South Korea went from a poor country devastated by war to an OECD member in 50 years.

In the same period of time Ghana went from a country with a high potential for take-off to one that stagnated at best and standards of living declined. Even though Ghana is generally categorized as a lower middle income country, nearly 25 years since the advent of democratic governance, the country still has very high levels of poverty, unemployment and inequality.

Every year hundreds of millions of public funds are embezzled or misappropriated even when over 40% of the people live below the poverty line ($2/day). Majority of people do not have electricity, clean drinking water, and access to primary health care. Public Accounts Committee of Parliament (PAC) inquiries since 2000 have seen billions of dollars of state money misappropriated but very few prosecutions and negligible success in retrieving these stolen cash. Corruption destroys development and we all, I believe want our country to develop to become an advanced society with just opportunities and shared prosperity for all. Dissipation of national revenues through corruption has left little legacy of development.

Something is definitely wrong and needs to be put right now. Leadership failures and an incurable greed have been our bane. Our motherland is under enormous strain today due to the unbridled quest for material gains using the state machinery. Cronyism, nepotism, favouritism, political patronage are turning the democratic governance on its head. When will political leaders ever roll up their sleeves and get to work for mother Ghana rather than seeking to fill their pockets first and acquiring material gains?

Not too long ago, Ghana was touted as an economy on the move with the addition of oil which suddenly saw the growth rates shot up to 14% in 2011. Since then growth rate has declined to a mere 3% in 2015. Ghana’s Gini co-efficient – a measure of income distribution in which zero represents perfect equality and 100 perfect inequality – is 42.8 making it one of the most unequal nations in Sub Saharan Africa. This has seen progressive deterioration since the late 1980’s when we started compiling data. The economic hardships come with it increasing inequality. Most of the benefits of economic prosperity over the years have gone to a fairly small political elite that lives fat on the taxes of the poor. No shared prosperity as joblessness, hopelessness and homelessness increase. What’s the unemployment rate? Average household income? Has it risen over the years and by how much? On all these fronts, the news is not good. “It’s exciting for a few, it’s challenging for many, there are limited opportunities and there are lots of frustrations all over the place”. A businessman remarked to me recently.

The country is in deep crisis and the biggest problems at hand now are corruption, poverty, and unemployment. The labour force in the country is growing at 5% per annum or more creating unprecedented labour tensions and the result is a huge unemployment problem among the youth. More than half of the jobless rate in Ghana today is accounted for by people in their 20s and 30s. This is very alarming. Figures are hard to get by but it is abundantly clear that about six out of ten University graduates this year are without jobs not to count Secondary School and Technical School graduates. Ghana has extremely high rates of unemployment, underemployment (the working poor, working but their monthly wage is less than $100 USD) and people who have actually given up looking for jobs.

There is no system in place to absorb new graduates into the workforce as new graduates are left on their own to fend for themselves. I was moved to tears the other day as I listened to a forty something year old University graduate giving a testimony at church for landing his first job. He was so happy and thankful to God for giving him his first job. Obviously I was happy for him too because he counts himself so lucky to have a job while many of his colleagues were still searching. But at 40? In many places, at 40 you are already a senior manager not starting your first job and there is no cause for celebration. The need to create new opportunities is more crucial than ever. The dilemma facing us now is not only that more than 300,000 people join the job market every year, but that many of them are well educated and naturally have higher expectations.

Lack of job after the first degree forces some people back to school hoping that if they get a Masters degree things would be better but they come out to meet even a tougher job market. How can we take care of our youth as a nation if we don’t care whether they are getting the right experience at the right time? Youth unemployment represents a serious threat to the stability of our country. The fear of the unknown has kept many Ghanaian graduates from foreign universities staying abroad. They are scared they may not get a job if they come home. The jobless rate rose as the economic growth or the real GDP growth fell behind the expansion of the labour force. Successive governments failed to create jobs for new graduates entering the job market but helped those in government to acquire massive properties and wealth. Since there is an absence of a viable private sector in Ghana, the onus of creating jobs fall squarely on the shoulders of the government, and government needs to create about 400,000 jobs annually if the unemployment rate is to be fully addressed. The government must take the lead in economic development and not leave it to some non-existent private sector. This hasn’t happened.

