This year's Independence Day celebration marks 60 years since Ghana gained sovereignty from Great Britain on March 6, 1957. Two schools of thought have emerged in the conversation about the kind of progress Ghana has made in the last Six decades; the optimist and pessimist strands. The latter group believe that, in 60 years, Ghana has achieved nothing, thus, this day is not worth spending taxpayers' money to celebrate. Indeed, those with this dissenting view undoubtedly have a strong case considering the enormity of socioeconomic delivery gaps confronting this nation as it reaches its own official retirement age. While this is glaring, the optimist school believes that we should not lose sight of the fact that at 60, and for that matter, the commemoration of the 60th anniversary is also a time for us as Ghanaians and Africans alike to return to the drawing board to have deep reflections of what went wrong in our 60 years’ journey. It is the opportune time to catalogue our strengths and weakness of the last 60 years, and more importantly do a deeper diagnostics of what held us back from reaching expectations commensurate with our growth potential at the time of independence. On this note, Ghana's 60th anniversary celebration is a necessary delusion to remind us of our failures and the need to reorient our national strategies and approaches to deliver the common good in the next 60 years that have largely eluded us in the past 60 years.
Modest Changes and Mild Progress for 60 years
Myself as an optimist, I do not belong to the school of thought that says that Ghana has achieved nothing worth celebrating after 60 years. In a mix of economic and political struggles, Ghana has reached some humble milestones that cannot be overlooked. At least, Ghana's economy is quite developed relative to most of its African neighbours. With inherited foreign reserves of about 273 million dollars (the equivalent of about 2.3 billion dollars today) at independence and per capita income of about 400 dollars and a population 6.5 million, Ghana has made some progress growing its aggregate wealth to about 38 billion in 2016 with a population of about 28 million. Further, Ghana is today a lower middle-income country, a feat most African countries are still struggling to achieve.
Ghanaians being born today are more likely to live longer than those born in 1950s and 1960s; life expectancy today hovers around 62 years, higher than what exists in most African countries, maternal and child mortality rates have reduced to levels better than most sub-Saharan sister nations, the six child killer diseases are no more with us. Other communicable diseases such as guinea worm infestation, river blindness, buruli ulcer among others have been reduced drastically, if not eradicated. The health sector has made significant improvements and far ahead of most sister African nations.
Politically, Ghana has done quite well at home to reach political stability, built a strong legal system with respect for the rule of law and guaranteed freedom of speech and associations for her citizens. On the Africa continent, Ghana has contributed immensely to the Pan-African Agenda. From the government of Kwame Nkrumah to Jerry John Rawlings to John Agyekum Kuffour to John Atta Mills and John Dramani Mahama to the new government of Nana Addo Dankwa Akuffo Addo, all have contributed, and are still contributing in many diverse ways to the peace, security and stability of Africa. Ghana has also contributed greatly to global governance and leadership. We have contributed immeasurably to the UN system, contributing to peacekeeping missions and at a point had our illustrious citizen Kofi Anan as the Secretary General of the UN system. Other prominent citizens have served and still serving at various strategic levels of the world hegemony.
Moving at the tortoise's Pace and Far Left Behind?
In spite of the progress made, it is unquestionable that Ghana's pace of growth, transformation and development in the last 60 years has been sloppy, slow, uncoordinated, volatile and far below global expectations when compared with our initial conditions and development potentials at the time of independence. Whichever way you look at it, you cannot deny the fact that Ghana has woefully underperformed relative to sister countries with similar initial conditions and factor endowments at takeoff. Prominent economists and world leaders predicted unprecedented growth and rapid transformation for Ghana at the time of independence due to its rich factor endowments and other socioeconomic indicators conducive for growth and development. In a 1952 report, a renowned economist Dudley Seers predicted Ghana's economic growth and development potential as been higher than that of England. He is quoted to have said, ''Surfacing the road from Tarkwa to Takoradi would increase total output by much more than applying the same materials to almost any road in the United Kingdom''. Others such as Tony Killick, Nicholas Kaldor, Albert Hirschman and Arthur Lewis held similar optimism about Ghana.
