Ghana marks her 54th independence anniversary on March 6th. The government and Ghanaian citizens will likely celebrate their unity in diversity, political freedom, press freedom and other liberties.

But they may also take stock of why after more than five decades of self-rule, economic transformation and development, as envisioned at the time of political independence in 1957, seems to have eluded the country. Policy think-tank, IMANI Ghana believes poor political leadership explains why the country has failed to realize its economic aspirations.

“The major threat to our economic transformation is politicians, just that. They are not consistent and they are overly ambitious, unnecessarily. The threat has always been with politicians promising things they do not have and cannot give. They have managed the economy badly,” said Mr. Franklin Cudjoe, the founding Executive Director of IMANI Ghana, which was recently voted one of the top 25 think-tanks in Africa.

“Look at how we have suddenly been told we are now a middle-income country. We (IMANI Ghana) would not want to criticize the methods that were used even though we found serious flaws with the method, which did not even take into consideration inflation over time, the currency devaluation that occurred within the time that this announcement was

“So I think we have delayed our achievement for so long because of the nature of the political directions that we have taken,” he added.

The Ghana Statistical Service (GSS) in the last quarter of 2010 announced that the Ghanaian economy was worth about US$44 billion, after moving the base year for calculating the GDP from 1993 to 2006. The rebasing exercise took into consideration the impact of several new economic activities, such as telecommunication services (mobile phones), that were not available in 1993 when the base year was determined. As a result, the country’s per capita income now stands at US$1,318, which is far in excess of the US$995 minimum benchmark set by the World Bank classification for a middle-income country.

However, other statistics provided by the World Bank show that about 80% of the estimated 24.2 million Ghanaians still live on less than US$2 a day. According to the Africa Infrastructure Country Diagnostic (AICD) 2010 Report of the World Bank, Ghana will need to spend about US$2.3 billion every year to address its infrastructure deficit over the next decade, with more than half the amount required for the power sector alone. Additionally, the housing deficit has now reached over one million, and access to potable water is limited.

The Joint Monitoring Program for Water Supply and Sanitation of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) reports that only 37% of Ghana’s urban population live in houses connected to water supply while only 4% of the rural population have access to potable water.

Dr. Kwabena Duffour, Ghana’s Finance Minister,

According to one estimate, only one quarter of the residents in Accra, Ghana’s capital, receive continuous water supply, whereas approximately 30% are provided with water for 12 hours each day, five days a week. Another 35% are supplied with water for two days each week. The remaining 10% who mainly live on the outskirts of the capital are completely without access to piped water.

“What are the characteristics that make us a middle income country? Look at the nature of our roads and even water is an issue. Approximately 50% of the water that is produced is not accounted for because there are no proper mechanisms to check it and even the other 50% that comes to us somehow have all kinds of impurities in them.”

“Look at the public service; It is woefully inadequate in terms of delivery,” said Mr. Cudjoe.

Like Ghana, some Asian countries such as Malaysia, Singapore and South Korea will also mark their 54th independence anniversary this year. These Asian countries have all leapfrogged into significant economic development and left Ghana behind. Some economic commentators have attributed Ghana’s slow economic development to its association with the Bretton-Woods institutions, namely the World Bank and/IMF.
However, IMANI Ghana’s view is that, the World Bank and its sister organisation, the IMF, are not the cause of the country’s economic woes but rather the blame resides with the country’s own politicians. “Dealing with the IMF and the World Bank is like dealing with a loaded dice. You like them, take their advice and if the advice is bitter then you face the consequences.”

“It would be very dishonourable and dishonest to say the World Bank’s interventions such as the Economic Recovery Programme and Structural Adjustment Programmes in the 1980s/90’s did not yield anything. Trust me, they did,” Mr. Cudjoe said.
“The fact of the matter is that the little gains that they (the interventions) brought were supposed to have been used to broaden the economy, and diversify the economy from an agrarian to a service oriented one”

“But what happened? During election years (1992, 1996, 2000, 2004, 2008), we see the most stupendous spending. Anytime that we are approaching elections, look at the rate of inflation and what happens to the economy immediately after that. This will tell you that right from 1992, when we had those little gains, we did not apply them properly,” he said.

“They (the gains) were misused and because of that we now sit comfortably at home and accuse the World Bank/IMF of bad advice.”

Mr.Cudjoe further describes what happened as chronic capitalism and suggests that, that is why governments poorly execute privatisation programmes and give the initiatives a bad name.

"A lot of the privatisations that have happened in this part of the world are laughable. They are not privatisation. They are just clear thievery arrangements. A lot of divestitures in this country were not done properly. If most of these privatisations were done according to law, rules and books, I am sure we would have had gains,” Cudjoe said.

“A lot of people criticise the World Bank unnecessarily. I am not a supporter of the World Bank but there are certain things that they do that make sense. Look at the debate about the STX deal. They said do not just put US$1.5 billion into providing housing for the security services alone. Do a proper and intelligent debate on where the money should go. Is that bad advice? Obviously not!” he said. Many pundits have actually argued that the government of Ghana and the STX sponsors are actually just building a de facto urban military base.

With the commencement of oil production in commercial quantities in December last year, many analysts are optimistic that Ghana will shrug-off the oil curse syndrome associated with the oil find in many African countries and on the back of its immense human and the natural resources, transform its economy and give significant boost to its aspirations of becoming an economic power house in West Africa.

But at the same time, renowned diplomats and statesmen, including the former Secretary General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, have cautioned that the oil find is not a panacea to economic development and has urged the government to manage public expectations of a fast-track improvement in living standards.

Bridging Ghana’s infrastructure development gap is a major challenge to government