Ghana is 60 years, and has come a long way socially, politically, and economically as a country. As an optimist, I do not belong to the school of thought that says that Ghana has achieved nothing worth celebrating after 60 years.

Ghana at 60
Ghana at 60
In a mix of economic and political struggles, Ghana has reached some humble milestones that cannot be overlooked. At least, Ghana’s economy is quite developed relative to most of its African neighbours.

With inherited foreign reserves of about 273 million dollars (the equivalent of about 2.3 billion dollars today) at independence and per capita income of about 400 dollars and a population 6.5 million, Ghana has made some progress growing its aggregate wealth to about 38 billion in 2016 with a population of about 28 million. Further, Ghana is today a lower middle-income country, a feat most African countries are still struggling to achieve. Ghanaians being born today are more likely to live longer than those born in 1950s and 1960s; life expectancy today hovers around 62 years, higher than what exists in most African countries. The health sector has made significant improvements and far ahead of most sister African nations.

Politically, Ghana has done quite well at home to reach political stability, built a strong legal system with respect for the rule of law and guaranteed freedom of speech and associations for her citizens. On the Africa continent, Ghana has contributed immensely to the Pan-African agenda. Ghana has also contributed greatly to global governance and leadership. We have contributed immeasurably to the UN system, contributing to peacekeeping missions and at a point had our illustrious citizen Kofi Anan as the Secretary General of the UN system.

Moving at the tortoise’s Pace and Far Left Behind?

Prominent economists and world leaders predicted unprecedented growth and rapid transformation for Ghana at the time of independence due to its rich factor endowments and other socioeconomic indicators conducive for growth and development. In a 1952 report, a renowned economist Dudley Seers predicted Ghana’s economic growth and development potential as been higher than that of England. He is quoted to have said, ”Surfacing the road from Tarkwa to Takoradi would increase total output by much more than applying the same materials to almost any road in the United Kingdom”. Others such as Tony Killick, Nicholas Kaldor, Albert Hirschman and Arthur Lewis held similar optimism about Ghana.

At independence, Ghana was producing two-thirds of the world’s cocoa output plus abundance of other natural resources, it had the best schools in Africa, it had good amount of investment and many powerful countries like the United States, Great Britain and Germany all promised to invest in the new nation. Ghana had an auspicious start to growth and transformation at the time of political independence.

However, in 2017, 60 years after independence, Ghana has not overcome most of the challenges in the 1950s that necessitated the fight for independence. After 60 years, schools are still under trees and dilapidated structures are collapsing on innocent kids. After 60 years, most of our roads are still treacherous and farmers find it uneasy to access markets. After 60 years, our health sector lacks adequate infrastructure and enough qualified personnel to deliver quality care to the public, even politicians are not confident to receive treatment in our local hospitals. After 60 years, we still export our cocoa, gold and other commodities in their raw state. After 60 years, the national economy is not self-sufficient and we still depend on donor support for our annual budget.

To put this in context, at the time of independence, Ghana and Malaysia were twin brothers from different continents. They were both under British colonial rule and all got independence in 1957 but Ghana’s independence came five months ahead of Malaysia. They were all agrarian and commodity dependent economies with Ghana having more deposits of natural resources. Malaysia relied mainly on rubber and tin before later imported the oil palm from Ghana. The oil palm is today a ”cash cow” for Malaysia but Ghana has lost business plans for the versatile crop. Ghana and Malaysia also had almost the same population in 1957 (6.5 million and 7.1 million respectively). The two countries were almost similar in every visible socioeconomic indicator in 1957.

Yet, after 60 years, it even seems stroppy to compare the two nations. With a balance of payment surplus of about 23 billion dollars, a GDP of 327 billion dollars and average per capita income of about 11000 dollars in nominal terms in as at 2014, Malaysia has definitely left Ghana far behind in every facet of national development. At the same period, Ghana’s balance of payment deficit, GDP and per capita income stood at 85 million dollars, 38 billion dollars and 1,417 (nominal) respectively. Today Malaysia has fully diversified its economy while Ghana still depends largely in agrarian export.

Constraints and way forward

So what went wrong for Ghana? Soon after independence, Ghana was plagued with political instability and this affected Ghana’s socioeconomic transformation significantly. After the overthrow of Kwame Nkrumah, between 1970 and the early 1980s is often considered as the lost decade in Ghana’s development history. During this period, Ghana went on a spinning cycle with a volatile socio-political and economic environment, and in the early 1980s Ghana had to run the IMF for an economic recovery programme. At the same time, Malaysians rallied behind one leader, Kuntu Abdul Rahman, though unwillingly.

Again, since independence, Ghana has failed to successfully industrialise and diversify its economy-the exact thing that did the trick for Malaysia. We still depend on commodity export, which historically is known to have unstable prices on the world market. Malaysia saw the vulnerability of been dependent on commodities; they first diversified their economy, and then pursued massive industrialisation agenda successfully. These traits have largely eluded Ghana. Other factors such as corruption, political capture, just to name two, have contributed to Ghana’s sluggish pace of development in the last 60 years.

As we now try to play a catch up in development after 60 years, we should reflect deeply on our drawbacks and failures, identify what worked and what did not work for us. Based on these sober reflections and determination to make things happen, we can chart a new course for the next 60 years without repeating the mistakes of the past 60 years, and surely, we will tell the full success story of our independence perhaps in our centennial celebration in 2057. God bless our homeland Ghana.

Alexander Afram
Assistant Programmes Coordinator
Participatory Development Associates


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