Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Low internet penetration in Ghana is due to high cost

By Emmanuel K. Dogbevi


About a year ago, precisely on September 10, 2007 I wrote an article on the above subject drawing attention to the issue of high cost of the internet in Ghana, which was published elsewhere.

In that article I emphasized on the need for government to act in concert with stakeholders in the internet industry to reduce the cost of internet services, and make it affordable so that many more Ghanaians can access the technology.

On Monday September 22, 2008, in a GNA report, Mr. Eric Akumiah, Secretary of the Internet Society, Ghana was quoted as saying that internet usage in Ghana is a mere 2.7 per cent as compared to 5.3 per cent in Africa.

And according to statistics, only 1.5 million Ghanaians have access to the internet.

Again a 2007 World Bank Report on internet usage in the world cited Ghana as one of the African countries with the lowest record of internet patronage, coming behind South Africa, Nigeria, Morocco, Algeria, Zimbabwe, Kenya and Senegal.

And Mr. Akumiah attributes the low penetration of internet in Ghana to some policies and called on government to recognize the importance of a multi-stakeholder model of decision making especially on Internet Policy Development.

Mr. Akumiah’s concern has compelled me to revisit the subject.

Cost is certainly one of the major factors in hindering the growth of the sector.

Cost as a major factor has hindered most Ghanaians access to the internet, and this, in spite of the proliferation of Information Technology Communication (ICT) in the country.

Many more Ghanaians have access to mobile telephony than they have access to the internet.

Ghana’s ICT policy

A cursory glance at Ghana’s ICT policy document shows an optimistic and encouraging picture of the future of the industry, but cost still remains a hindering factor.

While the government of Ghana through this document has factored ICT into national development and is doing what it can to accelerate growth in that sector, not many Ghanaians have access to ICT, particularly the internet.

And for ICT industry players, it is a motivating document that is obviously meant to oil the wheels of the industry and propel it into its rightful place in the overall scheme of development processes in the country.

It is a known fact that the entire world today is ICT driven. ICT is the tool that drives the major economies of the world. ICT is also transforming societies and economies of developing countries including Ghana, even though at a slower pace.

The reality and importance of ICT in development, both personal and national is widely accepted in Ghana and this importance to Ghana’s development is seen in the Government’s determination to make ICT the driving force behind the society and economy.

To drive home this point the government has set up a Ghana ICT Policy Plan Committee and given it the task of developing an ICT-led socio-economic Development Policy and Plan for the country.

This policy is intended to move the economy and the society towards a knowledge based information society and economy. And this is to be achieved within the shortest possible time.

According to the document, the government of Ghana believes that ICT has the potential to accelerate socio-economic development and the government is vigorously pursuing a multi-faceted policy in the direction of engendering growth in the sector. The government is therefore, implementing the ICT for Accelerated Development policy (ICT4AD).

The main aim of the policy is to develop an integrated ICT-led socio-economic development framework for Ghana. The policy is to induce the massive laying of infrastructure for ICT, initiate and pursue consensus building with all stakeholders as well as create the enabling environment for the accelerated growth of a knowledge based information society.

Growth trends in ICT

This policy, with government’s commitment has significantly led to a tangible growth in the ICT sector, particularly the mobile telephony sector. There is however, more room for improvement.

While the mobile telephony sector has seen a massive growth and expansion within a relatively short period, the internet sector has rather witnessed a slow growth.

Available statistics indicate that as at the end of 2007 the number of mobile phone subscribers in Ghana had hit above 7.5 million culminating in a total teledensity of about 25 per cent.

Only a very small number of Ghanaians are internet broadband customers.

Statistics from the NCA shows that as at the end of the fourth quarter of 2007 there were 376, 509 fixed telephone line users, while the number of payphones dropped from 10, 824 to 9,551 and mobile telephony hit 7,604,053.

And as at March 31st 2006, there were 3,620 internet broadband customers representing a mere 0.016% of the population of Ghana.

Obviously, this low figure is due to the inability of most Ghanaians to access internet services and products because they are expensive.

Cost of internet

The high cost of internet services and products is leaving majority of Ghanaians out of the enormous opportunities and benefits that the technology offers in education, governance, commerce and research. The production, packaging and manner of distribution of internet services make the technology expensive.

And internet services are expensive because Ghana has no nation-wide telecommunication backbone for data network which makes accessing and broadcasting bandwidth for the industry a big challenge.

National ICT backbone

Thankfully, a $70m national communications backbone project was expected to be completed in August 2008. The project is funded by the Japanese government.

It is hoped that this project when fully operational would improve mobile telephony and the quality of internet services. But it is not clear yet if it would lead to price cuts.

Start-up cost of ISP

The financial capital required to set up an Internet Service Provider (ISP) business is huge. The cost of the lowest range of Access Unit (AU) equipment required to set up a small ISP is around US$10,000 to US$15,000. The cost of renting office premises can cost the range of US$2000 monthly and so on.

Licensing fees are also high for dedicated spectrums or frequencies and even for the universal unlicensed 2.4GHz and 5GHz spectrum a service provider is required to pay a fee to the National Communications Authority (NCA) in the ranges of US$500 or US$300.

