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Dakota Jenkins

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THE RELEVANCE OF KWAME NKRUMAH’S LEGACY IN GHANA’SCONTEMPORARY POLITICAL ECONOMY 

LECTURE GIVEN BY DR KWESI BOTCHWEY 

IN THE KWAME NKRUMAH MEMORIAL LECTURE SERIES 

UNIVERSITY OF CAPE COAST 

SEPTEMBER 2010 

LECTURE THREE – SEPTEMBER 22, 2010 

THE RELEVANCE OF THE LEGACY IN TODAY’S GHANA (AFRICA) 

Mr. Chairman, Madam Vice Chancellor, Nananom, Distinguished clergy, Members of the congregation , Invited Guests, Members of the Press, Ladies and Gentlemen:

I thank you all for coming yet again in such numbers to my last lecture in the series, undeterred, evidently, by my threat of a knockout punch at this lecture!

Yesterday, we discussed the political and economic dimensions of Nkrumah’s legacy. We noted that in the political domain, Nkrumah’s legacy was marked by a number of basic hallmarks, among them, its rooting in a national, continental panAfrican and global context, its recognition of the decisive role of the “vast socialforces” in the shaping of history, and above all, an intellectual and philosophical worldview that was at once, militant and revolutionary. In the economic domain, we noted that his legacy was marked by a commitment to state-led big push industrialization and large scale agriculture, and that the CPP’s Seven Year Development Plan (1963/4 – 1969/70) signaled a significant jump in the level of investment and a decisive shift in the direction of the government expenditure from the social to the productive sectors. Now although the objectives and investment parameters of the plans were, as with most plans, mostly breached in the annual budgets and investment programs that followed – a problem that still afflicts our planning and investment programming to this day – and although the promised shift in the direction of government investment proved difficult to achieve in practice, the state’s share of total investment rose sharply.

By 1966, there were some 65 State Owned Enterprises, including 23 public boards, and it is estimated that the investment/GDP ratio rose from 16% in 1958/59 to 23% in 1964/65. We further noted that there were problems with the strategy, some economic and others political. It was plagued among other things, by widespread under-utilization of capacity. By the end of 1966, it is estimated that manufacturing output was only one fifth of the capacity of installed plant, on a single shift basis. In agriculture, the plan’s emphasis on mechanization and collectivization on large state farms, also had mixed results, although, some especially the rubber and palm plantations, showed early signs of promise. At the same time, the relative neglect of smallholder peasant agriculture and of research and extension service meant that by the end of the Nkrumah period, agriculture was still very much based on the “primitive methods and organization” that Nkrumah himself rightly decried in various policy statements as the bane of African agriculture. Indeed, I might observe that it is the still the bane of agriculture in Sub-Sahara to this day!

Even so, it bears remembering that the end use of the large expenditures that characterized the 1961- 1965 period was mostly developmental, and also, that revenue mobilization, especially in the latter part of the period picked up significantly, reflecting a political choice on the part of the Nkrumah government to finance a major part of national development expenditure form domestic resources. Indeed, this is a choice we might very well need to make especially in our current political and economic circumstances.

On  the  positive side,  we need  to  recognize that  very major  gains  were made in the  Nkrumah  period  in  the  social  sectors,  in  the  provision  of  social  services, especially,  potable  water,  and  in  health.  In  education,  the  period  witnessed  a dramatic  rise  in  school  enrollment  rates,  with  the  introduction  of  free  and compulsory elementary school education and the abolition of tuition fees in 1965; University level education also saw a huge expansion.

So much for  the  past,  and looming  presence  of  Kwame  Nkrumah in it.  But  what does  this  all  mean  for  Africa  and  for  our  dear  nation  today?  As  George  Bernard reminds  us,  “we  are  made  wise,  not  by  our  recollection  of  the  past  but  by  the responsibility  for  our  future”.  So  now,  let  me  cast  a  broad  glance  at  the  African continent as a whole, beginning with the global, geopolitical dimension. 

Kwame Nkrumah, as we have observed, had a keen understanding of the global geopolitical context in which the anti-colonial struggle and the post independence development effort had to be waged. He understood the dynamics of the Cold War that followed in the wake of the Second World War and quickly extinguished the promise of a new world order that the creation of the United Nations portended. He was forthright in his view about which side in the Cold War favored the conditions needed for the consolidation of African independence and development. Imperialism was decidedly unforgiving in these tense times and Nkrumah paid dearly for his trenchant criticism of colonial and postcolonial exploitation. The publication of his book on Neocolonialism in 1965 met with a Hostile reaction from the West. The American government withdrew $35 million in aid earmarked for Ghana, and we now know that Nkrumah paid the ultimate price in February 24, the following year (1966) when a Western backed Coup d’état overthrew him.

