This is the month of the Harmattan, the gentle winds that blow south from the Sahara, bringing with them endless clouds of fine sand until the landscape fades and the sun glows misty burnt orange in the haze.
Other winds, too, blow across the region known as Sub-Saharan Africa. Winds of Change. And this is change at the ballot box, not at the barrel of a gun. On the western tip of West Africa, Adama Barrow will shortly become the next president of The Gambia. If, that is, the incumbent Yahya Jammeh can be persuaded to accept the result of December’s democratic vote. Mr Jammeh has previously suggested he might rule for a billion years and now, it seems, he is struggling to come to terms with the fact it’s all over after just twenty-two.
And in Ghana, the country where I grew up, Nana Addo Akufo-Addo has just been elected President.
Ghana, Oh Ghana! This is a country that is, for want of a better word, broken. Not the people, for they are strong and proud and resilient. Yes, they are weary and exhausted from the stress and hassle of making ends meet, and cynical that change can ever come to their beloved land. But, for all their weariness, their spirit is far from broken and they are even, dare I say it, a bit optimistic. Cautiously optimistic. After all, there have been false dawns before – too many to count. After the corrupt and harsh military dictatorships of the Seventies and Eighties, hitherto elusive Democracy was supposed to usher in a new era of peace and prosperity. No more guns, bribery or corruption. Instead, jobs for all and a decent standard of living.
But Democracy didn’t deliver, the Promised Land never materialised and now the country is broke and broken. The Big Men chop all the money just like they always did. The hustle jargon changed with the times – no longer kalabule, now it’s kpa kpa kpa – but the game itself stayed the same.
The other day, a water tanker pulled up at my friend’s house in central Accra. He needs a tanker to deliver water once a month because the mains pipes are comprehensively broken across the city and the taps are dry. The cool trick played by the water company is to arrive with a huge tanker that contains a lot more water than can fit into my friend’s plastic water tanks. He gets charged for all the water in the tanker, even though he can only take a quarter of its load (“It’s not our fault you don’t have water tanks big enough to cope with all the water you have bought and, no, you cannot purchase only a quarter of the tanker’s water”) after which the tanker operator repeats the scam three more times that day. One tanker of water, sold four times over. Genius.
Standing with my friend in the baking sunshine, I asked him why the city’s pipes remain broken. He laughed.
Guess who owns the water tankers? The same guys who are supposed to maintain the pipes. Of course the pipes won’t get repaired!
Or, think about this. The government solicits bids from multiple construction firms for a major building contract. Chinese, American and British firms tender their bids. Plus a couple of others. They all come in around the US$200m mark. Except one that comes in at US$400m. Guess who wins the contract? The guys who propose to charge US$400m, that’s who. Why? Oh come on! You don’t need me to spell it out!
And so it goes. And the people stay poor, the civic infrastructure stays broken, the sick get sicker, and the only thing that’s alive and well is the Daily Hustle & Grind.
What does that look like?
Health: The nation’s public hospitals are overwhelmed and struggling to offer a viable health service. So, if for example, you have cardiovascular disease (CVD) you are very likely to die from your first significant cardiac event. As I discovered in June 2016. By way of contrast, in Europe and the US, death rates from CVD have been falling sharply since 1990. But not here in Ghana. CVD is the Number One cause of death for West Africans over the age of 30! That’s at least ten years earlier than in Europe and the US. Here are some stats: experts predict that in the year 2025 alone, 420,000 West Africans will die from CVD. That includes about 200,000 Nigerians and 30,000 Ghanaians. This upward trend is the direct opposite of countries such as Israel, Denmark, South Korea and the United Kingdom where massive resources are being deployed to combat heart disease.
And that’s just CVD. Treatment options for diabetes, and cancer are also extremely limited. As for dementia, let’s not go there.
Education: Whilst the rest of the world powers forward in the field of tech-driven, tailored education, Sub-Saharan Africa languishes a long way back. One friend told me about a racket at his kids’ school whereby he has to hand the teacher a brown paper envelope every term. Depending on how much he can afford to contribute to the teacher’s personal retirement fund, his child will get the teacher’s attention. Those parents who cannot afford to play the game have to watch as their children get ignored in class and marked down in tests – just to make the point. Of course, this “teaching-for-cash-in-an-envelope” system doesn’t work. One child scored 90% in all her school tests. Come the big day and the real exams, she crashed out with a string of F grades. Papa had paid too well, it turned out. And those kids with real potential who are eager to learn, but who lack parents able to scrape the cash together, struggle to make it and eventually give up because it’s an impossible gig.
