Aside

Solidarity with Ghanaian drivers striking today

Solidarity with all the trotro and taxi drivers striking today in Ghana because of yet MORE fuel price hikes – 27% this year alone thanks to the government and the IMF. Tax now constitutes 70% of the fuel price.

I know reliance on oil and government subsidies are not sustainable, but it’s ridiculous that for the rest of the world the cost per barrel is going down (US$38 a barrel on the world market yesterday) and here it’s costing GH¢15 (US$3.8) per gallon. Compare that to the US where it’s currently US$2 a gallon.

This is a country that produces oil but is forced to process it elsewhere because the refinery has been closed down due to indebtedness and ‘maintenance’ issues. Ghanaians are STILL paying for the debt of the Tema Oil Refinery in their fuel taxes (yes, even though it’s not functioning).

For a litre of fuel, which today costs roughly GH¢3.9 (roughly US$1) the taxes per litre now constitute the following:

  • Excise duty – 2.78 pesewas
  • Energy Debt Recovery Levy – 41 pesewas (To pay the debt for the Tema Oil Refinery)
  • Road Fund Levy – 40 pesewas
  • Energy Fund Levy – 1 pesewa (Intended to be spent on renewable energy projects – although things aren’t looking good)
  • Price Stabilisation and Recovery Levy – 12 pesewas (established to be used as a buffer for under-recoveries in the petroleum sector, stabilise petroleum prices for consumers)
  • Primary Distribution Margin – 4.5 pesewas
  • BOST (Bulk Oil Storage and Transportation Company Limited) Margin – 3 pesewas
  • Fuel Marketing Margin – 1.5 pesewas
  • And in addition – 17.5% VAT on product price

Between January 2011 and June 2015 the Ghanaian Government bagged GH¢3.2 billion from taxes imposed on petroleum products. Many Ghanaians are wondering where that money has been spent.

For instance, while the Tema Oil Refinery (TOR) Debt Recovery Levy generated over GH¢1.6 billion within the four-and-half years, the refinery remains closed due to huge indebtedness.

Data examined by The Finder indicates that within the same period, an amount of GH¢880 million also accrued from the Road Fund to the state, yet roads in the country are in deplorable state.

Source: http://www.newsghana.com.gh/taxes-alone-constitute-70-of-fuel-cost-in-ghana/

Read more about the protests in January – http://dailypost.ng/2016/01/20/ghana-workers-protest-hike-in-fuel-price-utility-tariffs/

People rely on fuel to live – they cannot afford these taxes without alternative support.

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Everybody wan chop from Ghana – why Ghana’s economic ‘success story’ is an imperial myth

“It is said, of course that we have no capital, no industrial skill, no communications, no internal markets, and that we cannot even agree among ourselves how best to utilise our resources for our own social needs.

“Yet all the stock exchanges in the world are pre-occupied with Africa’s gold, diamonds, uranium, platinum, copper and iron ores. Our CAPITAL flows out in streams to irrigate the whole system of Western economy. Fifty-two per cent of the gold in Fort Knox at this moment, where the USA stores its bullion, is believed to have originated from OUR shores. Africa provides more than 60 per cent of the world’s gold. A great deal of the uranium for nuclear power, of copper for electronics, of titanium for supersonic projectiles, of iron and steel for heavy industries, of other minerals and raw materials for lighter industries – the basic economic might of the foreign Powers – comes from OUR continent.

“Experts have estimated that the Congo Basin alone can produce enough food crops to satisfy the requirements of nearly HALF the population of the whole world and here we sit talking about regionalism, talking about gradualism, talking about step by step. Are you afraid to tackle the bull by the horn?”

Kwame Nkrumah, Address to the Conference of African Heads of State and Government, May 24, 63, can be found at page 237 of the book Revolutionary Path

Last week I walked in on a conversation between my friends where we live (for the moment) just outside of Accra, Ghana. “Ghana ye hye – Ghana is hot” one of them said to me. After some initial confusion (it was a cool day), they explained; “Pure water sachets are going up to 30 pesewas.” That’s a 50% increase.

After a quick news search I found out that from today (1st February) a sachet of water will go up from 20 pesewas to 30 pesewas and a bag of sachet water will sell at 5 Ghana cedis (an increase of 1 cedis 50 pesewas).

I asked them how they were feeling; “worried” was the instant reply; and then: “in our own land there is no peace”; “it’s impossible to sleep at night” and (laughing) “we’ll have to move to Togo”.  My friends are 24 years old and already fed up of politics, President Mahama and his party NDC, who have presided over an increasing number of price hikes and taxes; water by 67%, electricity by 59% and fuel by 28% – all the basic staples required to keep a country and its people running. In 2010 Ghana drilled for oil, but last year the IMF forced deregulation and the end of government subsidies and fuel prices increased by 13% in May, 4% in June and 15% in July. If the fuel prices go up, the cost of everything goes up. Except wages of course.

While doing some research on the price hikes to write this, I stumbled across this Guardian article published on Tuesday: ‘Ghana’s success story built on gold, oil and cocoa is foundering‘. The journalist gives an account of the protests taking place in Accra and the “difficulties facing the economy as the country heads towards presidential and parliamentary elections in November”, but also describes:

“Once an African success story, built on gold, oil and cocoa, Ghana leveraged its natural resources to produce strong economic growth in the early years of this century.”

This sentence stopped me in my tracks. I re-read it a few times, feeling a growing sense of frustration at the easy way hundreds of years of often oppressive and defining history can be erased in a single sentence; how easy it is to slip into comfortable neoliberal, imperial narratives.