Today, we live in a much changed geo-political circumstance. About 53 independent African countries fill the councils of the African Union. The Cold War has ended or, rather subsided, and although the fetters of neocolonialism have not been entirely severed, African countries have a lot more political “space” than they did at the dawn of independence. But Africa, SubSaharan Africa, is still a struggling region. Along with South Asia, Africa harbors the worst social indicators of all regions, and is the least likely to achieve the halving of poverty by the year 2015. In the eighties, most African countries, including Ghana embraced economic reform programs based on the Structural Adjustment Programs sponsored by the BrettonWoods institutions, with mixed results in growth and poverty reduction, although, many improved macroeconomic performance generally. In the political domain, the region was mired in widespread conflict, wars and instability. The eighties were thus, by and large a “lost decade” to Africa. In contrast, in East Asia comets blazed, as the “East Asian tigers” `as they came to be called, lunged towards First World Status.

As we approach the end of the first decade of the 21st century, the African political economy looks more hopeful. For the first time in several decades, the rise in poverty levels in Africa has slowed down while GDP growth has picked up and will likely remain strong for a number of years, thanks to a much changed international environment, marked by the emergence of new trading partners and actors, in particular China, Brazil and India. The improved macroeconomic conditions in the Africa region have created a more favorable business climate. But many challenges remain and unless these are addressed resolutely by African countries, the upturn in economic performance that we are seeing today will likely fizzle out as many have done in the past. Among the key challenges that remain I would to stress the following:

1The challenge of economic fragmentation and Africa’s complex geography.

With  about  53  states,  Africa  has  more  states  than  any  other  continent,  and  with average  national  GDP  of  about  4  billion  dollars,  Africa’s  markets  are  small  and fragmented  and  do  not  offer  advantages  of  economies  of  scale.    Many  African countries  moreover  face  severe  geographical  obstacles  with  about  40%  of  the region’s  people  living  in  landlocked  countries  without  access  to  the  sea.  The region’s  share  of  world  trade  is  insignificant  at  around  3%  in  2008,  with  50%  of this  accounted  for  by South  Africa  alone,    while  intra‐Africa trade  hovers  around 10%  of  overall  African  trade,  about  8.3%  of  exports  and  9.3%  of  imports. Infrastructure  bottlenecks  and  customs  and  other  regimes  that  hamper  the movement of goods are partly responsible for this state of affairs. 

2Low productivity in economies across the region

Low  productivity  in  African  economies  poses  severe  problems  for  competitiveness. There are huge deficits in  infrastructure,  and  in  technology and  institutional  development.  Power  supply  is  typically  inadequate  and  erratic  and  energy costs in  a good  number  of  countries are often  multiples of  what  they are in China and in the East Asian countries, for instance. 

3Poverty remains high and widespread

Close to one half of the region’s population (some 300 million people) live on less than $1.00 a day. This poses a huge challenge not just for today but also for the future. Africa’s population is projected to reach about 1.5 billion by the year 2030 (and 2 billion by 2050) with about half the number under 25 years of age and with most people living in urban centers. Under these conditions, the incidence of poverty and instability will deepen unless African economies achieve high levels of employment generating growth that will help absorb the flood of new entrants to labor markets. Moreover, such prodigious growth in population combined with climate change, will stretch Africa’s land and food supply and create social and political tensions.

4Health challenges

Last but, by no means the least worrisome is the incidence of disease, particularly aids, tuberculosis and malaria which continue to wreak havoc on life expectancy and economic development.

The good news though is that in the realm of economic policy making, there has been some change in ideology and structure of relations between African (and low income countries generally) and donors and the Bretton Woods institutions. Chastened somewhat by the disappointing outcome of the largely imposed and one size fits all adjustment programs of the eighties and nineties, Africa’s external collaborators have embraced a changed paradigm. The name of the game is now national ownership of development policy. It is for the countries, (including African countries) themselves to determine what development policies and pathways they wish to chart and follow.

The days of policy imposition are, at least formally over. To be sure, this new dawn of national ownership is by no means without fetters, some of them, internally generated by the macroeconomic, especially fiscal realities in the Africa countries. But there is a lot more space for national leadership in policy making than there was in the eighties. It is for the countries themselves to exhaust what space they now have through competent policy making, guided by a credible and progressive vision. Kwame Nkrumah (and his generation of African leaders) did not have this space. But he created his own space, and although his legacy in economic policy making was not entirely without blemish, it was a credible and progressive vision of a politically nonaligned sovereign nation built on the foundation of an integrated national economy in which national resource use converged with national demand.