The cost of purchasing bandwidth is another prohibiting factor. It would cost a small ISP about US$7000 to acquire 2MB of bandwidth for rebroadcast and redistribution to its customers and often in some cases, fiber is unavailable for termination on the location of the ISP.

Some ISPs have to depend on satellite services which cost higher than fiber.

Customer access equipment also cost a fortune for many Ghanaians. Equipment for connecting to the internet at home or even the office costs between US$120 and US$500, excluding installation charges. And monthly charges are quite high for most Ghanaians.

Apart from the cost of hiring IT professionals and other staff to run an ISP, there are not many qualified for the field. All these factors contribute to make the production cost of internet services expensive and beyond the reach of a large number of the population.

Indeed, no business can thrive and grow if its production cost is higher than how much it sells the finished product, and to survive, ISPs have to price their products in ranges that would help them stay in business.

The picture can be better

The picture we have just seen is the very reason why majority of Ghanaians cannot access the internet as much as they ought to for the purposes of personal development and subsequently national development.

The situation as it stands today is slowing the pace of national growth through the use of ICT, particularly the internet.

It is no surprise that, while a great volume of business and governance issues are carried out on the internet in developed countries including some developing countries like Rwanda, the case is not the same in Ghana, because prices in these countries are even cheaper than what pertains in Ghana. In some developed countries one can easily get internet access at home for less than US$40.

National payment platform

I am aware of a number of e-commerce websites that have collapsed because Ghanaians simply do not use the platform.

Fact is, while the e-commerce platform is supposed to make business cheaper and convenient, it rather makes it expensive and irrelevant to use in Ghana.

Some of the contributing factors though include a lack of a national electronic payment platform which would facilitate e-commerce. There is also lack of faith in the electronic payment system as a result of fraud.

This challenge is however been addressed with the introduction of the E-Zwich system.

In the meantime, though, some financial institutions, and software developers are working hard to resolve the issue of an electronic payment system for the country. When realized, this will change the face of transaction on the internet in Ghana.

Some benefits of the internet

All these challenges notwithstanding, there have been some examples of the economic and social benefits of ICT that I have been aware of in this country.

I know of a young man who after he had completed Senior Secondary School (SSS), spent time at home conducting research on the internet. His research led him to find a university in the US that was offering scholarships to African students. This scholarship included a roundtrip air ticket, tuition and boarding and lodging.

This opportunity came at a time when his father was scratching his head over how to raise the money for him to attend one of our universities here in Ghana. He is currently in the US studying for a degree. That is the benefit of the internet. But that became possible because, his father could afford the service at home.

I know someone else who used the internet at the work place to procure a training programme elsewhere to enhance his performance at work.

Even the internet cafes don’t come cheap. One has to travel from home to the cafes, and in the cafes, one is confronted with lots of inconveniences and lack of privacy. Some cafes are not fitted with cooling systems and where some are, they are often not functioning properly, making the use of these cafes uncomfortable.

If we should consider the cost of traveling to and from the cafes and the accompanying inconveniences, then that makes internet services expensive to most people.

I am also aware that most graduate students of our universities do not have to go through the hassles they used to go through in the past to work on their theses because of the availability of the internet. The internet has expanded the worldview of quite a number of people. The news comes faster and easier to access and communication links have been strengthened via the internet.

Students and pupils can do their homework on the internet, because such services and facilities do exist on the internet. The internet can also facilitate high quality teaching in the classroom as well as enrich the teaching skills of teachers.

People’s lives have been enriched through internet social networking communities and some others have gained global presence through the internet, on networks like Hi5, Myspace and Facebook.

Government must join forces

Government must work at a comprehensive programme within the framework of the ICT4D to facilitate a reduction in the cost of running ISPs to make the internet cheaper and affordable for most Ghanaians.

Government should join forces with some of the private sector players in the industry who are willing to provide their expertise and in some cases platforms to accelerate the completion of the national backbone.

It is also necessary to work together with other stakeholders towards the goal of reducing cost, but maintaining quality so that the internet can reach a great number of Ghanaians.

To achieve the lofty goals of making Ghana an information and knowledge driven society and economy is a possibility, only and only when the government exhibits the political will to do what it ought to, to make the goals a reality, or else the very basis of national development in today’s world, which is ICT, would elude us.

Because, as the fact still remains in Ghana - while the internet is a good thing, most people cannot afford it.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

The Slave Trade and Africa’s economic woes

By Emmanuel K. Dogbevi


It is not possible to recount the history of the African continent without talking about the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade and its impact on the continent’s economy.

Indeed, a cursory look at Africa’s current economic situation will reveal traces and imprints of the heinous crime against Africans known as the slave trade.

The slave trade is one of the factors that have contributed to the sorry state of Africa today. It is one of the reasons why Africa is struggling with a heavy debt burden, internal conflicts, abject poverty and the overall despondency one easily encounters on the continent.

The Slave Trade was never in the interest of Africa and her people; it served only the interest of the perpetrators.

There are some though, who might argue that there have been some benefits to Africa from the slave trade because some members of the African elite benefited from the trade. Some of these were directly involved in the trade.