Transport: The transport system is chronically underdeveloped for a country of 26.9 million people. Traffic jams abound and many of the roads (though, to be fair, not all) are terrible. A couple of months ago, I visited Kakum, a national park well worth seeing. But the road from Cape Coast to Kakum? Long stretches are close to undriveable! Despite driving in a fully specced Toyota 4×4, the road was so bad, I almost canned the trip. A 20 mile journey that should have taken half an hour, took two! Pot holes so big you could have a bath in them with room to spare. Apparently, that road used to be much worse, but I’m struggling to see how. And the road from Accra to Cape Coast, which, given its importance, should be a beautiful, smooth, dual carriage highway? Limited to single lanes in both directions, and with cars, lorries, mini-buses and petrol tankers all vying for space and madly overtaking each other on blind bends, it is one of the most dangerous roads I have ever driven. No wonder fatal accidents are routine!
Why all the excuses and broken promises? Where has all the money gone? The money that was supposed to be spent repairing and building new roads up and down the land? That money?
Finance: Let’s talk about finance and the economy. At 25.5%, Ghana’s domestic interest rates are the highest in the world (at a time when global interest rates are the lowest in recorded history). Ghana is literally the most expensive place on the planet to borrow money. Numero Uno! Next comes Argentina at 24.75% and then Malawi at 24%. Basically, Ghana’s budget deficit is sky-high and the government has been forced to borrow domestically and internationally to stay afloat. With its weak credit rating the cost of accessing money has rocketed for the government and its citizens.
So, if you are an entrepreneurial Ghanaian with a bright idea, and you want to borrow some capital from your local bank to fund your big idea, it is going to cost you a quarter of your loan amount every year, in interest payments alone. Unsurprisingly, that’s not a recipe for innovative success at a national level. It’s hard enough to succeed in business when money is virtually free to borrow. But when you have to pay 25.5% interest?!
In case you’re wondering, this is what the same graph looks like elsewhere:
There is no point sugar-coating it. Ghana ranks a lowly 114th (out of 138) on the Global Competitive Index and contributes just 0.10% of the world’s GDP. Which, on any view, is a rounding error.
And on the macroeconomic front, (a crucial factor if you want to be competitive) Ghana comes in at 132 out of 138 countries.
Kpa Kpa Kpa (a.k.a. Kalabule): This is the grand hustle (think water tanker heist) and it is hard-coded into the Daily Grind. We’re driving along Independence Avenue in the early evening when a lady cop steps out and flags us down. My driver, Richard, pulls over and is quivering with apprehension. She slowly walks up to my window, passenger side, leans in and menacingly says to Richard:
You just jumped that red light back there. I watched you do it!
Richard launches into a routine, hands clasped tightly together in his lap, humbly begs forgiveness and says he won’t do it again if she just lets us go. Lady cop is unmoved and says he is going to have to pay a fine. He has no money for a fine.
I glance behind me. There is no red light so I look at the cop for a long time. Straight into her eyes. After a few tense seconds, she drops her gaze and tells Richard to be on his way. No fine.
Richard says he thinks she thought I was Jerry Rawlings’ brother and she figured it wasn’t worth finding out. He says that the Stop & Fine for A Fictitious Offence thing happens at the end of every month. It’s an easy way to top up your meagre cop salary and they all do it.
It’s called Kpa Kpa Kpa, he says smiling, relieved to be back on the road, his lunch money intact.
NB: Here’s a thought. The lady cop has a name; let’s call her Adwoa. And the thing that Adwoa didn’t get to tell us, is that she has an 18 month old daughter and a three-year old son. Oh, and her elderly mother also lives with them. She can’t feed them all on her wages, and her husband cannot find a job despite looking for the last three years. So, she is the sole breadwinner and although she finds it hard to look in the mirror sometimes, and she wishes she didn’t have to stop people like Richard for a non-existent offence, right now Adwoa feels like she doesn’t have a choice.
Is she right? Who am I to say? I haven’t walked a mile in her shoes. Her’s seems like a different situation to the Big Men who chop all the money, and until there is a solution whereby she can earn a decent wage and her husband can find a job, it is going to be very hard to tell Adwoa to cut out the kpa kpa kpa. You see, all this hangs together. When people cannot feed their families and can see no hope, they are driven to survive “by all means necessary”. And when Richard gets pulled over by Adwoa, and she takes his lunch money as a fine for an imaginary traffic offence, Richard, in turn, has to figure out what he has to do to get by.