Yet the newly rich and their wealth are on display everyday: New flashy cars, even private jets, luxury malls and supermarkets, expensive restaurants, quality arts and concerts and frivolous beauty contests whose tickets go for anywhere between 50 -100 dollars for a country where over 60% of its population live on less than 2 dollars a day. Fighting corruption involves “creating a culture of resistance and fear that bribes, if demanded or paid, might result in penalties, which are dangerous to those involved”. The stakes are high. If corruption continues at this level for another four years, the suffering of ordinary people will intensify no matter how much oil discoveries we make. The privileged few will see better improvements in their lifestyle but the majority will be impoverished and will provide a nursing ground for a violent uprising.

How are public work construction projects faring under a government that prides itself in infrastructure development? No meaningful development can take place under a situation where the country’s infrastructure is dilapidated and no public work projects are underway to rejuvenate them for real developmental takeoff. But the few infrastructural works undertaken cannot stand a serious audit. Their costs are seriously overpriced to the detriment of the country. Very few city center redevelopment projects are being undertaken to facelift our cities, Accra stinks to high heavens from the dirty gutters and its deplorable sanitation problem. Many roads right here in Accra and all over the country are in deplorable state. No alternative public transport (railways, trams etc) redevelopment are being undertaken to decongest our roads. There is still a huge infrastructure deficit: Can Ghana’s infrastructure handle its growth?

The oil discovery has not added anything to the average Joe’s life. The rate of development we have seen here with the limited oil industry we have has pushed up the cost of living factors quite dramatically because there’s so much stress on the economy and on community resources. Go to Takoradi now and verify things for yourself. It makes you wonder if the so called oil curse has not set in already. Accra and Takoradi are now pricier than Johannesburg, Lagos, Cairo etc Everything feels expensive from coca cola to movie ticket. A night out is very expensive on all fronts. But the biggest impact is on the housing market. Already we have a huge housing deficit. Rents are up over 300% in the last few years and are predominantly priced in USD. There’s a country wide housing crunch. Average family income lags far behind the cost of living. If you talk about people on minimum wage, and those who have no jobs (there’s no income support from the state, forget about LEAP it’s not getting to those in need), then lots of people are really starving. The new phenomenon is the working poor: People who are in employment but cannot afford the cost of living because they are collecting minimum wage which can barely scrape the surface of this outrageous cost of living situation in the country.

Across the country the pressure is being felt: Common complaints are clogged roads, erratic electricity supply, frequent water shortages, dirty environment, near collapse of NHIS and delays in accessing healthcare etc. The country has to concentrate on liveability issues: The critical thing is to formulate long term strategy. How would you make Ghana a better place and Accra a better city to live in? Almost good is not good enough. Long term development strategy is needed to tackle issues that are of strategic importance to Ghana.

Leadership is not about how much money you make for yourself and your family but how much difference you make in people’s lives and how you change lives for better. We owe the next generation a better Ghana than we found it. We are called to build something better so that the next generation can go on to build more than we could ever imagine. A lot in politics are just interested in having a job where everything is offered them free of charge rather than doing the job. They are just interested in the perks of office and occupying an office rather than doing the job. The priority should be to do everything possible to wage a battle against poverty, raise living standards, and encourage businesses to thrive.
Some 10 million Ghanaians live on less than two dollars a day, this is unacceptable and a shame. Ghana’s poor are less inclined to vote than the middle class because they have kind of resigned themselves to fate, that no politician nor political party can make a difference in their lives, thus virtually guaranteeing that their discontent would not prevail on the election day. Elections 2000 and 2008 were the turning points and just as there was a yearning for change in 2000 and 2008 that drove the people to the polls, I can sense the same yearning for change now and that will show in Election 2016. The Ghanaian electorate is growing impatient with the incompetence and greed of their political leaders.

By: Ben Ofosu-Appiah,
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

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