The argument also goes further to suggest that some Africans who survived the inhuman transition to the New World benefited by having access to material wealth and Western education.

Sadly, while the full story of the slave trade may never be known, the reality is that, the slave trade involved plunder, brutality and the gross abuse of the human rights of Africans.
Slaves were kept in dehumanizing conditions

The continent’s human resources were kidnapped, kept in dehumanizing conditions and sold out to eager and willing buyers and were shipped in more dehumanizing and appalling conditions on the slave ships to the New World where most of them died or laboured perpetually to build the New World without due compensation.

Olaudar Equaino, a slave who worked to buy his own freedom captured the horrifying scenes when he was taken on board a slave ship for the first time. “Indeed, such were the horrors of my views and fears at the moment, that, if ten thousand worlds had been my own, I would have freely parted with them all to have exchanged my condition with that of the meanest slave in my own country. When I looked round the ship too, and saw a large furnace of copper boiling, and a multitude of black people of every description chained together, every one of their countenances expressing dejection and sorrow, I no longer doubted of my fate; and, quite overpowered with horror and anguish, I fell motionless on the deck and fainted.”

Like a scourge, the slave trade was visited upon Africa for four centuries before the eventual colonization of the continent by Europeans. The nature and form of the trade was so violent, vicious and inhuman that it could only leave a devastating impact on the continent of Africa. An impact so traumatic that the current conditions – political, religious, economic and social to a large extent, can be attributed to the dehumanizing and unlawful dissipation of the continent’s human and natural resources.

Slavery was no trade

According to Walter Rodney, a respected Pan-Africanist, the slave trade in Africa was no trade at all. He argues that the act was conducted through trickery, warfare, banditry and kidnapping.

According to him, when one tries to measure the effect of European slave trading on the African continent, it is very essential to realize that one is measuring the effect of social violence rather than trade in any normal sense of the word.

The violence that characterized the trade, he believes also meant insecurity. The opportunity presented by European slave dealers became the major, although not the only stimuli for a great deal of social violence between different African communities and within any given community. It took the form more of raiding and kidnapping than regular warfare, and that fact increased the element of fear and uncertainty.

We will never know how many were taken

The exact number of Africans shipped from the continent into slavery has never been known and probably would never be known. No one would ever know how many died or were brutally murdered on the high seas. There are however, various figures documented in some studies.

According to H. Thomas, a Historian, during the period of the slave trade, at least 13 million Africans were illegally transported from the shores of West Africa to the Western Hemisphere. Of those 13 million, approximately 11, 328,000 were delivered to the New World, amounting to the trans-shipment murder of approximately 1, 672, 000 persons, or 13% of the cargo.

What accounted for the sudden flourish of the trade in slaves was the opening of European plantations in the New World during the 1500s. The demand for more laborers to tame the wilderness and plant crops led to the growth in the trade in slaves. Before then, the trade between Europe and Africa was in gold, ivory and palm nuts

Apart from the desire for cheap labuor for the emerging plantations of the New World, there also was the desire for profit. Indeed, the desire for profit, more than anything else attracted adventurers from Europe to Africa. Most of these adventurers pillaged African villages sometimes with the connivance of some Africans to capture, put in chains and sell Africans into slavery.

Of particular interest is the fact that the supply of slaves to the Gold Coast was entirely in African hands. Powerful traditional rulers such as the rulers of Asante, Fante and Ahanta were known to have engaged in the slave trade. Some individual African merchants such as John Kabes, John Konny, Thomas Ewusi and a broker only known as Noi commanded large bands of armed men, many of them slaves, and they engaged in various forms of commercial activities with the Europeans on the coast.

The volume of trade in West Africa grew rapidly from its inception around 1500 to its peak in the 18th Century. According to Philip Cartin, an estimated 6.3 million slaves were shipped from West Africa to North and South America and about 4.5 million of that number was shipped between 1701 and 1810. Perhaps 5000 per year were shipped from the Gold Coast alone. The demographic impact of the slave trade on West Africa was probably substantially greater than the number actually enslaved because a significant number of Africans perished during slave raids or while in captivity awaiting shipment.

The depopulating effects of slavery

Other scholars and historians have pressed the argument that the slave trade indeed depopulated Africa, and that depopulation in itself has had a destabilizing effect on the continent setting back a lot of progress made in most African societies.

T. Leedy, a reparation campaigner reports that the most obvious deleterious effects of the Transatlantic Slave Trade occurred in those areas frequently raided for captives. Many areas became depopulated, often resulting in the resurgence of natural environments previously carefully managed for productive and health reasons.

Other areas on the other hand encountered overpopulation as people sought safety and protection from the trade. This eventually generate substantial, long term environmental effects.

Communities that survived despite continued raiding found themselves facing shortages of agricultural labor and or artisans crucial to local economies.

The depopulation of the continent through slavery destroyed almost every social system that could have engendered the growth of any economy that existed in Africa in those times.

Slavery led to the exploitation of Africa and Africans. Millions of Africans were kidnapped, and African societies were ransacked and entirely new societies were built on the labuor and lives of Africans.

