Friday, August 15, 2014

Africa, Ghana rising? Whose Africa? Whose Ghana?

By Emmanuel K. Dogbevi

Some citizens protesting bad governance and economic decline in Ghana.
Only as recently as 2012, Africa was in focus as the world’s economic rising star. The continent posted very healthy figures in GDP growth over a decade. Foreign direct investments (FDI) rose, there was growth in real estate development and declining inflation.

In 2012 for instance Chinese contractors were reported to have had a turnover in housing in all 53 African countries to the tune of $40.8 billion, and the top three countries were Angola, Nigeria and Algeria, accounting for 41.7%.

These were record investments in Africa, and the economies of some African countries were feverishly and ecstatically rebased to reflect ‘realistic’ economic data.

When the list was drawn for the world’s 10 fastest growing economies in 2012, about seven were African countries including Ghana and Eritrea.

Never mind that Eritrea is one of the poorest, conflict ridden countries on the continent and it is ruled by a suffocating and ruthless dictatorship with a nauseating record of haunting and hunting down its own citizens, but nonetheless it made it to the list.

Ghana’s economy in 2011 grew almost 14.4% and inflation dropped to about 9%. The country became a good example of democratic success on the continent, as if to say democracy necessarily stimulated economic growth.
A sign announcing Ghana's capital Accra as a Millennium City.
The broken texts reflect the mismanagement and neglect of the country's economy and infrastructure.

Incidentally, one of the factors that put African countries in focus was the fact that the developed countries were struggling to recover from the ripples of the global financial crisis of 2008 which was precipitated mainly by the housing and banking industry in the US. African countries luckily were untouched by the devastating effects of the crisis, for the simple fact that the financial systems of the countries on the continent were not well developed as that of the west and more importantly, these economies were not integrated into the financial systems of the west.

Ghana, for instance had just rushed into producing oil, and the investments in oil infrastructure had boosted the economy, but sadly that was soon to be seen as a flash in the pan. The country suddenly entered an election year, and the records show that in every election year the country’s economy runs out of control due to government over spending. There was also the case of poor planning riddled with so much ‘political expediencies’, short sightedness and lack of political savvy, and just after 2013, the country’s economy started to show rapid decline.

Whatever the western media saw to start proclaiming the rise of Africa is hard to tell. May be they were looking at the figures - it could also possibly be that they were doing penance. The western media might have been moved by guilt to start singing the chorus of Africa rising after having spent several decades declaring the continent hopeless and dark.  The media probably felt it owed the continent ‘fair’ and balanced reporting, and the continent’s leaders lapped it, including academics. Not many questioned the data. The few who tried to be skeptical were labeled, blacklisted and somehow punished in subtle but notable ways that showed that everyone believed in the data or at most, didn’t want to probe further to ascertain the veracity of the data. “Numbers don’t lie’ some argued.

But the growth like a bubble didn’t last long and burst. In the case of Ghana, long before the government of the day began admitting there is decline, the same western media is already hammering the economic decline which is now dimming the faint glimmer of hope that most of the country’s poor held when oil was discovered.

Ghana has been touted as the continent’s great example of a modern democracy on a continent ravaged by conflict resulting from electoral disputes. But long before the country was raised and praised as an adorable symbol of democracy, some Ghanaians who observed the system critically pointed out that the country’s democracy was a façade. The closest the country had got to a democracy was to organize elections and announce results. Despite evidences of rigging and intimidation of citizens and the media during electioneering activities, long-suffering citizens have always accepted the final results as announced by the country’s electoral commission for the sake of ‘peace’.

Results of the 2012 presidential elections were disputed and eventually went to the Supreme Court. After several months in court the matter was settled and the opposition accepted the outcome. The Court declared the incumbent government winner.

Incidentally, while Ghana is considered one of the countries in Africa with free expression and a free press, journalists are often intimidated, and while it’s hard to prove, a few influential ones have been bribed into burying facts and instead they trumpet and defend propaganda.

Majority of media organizations are owned by politicians and their allies, and media organizations that follow the professional path are punished by being denied advertizing and sometimes accreditation to cover national events.

The façade is so glaring but as usual, most people are playing the ostrich.

Now the country seems to almost hit rock bottom. The budget deficit continues to widen, becoming a major constraint to fiscal and debt sustainability and the government has turned to the IMF for help. But if one listens to both the president and the finance minister, it is hard to tell what the government has gone to the IMF for – however, the suspicion and belief among most citizens is that it has gone to the IMF to seek a financial bailout, and other citizens have suggested it is a subtle way to reign in government expenditure and bring about fiscal sanity based on IMF conditionalities.

Perhaps the western media was too quick to praise the continent and that might have gone into the head of its leaders, most of who recorded evidences has shown to think more about the power they grab and wield, much more than creating wealth and ending inequality.

Don’t tell me Africa is rising yet. I live in an African country, I will know when it does, and while we are at it, there goes Ghana, already losing her shine.

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