Dear Nana: How about Ghana beyond filth?
In the beginning, I too was awed by everything President Akufo-Addo said. Like the people who liked, shared and re-shared the video of his press conference with France’s president, Emmanuel Macron, I found him inspiring. But over a year after his inauguration, I still find him up in the clouds with his lofty rhetoric, and I need my president to come down to earth to help ease our daily pains.
Although I’m suspicious of politicians who always say the right things, I found Nana Addo’s speeches on the campaign trail inspiring. There was a sense of urgency in his statements, something that said he believed Ghana could do better for its citizens. I suspect this is because his predecessor, an alleged communications expert, rarely said anything profound and was stunningly incompetent. There was something else too: I recognized from all his speeches that Nana Akufo-Addo meant well and wanted to do more with the little that Ghana had. His inaugural address at the Black Star Square where he said many refreshing and uplifting things, such as, “Sixty years after attaining nationhood, we no longer have any excuses for being poor,” had me swooning. Finally, I thought, we had a man who hated mediocrity and was going to right the wrongs.
It has been one year and three months since President Akufo-Addo’s awe-inspiring inaugural speech and my faith in him is flickering at best and extinguished at worst. Here is why: In 2017 he established a Sanitation Ministry, promised to spend 200 million Ghana cedis to clean Ghana and then announced that he was going to make Accra the cleanest city on the continent. I didn’t consider the Sanitation Ministry a useful creation, but I yielded, believing it may be what the government needs to finally free us from the filth drowning us across the country. But a year after that declaration, Accra is still submerged under piles of rubbish and I don’t see a coherent way forward. To think that a donor agency recently paid for adverts in newspapers urging Ghanaians not to practice open defecation! (A 2012 United Word Bank report revealed that 19 percent of Ghanaians practice open defecation)
Not only am I horrified that Accra, the capital where the president lives, still stinks, but I’m also disappointed that all the excellent talk has yielded nothing. If a government cannot assemble a team to achieve one of its key promises, why should I believe it can change how we live in four years?
Again, in February 2017, a month after taking office, he launched activities for the celebration of Ghana’s 60th Independence anniversary at the Flagstaff House. The plan was for the 30-member planning committee to raise the 20 million Ghana cedis budgeted for the year-long celebration from the private sector. We were supposed to get monuments (libraries, schools, and museums), what the president termed legacy projects, in all ten regions in addition to concerts, plays and football matches. But very little happened after the grand celebration on March 6, which according to Ken Amankwah, the chairman of the planning committee was because they could not raise funds. End of story.
These failures are significant because he has promised us a Ghana beyond aid, a promise for which he has received a huge applause from both Ghanaians and the donor community. The premise for this new maxim is that Ghana(ergo Africa) has enough resources to fend for itself to be entirely independent of aid. This same man whose team couldn’t complete basic year-long celebrations wants to end Ghana’s dependence on foreign aid. Speaking at the presser with Emmanual Macron, the president called for a change of mindset, saying, “Our concern should be what do we need to do in this 21st century to move Africa away from being cup-in-hand and begging for aid, for charity, for handouts. The African continent, when you look at its resources, should be giving money to other places.”
I wish I were as impressed as the people who have been praising Nana Addo for this decision. But I resent how he and his team have framed the narrative to the delight of many Western ambassadors in Ghana (the US ambassador to Ghana has called him a visionary) as though we depend entirely on aid and the West is doing us a favour. It’s irritating because, like all countries that suffered slavery and colonization, Ghana deserves donor aid. We’re entitled to it, and we should take it until we get reparations for the plundering of our human and natural resources. Finance blogger, Jerome Kuseh, captures the context in this tweet: “The failure to properly contextualize why Africa needs aid is to play into the historically and economically conservative western ideology which portrays African states as leeches of European nations.”
Aid to Ghana has been decreasing too. Currently, direct foreign aid to our government is estimated at a mere 3.43 percent of government revenue, or 0.7 percent of our GDP. That means a little more than 300 million dollars or a quarter of the stolen money that the Auditor General wants back. The picture Nana Addo paints is therefore incomplete. Our problems do not exist because of our dependence on aid. We have housing, education, healthcare, and transportation challenges because our leaders waste whatever we make from our natural resources and taxes. T
To be fair, Nana Addo’s government has done quite a bit since it took office. It has stabilized the economy and the cedi-dollar relationship isn’t giving business folk as many headaches. The cost of living hasn’t gone down, but we are not paying a different price for toothpaste every month. They have not added as much to the enormous debt stock left by his predecessor; instead, they are paying off some of the debt. The government has started the process of making the National Health Insurance Scheme and the Pension fund, which were mismanaged and nearly bankrupted, solvent again. And they have established the Office of the Special Prosecutor and implemented their free senior high school education policy. Given that this government inherited an almost empty treasury and an unstable economy, these accomplishments should be celebrated.
Given the low bar set by John Mahama, I can understand why Nana Addo is earning massive praise for these achievements, but as they say, the devil is always in the details. In the period Nana Addo claims to be working to end our dependence on aid, he is giving prime state lands, worth tens of millions of dollars, for the construction of a national cathedral even though Ghana has more churches than factories. Factories, the base industrialized nations used to create viable economies so their citizens can live in dignity. On Ghana’s 61st independence anniversary, he launched the design for the cathedral even though his government still hasn’t provided the plan or the template for its so-called one-district-one-factory project.
Instead of harping about the future of Ghana without aid, I would greatly appreciate it if Nana Addo spent more time completing simple tasks like getting us road signs, street lights, passports and licenses without bribes and clean towns and cities. And to be more honest, making sure our country is free of filth, a situation that endangers our lives and costs the government tens of million dollars would be more appropriate and reasonable. I want Ghana to be free from handouts and foreign control, but if a government cannot even raise funds locally to fund a year-long independence celebration, can we even trust it to tackle public corruption? And possibly free us from the grips of western donors?