The only real solution is to fix the system or, eventually, it implodes. And when that happens, people get radical and take the situation into their own hands.
Not much time …
Just to mix things up, that ticking sound you can hear in the background is a demographic time-bomb as Africa’s population growth explodes:
Africa’s economic growth is slowing down. After registering a GDP increase of over 5% in 2014, regional growth is estimated at a more modest 3.4% for 2015 and 3% for 2016. From lower resource prices to slower trading partners’ growth and overall weakening macroeconomic stability, the continent’s traditional sources of growth no longer deliver the numbers they used to.
Besides, Africa’s working age population is set to surpass that of China or India by 2034. With 15 million people entering the job market annually, Africa risks turning its demographic dividend into a demographic disaster if its economies cannot create enough jobs and opportunities for its citizens. Roberto Crotti, Economist
This, Ladies and Gentlemen, is crunch time! If the system is collapsing today under the weight of expectation, imagine how challenging it’s going to get by 2030 by which time the population of Ghana will have grown by another 10 million people.
The Long Road Ahead
At last, following proper democratic elections, Ghana has a new visionary President with a mandate for change! What will he tackle first? What’s the agenda?
The World Economic Forum’s 12 key pillars for calculating Global Competitiveness provides an excellent drop-down menu from which to select. These are the core issues that every nation on earth has to address if it wants to compete on the world stage:
- Institutions: The institutional environment of a country is a function of the efficiency and the behaviour of both public and private stakeholders.
- Infrastructure: Extensive and efficient infrastructure is critical for ensuring the effective functioning of the economy.
- Macroeconomic Environment: The stability of the macroeconomic environment is vital for business and, therefore, is significant for the overall competitiveness of a country.
- Health and primary Education: A healthy workforce is vital to a country’s competitiveness and productivity. Workers who are sick cannot function to their potential and will be less productive.
- Higher Education and Training: Quality higher education and training is crucial for economies that want to move up the value chain beyond simple production processes and products.
- Goods market efficiency: Countries with efficient goods markets produce the right mix of products and services given their particular supply and demand conditions, and ensure that these goods can be most effectively traded in the economy.
- Labour market efficiency: The efficiency and flexibility of the labour market are critical for ensuring that workers are allocated to their most effective use in the economy and provided with incentives to offer their best effort in their jobs.
- Financial Market Development: An efficient financial sector allocates the resources saved by a nation’s population, as well as those entering the economy from abroad, to the entrepreneurial or investment projects with the highest expected rates of return, rather than to the politically well-connected.
- Technological readiness: This measures the agility with which an economy adopts existing technologies in order to enhance the productivity of its industries, with specific emphasis on its capacity to leverage information & communication technologies
- Market Size: The size of the market affects productivity since large markets allow firms to exploit economies of scale.
- Business Sophistication: Business sophistication concerns two elements that are intricately linked: the quality of a country’s overall business networks and the quality of individual firms’ operations and strategies.
- Innovation: This last pillar focuses on innovation. Innovation is particularly important for economies as they approach the frontiers of knowledge, and the possibility of generating more value by merely integrating and adapting exogenous technologies tends to disappear.
Obviously, countries that are currently at Stage 1 of their development (including Ghana (see table below)) should focus on different pillars to those that are at a different, more advanced stage:
“In line with well-known economic theory of stages of development, the Global Competitiveness Index assumes that, in the First Stage, the economy is factor-driven and countries compete based on their factor endowments—primarily unskilled labour and natural resources.b Maintaining competitiveness at this stage of development hinges primarily on well-functioning public and private institutions (1st pillar), a well-developed infrastructure (2nd pillar), a stable macroeconomic environment (3rd pillar), and a healthy workforce that has received at least a basic education (4th pillar).” Methodology and Computation of the Global Competitiveness Index
Wouldn’t it be fantastic, if, focusing on each of the first four pillars, (Institutions, Infrastructure, Macroeconomics and Health) the new, incoming administration could reverse the national decline and prepare Ghana to transition from its current Stage 1 position across to Stage 2 alongside Gabon, Nigeria and Botswana? Sixty years after it gained independence from the British, there is simply no justification for this country, with its entrepreneurial spirit, extraordinary hospitality, abundant natural resources and enduring optimism, still to be languishing in Stage 1. In 1957, Singapore was “a largely coastal city made up of shop houses and fringed by squatter dwellings” at the bottom of Stage 1 or its equivalent. Not any more. Top of Stage 4, now!