I believe it does Ghanaians a huge disservice to place full accountability for their economic, political and societal problems at the feet of corrupt national governance and the autonomy of markets. I feel that the article has misplaced what is, in fact, a nuanced accountability for the crisis by failing to look at the historical and conscious international systemic contexts that Ghana exists within. Yes the Governance here is problematic, but this is a problem that is compounded and perpetuated by external and historical factors.

So, to elaborate on the story, let’s revisit some history and take a closer look at the international system that has contributed to Ghana’s economic problems…

Raw materials and cash crops – colonialism lives on

The dominant reason for the scramble and partitioning of Africa at the Berlin Conference in 1884-85 was economic exploitation. Namely, as articulated by Jules Ferry, the then Premier of France in 1885: to have free access to raw materials of the colonies; to have ready made markets for the sale of manufactured goods of the colonising countries, and; to use the colonies as fields for investment of surplus capital.

During the colonisation of Ghana (Gold Coast) in the 1890s, the colonialist agricultural policy was to turn the colony into a producer of raw materials for export and the importer of manufactured goods for consumption. The policy encouraged, educated and advised farmers to produce crops for export and gave little support for small-scale farmers producing food for the local market. Under the Colonial Department of Agriculture, Ghana saw a rapid growth in production of export crops to meet the demands of colonial authorities and expatriate merchants at the expense of non-export crops. Within 30 years of its introduction Cocoa accounted for over 80% of exports. Ghana had become a crop export nation and an import dependent economy. For various political reasons things did not improve for non-export crops after ‘independence’ either; colonial policy remained and the new government embodied the “modernisation and industrialisation craze” as the key to economic development. (Read more here.)

Today, agriculture accounts for approximately 42% of Ghana’s GDP and employs 54% of its workforce. Despite some diversification, cocoa still remains the primary export. It is this imposed over-reliance on export cash crops and raw materials that has left Ghana so vulnerable to the effects of the plummeting global commodity prices. The export revenues for cocoa, oil and gold declined from $8.2bn between January and September 2014 to $5.8bn just a year later.

This vulnerability is further compounded by the fact that Ghana is still operating primarily as a producer of raw agricultural product (e.g. cocoa, cotton, palm oil etc), which is then transported abroad to be processed. Without the infrastructure to process the products, Ghanaians are forced to re-import the processed results of their raw products back into the country – much of the chocolate and cotton fabric sold here has been processed elsewhere, transported back and sold at a profit – which is galling. Few African countries process their own raw materials – rather, the value is added elsewhere, for the benefit of others.

I’ve only very briefly touched on Ghana’s colonial past here – it’s almost impossible to ever do it justice, but I recommend reading Walter Rodney’s ‘How Europe Underdeveloped Africa’ for an eye-opening account. To think that Western governments, corporations and elites have ‘evolved’ beyond colonialism and exploitation today is evidently absurd – a quick Google of words like ‘foreign’, ‘exploitation’, resources’, ‘Ghana’, will bring up a range of news articles. Despite independence in 1957, the legacy of European colonialism across the African continent lives on and is today joined by neo-colonialism in the form of intervention from the US, China and foreign corporations, particularly when it comes to raw materials.

According to Dr Eric Twum, Chief Executive Officer of the Institute of Green Growth Solutions in Ghana, the country loses large amounts of revenue through non-renegotiation of most contracts with multinational companies. He suggests that “between 2011 and 2012, the country lost about $90 million and $70 million due to stability agreements in the mining and oil and gas sectors respectively,” and continues:

“Legislatively, so much control seems to have been given to foreign investors regardless of their natural resource use methods and its associated impacts in Ghana. A recent report (by Daily Graphic) indicates the problem of ambiguity in our tax laws which make them not fully applicable due to the varied interpretations. Additionally, our legal framework regulating natural resource use does not fully promote maximum benefit gains from foreign investors due to low tax charges. Before the introduction of the structural adjustment programme, the government of Ghana controlled at least 55% shares in all large mining operations. However, foreign companies now control an average of about 70% of shares in these mines with government controlling 10% free share in each mine, with the option to acquire an additional 20% at the prevailing market price. Furthermore, there are issues regarding protecting the interest of the Ghanaian worker in the event of a redundancy action as brought to bear by the unfavourable redundancy action by AngloGold Ashanti and Newmont Ghana Gold Limited in 2014 that rendered almost 6,000 workers jobless – bearing in mind that most of our natural resources are non renewable.”

Last year Ghana’s former Ambassador to the United Nations, James Victor Gbeho called on the government to enact a law that would help curb the control of foreigners exploiting the country’s natural resources. Gbeho suggested that the country had “lost 95 percent of its tropical forest since independence while very little royalties were paid to chiefs in communities endowed with gold, bauxite, timber, manganese, among other resources.”

I spent some time at Lake Bosumtwi in the Ashtanti region last year, which is considered a sacred lake. According to traditional belief, the souls of the dead go there to bid farewell to the god Asase Ya. Because of this, fishing in the lake is allowed only from wooden planks. I was staying nearby and was told by locals that foreigners had appeared unexpectedly and had drilled beneath the lake’s floor to explore for minerals. Not only had the intervention disturbed a sacred place, but I was told that it had killed huge numbers of the fish living in the lake, causing huge problems for the local community who depend on it. (This report would seem to back the story up.)

Not only are Ghanaians suffering from the effects of neoliberalism and imperialism with the destruction of their environment, they are then also missing out on any much-needed revenue generated by it. Instead the money resulting from the looting of their natural resources is going straight into the pockets of foreign companies who are focussed solely on making and repatriating profit.

