By Kwadwo Afari
Nearly a century after the formation of the United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC) – seventy-one years to be precise – and short days after the memorials dedicated to its founders in Saltpond, Akufo-Addo inspires a new generation of his party members when he said at the New Patriotic Party’s (NPP) Annual Delegates Conference, in Cape Coast last year, “We are the heirs of the noblest and most enduring political tradition (ideology) in Ghanaian politics … with the clearest message of freedom, progress and prosperity.”
In Cape Coast, before delegates, some of whom have grown to believe in politically popular fads and myths, and raised to believe in ‘big government crony capitalism’, Nana Akufo-Addo re-echoed the vision of the founders of the UGCC, talked about a future that will be secured by the enterprise, creativity, and hard work of the Ghanaian people, and promised:
What, precisely, is this “liberal” ideal to which Nana Akufo-Addo hopes a younger generation of Ghanaians will turn in the years ahead? Would it turn out to be the same “utopia” of the interventionist-welfare state where the state dictates everything, including how the individual lives his or her life? Would he be able to gather all the missing pieces in our economic agenda?
Presently, we talk about free market entrepreneurship but pay only lip service to traditional values of family, community and social cohesion. The old rural economy and the fortunes of the people who participated in that economy depended solely on an individual’s own actions and reliance on personal judgment and initiative.
Unfortunately, our economic policies have been completely twisted by ‘awam’ politicians into the defence of economic gamblers and promoters. The time has therefore come for a return to a property-owning state – a time when there was virtue in hard work and our people lived according to a strict moral code of individual initiative and a personal responsibility for success in the rural agrarian economy, which was free in all ways.
The old culture of respect for hard work, private property and the rights of the individual to contribute and pursue his own personal agenda for prosperity has fallen under the socialist assault of re-distribution of wealth and appropriation. Meanwhile, endemic corruption continues to harm the investment climate, making it difficult for the country to attract serious foreign private capital.
Our leaders don’t seem to understand economics and they have very little appreciation for the power of freedom to create wealth and prosperity. Sadly, we have lost our way because of the ideas that drive our development policies, leading to economic stagnation. The colonialists appropriated all our physical property and under all our Constitutions, the ownership of real physical property has fallen into the hands of our politicians. Today, the traditional free market, that created the rich peasant farming class, is dead.
We need to restore the rights of the people to physical property rights which was stolen first by the colonialists and shamefully denied by our indigenous socialists’ politicians because it is only private property that encourages people to voluntarily do what is in the social interest.
Above all private property reduces the brutal power that politicians and governments have over us. Secured property rights should be at the root of a real policy for economic growth. Danquah and his friends understood this very well. The fore-fathers of the NPP were wary of too much power in the hands of a single individual or institution. Danquah’s message in 1947, was simply based on the fact that generating prosperity is not a matter of engineering. That is why it gladdens the hearts of many when Nana Akufo-Addo speaks glowingly of building a bridge to the past.
The words “freedom, progress and prosperity” sounds nostalgic and inspirational. But was Nana laying out a vision in the glorified terms we attribute to the words? The story of independence was that citizens could not achieve broad advancement unless we take our destiny into our own hands.
It seems our politicians and the institutions they created have failed to do the job well. In the spirit of creating jobs for the people, we still miss the point that spending government money to create wealth, just to create wealth, without heavier emphasis on institutions or ‘the rules of the game’ —- rule of law, property rights —- has never helped any economy in the long term and has destroyed wealth rather than create it.
Naturally, there are conditions to be met if we really want to create wealth and attract investment dollars. Ghana is a small wonderful country, rich in resources, tradition, art, and culture. But it is not a country rich in discipline, honesty and trust.
Trust in government, in politicians and police, even among ordinary citizens is lacking. All that is required for this country and her citizens to prosper, it would seem, is a leader who will enforce discipline, honesty and truth, and the doors to wealth creation would open. People may have to confront the possibility that their vices prevent them from having better lives.
Rather than becoming overheated about the wording of the Cape Coast speech, we should do well, as our founders did, to recapture the spirit of development in freedom and liberty. In fact, to commemorate the lives of those who assembled in Saltpond seventy-one years ago, we could do no better than to pause, listen and follow Danquah’s counsel:
‘to liberate the energies of the people for the growth of a property owning democracy in this country with right to life, freedom and justice, as the principles to which the Government and laws of the land should be dedicated in order specifically to enrich life, property, and liberty of each and every citizen.’ Indeed, these are noble ideals.
Danquah and his friends knew that unleashing a country’s potential requires removing the economic road-blocks that inhibits people; they knew that the truly free individual was not merely a person with political power represented by a vote and someone in political office; they knew that the really free man was the person who is so independent that he could deal with everyone and the institutions of traditional culture on equal terms.
Indeed, the core belief in democracy is that the individual is disciplined, possess common sense, is rational and also possess a sense for fairness; they knew that when income is transferred from the taxpayer to the state and from the state to the so-called victims, it create a vicious cycle of poverty.
This is, of course, no 1947 or 1957. But the future Akufo-Addo promises must not belong to those who slander the free market. Ironically, what this country needs is a strong dose of market reform – deregulation to free up entrepreneurship; better rule of law to attract investment; greater emphasis on commercial viability to prevent wasteful investment. No matter what, State capitalism is not the solution.
A liberal party that ceases to be a place where tough ‘conservatives’ are willing to entrust the most important things in life to a mob of politicians who are not willing to take political risks and challenge the false assumptions of their socialists antagonists, should not be entrusted with the future.
The “No Labels” bunch, who were murmuring because Nana Akufo-Addo’s promises to go the other direction, missed one crucial thing. The murmurings confirmed that people are afraid of change.
A party that holds positions on every issue under the sun, but has no larger view of the relations between them, ends up with inconsistency and drift. Wealth is not a given; it must be created through enterprise and innovation at the local level, trade and experimentation by real people who need the freedom to try, unfettered by a regulatory and confiscatory state. Development doesn’t happen just because there is a nice and popular old man at the Flagstaff House. It happens because the institutions are right.
This most simple lesson should not elude all Ghanaians. Reasonableness that functions as a curb against principled policy direction is a trap that the NPP would do well to avoid.