In the continental political domain, the widespread civil wars and conflicts that blighted the continent for decades have mostly ended, although some fires continue to shoulder in the horn of Africa. The OAU has undergone a transformation into something closer to Nkrumah’s vision. The AU signals a step towards a more vigorous continental union in economic and political relation. Regional military contingents (like ECOMOC in West Africa) have been active in the settlement of regional conflicts and AU forces and playing a growing role in peace keeping. A pattern is emerging in which Africa supplies the men and sheds the blood, while the rest of the world supplies material and equipment. If only Nkrumah’s Africa High Command had come to fruition! The great man has been vindicated. But I am certain his blessed soul will not be singing “I told you so”, rather, like a true African patriot, it will simply be relishing the progress we have made.

But now, let us come closer home to our dear country Ghana. What is the relevance of Nkrumah’s legacy in our country’s political economy today?

I hope I have not left you with the impression that Nkrumah’s legacy was entirely flawless, least of all, his political legacy. I am not unaware that there are aspects of Nkrumah political record that still stir up a great deal of controversy. It is not my intention here to stoke this controversy or weigh in on the debate on either side of our political divide. But in the best spirit of these memorial lectures, let me share some thoughts with you on our politics and economics today, starting with our politics.

I see a great deal wrong with the political culture that is slowly developing in our country today. What we truly need is rigorous and sensible debate on national issues, one that is not driven by the tiresome and often arrogant populism and oversimplification that a small coterie of allknowing experts, feed us every morning on the airwaves. A strident, vituperative and abusive political culture is slowly developing that does not bode well for our national development, and certainly not for the maturation of our democracy or the stability of our country. We need to lower our voices and to cultivate a culture of civility and issues driven public discourse. Competitive pluralism does not mean a negation of, and opposition to just about everything that an incumbent government proposes or does.

I see a great deal wrong with the political culture that is slowly developing in our country today. What we truly need is rigorous and sensible debate on national issues, one that is not driven by the tiresome and often arrogant populism and oversimplification that a small coterie of allknowing experts, feed us every morning on the airwaves. A strident, vituperative and abusive political culture is slowly developing that does not bode well for our national development, and certainly not for the maturation of our democracy or the stability of our country. We need to lower our voices and to cultivate a culture of civility and issues driven public discourse. Competitive pluralism does not mean a negation of, and opposition to just about everything that an incumbent government proposes or does.

My second observation is on our political system. It seems to me that the timehas come to reflect deeply on the merits and shortcomings of the “winner takes all” or First Past the Post” system we now have, As is well-known, the current system fashioned after the Westminster model for electing MPs – the “winner takes all plurality” has been much criticized for many years in many countries, although it is fair to say that its advocates have always defended it just as fervently. In our particular circumstances, it leads to a great deal of desperation in the realm of politics, with winners, no matter howslim their “win” treating their victory as a license to share the “spoils” among their followers, often to the total exclusion of all others, who are then condemned to lick their wounds and wait on the sidelines and plot their return to power. Without a culture that secures the integrity of the civil and public service, even civil servants can fall prey to victimization with every political transition. Even the judiciary does not get spared in this environment. As for entrepreneurs, it is not uncommon to see them lose their businesses or even flee to distant lands when the party they support is voted out of power, rather than risk victimization through the capricious exercise of executive power. And yet it is clearthat we cannot hope to build a credible private sector to partner with the state – which is what all our political parties profess to believe in – without a solid foundation of entrepreneurs who can count on a fair measure of protection from the vicissitudes of party politics.

The current “winner takes all” system we have contrasts with the proportional representation system. There is a large variety of systems of proportional representation around the world. Indeed, they would appear to be the predominant global norm. In general, proportional representation systems aim to secure as close a relationship as possible between the percentages of votes that candidates or groups of candidates win in elections and the percentage of seats they are allocated. Proportional representation systems are by no means without their problems. But with creative adaptation, they arguably offer a greater potential for compromise and coalition building, thereby easing political tensions and uniting political forces in favor of development.  

My third observation concerns our political party structures and what they profess to stand for. It seems to me that there is much too much glibness in the articulation of the defining philosophies of the main political parties. There is a need for greater clarity of vision and philosophy among the political parties, so we can see such differences as there are among them more clearly. Precisely what do we mean in conceptual and policy terms, by “social democracy” in the case of the NDC and what does “property owning democracy’ mean, in the case of the NPP, for instance? The distinction between “left” and “right” would probably then be clearer, bearing in mind, it must be remembered, that even at the global level, there has been a great deal of convergence between “left and right”. The distinguishing features of the “left” have been blurred since the collapse of the Soviet Union at the end of the eighties. The capitalist economy has taken hold in all of Eastern Europe and in China. On the “right” and in the wake of recent global financial crisis, the West has unabashedly and openly embraced “socialism” by virtually “nationalizing” banks and insurance companies that were “too big to fail”, and vastly expanding the role of the state in the economy. And in academic circles, in development and political economy literature, generally, there is now increasing acceptance of a much greater and certainly more active role of the state in economic market.