China’s burgeoning relationship with Ghana has been problematic from the start; not only because there are a huge number of (largely) Chinese companies operating here illegally, but also because Chinese investment in Ghana has caused the collapse of Ghana’s manufacturing sector; proliferation of small arms in gold mining cities as a result of illegal mining activities; and increased unemployment due to the export of Ghanaian jobs to China through over-reliance on Chinese goods and services. Oh, and China is certainly not the only country playing this game – mining by foreign multinationals (as well as local companies I’m sure) displaces hundreds of thousands of people, destroys farm and forest land, and contaminates water supplies and pollutes the air causing disease and poor health.

The problem extends far beyond raw materials too; the desperation to attract Foreign Direct Investment has also left Ghana missing out on much needed finance. In 2008 the European multinational company Vodafone purchased a 70% stake in Ghana Telecom and, under the Sales Purchase Agreement, enjoyed a five year holiday from paying tax to the government. During that period the company made huge profits, all of which have gone to shareholders while Ghana saw very little, including little improvement to service quality (and in fact Vodafone prices have just gone up).

Ghana and the International Monetary Fund

“By far the greatest wrong which the departing colonialists inflicted on us, and which we now continue to inflict on ourselves in our present state of disunity, was to leave us divided into economically unviable States which bear no possibility of real development….”

Kwame Nkrumah, Speech OAU Summit Conference Cairo7/19/64 can be found on pages 282-4 of Revolutionary Path

As with the majority of economically ‘developing’ countries, Ghana has not escaped the clutches of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Today Ghana maintains a relationship of dependency with the organisation, and by that I mean that the IMF depends on Ghana as one of several countries required to underpin its neoliberal agenda…

One such example of their involvement is the three-year electricity ‘crisis’ that Ghana is still in the midst of (‘dumsor’, or power blackouts have been a daily reality here for the duration). The IMF blames the power cuts on “lower rainfall on hydroelectric power generations and disruptions to the supply of gas from Nigeria,” but there is much evidence to suggest that the organisation itself is at least partly responsible. Former UK diplomat Craig Murray wrote last year that Ghana once had “the most reliable electricity supply in all of Africa and the highest percentage of households connected to the grid in all of Africa”. Murray believes that the success of this publicly owned and run enterprise posed too much of a threat to the neoliberal ideology of the World Bank and the IMF, and so, when Ghana needed some temporary financial assistance (against what he calls a ‘generally healthy background’), the IMF insisted that the Volta Region Authority be broken up. This resulted in the separation of electricity into production and distribution and the introduction of private sector Independent Power Producers to the market.

You only have to have spent a few days here over the past few years to know that the situation is a disaster for homes, public services and businesses that need a reliable power supply, especially as running a generator is so expensive (although the supply has seemed to be more consistent this year for those who can afford it…). According to Murray, there have been more power cuts in the country than ever in its history as an independent state. He claims that in July last year Ghana was producing 900 MW of electricity, which is half of what it was able to produce ten years ago, and suggests that the (mostly foreign owned and foreign financed) private sector Independent Power Producers were providing less than 20% of the electricity generation to the grid, but taking over 60% of the revenues.

To add insult to injury, as part of its loan conditionality the IMF and the USA then insisted on the privatisation of Electricity Company Ghana (ECG), the state utility body which provides electricity to the consumer and bills them. According to Murray, “the rationale behind this is that a privatised ECG will be more efficient and ruthless in collecting revenue from the poor and from hospitals, clinics, schools and other state institutions.” Or in other words, collecting revenue and channelling profits straight into the pockets of foreign businesses and banks. I know from living in the UK that the argument that privatising utilities means better service and prices is completely rubbish – it only profits the rich at the expense of the poor. (You can read a counter-response to Murray’s article here.)

The IMF has just approved a third disbursement of $114.6 million to ‘help tackle Ghana’s economic recovery’, which will undoubtedly see the country face further hardship while it tries to meet the IMF’s strict conditionality in order to ‘restore fiscal discipline and macroeconomic stability’. In the 1980s, implementation of the IMF’s ‘conditionality’ saw much needed subsidies wiped and public sector jobs cut while wages were kept low – under austerity many suffered.

These conditionalities look like structural adjustment policies, sound like structural adjustment policies and sure as hell smell like them, but no, the SAP has taken a trip to the marketing department and been rebranded as a ‘partnership’. The Managing Director of the IMF Christine Lagarde reportedly said herself:

“Structural adjustments? That was before my time. I have no idea what it is. We do not do that anymore. No, seriously you have to realise that we have changed the way in which we offer our financial support. It is really on the basis of partnership.”

“There is always in partnership a bit of hardship to go with it. If the Fund is called upon to help, it is that the country feels that it cannot decide certain things on its own. It needs backup support, financing to make sure that it has access to enough funding to finance itself.”

What IS so generous of the IMF (note the sarcasm) is that is has been considerate enough to offer “technical assistance and capacity-building” to Ghana with the opening of its fifth Regional Training Center in Accra. Lagarde states that the purpose of the centre is to offer ‘surveillance’ and try to ensure policy that is “more sophisticated, better adjusted to the new economy, more connected, more balance between the various regions and areas of the world” (Read: to ensure Ghana is behaving itself).

The burden of debt

“…the problem is how to obtain capital investment and still keep it under sufficient control to prevent exploitation; and how to preserve integrity and sovereignty without crippling economic or political ties to any country, bloc or system”

Kwame Nkrumah, Africa Must Unite

Ghana is a resource rich country. Aside from vast agricultural production, it also BLEEDS gold. You might ask yourself how a country built upon gold can be indebted to the rest of the world; but it is in debt… to the sum of 90bn cedis (£16bn), which, coupled with an apparent rise in public spending, gives the country a debt-to-gross domestic product ratio of more than 70%.

