The emergence of Ghana

Via Africa Unchained, I came across this fascinating story tracing the evolution of Ghana over the last five decades: “Where Ghana went Right”. Quite an obvious pun in the title – John Schram clearly approves more of JJ Rawlings’s adoption of Structural Adjustment Policies (SAP) than Ghana’s founding father Nkrumah’s socialism.

He derides the naiveté of Nkrumah’s supporters as follows

None of them seemed overly concerned by the increasing security presence, arrests (Ghana had some 1,200 political prisoners in 1965), or disingenuous propaganda issuing forth from the leader’s ubiquitous Convention People’s Party media. To the contrary, Nkrumah’s message sounded to them quite credible: if Ghana and its African neighbours were to be truly independent, they had to outwit the neo-colonialists, control the market, produce centralized five-year economic plans, and borrow however much it took to manufacture anything and everything then being imported from the former colonial powers. If this meant collectivized farming and tight bureaucratic control of prices, wages, imports, foreign travel, and currency — or a few years in James Fort Prison for members of the country’s traditional elite — so be it. The end, the Nkrumahists believed, really did justify the means.

On the other hand, according to Schram, Rawlings, his political abrasiveness notwithstanding, allowed himself to be guided by sound economic counsel of his finance minister, Kewsi Botchwey

…when the World Bank and the IMF arrived, preaching structural adjustment, Rawlings was ill disposed toward them. He saw them as an imposition from abroad — one that would weaken his control over patronage and make the economy the fiefdom of Western politicians and businessmen. Only when the economy continued to deteriorate toward complete collapse in 1983 was he persuaded to move, reluctantly, from his populist radicalism to something closer to liberal realism.

Politically, the most amazing piece for me is the democratic transition from Rawlings to his successors. Schram himself is highly impressed

After twelve years of rule, in 1992, Rawlings and his National Democratic Congress had submitted to national elections. These votes, and the ones held four years later, were judged by the donor community to represent the will of the Ghanaian people — a feat duplicated by few other African leaders. Each time, Rawlings and his National Democratic Congress party won, admittedly. But a larger victory was being won by my Legon mate Kwadwo Afari-Gyan and his electoral commission, which ran the votes with an impartiality, a transparency, and a professionalism unknown in much of the rest of Africa. The elections represented a victory for free speech and the media: the Rawlings era had spawned a flourishing opposition press and several private FM radio stations. These provided a constant flow of comment on popular call-in talk shows, ensuring that every step of the election process became instant public knowledge.

Afterwards of course, in 2000 and 2008, Ghana witnessed peaceful transfers of power; and in spite of all its weaknesses, remains an example worthy of emulation. 

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