“We want to build a Ghana beyond aid; a Ghana which looks to the use of its own resources. We want to build an economy that is not dependent on charity and handouts, but an economy that will look at the proper management of its resources as the way to engineer social and economic growth in our country.”
These were the words of the President of the Republic, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, when he held a roundtable meeting with some selected Chief Executive Officers of leading African and international companies, on the sidelines of the Africa CEO Forum, on Monday, March 20, 2017.
Since then, the statement has generated a lot of fuss both in local and international media.
A lot has been said about whether it is the desire of the president and his government to shun aid altogether or it’s a call for a fledgling nation to own up to its potential and quit begging.
I will go for the latter—here is why:
In February 2018, When President akufo-Addo delivered the keynote address at the National Governors Association 2018 Winter Meeting in Washington DC, United States of America, he indicated that the time had come for Ghana to develop strategic industries out of its abundant natural resources of bauxite and iron ore.
To that end, the President said his government was working towards the establishment of an Integrated Bauxite/Aluminium Development Authority to assemble the relevant financial resources for the systematic exploitation and development of our bauxite deposits.
What is instructive here is that it is this same bauxite government is about to trade for roads and parks in the $2 billion Sinohydro deal.
Whether the deal is barter trade or a loan is immaterial. What we have to figure out is what has happened to the president’s agenda to assemble the needed financial resources for the systematic exploitation and development of our bauxite deposits.
We have to figure out whether the administration is reneging on a vision that holds the key to the industrialization of our country.
A critic turned practitioner
Suranjit K. Saha, Columnist and author ofIndustrialisation and Development in Space: An Indian Perspectivewrote in the Economic & Political Weekly as far back as 1991 “Sub-Saharan Africa is the least industrialised of the world’s macro-regions. Two recent World Bank reports have proposed programmes of economic expansion based mainly on the export of agricultural and mineral staples. This paper argues that such an approach can only deepen the crisis the continent is currently facing. It presents a case for an alternative people-related programme of development of which industrialisation will have to be a crucial component. At the core of this case is the premise that without manufacturing industries Africa’s national economies cannot begin to effectively control and utilise their resources for meeting the needs of their populations.”
Nana Akufo-Addo belongs to this school of thought and he has argued this point even in the face of powerful world leaders like the French president, Emmanuel Macron.
During the 2016 campaign, the president seized every opportunity to either talk about education or industrialization but it seems the focus of his administration is to make a last minute stretch for infrastructure development instead of industrializing the country.
How is it that the president, who has always believed that building an industrial base is superior to pursuing shiny objects for electoral gain is all of a sudden changing his tune to go with the flow of politics as usual?
If the Chinese truly have Ghana’s best interest at heart, government should renegotiate the deal to use the money to set up industries instead of investing them in roads.
The playbook that changed once and never after
For the better part of a century, we have borrowed to build schools, roads, hospitals and even pay off our loans. We hardly borrow to build industries but let me tell you about Ghana Gas.
Ghana Gas is the result of a Chinese facility under the late Prof. Mills’ government. Since it’s incorporation in 2011, the company has strategically changed the dynamic in our energy sector. The Western Corridor Gas Infrastructure Project has enormously benefited Ghana not only in the area of power generation but also production of fertilizers. It has served as a catalyst for industrialization in the salt, alumina, petro-chemicals industry and according to the company, this is just the beginning.
We changed the playbook once in this instance and we have benefited immensely in less than 8 years.
Sinohydro is an opportunity to make an even greater leap by creating the proposed integrated aluminium industry and transform allied industries.
Playing the devil’s advocate
Government may not be totally clueless as to what to do. What you may not know is that industrial transformation doesn’t happen in the absence of technical know-how. As argued in Suranjit Saha’s article “In order to develop indigenous manufacturing capabilities, African countries need access to technology which can be better achieved through South-South economic collaboration than through exclusive dependence on the OECD countries.”
Government may be trying to build stronger ties with the Chinese to get their hands on technical assistance as well as the financial muscle to make some of these big projects happen. If that’s the case however, it will be in government’s political interest to explain that to the populace, at least to those who vote on issues.
If government is going to succeed in the agenda to move us beyond aid, effective communication of its vision is paramount to sustaining the imagination of the population as well as limiting the influence of needless politics.