From the 1970s, many of the newly-independent African governments began to borrow huge amounts of money from rich countries and the Bretton Woods institutions. Throughout the Cold War such loans were often used as a tool to secure political support from key countries in a wholly non-discriminatory fashion – corrupt governments and those countries who would surely default (e.g. DRC), were given billions of dollars in credit. In Addis Ababa in 1987 at the summit of the Organisation of African Unity (now the African Union), the President of Burkina Faso, Thomas Sankara, called for a pan-African united front against debt in one of his most famous speeches. He said:

“We think that debt has to be seen from the standpoint of its origins. Debt’s origins come from colonialism’s origins. Those who lend us money are those who had colonised us before. Under its current form, that is imperialism-controlled, debt is a cleverly managed re-conquest of Africa, aiming at subjugating its growth and development through foreign rules. Thus, each one of us becomes the financial slave, which is to say a true slave…”

It was clear at the time that African countries were becoming increasingly crippled by debt. In the 1980s interest rates rose sharply, but governments continued to borrow more. According to This Is Africa;

“Between 1982 and 1990, African debt doubled from US$140 billion to US$270 billion. Sankara rightly predicted that this would cripple African development for generations to come. Despite debt relief programs, which have resulted in increased spending on health and education in African countries, Jubilee Debt Campaign estimates that in 2008, low income countries paid over US $20 million a day to rich countries.”

Today’s debt crisis in Ghana is unsurprising given the scale of lending to them still taking place and their dependence on fluctuating commodities. However, this debt is further compounded by the devaluing of Ghana’s currency which, in turn increases the real size of its debts.

Debts owed outside the country are valued in dollars or other foreign currencies, so a fall in exchange rate will immediately increase the relative size of debt repayments in domestic currency – a big risk of borrowing in foreign currencies. Even money leant by multilateral institutions like the World Bank and other governments carries this risk because the loans are given in dollars – even though they claim they are ‘risk free’ with a low interest rate of around 0.5% for the most impoverished countries.

According to the Jubilee Debt Campaign:

Between 2004 and 2013, Ghana was lent $2.8 billion by the World Bank, which totalled 3.8 billion Ghanaian Cedis. However, the fall in the Ghanaian Cedi now means that, based on current exchange rates, Ghana will pay back 12.8 billion Cedis, three times more what was lent. The effective interest rate Ghana is now paying on these World Bank loans is 9%.

World Bank interest rates

Source: Jubilee Debt Campaign.

The same applies to loans given to Ghana by foreign private financial markets, through bonds usually issued under English law. In 2013 Ghana borrowed $750 million through a 10-year bond in at an 8% interest rate. Due to the real cost payments increasing with the fall in exchange rates, the Jubilee Debt Campaign calculates that the effective interest rate for Ghana on these bonds is now 27%.

Once again Ghana, which spent over 30% of government revenue on debt payments in 2015, is at the mercy of the IMF, which ‘came to the rescue’ in April last year with a $918m three-year assistance programme to enable these debts to be paid. Essentially the programme equals more debt…and a hell of a lot of pressure on the government to create increase austerity within the country and to create the right conditions for external market forces.

It’s important to recognise that the costs of the commodity price and exchange rate falls are being borne by the people of Ghana and citizens of other countries in similar positions, and not by the lenders, whether that be the IMF, World Bank, private speculators or others. Economic growth will not improve things for Ghanaians – in general those countries heavily dependent on foreign lending grow faster than the average for low income countries, but they make less progress on reducing poverty and inequality is increasing, as this report from the Jubilee Debt campaign demonstrates.

A legacy of colonial leadership

“For the only great men among the unfree and the oppressed are those who struggle to destroy the oppressor.”

Walter Rodney, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa

My intention with this article isn’t to remove accountability or blame from the Ghanaian government completely – they are heavily indebted to a whole range of organisations, and within the seemingly narrow hallways of power they have been afforded within a system deliberately designed to limit power, they have made some terrible decisions. In fact, the Ghanaian government seems to share many of the incompetencies, failings and self-interests of the government of their former ‘colonial masters’ – in December last year the Ghanaian transport minister was forced to resign after it emerged that the government had spent 3.6m cedis painting pictures of President Mahama and other former leaders on buses. Reports of Mahama’s government lavishly rewarding officials with houses, cars and fuel on top of generous salaries feels as horrifying to me as when we discovered the British expenses scandal.

I’m loathe to patronise Ghanaians – they certainly do have the autonomy to select their own government. I can’t believe that there’s noone that could do a better job than the NPP or the NDC, but then again I also can’t believe that a majority of voting Brits could elect David Cameron and his blood-sucking, Eton romping, austerity wielding, old boys club – apparently anything can happen, and people are misguided and manipulated in myriad ways.

From slavery and colonialism, to independence and the forcible removal of former leaders, to today; Ghana has contributed immeasurably, at great cost, to boosting the coffers of Britain and its counterparts. In his address on the eve of Ghana’s independence, Nkrumah pointed out that of £124 million spent during the course of the Five Year Development Plan, the CPP internal self-government had only received £1.5 million in aid from Colonial Development and Welfare Funds, despite Ghana’s vast contribution to the gold and dollar resources of the sterling. He elaborated:

“The Gold Coast has contributed, on an average, 25% of the net dollar earnings of the British colonial territories, and, taking into account our contribution of  around ₤9 million a year in gold, in the five years from 1951 to 1955 in which the CPP have been in power, the Gold Coast contributed a net positive balance  of ₤150 million to the gold and dollar reserves of the sterling area. It will be seen therefore, that though the Gold Coast is small and, by Western standards, not a very wealthy country, it has made a significant contribution to maintaining the stability of  the sterling area.”

