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Re-IMANI Alert: Has Ghana Lost 5 Years of her Development, or What?

I feel compelled to comment on the above article.
This is a well written and well argued piece albeit ill-conceived, if you ask me. I often have to confront such well-constructed but ultimately futile thinking at work – please bear in mind that Oil & Gas is the ultimate ‘long-cycle’ business with ample room for the strategic planning folks to ‘knock themselves out. It’s a bit like saying that until the 99th duck in a row of 100 is put in line, the organisation or country should not proceed past the 1st few ducks towards straightening the entire row.

My fundamental view is this – “do not let the best be the enemy of the good”. To what material extent will a 2015 vision as opposed to a 2020 vision affect Ghana’s forex strategy over the next 3 months, never mind to the end of the year? Regardless of whether the vision is set towards the former/latter, Ghana’s top 5 priorities in the next 1-2 years will not change; certainly not by a material degree. What’s so magical about those dates in any case? Why not settle for the middle of 2023 as the point at which we should aim? A tad facetious I admit, but that is to illustrate the futility of imbuing these dates with a mythical elegance which is of little practical moment.

We have a $12bn economy with a government budget which is dependent on aid; we have a 22m population growing at 3% a year taking us towards 30m in a few years time; we have an infrastructure that is largely what Guggisberg left with a few add-ons here and there – Komfo Anokye and Korle Bu were built for barely 800 & 1200 patients respectively; we have an energy deficit with demand growing at 5-10% pa and supply largely stunted; we have a currency which has re-commenced its frequent flirtation with depreciation; we have an education system whose good bits are mostly what the missionaries left us in the early to mid 20th century; we have a transition at government level which has greatly reduced the pace of decision making in the interim, whilst the new government resolves the internal tussle between those who want retribution masquerading as governance vrs the moderates who wish to achieve something; we are in the teeth of the deepest economic crisis for 70 years which has rendered Iceland bankrupt and forced Goldman Sachs into the embrace of the US fed; need I go on? In the midst of all this, are you honestly expecting us to accept the proposition that the most fundamental economic challenge that needs resolution is the time horizon over which we fix our gaze into the economic future?

The differences between the 2 putative end points are academic. Investors will not worry so much over the target rate of exchange in 2015 vrs 2020 as they would over the current quality of leadership and decision making in key policy areas in the next 18months. So much can change in that period that, beyond maintaining a flexible platform to embrace the unexpected, we ought not to set the dates at each other’s throats.

Let me end by borrowing a deeply insightful piece of advice from one of Ghana’s leading education pioneers which was cited to us by Kofi Annan at the MOBA Foundation dinner on 18th Oct last year. Some of you may have already heard of, or read about, it. In the 1950s, he put a black dot on a 1m sq piece of white paper, went to the back of the class and asked the class, including Kofi Annan, to tell him what they observed. To a boy, they all answered, a black dot!. He gently ambled to the front of the class and asked why they had all missed the huge 1m sq. white sheet staring them in the face.

He admonished them to focus on 3 things – mental discipline; mental honesty and moral courage when doing any study or analysis. We have a tendency for simplicity and wanting to have a ‘Eureka’ moment. Life’s slightly messier than that. Being clear about 2015 vrs 2020 will be helpful, but taking an either or approach is even more unhelpful. It is a bit of both really. Having done that, neither is more important than what we do in the next 12 – 18months – to borrow from ML King, there is a ‘fierce urgency of now’ that our country needs and, if that is not addressed well, we might not even have the paper on which to print the 2015 or 2020 plans.



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