By Kwadwo Afari
Most Ghanaians do find the debate and criticism of the agenda ‘Ghana Beyond Aid’, very intriguing. Supporters and critics represent two strongly held views, which are two different perspectives and two conflicting ideologies: sending and receiving aid to the poor and opening markets so that the poor can create their own wealth. The first position is meant to use the government to use the funds received from donors to raise levels of income, the second, is at creating opportunities internally to enable citizens create their own wealth and escape poverty.
The debate for and against aid is as old as time. Indeed, it is not just about aid, it is about national sovereignty. Nations aspire to development and prosperity in freedom in order to banish poverty among their people, and, in this, no nation could impose a will on them. In short, nations, like individuals, aspire to something higher. That is how the world is made — a world where dreams and visions and desires drive nations and individuals to aspire to greatness.
Political independence and changing the name Gold Coast to Ghana was the easier part in our freedom. Economic independence, driven by the desire to be a free country, capable and able to take decisions of life and death, allowing inhabitants to live free and create wealth and without poverty should have been our goal. However, it seems our growth agenda stalled because we followed a philosophical or ideological path and trends that create a dependent economy. Our leaders simply built a stop growth pattern into the economic structure of the state. No economy can survive a structural war conducted against it by the state.
Our story so far has been one of disappointment. Our independence has simply become a platform for our leaders to enter into agreements, receive funding for development projects, borrow money to finance infrastructural projects, grant concessions to our natural resources, and commit the citizens to one-sided obligations that benefit already rich countries and their citizens.
‘Ghana Beyond Aid’ like all dreams or visions is aspirational. Its purpose should be a working economy that would permit the emergence of political and social conditions in which free institutions would enable national ownership of our development. Indeed, the people of this country must lead any economic plan.
We have said that Ghana’s poor cannot escape poverty from continuous dependence on foreign aid, but can, through economic freedom built on a strong rule of law that permits people to have real opportunities in the market to increase their wealth and lasting prosperity. This is how the developed countries did it. Unfortunately, we have failed to follow the development path of these countries.
Foreign aid – that that allows developed countries, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and foreign experts to jump in and save our poor selves – is condescending and suspiciously similar to the ideas of colonialism. We do not have to forget that the rhetoric of colonialism too “was all about helping people, albeit about bringing civilisation and enlightenment to people whose humanity was far from fully recognised.
The irony is, while we all condemn the state we are in, and agree that there is the need to eradicate poverty among the people and set the country on the path to prosperity, our politicians, at least the majority, insist on imposing outdated aid-related solutions on the people, rather than allowing them to drive the process forward themselves. Indeed, the average Ghanaian understands better that wealth is produced by hard work and cannot be conjured out from thin air, or pillaged from the productive sectors of the economy for the sake of the unproductive.
The argument that without aid we would be much worse may be true to some extent. Budget support and certain types of health aid – offering vaccinations, or developing cheap and effective drugs to treat malaria, for example – have been hugely beneficial to the poor. However, aid money or grant has been for our politicians, not for the poor. Foreign aid was supposed to be a shield to protect the poor from the ravages of poverty, brought about by bad economic policies, but our ‘Truer-Than-You’ con politicians use it as a cushion to maintain their lavish lifestyles and power, and keep the poor from participating in governance.
The fact of the matter is that our current policies have failed to provide the most elementary means of survival, such as clean water, primary education, food, basic health and the most basic tools that would help them to embark on the path of prosperity. Doing business in this country is very difficult, especially for the poor, whose assets remain ‘dead capital’ and therefore useless as collateral for securing loans to generate some kind of wealth required to climb out of poverty.
Meanwhile, our debt to the IMF and other banks in Europe keeps on rising, and international organisations and NGOs given places of privilege in our internal governance with their time spent in the management of diverse projects, which are outside our independence vision.
Ultimately, independence has been just another lie. Our independence has been nothing more than the ‘political kingdom’ Kwame Nkrumah promised us. Economically, we are still dependent, largely, on the largesse of donors. ‘Ghana Beyond Aid’ is, therefore, just the beginning of writing the new history of the future. Regardless of where the visioning is coming from, both the critics and the proponents need to draw a very clear contrast between the future this country wants, and current realities of poverty and dependency.
In spite of the arguments, this country is not yet free. Sixty years of receiving foreign aid has shackled the ability of the poor and done almost nothing to lift us from our poverty. The time then has come for all of us to force a sobering reading of the current conditions: high levels of corruption, inefficient use of state resources, short-term planning, weak property rights, poor infrastructure, and a weak rule of law regime that keeps us poor and underdeveloped and try to solve these problems ourselves.
‘Ghana Beyond Aid’ is not only about adding value to our mineral deposits or agricultural products; neither is it only about economic diversification; nor is it about the policy of ‘One District, One Factory’. The vision is really not about people in a particular party or free education. Obviously, it is not propaganda. It is about a citizen-centred approach to nation building: a new compact between the citizen, the state, the market, where citizens are enabled as participants to embrace change, and leaders set a clear sense of direction; not a top-down imposition of the state with a strongman at the helm who disregards property rights or the rule of law.
‘Ghana Beyond Aid’, we believe, is citizen driven, not government driven. The aim is not some distant utopia of collective policies, but a concrete set of deliverables, a widening of prosperity that would be felt by all the citizens. Beyond Aid does not mean this country will never accept any form of aid or grant. Nevertheless, if we want to wean ourselves from bad leaders and poverty, we would have to choose between the continuous reliance on aid and opening our economy so that the poor can create their own wealth.
Of course, ‘Ghana Beyond Aid’ will demand manifold structural changes and definitely inflicts costs on the poor and the economy. In an environment of free everything, parents would be expected to forgo consumption to contribute to the education of their children, or business people channel profits into improving their businesses. Above all, our politicians would have to change the insensate promises to the electorate of an eternal something for nothing policies, while the present generation has to stop depending on the generosity of others and begin to sacrifice instant satisfaction and consumption to save for capital formation and learning, so that subsequent generations are better able to produce more.
The time has come for this country to move away from that vicious cycle of aid, default, and dependency on foreign governments, the IMF or the World Bank, and adopt new policies of change and opportunity. Economic freedom — not financial aid — as has been emphasised, is the proven escape hatch from an otherwise never-ending loop of inter-generational poverty.
If that is the case, then why do we refuse to understand this basic vision?