Kwame Nkrumah, “I Speak of Freedom”.

Nkrumah was a leader not without problems, but he was a socialist who loved his country and a pan-Africanist who stood up to imperialism and Western dominance until he was overthrown by a military coup in February 1966. There is much evidence to suggest that the United States of America was complicit in the coup, led by Emmanuel Kwasi Kotoka and the National Liberation Party – it was certain a welcome outcome for Western powers. In a memo from the United States President’s Deputy Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Komer) to President Johnson in 1966, he wrote:

“The coup in Ghana is another example of a fortuitous windfall. Nkrumah was doing more to undermine our interests than any other black African. In reaction to his strongly pro-Communist leanings, the new military regime is almost pathetically pro-Western.”

Unsurprisingly, shortly after Nkrumah’s removal Ghana realigned itself internationally cutting ties with Guinea in favour of those with Western countries and allowing the IMF and World Bank to take a lead role in managing the economy.

So, is bad governance really surprising when Ghana has faced attempts to limit autonomy, self-determination, self-reliance and powerful leadership at every stage of its ‘modern development’?

Today the system of governance here, like the majority of national government systems across the globe, is incompetent, at least partially corrupt, self-interested and unwilling to stand up to big business, imperialism and neoliberalism. Africa has a legacy of creating great leaders who are thwarted by Western intervention and it is a sad state of affairs that Ghana, like many other countries once under colonial rule, has seemingly been forced into a self-perpetuating cycle of bad government after bad government. It seems that the collective way of operating is kowtowing to carefully marketed Western doctrine, allowing multinational corporations to eat up the country in return for a quick fix or a quick buck and putting self-interest and ‘economic growth at all costs’ first at the expense of citizens, traditional values, pan-Africanism and humanity. What’s worse is that I know most of you will be able to see these traits reflected in your own national governments as I can in mine – where the pursuit of ‘growth’ and of ‘more’ is leading us all.

To frame Ghana as a ‘once African success story’ begs the question; successful for whom? Ghana is a country that has forever been considered ‘developing’. It’s poor. Since it began its relationship with the West it’s gone from slavery, to colonialism, to neoliberalism; with poverty and inequality consistent themes throughout. The only people who have truly benefited from its gold, oil and cocoa are foreign governments and companies. Ordinary Ghanaians have seen little benefit from strong economic growth.

To call Ghana a ‘failure’, is also a misnomer, because actually it’s still doing exactly what it was designed to do, very successfully. If you rub off the sheen of ‘independence’, underneath is a country very much allowing largely free access to its raw materials, offering ready made markets for the sale of manufactured goods of foreign companies and allowing investment of surplus capital (to be repaid with interest).

A truly successful Ghana would be a Ghana bolstered with reparations for the many damages done to its economy, its people and its resources, one that is able to exist within an international system of true equality and respect, where foreign companies and countries follow the rules instead of making them and where Ghana is allowed to invent itself however the people decide – free from the shackles of neoliberalism, imperialism and being developed in the Western image, for Western benefit.

I’m not here to tell Ghanaians what they should be doing or how they should be doing it – there are enough people doing that. What I hope for with these words is to encourage those of us in the UK and in the Western world; who read articles like this one; believe in the narrative that tries to hide the fact that poverty and inequality are created; and disconnect ourselves and our lives from playing any part in it; to ask questions of these these stories. Our governments, our money, our history, our silence are all implicated in the poverty and inequality of others. Are we really surprised by the economic misfortune of a country deliberately constructed to serve foreign interests? Why is its success measured only by economic growth? How is poverty created? Who’s developing whom? Why not connect the dots?

I welcome your thoughts…

Further reading:

Sources:

  1. https://www.modernghana.com/news/118977/1/historical-odyssey-of-our-agricultural-policies.html
  2. http://gipcghana.com/17-investment-projects/agriculture-and-agribusiness/cash-crops/287-investing-in-ghana-s-cash-crops.html
  3. http://www.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/NewsArchive/IMF-backs-gov-t-to-snub-labour-410535
  4. http://myjoyonline.com/news/2015/July-4th/former-uk-diplomat-blames-us-imf-for-ghanas-economic-woes.php
  5. http://www.graphic.com.gh/business/business-news/57024-ghana-the-bumpy-road-to-economic-recovery.html
  6. http://jubileedebt.org.uk/blog/commodity-price-crash-causes-debt-payments-to-soar
  7. http://www.graphic.com.gh/features/opinion/45562-the-fallacy-of-britain-leaving-huge-sums-of-money-for-kwame-nkrumah-s-government.html#sthash.dI9Rij5j.dpuf
  8. https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1964-68v26/d201
  9. http://jubileedebt.org.uk/reports-briefings/report/the-new-debt-trap 
  10. http://www.panafricanperspective.com/nkrumahquotes.html
  11. http://ghana-news.adomonline.com/opinion/2015/March-17th/natural-resource-governance-and-management-in-ghana-the-stride-towards-an-efficient-use-of-our-natural-resources.php#_ftn4
  12. http://www.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/NewsArchive/Chinese-money-for-Ghana-s-natural-resources-283400
  13. http://www.graphic.com.gh/features/opinion/21413-govt-must-review-tax-incentives-to-multinational-companies.html
  14. http://citifmonline.com/2015/03/29/diplomats-demand-laws-to-stop-foreign-control-of-ghanas-resources/
  15. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-33643385
  16. http://www.newsghana.com.gh/an-analysis-why-akufo-addo-and-bawumia-are-right-imf-cannot-solve-ghanas-economy/
  17. http://www.newsghana.com.gh/imfworld-bank-bailout-will-bad-ghanaians/
  18. http://www.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/features/Ghana-lost-us-6-004-billion-in-oil-revenue-five-years-into-oil-production-389583
  19. http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2016/jan/26/ghana-success-gold-oil-cocoa-economic-downturn

The dark side of Davos

What do the Chairman of the Board of Nestlé, the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of PepsiCo and the President of the Inter-American Development Bank have in common? They’re all on the board of The World Economic Forum.