Slavery was carried out for the economic enrichment of Europe and its descendants. It was the exploitation of African labuor that led to the expansion of industry across Great Britain, the United States and other parts of the world.

Indeed, slavery also created the circumstances, which consigned Africans and African nations to some of the worst social and economic conditions experienced by any people in the world today.

As a matter of fact, the argument that population loss is highly relevant to the question of socio-economic development is valid.
Africa’s depopulation, therefore, through slavery can be said to have contributed largely to the economic conditions in the continent today.

Population growth, as Rodney posits, played a major role in European development in providing labuor, markets and the pressures which led to further advance. Japanese population growth had similar positive effects.

The same can be said of China in the 21st Century. It has never been depopulated in the manner that Africa was, and neither has China been colonized. The Chinese do not practice western forms of democracy, which is believed in modern times to be the basis for economic growth. Yet China is today a growing and booming economic power.

Advancing the argument further, Rodney states that African economic activity was affected both directly and indirectly by population loss. For instance, when the inhabitants of a given area were reduced below a certain number in an environment where tsetsefly was present, the remaining few had to abandon the area.

In effect enslavement was causing these people to lose their battle to tame and harness nature – a battle which is at the basis of development.

To a large extent the capture and sale of slaves began having severe consequences for the continent’s economy in as far back as the 17th Century.

Rodney reports that the Portuguese and Dutch actually discouraged slave trade in the ‘Gold Coast’ because they recognized that it would be incompatible with the trade in gold.

However, by the end of that Century, gold had been discovered in Brazil, and the importance of gold supplies from Africa lessened. Within the total Atlantic pattern, African slaves became more important than gold, and Brazilian gold was offered for African captives at Dahomey and Accra.

The trading activity involving the exchange of gold for African slaves was in itself dehumanizing. It is a denigration of the African which reduces him or her to a mere object of economic value rather than a human.

Slavery and African self-esteem

The conduct of the slave trade and the fact that the African was effectively turned into a commodity to facilitate the trade, could effectively impact on the self image of the African, leading to the acquisition of low self-esteem in spite of the enormous amount of talent, and natural resources that the continent and its people are endowed with. Most Africans today, see themselves as inferior to Europeans.

Equaino writes, “I have often seen slaves, particularly those who were meager, in different islands, put into scales and weighed, and then sold from three pence to six pence or nine pence a pound. My master, however, whose humanity was shocked at this mode, used to sell such by the lumps. And at or after a sale, it was not uncommon to see Negroes taken from their wives, wives taken from their husbands, and children from their parents, and sent off to other islands, and wherever else their merciless lords choose; and probably never more during life see each other!”

Such was the humiliation of African slaves to the extent that they were reduced to less human status by the treatment the Europeans gave them. These appalled Equaino so much that he says, “Such a tendency has the slave trade to debauch men's minds, and harden them to every feeling of humanity! For I will not suppose that the dealers in slaves are born worse than other men-No; such is the fatality of this mistaken avarice, that it corrupts the milk of human kindness and turns it into gall.”

He continues, “when you make men slaves, you deprive them of half their virtue, you set them, in your own conduct, an example of fraud, rapine, and cruelty, and compel them to live with you in a state of war; and yet you complain that they are not honest or faithful! You stupefy them with stripes, and think it necessary to keep them in a state of ignorance. And yet you assert that they are incapable of learning; that their minds are such a barren soil or moor, that culture would be lost on them.”

The brutal nature of the slave trade has to a large extent contributed to the racism and contempt from which Africans still suffer.

The use of religion to perpetuate slavery

Some of the attempts used to compel Africans to accept the horrors and brutality of slavery was religion. Africans were made to believe that slavery was the will and plan of God for the continent. Religion was used to make Africans succumb to the evils of slavery.

It is common knowledge that most of the European traders in slaves were religious people and some were even clergymen. The profound irony, however, was that, the Christian enterprise in Africa in the Middle Ages had a close association with the slave trade.

So pervasive was the influence of religion on the slave trade that, a prominent and well educated freed slave, Jacobus Elia Johannes Capitein (1717-1747), who grew up and studied theology in Holland at the University of Leiden wrote and published his doctoral thesis in defense of slavery. He wrote in Latin, and argued that slavery was consistent with Christianity.

The belief among many Africans who had converted to Christianity was that, like the Biblical Joseph, they have been sold into captivity for the appointed time when they would be used by God to redeem the continent from satanic bondage.

Another African from the Gold Coast, known as Thompson, despite his genuine concern for Africa was reported to have defended the slave trade.

There certainly was a basic contradiction between converting Africans to Christianity and purchasing them as slaves.

Colonialism replaced slavery

To some Sociologists and Political Economists including D. Dzorgbo, “Europe viewed the slave trade as an economic rather than an abuse of the continent, therefore, any modification of the system to further the economic interest of Europe would be appropriate.

Therefore, the vestiges of the cruel practice in whatever form, was not going to take off the hands of the slave masters from the continent. It would not be far fetched to postulate that any system that Europe would introduce in Africa, be it political or religious would be to save this single objective – economics.”

