The paradox of a Middle Income Nation

The Ebo Quansah

We are now a Middle Income Country. Hurray! I ordered a bottle of cold beer in celebration on Tuesday night, after reading Dr. Grace Bediako’s account in the state-run Daily Graphic. Half-way into the story, and with a glass of the brewed stuff down the belly, I told myself, “hang-on old boy.”

What is it that makes the Government Statistician waver in her presentation?
After all, we have just worked out a miracle beyond the reach of any nation on earth. Barely 10 years ago, we were a Heavily Indebted Poor Country. We have a head of state who said his predecessor did nothing. He himself is a Professor Do-Little, according to his main challenger in the 2008 elections.

We have transformed the economy beyond any imaginable thing by doing nothing. Is that not a miracle worthy of a grand feast? The mind’s eye was already on an excursion to the Independence Square for a fireworks display, with a military/civilian march-past to climax a week-long celebration. Since the ‘anthem and flag’ declaration of independence, we never have had much, by way of reason, to let the hair down. It was then that thinking got hold of the grand celebration.

I thought we have really done well for ourselves with this paper talk. When the National Democratic Congress (NDC) Mark One was in power, Finance Minister Kwesi Botchwey used to hold up 2020 as the magical year. It was the timing for joining the likes of Singapore, Korea and Malaysia on the Middle Income status league table. Even when Jerry John Rawlings discovered among his ‘papers,’ on a Ghana Airways flight to London, that one of those documents was the resignation letter of his Finance Minister, and found an economic wizard in then Chief Executive of the Ghana National Petroleum Corporation, 2020 was still held as the date for entry into the Promised Land.

Not many Ghanaians were enthused about the long wait. At the 2000 elections, the thumb decided that there was need for a new breed of economic performers. The ‘Gentle Giant’ burst onto the scene with ‘Oyeadieyie’ from the diamond town of Oda.

The miracle in the era of the ‘Gentle Giant’ was that at the same time that his Minister of Finance was rubbishing the economic performance of his predecessors, and consequently took this nation to the bottom of the bottom, the league of Heavily Indebted Poor Countries initiative, he slashed five years off the 2020 mark for reaching the Middle Income bracket.

We were to join the elite club in 2015. It is now five more years to the mark. According to the Government Statistician, we are already in the new club, a feat which might take some doing to match.

The cold beer was beginning to go stale when one nephew, Joe, a character with a keen interest in the socio-political evolution of this country burst into the living room with a series of questions that Dr. Grace Bediako, a fellow Viking, would do well to answer before we gather at the next meeting of old boys and girls at the Loggia.

“What exactly does our Middle Income status mean? Are we up there with the likes of Korea, Malaysia and Singapore? What is the comparison between the ‘Better Ghana’ and Brazil?” These, and many more, would be fielded in many economics classes across the country, as Ghanaians come to terms with our new status.

I thought South Africa is still classified as a third world nation. Does it mean that Accra, Kumasi, and Sekondi-Takoradi have taken on a much better outlook than Johannesburg, Cape Town, and Sun City? I have tried to find any semblance of improvement in the scope of the national capital without success. The last time I drove through the business area of Accra, I noticed several heaps of rubbish, desperately trying to match the Rubbish Mountains of downtown Manila.

I am still keeping mental note of the pledge by Alfred Vanderpuije, Mayor of Accra, to get rid of the rubbish, and turn Accra into a model city. We are still waiting.

Alfred and his Accra Metropolitan Assembly have done well for themselves in areas that are not necessarily live-threatening. The order to rename the Ohene Djan Stadium, for instance, is one political point for those who shored the votes in Greater Accra for the ruling NDC and its footsoldiers.
The jury is still out on the success rate of the Mayor’s commitment to get all school kids in Accra on one shift. In one of the miracles to get our kids to answer promptly to their names on the parade grounds at the same time, two streams of kids are now put under one roof at the same time. In many schools across the city, a class of forty kids now sports twice the number, with two teachers in tow.

If you want to have a feel of how the events leading to the creation of the Tower of Babel in the old scripture book unfolded, just take a hike to our new classrooms in the national capital. Two teachers in tow, trying to direct a class of eighty kids at the same time, is an experience that would blow your mind.

It is not only at the basic level where kids have nowhere to lay their heads. Some of our high schools have hit on a bright idea of accommodating all the children under their care.
The dinning hall experience of meals, and the classroom under the same roof aside, there is this innovation of putting the children under trees, with their teachers struggling to catch their attention. In a number of schools, some in the national capital, children study under trees.

In one of the miracles under-pinning our Middle Income status, both teachers and pupils are exposed to the vagaries of the weather. Of course, I am not referring only to those studying geography who might need a practical feel of changes in the weather as a guide.

Tutorship in mathematics through physics and English are done in the open. When the rains threaten, as it does now and then these days, both tutors and the tutored have to run for cover. There are situations when children bump into teachers’ common rooms.

Welcome to Ghana, where Middle Income status has no bearing on people’s incomes and expenditure.

I was working out the road-map to this new status, and decided to check-out how our elevation had impacted on people’s ability to cater for themselves. Right in front of my house is this kenkey seller who has been doing business for the past two decades at least. Auntie Akweley had a problem or two appreciating the new concept of Middle Income status. When I explained that it had everything to do with the nation’s fund generation power, and therefore, a leap in people’s incomes, she was livid.

“When did that happen?” she virtually cried out. “They can’t even buy kenkey. The average Ghanaian is poorer and poorer. No one should deceive the people.”

It is one of the miracles of our socio-economic evolution. When the state grows richer, the people tend to be poorer. If we are a Middle Income nation, do not tell that to residents of Nima, Chorkor and Sukula!

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