Check it out!
Just 20 years ago, Rwanda experienced the most appalling genocide imaginable. In the immediate aftermath, with everything destroyed, it struggled even to make Stage 1. More like Stage Zero!
No longer. Rwanda has formulated a clear game plan and is getting its act together. Its second Economic Development and Poverty Reduction Strategy (EDPRS 2) outlines an overarching goal of growth acceleration and poverty reduction through four thematic areas: economic transformation, rural development, productivity and youth employment, and accountable governance. Soon that nation will be poised to move across to Stage 2 of the Global Competitiveness Index! Wow! If Rwanda can do that in 20 years, surely Ghana can?
Imagine a day when …
- You turn on your taps and clean fresh water flows out of them. Not because the water tanker delivered your monthly rip-off supply, but because the city’s infrastructure has been completely repaired. Electricity and water are now dependable utilities and you pay only for what you use;
- The Unemployed Youth have jobs that pay them a decent wage. They are maintaining the newly repaired and replaced infrastructure, working in factories, a booming construction industry, a thriving restaurant trade, a fully functioning healthcare system;
- If you are a cop – male or female – and you accept a bribe of any amount from anyone in relation to anything, you face serious consequences. Same for a government minister – except in your case you go to jail. That’s what happens in Rwanda. That’s why Rwanda is poised for Stage 2 of the Global Competitive Index;
- The roads are all fixed. You can drive from Accra to Cape Coast and on to Kumasi without trashing or crashing your car. The road works at Kasoa have finally been completed and you don’t have to start your journey from Accra at 05:00 to avoid the one hour tail back;
- You can go to your local hospital and see a doctor about your chest pains. She diagnoses a blocked Left Anterior Descending Artery (aka The Widowmaker) and refers you to a huge local world-class heart hospital which is carrying out affordable day-case angioplasty procedures by Ghanaian interventional cardiologists. It even has a pro bono program. No need to find US$100,000 to travel to the US or India for bypass surgery;
- Your smart phone (it’s now affordable) connects to wi-fi around the clock everywhere, free of charge!
- The innovative, state-of-the-art healthcare technology currently being showcased in Europe and the US is available to everyone in Ghana!;
- You can borrow enough money to fund a transformational start-up project and it only costs 5% per annum;
- You have enough spare income to pay into a pension fund that will accrue enough to pay you a living wage in your retirement years;
- The Babylon App on your phone allows you to talk directly to a doctor online and to discuss your persistent headaches. You book an appointment via the app and see a doctor a few days later. You can travel there on a road that is beautiful and smooth. You get through Kasoa in 5 minutes;
- You work at a firm that has trained you to a world-class standard and instills in you a clear sense of purpose. You are part of Team Ghana and you are helping to move the country to Stage 2! Just like the janitor at the NASA Space Centre in 1962 who told JFK: “Mr President, I am helping to put a man on the moon!“;
- Your child comes home from school and proudly shows you his prize for Most Improved Student. His teacher freely gave him extra tuition this term and you didn’t have to hand over any cash in a brown envelope.
This kind of transformation comes down to Excellent Leadership. Excellent leaders clean the place up, deal with the Four Pillars necessary to leave Stage 1 of the Global Competitive Index and they Put The Nation First! Bad leaders don’t really care about any of that and just keep chopping the money. Just like everyone else before them (which is why this country is still in Stage 1 and Singapore is in Stage 4).
Last month the Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai announced the appointment of 500 national future envisioners who will be “highly trained in visioning the future so that they can support the government in using visioning techniques and innovation to solve future challenges and turn them into opportunities.” There’s no reason why Ghana cannot do the same and harness the collaborative power of the brightest and best minds in the country and abroad.
President-elect Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo will shortly lead the next Ghanaian government. His election manifesto is a detailed vision of what Ghana could be and, in effect, how to get ready to transition out of Stage 1 of the Global Competitive Index. The general consensus is that he has the popular mandate, the intellectual bandwidth & firepower, and the moral fibre & integrity to be that truly great leader the country needs. He has appointed a powerful team and is all set.
The orange sun is glowing more brightly than it has done for a generation. Twenty six point nine million people are holding their breath…