Therefore, colonization was introduced. The slave trade was followed by colonization. Dzorgbo argues further that, for the system of colonialism to succeed and achieve the one single economic objective, the African must be classified. The African was therefore classified as a savage who must be civilized.

This led to the introduction of vocabulary that did not only classify the African but also denigrated and reduced the African to an irrational being who needs to be civilized to save him or her from himself or herself.

The African was thus identified as ignorant, barbaric, pagan, heathen and backward. African cultural practices were labeled and banned. The African personality must be erased, the African’s self concept must be wiped and the European personality and concept of self imposed to make the African a better person. Wearing of western clothes and drinking tea was imposed on the African and the African was forced to accept these cultures as symbols of civility. Even African drumming and dancing was denounced as evil and pagan.

The branding of the African way of life as evil did much harm to the psyche of the African and gave the colonialists a stranglehold on the continent.

The imposition of these stereo-types consequently drove the African to despair culminating in a sense of helplessness and hopelessness which can be seen in how much Africans look up to the West who they consider their masters and superiors for assistance, even in the art of governance. That is notwithstanding the fact that Africans have been governing themselves long before Europeans set foot on the continent.

Dzorgbo argues further that, before colonialism, Europeans and African traders regarded each other as self-sufficient. The issue of civilizing the colonized arose when questions were raised about the moral basis of colonialism.

Colonialism was thus conceived as a civilizing mission through which the colonized who had been self-sufficient in their social organization and ruling themselves since time immemorial according to their cultural traditions, were now defined as incapable of governing themselves, and must be “civilized” in the image of Europeans in order to do so.

Historical facts about the abolishing of the slave trade are skewed in favour of Europe. The story is told in such a way as to portray Europe in good light. This also makes Europe Africa’s benefactor and therefore, Africa is expected to show gratitude to Europe. But the reality is otherwise.

While most European historians report that Europeans saw the evil in slave trading and decided to end it, on the other hand the abolition of the slave trade was influenced by economic factors. And indeed, some slaves had to pay with dear life in the struggle to end the trade. They fought for freedom!

In Dzorgbo’s view, increased nationalism, industrial competition, the need for new markets, for raw materials and for opportunities of profitable investment… led many nations of Europe to a new interest in colonial expansion in the last decades of the 19th Century.

And as a result of the industrial revolution, Europe, particularly Great Britain needed a market for the glut of products, and also needed raw materials.

But these needs could not be met in the context of the slave trade that was disrupting societies. Africans, needed to be left in peace on the continent to provide market and supply critical raw materials for European industries.

Even though European powers, particularly the British, attribute abolishing of the slave trade to humanitarian reasons or the changing moral conscience, the main motivational reason was economic.

Colonialism was to continue where the slave trade ended. To further the economic interest of Europe. Therefore, the form of colonialism introduced on the continent was instructive.

According to C. Ake, one of Africa’s foremost Political Scientists, colonialism in Africa was markedly different from the colonial experience of the Americas, Europe and Asia. To begin with, it was unusually statist.

The colonial state redistributed land and determined who should produce what and how. It attended to the supply of labour, sometimes resorting to forced labour; it churned out administrative instruments and legislated taxes to induce the breakup of traditional social relations of production and the atomization of society.

For the colonial order to survive and be able to carry out its functions, it needed to be powerful, in the face of the resentment and hostility of the colonized. And the power of the colonial state was not only absolute, but arbitrary.

For instance, it was the colonial state, the former slave traders who decided which crop should be cultivated. In the case of the Gold Coast, they decided that cocoa should be introduced. They did the same with the introduction of coffee in Eastern Africa. And these crops were specifically to be exported to Europe to feed the growing industry in that part.

The promotion of these crops was done at the expense of food crops that were traditionally cultivated by Africans. As a result, the agriculture of the continent suffered and plummeted.

By and large, the slave trade culminated in colonialism, which eventually fashioned out the way the continent must go.

The World Bank, the IMF and their sister organizations serve the interests of the former slave traders. In consequence therefore, the fate of the continent is in the hands of these Bretton Woods institutions. The continent can develop and grow in as much as these institutions determine.

The policies of almost the whole of Africa are based on the concepts of development that have been designed by these organizations. They have a stranglehold on the continent, because obviously, as a result of the slave trade, the continent has been brought to her knees.

Sadly, many more Africans, even today, believe that they are inferior to Europeans and that they can only develop, if and when the Europeans assist them. Even then, the kind of development Africans pursue is largely based on concepts that Europeans have fashioned out.


It is possible though that one could find some positive impacts of the slave trade on Africa today, but these are negligible, compared to the depth and severity of the negative impacts on the continent. The negative impacts far outweigh any gains that the continent can be said to have made from the cruel and inhuman venture.

More graphically, the impacts can be seen in the deepening poverty, economic stagnation and underdevelopment that the continent is grappling with, in spite of claims by the West that the continent is doing well economically.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Full cost recovery in Ghanaian universities – to be or not to be?