In the economic policy front, many of the problems that we saw in the closing years of the Nkrumah period are still very much with use. Fiscal strains and stresses still bedevil the macroeconomic environment. With the planned implementation of the “single spine” salary regime, these strains are bound to get even worse, with the wage bill constituting an inordinately large percentage of GDP and taking a large chunk of the additional revenues we expect from oil. So unless we well and truly step up revenue mobilization as the Nkrumah government began to do in the dying years of the regime, our economic development will be severely compromised and the hangover of payment arrears will continue to disrupt the implementation of development projects. A bold bi-partisan (all partisan) plan that taps new source of revenue including a more effective property tax is urgently needed.

Secondly, and again recalling the experience with Nkrumah’s Seven Years Development Plan, there is a great need, especially now, with the establishment of a National Development Planning Commission (NDPC), to carefully define the functional and operational relationship between the Ministry of Finance and Planning and the NDPC. Unless this is done, our medium to long-term plans which typically have a long term transformational view will continue to be compromised by the short-term impulses of annual budgets. On the reverse side, the integrity of annual budgets and the investment expenditure discipline they seek to impose will be compromised by long-term “dreams” that have noregard for the constraints of the national resource envelope.

Third,  there  is  the  very  crucial  matter  of  the  structural  transformation  of  the economy  about  which  successive  governments  have spoken  so  eloquently.  Over half a century after independence, we still have a national economy that is driven by  natural  resource  exploitation.  With  the  recent  discovery  of  oil (and gas) the danger is even greater now that we might neglect to pursue the policy of real structural transformation even less vigorously. We do so at our peril. We need to decide where the country’s long‐run competitiveness lies – is it in services, in light manufacturing?  –  and  set  about  developing  the  policies  and  the  culture that would enhance this competitiveness. We cannot just trudge along, and celebrate each additional percentage point in GDP growth that comes from more favorable terms of trade or better weather! Nkrumah at least had a clear sighted industrial policy. It is by no means clear to me what industrial policy has emerged since his time.  In  this  connection,  let  me  also  add  that  real  transformation  cannot be achieved without better planning. Here, there is a crucial institutional wrinkle that  needs  to  be  ironed  out,  that  is,  the  relationship  between  the  National Development Planning Commission (NDPC) enshrined in the constitution, and the  Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning. I adverted to this earlier in the lecture when  I  spoke  of  the  need  to  reconcile  medium to  long‐term  development  goals with those of our annual budgets. 

My final remarks relate to an aspect of our national life that does not feature very much in our national discourse on development but which Nkrumah attached a great deal of importance to, and quite rightly, in my view – culture and the arts. We have left this important aspect of our national life almost entirely to the private sector where it probably belongs, in the main. Nkrumah lavished a great deal of national patronage on culture and the arts generally. He struck the right balance between the roles of the state and the market that I think we will do well to emulate.

We have achieved some measure of progress since Nkrumah. We are indeed too hand on ourselves sometimes. And true, like most Africans, we tend to swing from self-deprecation to self-adulation. But clearly we have a long way to go in catching up with the rest of the world – in building on Nkrumah’s legacy. Napoleon once said leaders are dealers in hope. Nkrumah was such a leader. He had hopes; he had a vision, and he tried to realize them. To be absolutely candid, even at the risk of stirring up controversy, let me venture to say we have not had “many” leaders quite like him since he left!

Mr. Chairman, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, I have spoken too long because, to paraphrase somebody whose name I cannot remember. I did not have the time to make the lecture shorter! So let me bring things to a close.

In Greek my theology, Icarus is said to have ignored the warning of his father Daedalus and flown towards the sun with wings his father had made from feathers and wax. His wings disintegrated and he plunged into the ocean. E.O. Wilson, the famous Harvard entomologist, cites this in his fascinating book “Consilence” and says that rather condemn Icarus for his arrogant ambition, we should see his effort as he puts it, as a “saving human grace”. Nkrumah, like Icarus, flew as high as he could, undeterred by the waxen feathers in his wings. He fell into the ocean with a little help from detractors at home and abroad. But at least he tried. So now, let us also see how high we can fly before the sun melts the wax in our wings. It is the least we can do to honor the memory of the great man.

I thank you all !!