At independence, Ghana was producing two-thirds of the world's cocoa output plus abundance of other natural resources, it had the best schools in Africa, it had good amount of investment and many powerful countries like the United States, Great Britain and Germany all promised to invest in the new nation. In brief, Ghana had an auspicious start to growth and transformation at the time of political independence.
However, in 2017, 60 years after independence, Ghana is still building foundations and has not overcome most of the challenges in the 1950s that necessitated the fight for independence. The successes outlined above in various sectors of our economy are far less than the interventions and progress required in health, education, infrastructure, and economic transformation. After 60 years, schools are still under trees and dilapidated structures are collapsing on innocent kids. After 60 years, most of our roads are still treacherous and farmers find it uneasy to access markets. After 60 years, our health sector lacks adequate infrastructure and enough qualified personnel to deliver quality care to the public, even politicians are not confident to receive treatment in our local hospitals. After 60 years, we still export our cocoa, gold and other commodities in their raw state. After 60 years, the national economy is not self-sufficient and we still depend on donor support for our annual budget.
To put this in context, at the time of independence, Ghana was at similar levels with the likes of South Korea and Malaysia with abundant resources than the Asia nations, but today Korea and Malaysia have left Ghana far behind with their per capita GDPs more than ten times that of Ghana. The most common but unpleasant comparison is that of Malaysia. In 1957, Ghana and Malaysia were twin brothers from different continents. They were both under British colonial rule and all got independence in 1957 but Ghana's independence came five months ahead of Malaysia. They were all agrarian and commodity dependent economies with Ghana having more deposits of natural resources. Malaysia relied mainly on rubber and tin before later imported the oil palm from Ghana. The oil palm is today a ''cash cow'' for Malaysia but Ghana has lost business plans for the versatile crop. Ghana and Malaysia also had almost the same population in 1957 (6.5 million and 7.1 million respectively). The two countries were almost similar in every visible socioeconomic indicator in 1957.
However, after 60 years, it even seems stroppy to compare the two nations. With a balance of payment surplus of about 23 billion dollars, a GDP of 327 billion dollars and average per capita income of about 11000 dollars in nominal terms in as at 2014, Malaysia has definitely left Ghana far behind in every facet of national development. At the same period, Ghana's balance of payment deficit, GDP and per capita income stood at 85 million dollars, 38 billion dollars and 1,417 (nominal) respectively. Today Malaysia has fully diversified its economy while Ghana still depends largely in agrarian export.
Constraints and way forward
So what went wrong for Ghana? We can outline a number of reasons. Soon after independence, Ghana was plagued with political instability and this affected Ghana's socioeconomic transformation significantly. After the overthrow of Kwame Nkrumah, between 1970 and the early 1980s is often considered as the lost decade in Ghana's development history. Ghana's development was truncated by the numerous coups and counter coups. During this period, Ghana went on a spinning cycle with a volatile socio-political and economic environment, and in the early 1980s Ghana had to run the IMF for an economic recovery programme. At the same time, Malaysia rallied behind one dictatorship leader, Kuntu Abdul Rahman, though unwillingly. Again, since independence, Ghana has failed to successfully industrialise and diversify its economy-the exact thing that did the trick for Malaysia. We still depend on commodity export, which historically is known to have unstable prices on the world market. Malaysia saw the vulnerability of been dependent on commodities; they first diversified their economy, and then pursued massive industrialisation agenda successfully. These traits have largely eluded Ghana. Other factors such as corruption, political capture, just to name two, have contributed to Ghana's sluggish pace of development in the last 60 years.
As we mobilise for catch up in development in the next 60 years, we should reflect deeply on our drawbacks and failures, identify what worked and what did not work for us. Based on these sober reflections and determination to make things happen, we can chart a new course for the next 60 years without repeating the mistakes of the past 60 years, and surely, we will tell the full success story of our independence perhaps in our centennial celebration in 2057. May God bless our homeland Ghana, and make it strong and great in the next 60 years!