By Emmanuel K. Dogbevi


The issue of full cost recovery at Ghanaian universities has become an untouchable subject because of its sensitivity. But as difficult as it is a subject for discussions, it will not easily go away. Sooner than later, it will confront our political leaders, education policy makers, administrators, students, parents and guardians.

It is an unpleasant and uncomfortable subject to touch because, even though, there is a school of thought that believes that its introduction is inevitable - there is fear that its introduction is likely to bring some undesirable consequences on the society, particularly so, on the poor and vulnerable.

Another school of thought however, does not think that it should be introduced at all because this school holds the view that, Government, entrusted with all the powers and rights to control and manage the huge national resources at its disposal has a social contract with the citizenry to provide for the basic needs of the people, including quality affordable tertiary education.

On September 6, 2008, the University of Ghana, Legon, matriculated 11,700 students to begin studies at various levels. These are certificate, diploma, undergraduate and graduate programmes. While some of these freshmen and women are full fee paying students, a few are on scholarships and others are receiving government subventions.

Looking at the current economic situation of the country, the yet to be fully realized implications of globalization and the urgent need for high quality capacity development to meet the country’s need for accelerated development, it has become imperative for stakeholders in education to consider the possibility of tackling this subject as candidly as possible and in all soberness so that a realistic solution can be arrived at.

The matter as it stands now, needs to be resolved once and for all in a comprehensive manner because that would be in the long term interest of the nation. Unfortunately, the ad-hoc and piecemeal approaches to the issue do not seem to have provided the much needed lasting solution to the problem.

This issue usually comes up when the universities begin an academic year and students are asked to pay upwardly revised fees.

Some Aspects of the History of Government Funding of University Education in Ghana

When in 1948, the University College of the Gold Coast was established students were offered virtually free education. According to Appiah Kubi (2005), students even received pocket money. That situation was understandable and desirable because, nine years later Ghana was to attain independence from colonial rule, and an accelerated programme for training Ghanaians to take over the reins of the public service system became necessary.

Moreover, the period immediately after independence made the issue of free education for all Ghanaians even the more attractive because of the socialist ideology that underpinned the development agenda of the Convention Peoples Party (CPP) government led by Ghana’s first President, Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah.

But even immediately after the overthrow of Dr. Nkrumah in 1966, the importance of tertiary education came to the fore. One of the policies of the overthrown CPP regime that was given some rethinking was the education policy of the country, particularly, funding of tertiary education.

In 1970, during the Busia regime, a committee was set up to look at future government policy direction for financial support for Ghana’s universities.

Dr. K. A. Busia, the Prime Minister in the Second Republic, was an academic of high repute. He was a former professor of Anthropology at Oxford University, the first Ghanaian Head of the Sociology Department of the University of Ghana, Legon, and a beneficiary of liberal democratic education policies in the West.

Even as a beneficiary of state sponsored education in the West, Dr. Busia’s regime initiated moves to review what then existed in terms of free university education in Ghana. But unfortunately, the Busia regime did not last long, so it is not possible to tell what impact the one time Oxford Professor’s educational policy would have had on university education in Ghana.

It has been over 38 years since the Busia Committee on the future of Government financial support for University education in Ghana was set up, and the issue still remains.

For instance, in 1992, when the government of Jerry Rawlings was faced with the economic decline of the early 1980s and the subsequent effects of the Structural Adjustment Programme, (SAP) of the IMF and World Bank, the Peoples National Defence Council (PNDC), declared its stance on the funding of university education in Ghana in a white paper.

The paper reads in part, “Government alone cannot continue to bear the increasing cost of higher education and therefore, there was the need for cost sharing by all stakeholders.”

However, what the government meant by ‘cost sharing’ was not clear to most Ghanaians, particularly university students of the period. They misread that to mean government’s tacit plan to cut down or probably stop its financial support for university education. And since then the debate has raged on.

While it is a fact, that the philosophy of the government of Ghana is to reduce poverty, and attain a general improvement in the welfare of Ghanaians, through investment in human capital which can be achieved through improved access to good quality education, there is general agreement that, this can only be achieved by providing the necessary funding for education, which the government says it does not have.

Speaking at the matriculation of freshmen and women for the 2008/2009 academic year, the Vice Chancellor (VC) of the University of Ghana, Prof. Clifford Tagoe regretted that the University faced the painful task of having to turn down applications of many other qualified applicants, due to constraints on facilities and staff.

He said about one million Ghana cedis was used to re-wire the four traditional halls of residence, namely Akuafo, Volta, Commonwealth, Mensah Sarbah in addition to the renovation of the washrooms of Commonwealth Hall at an estimated cost of GH¢60,000.

The VC revealed that the government of Ghana had signed an agreement with the Chinese for a concessionary loan of $8.2m to support the university with ICT infrastructure to facilitate its Distance Education programme. This is a clear indication that the government does not have the money to invest in ICT at the University.

Indeed, capacity development is crucial for the country’s development as a whole.

At the Accra High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness which ended on Thursday, September 4, 2008, the issue of building the capacity of recipient nations to manage aid efficiently and effectively came up. And some contributors expressed worry over the falling standards in tertiary education in developing countries. It became evident during the discussions that donor agencies and countries have as a result lost interest in supporting tertiary education in developing countries and this can be seen in the drastic reduction in the quantum of support donors give to the sector.

