Ending Ghana’s odious debts

Brady Yauch

May 21, 2009

Political activist and anti-corruption campaigner, Lord Aikins Adusei, is calling on Ghana’s new government [PDF] to put politics aside and start initiating economic and development programs. His remarks come after the country elected a new president, John Atta Mills, in a tightly contested vote last December.

Adusei says it is time the country addressed many of the infrastructural and economic issues that have plagued it since independence in 1957. “Our education, our health system, our environment, roads, electricity, water, agriculture, infrastructures, and above all our economy are all behind,” he writes. “We still wash our clothes with our hands and farm with cutlasses and hoes. Our houses and communities are without water, toilet facilities, electricity, shopping centres, children playgrounds and libraries. Our streets are unpaved and many of the houses in the rural areas are still built with mud and roofed with raffia leaves.”

While Ghana may be better off than many of its neighbors—generating roughly twice the per capita output of the poorest countries in West Africa—it still ranks in the bottom half of global GDP rankings. Many of its citizens never benefit from the economic opportunities offered by the country’s agricultural and mineral resources. Worse still for the citizens, these agricultural and mineral deposits are the cornerstone of the nation’s economy. But, as Adusei points out, “Ghanaians do not know where the gold and diamond we mine go, who buys them and where the proceeds go.”

This leaves the country increasingly dependent on foreign aid and debt. Aid dependency and loans have made it more difficult for Ghana’s economic and political leaders to establish a healthy economy. Adusei believes, “ the years of aid dependency and loans and their associated odious debts must end.” He’s calling on the recently elected government to come up with new ways to mobilize internal and external funds to help build the nation’s infrastructure and economic foundation. “What Ghana needs,” he says,“are investment, trade and not aid which cripples us and makes us beggars in the eyes of donors.”

But like many other countries that have received massive amounts of international aid and loans, the country has been riddled with political and economic corruption. Ghana currently sits in 67th place on Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index (CPI) [PDF] —nestled between Colombia and Georgia. While politicians have increasingly benefited from the large influxes of international aid, many of the country’s citizens continue to live on as little as one dollar a day.

The problem of corruption may only worsen as the country prepares to become an oil and natural gas producer in the next two to three years. One only need to look at Ghana’s near neighbor, Nigeria, for evidenceof the type of corruption that can become endemic in a nation’s oil sector.

Sadly, there are some signs that Ghana might be headed down a similar path. Ian Gary, Oxfam America’s policy advisor for extractive industries, recently carried out a fact-finding mission in Ghana. In an article [PDF] in Publish What You Pay, he said efforts by Ghana’s government to develop a plan for managing oil revenues will require more participation from the country’s citizens. He says, so far, there has been very little opportunity for public input. Local and regional government officials dominated many of the meetings and forums concerning oil revenue.

Adusei hopes Ghana’s government will spend their term in office to make the nation more secure, more peaceful, more united and more developed than ever before, “for this is the sole duty of government.” The result, he hopes, is to end “50 years of dictatorships, coups, political instabilities, misrule, economic mismanagement, endemic corruption, lack of transparency, scant accountability and the weak application of the rule of law.”

Categories: Africa, Odious Debts

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