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General News
At 50, Ghana enjoys stability, but ... 3/7/2007
not the prosperity it should
ACCRA - The first sub-Saharan African country to gain independence, Ghana is invariably hailed as a high achiever, but analysts say that whilst the country has indeed fared better than some of its neighbours, in absolute terms it has not lived up to its promise of 50 years back.

"We haven''t gone to war like Ivory Coast or Nigeria, but have had many bloody coups.

Yet we are, alas, looked on as the bright spot in Africa", comments Sebastian Spio-Garbrah, a West Africa analyst with New York-based Eurasia Group, who is part Ghanaian.

All those old enough to remember the colonial days attribute Ghana''s relative stability in part to its boarding school system and in part to the policies of the country''s first president Kwame Nkrumah.

"Nkrumah did a lot to cement the country ...

as he banned parties formed on religious or regional lines," said Kwaku Baprui Asante, a former minister who worked with Nkrumah.

"In the boarding schools the tribes learned to live together.

Therefore when they left they knew each other not as Ashanti, not as Ewe, but as colleagues", explained Kwame Jantuah, better known locally as KSP Jantuah, a former minister and a founding member of Nkrumah''s party.

Nkrumah was however overthrown in 1966 in the first of a series of five coups that eventually ushered in Flight Lieutenant Jerry Rawlings as president in 1981.

He remained in power for the best part of the next two decades, first as a military leader and then as a democratically elected president starting in 1992.

He was re-elected in 1996.

The constitution prohibited him from standing for a third term.

John Kufuor, Ghana''s current president, is now in his second term.

"We have had fits and starts with many coups, a revolution and aborted democracies," rues Spio-Garbrah.

In Ghana''s favour, observers think democracy is now sufficiently well anchored in the country to rule out the risk of further coups or alterations to the constitution aimed at allowing a leader to stay on indefinitely in power.

"Ghana now seems to rank among those countries where democracy is here to stay," a foreign diplomat said.

Socially, Ghana''s government says the country has made strides in both health and education.

KSP Jantuah, disagrees.

"A child from a poor family had a better chance of going to a good school then than now", he told AFP.

"We made (primary) school free and compulsory.

After the coups people had to start paying again", he said, insisting that the same applies to health care.

And indeed while Ghana may have steered clear of civil war and major ethnic violence, and is ranked 136 out of 177 on the UN''s Human Development Index, ahead of 35 other African countries, it is still prey to many of the economic ills that also blight investment prospects for its neighbours.

Electricity is in short supply, and water often has to be purchased by the bucket.

And yet Ghana produces cocoa and has gold, timber, bauxite and diamonds, all of which were exploited by the British former colonial power.

"Things have gone downhill badly since independence", the foreign diplomat said.

Ghana still does some small-scale processing of timber and cocoa but relies heavily on imports for most manufactured goods, despite having had in Nkrumah''s time plants that could refine sugar, turn rubber into tyres and can tomatoes and beef.

The factories in question have been stripped of all their removable assets and now lie overgrown and decaying.

And yet Ghana once really did lead the way.

Malaysia, which will celebrate its 50 years of independence on August 31, once sent a delegation here to learn more about rubber and palm oil.

It has now become the world''s primary exporter of both commodities and far outstrips Ghana in terms of GDP.

"They ...

became far better producers of these things than us," admitted KSP Jantuah, who blames a hangover from the mentality of the colonial days.

Given the absence of a ready-made entrepreneurial class in Ghana, Nkrumah had little choice to but rely on state-run enterprises as a motor for the economy.

"In those days there was a ''this government is not mine so why should I work'' mentality and it has lasted up until now", Jantuah explained.

"The Malaysians ...

have had strong governments and development plans they''ve followed.

And they had self-confidence so their plans succeeded," said Asante, the former minister.

"There''s a lot of talk about ...

Ghana as a success in Africa, but apart from the Black Stars (the national football team), that''s all it is - talk", said the foreign diplomat.

The final irony for the country that once gave lessons to one of Asia''s leading economies? Most of the Ghana@50 commemorative wax fabric was produced in China as Ghana''s textile mills could not turn out the quantity required in the time limit set.

"The country that was exporting cloth to the UK is now importing its jubilee cloth from China" said Ben Kumbuor an MP from the opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC).


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