Since 1987, donors have contributed $65m to tertiary education in Ghana, including $45m from the World Bank for its 1993-98 Tertiary Education Project.

Dwindling budgetary allocation to tertiary institutions

As a result of the general lack of financial resources by the government of Ghana, tertiary education expenditures as a percentage of total government expenditures decreased from 22.2% to 18.7% between 1990 and 1994, although, the total spending level maintained a 10% annual growth rate due to the rapid expansion of total government expenditures. (Penrose 1995:9).

The share of tertiary education expenditures relative to total government expenditures, however, further declined to 11.4% in 1999.

In the face of the challenges, government was determined to reverse the trend.
Government therefore, increased budget allocation to the education sector to 22.5% by 2002.

In spite of this determination, however, in terms of spending level, total government education expenditures declined by a total of 16% between 1994 and 1998. Overall, education expenditures have declined by 4% annually between the same period.

Ironically, while tertiary education enrolment doubled between 1994 and 1998, the share of its budget actually declined.

In 1997, of the total amount required for the running of tertiary education, government provided 61.5% leaving a deficit of 38.5%. However, in 1999 the deficit rose to 40%.
Government meanwhile had decided in 1998 not to continue to pay periodical subventions and grants to cover students’ Academic Facility User Fees and Residential Facility User Fees, because of budgetary constraints.

At this point, students were asked to pay for these, they refused and that led to a clash between students and the government which eventually culminated in a series of boycotts and eventually demonstrations dubbed, “Mobrowa” struggle, which was led by the then SRC president of the University of Ghana, Nii Dowuona.

For instance at one point, increasing enrollment levels and the rising cost of running the universities forced the Council of Vice Chancellors and Principals (CVCPs) to threaten to close down the universities or cut down on admissions until a solution is found.

During the matriculation ceremony of the University of Ghana for the 1999-2000 academic year the then Vice Chancellor, Prof. Ivan Addae-Mensah in his address also did express his frustrations over the dwindling financial support from the government to the university. He also said the university probably would have to cut down on admissions in tandem to the financial and other resources available to it.

Meanwhile, the 1992 Constitution makes it mandatory for government to fund all levels of education, but government has made it clear that it cannot do it alone.

Every government must however, have a justification for funding education, and to a large extent this must be determined by the following factors:

- Nature of economy
- Ideological perception of the country
- The philosophy behind the education system and the values a particular society attaches to education vis-à-vis national development.

And for a developing country like Ghana, whose economic fortunes are unstable, the other national needs compete for scarce resources with education. As a result tertiary institutions have been starved of funding, making it difficult for them to function at full capacity.

Prof. S. K. Agyepong, former Vice Chancellor of Cape Coast University, delivering a paper on “Private Participation in Tertiary Education” at the Pearson-Osae Appreciation Lectures at Accra in November 1998, cautioned that if the problem of funding tertiary education is not addressed quickly, it would lead to the demise of certain academic departments in the existing public universities and other tertiary institutions.

The Principal of Accra Polytechnic in an address during matriculation in January 2000 complained that inadequate government subvention, irregular disbursement of the subventions and the disproportionate contribution by direct beneficiaries as well as industrial and private sector, have all contributed to make the sustained and viable funding of tertiary institutions very difficult and noted that funding remains one of the greatest obstacles and constraints to capacity building of the nation.

Sadly, while education is competing with other sectors of the economy, it is also education that suffers budgetary cuts.

The increasing burden of expanding tertiary education and the fiscal pressures on governments mean that the reliance on tax finance creates a downward pressure on quality. The fact is government subventions have done little to widen access, because the source of this is public tax, which in itself is very regressive.

Meanwhile, from 1990 to 2006, the World Bank has given a total of $4.9 billion in loans for education in Sub-Sahara Africa.

In its Development Report of 1998, The World Bank made the following observations about tertiary education in Africa. The report said, “The development challenge posed for tertiary education in Africa is in one important respect, more daunting than that posed for lower education and that rare growth for public resources for the educational sector as a whole in mostly developing countries, is unlikely to keep pace with growth of the population.”

The World Bank report blamed the scarcity of funding for tertiary education throughout the sub-region on the tragic consequences of economic downturn and the concomitant constriction in public budget that has seriously undermined the quality of education in Africa’s universities.

In the World Bank’s view therefore, to stem the tide, African governments must implement the following recommendations:

1. Fee paying
2. Elimination of allowances
3. Rationalization of programmes and faculties
4. Assigning to non-public sources the full cost of housing and other welfare services provided to students and staff.
5. Reduction of non-teaching staff in other to save the universities from collapse.

In a similar World Bank Report on higher education in Pakistan, the Bank expressed concern about the over dependence of universities on federal grants.

The Bank’s concern was due to the fact that the over reliance on the local authorities has left many universities under-funded. The universities received only 30% of their budgetary needs, less than 70% of what they needed to sustain the universities.

As a result of this shortfall, the universities have been forced to run at deficits, and this has eventually affected the quality of university education, consistent planning, standard of achievement, and invariably affecting the expenditure per student.

