Unemployment, Poverty and Inequality: a hidden security threat in Ghana?


By: Lord Aikins Adusei.

The central argument in this article is that the growing unemployment, poverty and inequality in Ghana particularly among the youth constitute a ticking bomb whose explosion could present unimaginable security threat for the country. It argues that the weaponisation and acts of violence and disturbances associated with the ongoing biometric exercise should prompt the nation’s leaders to act by implementing economic and industrial policies that will create jobs for the youth who have become increasingly restless and frustrated.

Ghana faces several security challenges including growing influence of drug cartels, weapons proliferation, shipping piracy, climate change, and spill over effect of terrorism, and militancy from neighbouring countries. These threats were acknowledged when the Chiefs of the Ghana Armed Forces recently held a seminar for junior officers and senior non-commissioned officers at the Jungle Warfare School at Achiase in the Eastern Region (see The Ghanaian Chronicle report headlined ‘GAF meets on terrorism threat’10th April, 2012). It is believed that these security threats led to the formation of the Special Forces within the Ghana Armed Forces. However, there is one very critical yet hidden security threat that often does not get audience in policy circles but which has the potential to affect the long term peace, security and stability of Ghana. I am referring to the huge unemployment, poverty, and inequality in the country.

It is fair to say that Ghanaian governments both past and present have shown a disproportionate lack of understanding of the security implications of having a large army of people who are poor, unemployed and marginalised in the country. Many policymakers in Ghana including members of Parliament, the Executive and top bureaucrats of the various ministries and departments do not consider poverty, unemployment and inequality as major security problem and policies have often tended to scratch the surface of these problems rather than getting to the bottom.

Officially nobody knows for sure how many Ghanaians are unemployed. Not even the Ghana Statistical Service or the Employment Ministry could tell. In his presentation of the unprecedented and phenomenal achievements in the recently released ?NDC Forum for Setting the Records Straight? Mr. Fiifi Kwetey, Deputy Minister of Finance could not tell how many Ghanaians are unemployed except to say that:

?? [The] levels of unemployment admittedly continue to be relatively still high and require a lot more efforts. There are no quick fixes though but the age-old need to continue to work hard to achieve faster expansion and growth of the economy which would open up more employment opportunities?.

That is how far Mr. Fiifi Kwetey could go. He could not specifically tell how high the unemployment situation is. However, what is true is that many Ghanaians who are looking for jobs and are willing to work cannot find any. This truth is exemplified by the recent formation of the Unemployed Graduates Association (UGA).

While many of the youth have had access to secondary and tertiary education, the expanded access to education has not correspondingly given rise to expanded economic opportunities and job creation. Unofficially unemployment in the country is estimated to hover between 25 and 50% and is even higher as one move from the south to the north of the country. Apart from this high unemployment rate, available data indicate that nearly 30% of Ghanaians still live within the high poverty zone (i.e. less than $2 a day). Another unpalatable story is that the gap between the rich and the poor continues to widen in the country with some people living in gated communities while others can barely eat two meals a day.

This chronic poverty is being experienced in Ghana in spite of the fact that since the 1990s the nation has received and continues to receive record amount of money in the form of loans, grants and revenue from export of gold, diamond, cocoa, timber, and recently oil. Nobody can really tell how the record amount of money has been utilised but a closer look at the country’s balance sheet indicates that it has simply been mismanaged, stolen or squandered by the elites in authority.

From what we can see in the streets of Accra, Koforidua, Kumasi, Takoradi, Tamale, Tema, etc with children as young as 10 years selling dog chains, ice water, etc and sleeping in kiosks and in front of stores, it is obvious that not much of the financial and material wealth being generated in the country has trickled down to the majority of the people especially the growing youthful population. The great number of young men and women selling anything they can find in order to make a living also show that a great number of the population is being denied their share of the national cake.

Unfortunately, in spite of the obvious poverty and unemployment in the country, statements, comments and language used by the politicians, policymakers and top bureaucrats in the country do not reflect the reality on the ground. The kind of actions, policies, programmes and urgency required to tame these problems have been ineffective to say the least. The policymakers continue to ignore or downplay the fact that unemployment, poverty and inequality are serious issues that need to be aggressively addressed.

The end result is that Ghana is slowly becoming a high crime state. Evidence is beginning to emerge which suggest that for some of the unemployed, excluded, marginalised and the poverty stricken members in Ghana violence and crime have become the only means through which they can make a living. These crimes include internet scam, fraud, drug and human trafficking, burglary and armed robbery.

Over the last couple of weeks armed robberies and crimes involving the use of guns and other offensive weapons have been on the increase. A police officer Corporal Ernest Acheampong was recently killed by armed robbers in Kasoa during a shootout with armed robbers. Another police officer Lance Corporal Iddi Braimah was also shot dead on Tuesday 10th April 2012 during a shootout between suspected car snatchers and the police. On that same day (i.e. Tuesday 10 April 2012) Andrew Mayer, a Zimbabwean investor was also killed in Juapong in the Volta Region, prompting President Mills to issue a statement condemning his murder. Nii Kwaku Obibini II, the late chief of Oblogo was short dead on 8th April 2012 and then butchered with machetes by his assailants.

A broader picture begins to emerge if we connect all these dots of crimes together. One part of the picture shows that serious crimes are being committed in almost all parts of the country. Another part of the picture also shows that criminals are becoming bolder and more willing to use deadly force and violence to achieve their objectives. Yet another side of the picture shows that guns have increasingly become the weapon of choice by the criminals in the country.