The World Economic Forum (WEF) is a Swiss non-profit foundation, which cites its mission as being “committed to improving the state of the world by engaging business, political, academic, and other leaders of society to shape global, regional, and industry agendas.”

Its annual winter meeting in Davos is currently taking place, bringing together more than 2,500 top international business and political leaders, invited academics and journalists to discuss pressing global issues. In short – it’s a pretty influential set up.

So let’s take a closer look at the 24 WEF board, which is currently made up of

  • Gender: 18 men and 6 women
  • Employment: 12 corporate executives, 4 university academics, 4 financial insitutions, 1 Director of WEF, 1 Intergovernmental Organisation, 1 Non-governmental Organisation, 1 Queen
  • Geographical location: 10 Europeans (including Russia), 6 North Americans, 6 Asians, 1 Middle Eastern, 1 South American, 0 Africans, 0 Oceanians
  • Education: 22 of the 24 went to universities in the USA or EU

Many of the board members have been through the revolving doors in their careers; work for or sit on boards or advisory boards to some of the world’s most powerful corporations; have strong political and academic ties; belong to powerful lobbying, policy-making and advisory groups and a number have been implicated in accusations of corporate malfeasance during their career.

Susan George described the board as follows:

“The Davos class, despite its members’ nice manners and well-tailored clothes is predatory… They run our major institutions, including the media, know exactly what they want and are much more united and better organized than we are. But this dominant class has weaknesses too; one is that it has an ideology but virtually no ideas and no imagination.”

My source for this post is this amazing infographic which has more detailed information about the careers of the current board: http://davosclass.tni.org/. The infographic is a collaboration of the Transnational Institute and Occupy.com. They believe the World Economic Forum is fundamentally about increasing corporate profits and rewarding political elites rather than “improving the state of the world” and describe it as an undemocratic, unaccountable and illegitimate institution that, far from improving the world, has over decades reinforced the global crisis of inequality, poverty, and environmental destruction.

The Davos class are powerful, with many corporate interests and completely unrepresentative of global society – should they be responsible for such an influential forum discussing and impacting global issues?

Image: https://www.tni.org/sites/www.tni.org/files/images/davos-facebook-share.png

News: GJN asks – is the Gates Foundation always a force for good?

If you’ve read the blog, you might be aware that I’m not exactly the greatest supporter of The Gates Foundation. Our team at The Rules criticised their ‘Narrative Project’, which invested much in pushing foreign aid as a solution to global poverty and inequality; and I have called them out on here for Melinda’s use of patriarchal language to talk about ‘development‘ and the organisation’s neoliberal agenda – I just don’t think they’re good news.

So it was really good to see UK organisation Global Justice Now releasing an important research project today: ‘Gated Development – is the Gates Foundation always a force for good?’, which examines how it is pushing a corporate vision of development features.

The report demonstrates that the trend to involve business in addressing poverty and inequality is central to the priorities and funding of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and argues that this is far from a “neutral charitable strategy but instead an ideological commitment to promote neoliberal economic policies and corporate globalisation. Big business is directly benefitting, in particular in the fields of agriculture and health, as a result of the foundation’s activities, despite evidence to show that business solutions are not the most effective.”

Global Justice Now suggests that, for the foundation in particular, there is an overt focus on technological solutions to poverty. They argue that while technology should have a role in addressing poverty and inequality, long term solutions require social and economic justice which “cannot be given by donors in the form of a climate resilient crop or cheaper smartphone, but must be about systemic social, economic and political change – issues not represented in the foundation’s funding priorities.”

One of the most poignant parts of the report for me is where it highlights the fact that despite the Gates Foundation’s aggressive corporate strategy and extraordinary influence across governments, academics and the media, there is an absence of critical voices. Global Justice Now is concerned that the foundation’s influence is so pervasive that many actors in international development, which would otherwise critique the policy and practice of the foundation, are unable to speak out independently as a result of its funding and patronage – this is something I certainly have witnessed explicitly speaking to organisations and people working within the development sector.

Specifically, the report calls on the OECD to undertake an independent international review and evaluation of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; and the UK’s International Development Select Committee to conduct an inquiry into the relationship between DFID and the foundation and the impact and effectiveness of any joint activity in addressing poverty and inequality.

Read the full report here >> www.globaljustice.org.uk/gateddeveloped

It’s also been featured in the UK’s Independent newspaper, which you can read here.

Let me know what you think – is the Gates Foundation a force for good or an exercise in rampant neoliberalism…?

J’accuse: Laying Poverty Blame Where It Belongs

“How could one hope that a council of war would demolish what a council of war had done?”

– Émile Zola, from J’accuse! – his open letter to Felix Faure, the President of France, 1898.

A lot of people might agree that the United Nations as a concept is a good one – it’s intended to protect human rights, seemingly uphold some sense of ‘universal’ values and strive for some kind of international cohesion. But can an organisation arguably run by the old rich, (largely) white boys club of the West, who do well out of the status quo, really deliver on a commitment to ending poverty and inequality by 2030 with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)?

