Musings from afar: Who is to Blame? – Ken Ofori-Atta’s speech

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“While I believe firmly in open markets and free trade, I also believe an open market needs a level playing field.” Philip Hammond (Chancellor of the Exchequer, UK)

I admire Ken Ofori-Atta very much. His demeanour and personality is endearing. He is affable, extremely sharp and intelligent. His signature plain white African attire is something we have all become accustomed to. Many believe Ghana’s Finance Minister has the magic wand to transform Ghana’s economy; an aspiration we so dearly hold to our chests. Recently, Ken had the opportunity to speak briefly at the African Consultative Group Meeting in Washington DC, USA, and admittedly, he did not disappoint. I had watched the video of the speech several times, and watched it each time with the same attention as though I had never seen it before. Our “miracle baby” Finance Minister, just like Moses in the Bible, is extremely insightful. From his village to the city (Accra), where he learnt to write his name at age ten, to Achimota School, then to Columbia University, Harvard, Wall Street and back to Accra to set up an investment bank. He is the investment banker now turned politician who recently got appointed as the Finance Minister of Ghana in President Akufo-Addo’s government. Let me paraphrase what Ken had to say to the world and provide a different twist on his narrative. As always, I write from my perspective.

According to Mr Ofori-Atta the New Patriotic Party (NPP) inherited a country with an 8.9 percent deficit, negative primary balance, and 72 percent debt to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ratio. Mr Ofori-Atta articulated the strenuous effort of the Akufo-Addo government in getting the wheels of the economy working again. Using cocoa as a point of reference, he stated that Ghana and Cote d’voire jointly supply about 60 per cent of the worlds cocoa beans, which fetches about $5 billion, and yet they are price-takers at the world market. When the cocoa beans are processed, the added value is $140 billion in trade. The fundamental question posed by Ken is “why is Ghana playing in the $5b ‘quadrant’ and not the $140b?” Finally, Ken called on Africa’s partners to treat Africa differently from the way they have treated the Continent in the past. He was hopeful that Ghana, if treated fairly, can easily be “a satellite of radiation that will permeate the continent.”

On the face of it, his presentation was flawless and somewhat candid. The ensuing question is this, what has Ghana done with his share of the $5b? Can we account for our yearly share of this amount? Have we used it prudently, and have the projects embarked upon with these proceeds been sustainable? Is there a systematic and ongoing project by the West to stop Ghana from competing in the US$140 billion quadrant? I have been visiting Ghana frequently in recent times. On one such visit, I bought Ghana’s Golden Tree Chocolate at the airport for my colleagues at the office and our kids. My children are big fans of chocolate. We buy a box of chocolates for home, and, within minutes, it disappears. However, the box of Golden Tree chocolates I bought from Ghana outlived its shelf life in my house. The box I took to work literally experienced the same treatment. When I enquired from one of my close friends he remarked: “Dominic what do you expect. We cannot split it, let alone, enjoy the taste.”

The issue then is relatively simple. If Ghana wants to compete in $140b quadrant, then Ghana must raise its game and produce high quality products that compete squarely with the likes of Cadbury. The competition out there is fierce, and Ghana must do its bit, and not always expect preferential treatment from the West.

Let us also for a second, assume that Ghana is “allowed’ to compete in the $140 billion quadrant as advocated by Mr Ofori-Atta. What is the guarantee that the money realised will even be put into any meaningful use by the Akufo-Addo administration, as well as successive governments? Would a significant chunk of the money be stolen by some of Ghana’s so-called “Mafia politicians” with their insatiable appetite for corruption? Barely eight months ago, the National Patriotic Party (NPP) was crying from the rooftops that most of the projects engaged in by the National Democratic Congress (NDC) were done at an inflated cost. As a matter of fact, the NPP won the December 2016 general elections on the slogan that the NDC government was Corrupt or Incompetent, or both. The Ghanaian citizenry believed, and reflected this in the General Elections results. What would be the effect on the citizen, therefore, if Ghana got a stake in the 140-billion-dollar quadrant. Would a significant amount of this money not end up being stolen?  Is it not better that those countries with the appropriate systems have the lion’s share of these trade deals, if not all, and that those with corrupt systems benefit from the benevolence of the West in the form of aid? I am only asking. Let me put it subtly, differently. If Ghana earned the lion’s share of world trade proceeds, would its citizens even benefit, as it happens in the western countries, let alone, for there to be a trickle-down benevolence in the form of aid to other countries.

I am an advocate of Free Trade. I believe in equity and fairness, but I cannot fathom the logic in the constant shifting of blame to the West, when Ghana, 60 years ago, decided to chart its own course. The Chinese have done it, and we run to them for aid, grants and loans. Brazil and India are showing signs of winning the race.

I must end here, Mr Ken Ofori-Atta. His short “sermon” at the African Consultative Group Meeting is by far one of my favourite speeches, but the more I subject it to scrutiny, the more I conclude that the problem is not the rest of the world. For some strange reason, or by sheer bad omen, Ghana simply is yet to find that magic wand. However, I am confident in the Akufo-Addo led government. Ghana has seen worse governments before in its history, and any little effort on his part will go a long way in putting Ghana on the map as a shining star in Africa. I am optimistic that one day the dreams of our founding fathers will become a reality. It might not be in our time. But it is a dream we so fondly hold dear to our hearts.

The founding fathers will agree with me, when I say that Ghana’s Finance Minister’s statement, relative to his hope and aspiration for Africa, may be described as “Magna Cum Laude” and not “Summa Cum Laude”. But, the view which seems to suggest that there is a systematic approach by the West to keep Africa as a producer of raw material may be true, but not entirely true. Nevertheless, Ken Ofori-Atta’s speech at the African Consultative Group Meeting held in Washington DC, in April, was beautiful and he must be applauded for it.

Well done Ken!

God Bless Ghana!

Source: Dominic Yooku deGraft Aidoo || The Chronicle

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