurry but we must be realistic.
“A Ghana Beyond Aid is a prosperous and self-confident Ghana that is in charge of its economic destiny. It is not a pie in the sky notion, other countries; including some of our peers at independence have done exactly that. It is doable and we must believe that what others, with less resources, have done, we can do.”
“Ghana Beyond Aid is meant to be more than a slogan. It is meant to propel us into the frame of mind that would quicken our pace of development. It is meant to change our mindset from one of dependency, to one of achieving our destiny. It is meant to put us in charge of our own affairs and make us truly independent. Above all, Ghana Beyond Aid will give us the respect and dignity we deserve.”
If understood rightly, “Ghana Beyond Aid” is the vehicle through which the NPP government will harness its resources, “deploy them for rapid economic and social transformation.” Within neo-liberal framework, this is President Akufo’s belief and vision for the new Ghana.
Any debate on GBA must start from here. GBA is not about a fundamental restructuring of the neo-colonial state or of Ghana’s current relations with the western world and their institutions of domination. GBA is also not based on an “I will go it alone” approach. It simply promises to use resources garnered from trade and the private sector as effective vehicles to promote economic growth, create employment and ensure a more honest management of the economy. It also promises a more effective management of economic resources, and less corruption.
The government believes that this will invariably reduce our reliance on donors and make Ghana less susceptible to the vicissitudes of donor support. So far, I have not heard of cogent argument to the contrary, arguments that will reassure the unemployed youth that there are better and more effective alternatives.
As the President emphasised recently, the GBA agenda is also for “job creation, prosperity and equal opportunity for all” and it is “a timely intervention that would propel the country to a status beyond aid.”
A debate about the President’s GBA agenda is therefore necessary and welcome. Unless Ghanaians change their attitude towards new ideas, we will continue to drown in our current grotesque mediocrity, which prevents us from seeing the good in our leaders even if we have ideological differences.
Has this been tried before? Since the 1970s, various reports by pan African think tanks have called for Africa to reduce its reliance on aid. So, to some extent, “Africa Beyond Aid” is not a new argument. In the 1980s, diaspora and African civil society groups in the United Kingdom argued for “Making Aid History”. “Making Aid History” was aimed at promoting awareness of Africa’s overreliance on donor support and advocating for African governments to work towards less aid and more trade. This was not successful in mobilising the African voices in the UK, but at east it raised the issues.
GBA could suffer from both internal and external deliberate sabotage. It is not unusual for local and external interest groups to sabotage such efforts merely for the stated intentions because for some, the aid basket is where they eat from. Internally, we have the nation wreckers for whom any successful intervention of this government is one vote gone and would do anything to present the GBA idea as unworkable, unsustainable, unnecessary and “mere rhetoric”.
Externally, some misguided elements will see this as a radical, socialist or even pan African propaganda, and therefore would use their power and might, even through Ghana’s civil society to muddle the waters and make this unworkable. Awareness of these threats is therefore important.
Nevertheless, this should not stop the government from pursuing its GBA agenda. It only adds to the knowledge that no good effort comes from Africa without some external and internal saboteurs trying to wreck it. Ghana has seen a lot of this: first under Kwame Nkrumah and secondly under General Kutu Acheampong.
However, if there is a national consensus that Ghana needs to look inwards; that it should reduce the dependence on foreign aid in general, but also that self-reliance is the key to the future, then the government is on the right path and should be supported.
In a recent statement, the Minority Leader, Haruna Iddrisu, commenting on the GBA agenda and similar programmes said, “I may disagree with your vision, but I may be compelled to accept its successful outcome.” In reference to GBA, the opposition member also said that he “shared in the President’s vision of moving the country beyond aid”, adding, “It is a shared idea that we must move beyond aid and create a self-reliant Ghana.”
In the same way, let those of us who believe in a root and branch overhaul of the neo-colonial, neo-liberal economy lend support to this agenda to the point where it makes sense. GBA does no stop anyone from pursuing the goals of agitating for a “socialist” society, where possible, or a welfare state to bring relief to the suffering youth, women, workers and peasants of Ghana.
We owe it ourselves to begin a conversation or debate on “Ghana Beyond Aid”, set our parameters and agree where it will take us. Neither a complete rejection nor pedestrian response to what appears to be an idea whose time has come, will help this nation. Let the debate start.
* Zaya Yeebo is Managing Editor of Public Agenda, and Accra based national newspaper (www.pubicagendagh.com)