Apart from the fact that his hierarchy is completely unfair, unequal, patriarchal, racist and unjust, here are four reasons why I think not:

1) Those with the power won’t take responsibility

When it comes to issues like ending global poverty and inequality, many powerful governments, businesses and stakeholders do not take responsibility for the role they play in both creating and perpetuating it.

In the discussions taking place over the last few years about the SDGs there has been little acknowledgment that – conversations have largely focused on poverty being a ‘disease’ to be ‘eradicated’ rather than something that humans have created with centuries of systems and actions that have widened gaps, disempowered some and made others rich and powerful – things like slavery, racism, resource theft, empire, patriarchy, tax avoidance, colonialism and war without end.

The UN and the Global North seem to focus on problems within ‘developing’ countries like they fell from the sky, or they exist in isolation from the global system created by, and designed to benefit elites in, the Global North. Poverty is often blamed on things like corruption within poor countries, on disease and on the environment – all things that put accountability firmly in the hands of nature or the poor countries themselves. Those with the power and wealth never take responsibility for their contributions through arms trading, empire building, resource theft, multinationals sucking countries dry of their resource base, self-interested foreign policy and more. They won’t admit that the poor are poor because the rich are rich.

The most powerful governments, stakeholders and companies sit around the table and lead discussions to come up with ‘solutions’ to problems that they don’t think (or won’t acknowledge) they’ve played any part in. The SDGs are a good example – how are we going to solve global poverty if those who are causing it won’t admit that they’re part of (and principle creators of) the problem? To solve a problem you need to focus on its root causes, otherwise the SDGs as a solution are like taking paracetamol for cancer – they dim the pain, but don’t offer the cure.

2) Marginalised countries and people don’t get a proper seat at the table

The SDGs have been paraded in the media as an entirely inclusive process, but if that’s the case, then why do they not include literally ANY of the demands that countries in the Global South have been making for the past thirty years? Things like;

  • an end to structural adjustment,
  • an end to tax evasion and mispricing,
  • an end to odious debt,
  • democratisation of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund,
  • reform of the World Trade Organisation,
  • an end to the extreme patent licensing fees under TRIPS

I could go on. And these are ALL absent in the SDGs Zero Draft.

So really, the strings of the system, and of processes like designing the SDGs, are pulled by a limited number of people who are definitely not representative of the global population. Unless you’re a rich, powerful country or a rich, powerful multinational corporation, your influence is limited.

3) Those who claim to want to end poverty and inequality, benefit from it

I refer back to the Émile Zola quote at the beginning of this post:

“How could one hope that a council of war would demolish what a council of war had done?”

and then to George Orwell, who wrote in The Road to Wigan Pier in 1937:

“For in the last resort, the only important question is, Do you want the British Empire to hold together or do you want it to disintegrate?  And at the bottom of his heart no Englishman does want it to disintegrate.  For, apart from any other consideration, the high standard of life we enjoy in England depends upon our keeping a tight hold on the Empire, particularly the tropical portions of it such as India and Africa.  Under the capitalist system, in order that England may live in comparative comfort, a hundred million Indians must live on the verge of starvation – an evil state of affairs, but you acquiesce in it every time you step into a taxi or eat a plate of strawberries and cream.  The alternative is to throw the Empire overboard and reduce England to a cold and unimportant little island where we should all have to work very hard and live mainly on herrings and potatoes.”

It’s time to give up the charade. The SDGs are asking countries and businesses that maintain a society or a business model that function on the basis of inequality and/or built their foundations on poverty, to be responsible for eradicating them.

It’s like asking a thief (who isn’t ready to give it up any time soon) to design a system to stop people thieving.

4) Poverty is created, intentionally

This is going to be hugely controversial and I’m very willing to be challenged on it, but I accuse.

I’m reminded of the words of Siegfried L.Sassoon, a British poet serving as a solider in the First World War, who wrote, when called back to the trenches after convalescence in 1917: “I believe that [World War I] is being deliberately prolonged by those who have the power to end it.”

So is poverty being deliberately perpetuated by those who have the power to end it?

I’m not talking about conspiracies and rooms full of people in suits who meet every month to plot the downfall of humanity, but of the individuals and businesses and governments, all over the world, who (often with the ability to separate themselves from the reality of quite how much damage they are doing) operate intentionally with self interest and without integrity and contribute to the creation of a system that perpetuates poverty and inequality.

We know that companies are going to benefit from delivering the SDGs – an opportunity that will only end when poverty ends. We also know that countries that enjoy a relatively high standard of living (despite internal inequality) are only able to do so in the current system because there are countries that don’t. If we’d need 4.1 world’s worth of resources for everyone in the world to live like an American, you only need to do a simple maths equation to work out that global equality at that standard of living under the current system is physically impossible – so why do we pretend it is? We don’t all need to live in destitution, but when are the rich and powerful going to stop pretending that economic growth and mosquito nets are going to bring about equality – it’s never worked, it won’t work and it can’t work. It’s going to need more give and take – those with the money, power and resources giving some of it up for others to take.

…But there is possibility

Have you ever done something SO bad that you knew if you confessed to it that the repercussions would be unthinkable?

I have.

Have you ever broken something you knew couldn’t be replaced, and tried to blame someone or something else? Or…pretended it never happened?

I have.

Have you ever ignored someone you knew were right because what they were saying hurt you? Or deliberately picked on someone because you didn’t want to be picked on yourself? Or hurt someone else’s friend because you thought they were going to hurt yours? We’ve all had experiences like these in our lives.

