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Journey to freedom

ROYALTY: Dr Kwame Nkrumah met Queen Elizabeth at Balmoral

A YEAR ago at Ghana’s 60th independence anniversary, the country’s fifth president Nana Akufo-Addo reminded his people and the world about an often-quoted statement of first President Kwame Nkrumah, “the independence of Ghana is meaningless unless it is linked with the total liberation of the whole continent”. He added appropriately that “President Kwame Nkrumah sealed the fate of Ghana to the continent; he bequeathed to us Ghana’s pan-African vocation and its commitment to the unity and integration of Africa”.

The prophetic visionary statement above of Dr Nkrumah needs to be taken seriously and translated into reality in its entirety if Ghana, and any other African country is determined to serve the interests of its people. Ghana has had to deal with a number of challenges in its 61-year-journey, including coups d’etat, one party rule, military interventions, attempted multiparty experiments, revolutions, and ultimately the 25-year-old stable multi-party political order.

The truth remains that individual African countries will achieve very little if they do not unite and integrate their political and economic resources. With a population of five million in 1957, and huge agricultural and mineral resources to boot, Ghana is still struggling to meet the needs of its present day 27 million inhabitants. With the experience gained, and achievements recorded as leader of government business before independence, Dr Nkrumah appreciated the enormous challenges Ghana would face in a polarised world after independence in 1957.

“How we conduct ourselves when we become independent will affect not only ourselves, but the whole of Africa”, he told the National Assembly. Nkrumah’s government set to work with a centrally-executed industrialisation policy under a National Development Plan to achieve economic independence, to develop resources to produce a strong and balanced economy, and to reduce economic vulnerability by reducing dependence on a single-crop (cocoa) economy. The plan went along with welfare policies, including free and compulsory education and free health services. State enterprises were established to provide jobs, and the process of integrating governance with other African countries began with a GhanaGuinea-Mali Union, and a strong advocacy for a continental union of African States.

Nkrumah faced falling commodity prices, over-staffed state enterprises, incompetence and corruption among public officials as time went on. Pro-western and anti-Nkrumah forces succeeded in 1966 in overthrowing the post-independence government and welcomed the Breton Wood Institutions into the running of the Ghana economy. While centrally-planned economies in countries like Malaysia and Singapore were advancing in stabilising their economies, Ghana had to reverse its progress. Nkrumah’s industrialisation plans were shelved, scientific and educational programmes were abandoned, and neo-liberal economics held sway.

Almost all the post-Nkrumah governments from 1966 through 1982 ran similar programmes of trade liberalisation, fiscal and monetary discipline, withdrawal of subsidies, devaluation of the Cedi, empowering the private sector as the engine of growth and giving more benefits to foreign investors. Dr Kofi Abrefa Busia’s government, in charge from 1969 until 1972, became unpopular because it introduced huge taxes on imports, introduced a development levy, abolished free education and devalued the Cedi by 44 per cent.

WARMTH: Dr Kwame Nkrumah and the Duke of Edinburgh at Balmoral

When General Kutu Acheampong took power in 1972, he attempted to stray from the neo-liberal policies, and repudiated some external debts, which made him popular for a while. However economic mismanagement and corruption set in, bringing in its wake the Rawlings-led revolutionary regimes, beginning in 1979. Incidentally, Ghana became a star pupil of the International Monetary Fund/ World Bank under the left-leaning leaders of the Provisional National Defence Council in the 1980s.

The Eastern bloc was busy stabilising their own economies and battling reformists and had no money to support a weak Ghanaian economy. That period saw more economic acronyms than at any time in Ghana’s history: SAP – structural adjustment programme; PAMSCAD – programme of actions to mitigate the social cost of adjustment; ERP – economic reform programme. It was no surprise Ghana returned to western-type multiparty democracy in 1992, with neo-liberal economic policies leading the way. Not much has changed since then, except for a change of batons between two major political parties, the pro-Nkrumah/ Rawlings National Democratic Congress and the pro-Capitalist New Patriotic Party.

The economic situation has not changed much; a very worrying energy crisis, high inflation, high cost of borrowing from the banks, high population growth, alarming levels of unemployment, a ballooning public service wage bill, and increased levels of corruption across all sectors.

Ghana, like most of Africa, has a weak bargaining position; its trumpeted list of freedoms and human rights may achieve foreign commendation, but will have minimal impact on the growing poverty and illiteracy among the majority of its people. The truth is that Ghana cannot rid itself of foreign dictated economic policies by itself, all alone. No African country can succeed in untying the delicate but painful bond with Breton Wood Insitutions except with a united front.

Unpleasant as it may sound to anti-Nkrumah ears, the ‘unity and integration of Africa’ holds the key for Ghana’s economic independence, as it celebrates its 61st anniversary.

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