Meanwhile, the World Bank, which is the largest source of external finance for education in developing countries, accounting for a quarter of all external support since 1963, intends to cut its support despite contributing about $19.2b over the past 32 years in more than 100 countries.

Currently, the total volume of lending to support education in developing countries is about $2m a year. This is because the Bank’s lending for university and Polytechnic education which peaked at 36% of the total lending in the mid 1980s has fallen to 26%, a clear indication that support is being reduced as a condition for social and economic aid.

The World Bank also argues that, the increasing public spending on education is not necessary in many cases because of the enormous potential of efficiency gained at current levels in developing countries.

This argument seems to suggest that developing countries have attained a certain amount of expertise over the years to run their economies and manage their own affairs, and therefore, there is no need to educate many more of their citizens at the tertiary level.

Even though, public education in Africa has the lowest enrolment ratio than any region of the world, it still represents the greater share of the Gross National Product of 42% of the African economy.

Other sources of funding higher education

Making an argument for the importance of and other sources of funding higher education, Barr (2005), makes the point that tertiary education is no longer a consumption good enjoyed by an elite, it is an important element in national economic performance and a major determinant of a person’s life chances.

In his opinion therefore, the expansion that is taking place internationally is both necessary and desirable.

Nicholas Barr is a Professor of Public Economics at the London School of Economics.

He agrees though, that higher education is costly, and that it faces competing imperatives for public spending. Its financing therefore is important and immensely sensitive, politically.

Despite the problems, widespread agreement exists on two core objectives of strengthening quality and diversity, both for their own sake and for reasons of national economic performance. And improving access, again, for both efficiency and equity reasons. If it is not possible to rely wholly on public funding, it is necessary to bring in private finance but in a way that do not deter students from poor backgrounds.

As a result of technological change, we now have more universities, more students and greater diversity of subject matter. Thus the myth that all universities are identical and should be funded equally is no longer sustainable.

Barr argues further that mass higher education requires a funding system by which institutions can charge different prices to reflect their different costs and missions.

He also believes that higher education creates benefits that transcend individual benefits in terms of growth, social cohesion and transmission of values. Thus tax payer subsidies are rightly part of the landscape.

However, he was quick to add that, students also receive significant (often substantial) private benefits. It is therefore both efficient and fair that they bear some of the costs.

Meanwhile, he is making this argument in the face of the belief that is held by people in developing countries that education is a right and should be financed by the state. He goes on to say however that, the fact that something is regarded as a right does not mean that it should be financed by the state. For instance, access to nutrition is a basic right yet nobody argues that it is wrong to charge for food.

Indeed the moral imperative is not about instruments, (e.g. Prices) but about outcomes, i.e., that a bright person should be able to go to the best school irrespective of his or her financial circumstances.

Another argument he makes is that if it is unfair to ask students to pay more of the cost of higher education, it is even more unfair to ask non-graduate tax payers to do so.

However, it is a fact that there are a lot more students who cannot afford to pay for higher education.

Some of the Ways Out

Well designed students loans can be one of the ways out of the situation. The loans should be substantial enough to cover tuition and where possible, living expenses.
The loan should be so designed that it has an inbuilt insurance against inability to repay.

Repayments should be made alongside income tax to protect the lender from the risk of making an unsecured loan.

Barr suggests that income-contingent repayments should be established. Repayment should be calculated at x% of borrower’s earnings, and collected alongside income tax when the borrower has worked for x number of years after graduation.

Industry can also come in to fund tertiary education, because industry is also a beneficiary of higher education. It is possible for instance for two or more related industries to pull their resources into a fund to provide funding for specific programmes in tertiary institutions.

Even though, there are a number of Education Funds, they do not seem adequate enough to cater for the large army of entrants into our tertiary institutions, and most importantly the Ghana Education Trust Fund (GETFund). This fund has brought some amount of relief to government funding but a lot more needs to be done.


If most people cannot afford to pay for the full cost of tertiary education because of the obvious widening gap between the rich and the poor in the society, the society will not be able to replenish its dying work force. The human resource base of the country will dwindle and subsequently, it will affect all other aspects of the society.

Even though, this is speculative, it is likely that students who are unable to pay for the full cost of their education may end up without any training and therefore, be unable to find jobs. These citizens out of frustration may be forced into anti-social acts, which may be considered a lucrative means of making money.

Parents with more than a child in tertiary education will be severely constrained and it is likely to affect family budgets with its attendant problems of broken marriages and streetism.

The universities would also be faced with a high rate of student indiscipline, because already, one of the factors for indiscipline on campus can be traced to the fact that students pay for AFUF and RFUF. Some students are reported to have defaced university property because they believe that they have paid for them.

The time to think seriously of pragmatic and lasting ways to resolve this matter of full cost recovery is now. All stakeholders should approach it dispassionately and where possible examples of successful implementation of similar programmes in other parts of the world can be adopted to suit the Ghanaian situation.

It is now or never, because it won’t be long before, the untouchable subject forces itself on the country and when it does many casualties than anticipated would be left in its trail.