In 2005 Emmanuel Addo Sowatey, a researcher at the African Security Dialogue and Research in Accra, Ghana observed that about 100,000 guns are been produced illegally in Ghana every year. It is believed that some of these guns are being used to commit crimes in Ghana and also fuelling the conflicts and instability in northern Ghana.

A recent paper authored by Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) in conjunction with the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI) and titled ?Governance and Security in Ghana: the Dagbon Chieftaincy Crisis? noted that:

?Ghana is generally described as an oasis of stability in a region that appears to be ravaged by intertribal and cross-border conflicts. However, Ghana too has experienced ethnic and communal conflicts, especially in its three northern regions (the Northern, the Upper West and the Upper East). The state of security and stability of these regions is deteriorating at an alarming rate due to the resurgence ethno-political misunderstandings since 1992?.

The authors found that the protracted conflicts in Northern Regions have stubbornly persisted partly because ?There is a lack of a systematic structural and operational strategy that can transform the socio-economic conditions of the citizens of Northern Ghana?. Thus while other factors (including chieftaincy disputes and politics) have played a part in the conflicts, violence and instabilities in Bawku, Bimbila, Kpatinga, Wa, Yendi, etc the conflicts have been exacerbated by the high level of poverty, unemployment, inequality and a population that is increasingly youthful.

According to Mr. Bomahe-Naa Alhassan Issahaku Amadu, Regional Population Officer for Northern Region, out of the over 1.8million total population in the Northern Region, the youth aged below 15 years form about 850,000, representing 46.3 percent. The figure goes up greatly when those between the ages of 16 and 24 are added. With this huge youthful population, couple with high unemployment, poverty, low literacy rate and flow of weapons, it is no surprising that the three Northern Regions remain volatile and restless despite effort to bring sanity there. The easiness with which one can obtain guns in Ghana coupled with a youthful population that are poor and without employment pose security threat to the peace and stability of the country.

In 2011 a study in Northern Ghana by Kees van der Geest of University of Amsterdam, found that poverty, unemployment and lack of economic opportunity are acting as a push factor with one in every five people born in northern Ghana opting to move to the south with out-migration rates being significantly higher in poorly endowed districts. The large number of people from the three northern regions escaping unemployment, poverty, economic and social deprivations and working in cities in the south as kayayos and street vendors is an indication of how unemployment, poverty and inequality are acting as a driving force in the conflicts.

The ongoing biometric voter registration exercise and the tensions, disturbances and violence that have come to be associated with it in cities in the south indicate that the threat pose by unemployment, poverty and inequality is not restricted only the north.

The growing militarisation and weaponisation of the ongoing voter-registration exercise with a section of the youth brandishing guns, machetes, pick axe, and stones are rooted in the deep poverty and of lack of employment and economic opportunities for these boys. These acts of hooliganism and of lawlessness are a sign of a ticking timed-bomb waiting to explode sooner or later.

Registration centres in some parts of the country look like war zones with people pulling guns and heavily built men (macho men) going round registration centres and terrorizing registrants. In one registration centre a 12 year old boy was short and seriously wounded by an NDC party agent. The militarisation and weaponisation of the registration have prompted some observers to ask critical questions as to how a mere registration exercise could result in violence but what they have failed to appreciate is that with poverty, unemployment and inequality spreading like wildfire, every state exercise is an opportunity for some to make money by extracting concession from the politicians and political parties.

The growing unemployment, poverty and inequality in the country are not only socio-economic problem but also a threat to the peace, stability and security of the country but the country cannot solve the huge unemployment problem with weak economic policies based on ideologies that say government must only create the enabling environment for the private sector. Ghanaian leaders and policymakers have find it difficult to admit that the private sector touted under Rawlings and Kuffour administrations as the engine of growth has failed woefully to grow and create jobs. The Structural Adjustment Programme undertaken by Rawlings with the privatisation of state owned enterprises gave rise to few jobs being created.

While the NPP’s ?Golden Age of Business? built on the foundation laid by Rawlings and led to growth in some sectors particularly in finance and insurance, these sectors could not generate the needed jobs to close the unemployment gap. Kuffour toured all over the world horning Ghana’s stability and favourable political climate to foreign investors. But they refused to come. Nobody knows why. President Mills is also doing the same but little can be shown for it in terms of job creation.

The private sector is extremely weak to absorb the huge unemployment youth in the country. The government must stop the ‘creating of enabling environment’ hymn and seriously look for ways in which it can directly enter into the economy and make contribution. In other words there must be a deliberate effort by government to develop and implement industrial policies and programmes and build factories that will absorb the restless youth. Some will call this an affront to free market and capitalism but it is difficult to find a single country in the world where the government does not directly own or support businesses. Every year countries in the European Union, most of them champions of free market, provide $30 billion to support their farmers. Most of their production is dumped in countries like Ghana.

Ghana faces a real security threat and challenge now and in the near future if nothing is done to address the huge unemployment, poverty and inequality in the cities and also in the rural areas. The government of Ghana cannot be aloof to the growing unemployment, poverty, and inequality in the country because they are the ingredients of crimes, social chaos, conflicts and instabilities.

By Lord Aikins Adusei. The author is an independent Energy and Security Analyst and the author of ‘The Emerging Security Threats and Ghana Special Forces’. politicalthinker1@yahoo.com

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