Ghana: Challenges to a Thriving Democracy and Haven of Stability in West Africa
The West African Sub-region, a hodgepodge of variety and complex culture with a strange geography and topography, is a world of its own apart from the rest of the world. The story coming from the main stream International news channels to their global audience about this part of Africa, is a narrative of polemics characterized by communal cum sectarian violence, ravaging epidemic, despotism, maladministration, superstition, corruption, unemployment, human rights abuse ,illiteracy and atrophy, among many other social ills that are too numerous to mention here.
Despite these negative stereotypes, one country which has been able to float above board, amidst this turbulence in the last one decade is Ghana. However, the relative progress which this shining black star of Africa has made, as a model of successful economic and democratic experiment in West Africa, suffers a downward reversal today.
I have the opportunity to intermingle with Ghanians of different walks of life in Accra, in my current visit to the country. This has broadened my horizon to have another dimension of the Ghanian economic model. The Ghanian success story, to begin with, is bedeviled by a budget deficit of 70%, which is one of the highest in Africa. Experts compare Ghana’s inflation now with levels in the 1970s, “when its economy was in freefall with triple-digit inflation.” The Ghana Statistical Service reported that the Inflation Rate in Ghana averaged 17.13 Percent from 1998 until 2014, reaching an all time high of 63 Percent in March of 2001 and a record low of 0.40 Percent in May of 1999 .” The agency put the current inflation rate in Ghana at 15:50%.
The percentage of inflation from the government agency is disputed to be a far cry from the realities on the ground. Thus, an economist and opposition leader Dr. Mahamudu Bawumia questions the credibility of Ghana’s oficial inflation and exchange rate data. A survey I made in the market in Accra corroborate Bahumia’s misgivings, as I discovered an upsurge in the prices of goods and services, fluctuating between 30 to 50%, depending on the item(s).
Like most African countries, the state’s income is used to pay salaries in a bloated public sector, which triggers inflation and erode investor’s confidence in the economy. To worsen an already bad economic condition, Ghana has one of world’s worst performing currencies- the Cedi has weakened about 50% this year.
“Ghana faces too many risks, it could fall into a growth trap, like other countries that grow fast and then suddenly stop growing,” said Santiago Herrera, Ghana country director for the World Bank. For the country to come out from the woods, Ghanian authorities, Herrera enthused, “needs a growth strategy based in productivity growth … a functional public investment system, governance reform, and better education.”
As part of a strategy to rejuvenate the economy, the government of President John Dramani Mahama has gone to the International Monetary Funds (IMF) for help to soften the price volatility in the market and to stabilize and revamp the national currency. Should the government insist in taking the loan from the IMF, indications are that it may face destructive street demonstrations from the masses who see the IMF as an economic sucker of poor nations, not the benevolent interventionist the government portrays it.
Because of the looming economic crisis facing Ghana, critics have begun to question whether Ghana could be regarded a model democracy in any real sense. George Ayittey, founder of the Free African Foundation is one of those critics. He told theguardian.com, “Free and fair elections are not enough to count as a democracy. In Ghana we need to reform the electoral system, our government is bloated – there are more than 80 ministers. Our wage bill for the civil service consumes 70% of government income. And the government is so hungry for money that it slaps tariffs on anything that moves adding that, “Ghanaians are overtaxed, and the government is spending like a drunken sailor.”
Notwithstanding these not so cheerful negative statistics, the truth that Ghana occupies a leading economic position in West Africa cannot be denied. “Its stable government and history of peace among the various ethnic communities of the country have made it one of the more obvious choices for people of neighboring nations looking for a better future their home countries cannot provide for various reasons.” The slogan of the Ghana Immigration Service – “Friendship with Vigilance” – is probably testament enough.
Despite these economic doldrums, all hope is not lost as Ghanians have not yet given to despair. The consolation is that there is light at the end of the tunnel. I as a visitor, have a positive impression in my mind about Ghana. It is no doubt a home to one of the friendliest peoples on earth. Ghanians have a sunny disposition, are easy going and they love their country with passion. Moreover, they believe in themselves and in the ability to bounce their economy back to life, within the shortest time possible.
Saleh Ibrahim Bature
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