I’m not equating hundreds of years of unthinkable human degradation, of slavery and pillaging to hurting a loved one, but I am trying to demonstrate the fact that humans committed these acts. Humans who are capable of remorse, of self-reflection, who ask deep, searching questions about ourselves and our lives, and who come together collectively as humans to challenge things we know in our hearts are wrong. We can take responsibility for our actions and our failures and we can change them. We can ask for forgiveness and try to make amends. We can listen, learn, unlearn and relearn.

The demands we are making of a system where power rules is a change in perspective and actions beyond anything many of us think possible. Change requires taking the first step and recognising and admitting our systemic addiction to power; changing harmful behaviour and making amends for everyone and everything that has been hurt in pursuit of it.

Maybe we can’t expect those who have benefitted from unfair rules for centuries to rewrite them and play fair, but maybe it’s time to stop playing games and co-create a world that works for all.

This post was written by me…but it originally appeared on The Rules on the 25th September 2015, because, you know… that’s what I do.

Let me know what you think!

Why is economic growth our measure of human progress?

Whether you believe that ‘money makes the world go round’ or that it’s the ‘root of all evil’, increasingly humanity is waking up to the fact that money can’t ‘buy you happiness’ and that it’s certainly no longer an accurate or helpful measure of planetary progress. Our world faces multiple crises of which continuing economic growth has often been the cause and less often the solution.

Today the planet is a miserable and frightening place for most of its inhabitants. Many of the rich are not happy, while the gap between the rich and poor gets wider. The wealthiest 80 people in the world have the same wealth as the poorest 50%, or 3.5 billion people. Our pursuit of economic growth means that we are ruining the planet at such a rate that – sooner than most people can imagine – large parts of it will become uninhabitable. Our soils and forests are disappearing, our oceans are being vacuumed of fish, unstable financial markets lurch from crisis to crisis, disengaged people vent their anger and frustration at oppressive governments and we live in an economic system that rewards our greed and immorality and that forces those living in rural areas and no longer able to support themselves, more than a billion people, to swarm towards cities where there is no work for them.

In 2014 young people in 20 countries around the world were asked ‘to what extent, if at all, do you feel that today’s youth will have had a better or worse life than your parents’ generation or will it be about the same?’ On average, only 37% of young people living in the ten wealthiest countries ranked by gross domestic product (GDP) thought that life would be better for their generation than it was for their parents. In the US, the richest country, only 26% thought it would be better.

  Country GDP in millions of US$ (World Bank, 2013) % of people aged 29 or under who believe that today’s youth will have had a better life than their parents’ generation (Ipsos Mori, 2014)
1 USA 16,768,100 26%
2 China 9,240,270 76%
3 Japan 4,919,563 41%
4 Germany 3,730,261 30%
5 France 2,806,428 16%
6 UK 2,678,455 22%
7 Brazil 2,245,673 48%
8 Italy 2,149,485 21%
9 Russia 2,096,777 41%
10 India 1,875,141 46%
  AVERAGE(Rounded to the nearest whole) 4,851,015 37%

When the future is looking bleak for the wealthiest countries on the planet, it’s perhaps time to reconsider GDP as a measure of progress.

Gross domestic product, or GDP is the monetary value of all the finished goods and services produced within a country’s borders in a specific time period, but usually calculated annually. GDP has traditionally been used to measure progress economically, but fails to take into account social and environmental ‘wealth’ or causes of social tension or inequality, something that I believe is essential to truly understanding if, how and where human progress is being made.

GDP measures everything “…except that which makes life worthwhile.”

“Our Gross National Product…counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage. It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for the people who break them. It counts the destruction of the redwood and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl. It counts napalm and counts nuclear warheads and armoured cars for the police to fight the riots in our cities…, and the television programs which glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children. Yet the Gross National Product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country, it measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile. And it can tell us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans.”

Robert F. Kennedy, speech at the University of Kansas, March 18, 1968

There is already an abundance of measurements that we could call on to replace GDP and give a fairer, more useful picture of what is and isn’t working and how we go about creating a world that works for all, not for the few. So far, suggestions range from birth weight (usually a good indicator of a child’s likely future quality of life) the number and sound of birds in a city (a good indicator for biodiversity); and ownership of washing machines (with the assumption that their requirement for piped water and electricity make them a good measure of development); to the economic emancipation of women. I’m sure you can think of more…

Today, I’d invite you to think about why our leaders and big businesses measure economic growth as a measure of human progress and how we can move beyond measuring success by how much we makerather than how we live.

What do you think human progress is? And why is growth the only answer? #WhyGrowth

This post was originally posted on The Rules website on 11th September 2015.

Obama in Africa (again)

Back in July (yep, a very long time ago), I blogged about Obama’s visit to Kenya and the response from a journalist called Andrew Mwenda. I’ve since read lots of further really interesting articles and viewpoints on the topic, which I’m keen to share with you, both those that further my points, and challenge them.

As a recap, here’s a short excerpt of Andrew’s argument:

To use Jean Bricmont’s analogy from his book Humanitarian Imperialism, the US and Western Europe behave like a mafia godfather who, as he grows old, decides to defend law and order and begins to attack his lesser colleagues in crime, preaching brotherly love and the sanctity of human life – all the while holding onto his ill-gotten wealth and the income it generates.

And here are just two of the many other responses I’ve read and found interesting since:

Minna Salami (MsAfropolitan): When Obama addressed the African Union

Trade and development partnerships are the modern-day version of England’s indirect rule, a continuation of a painfully dark history of exploitation. To name only a few, there’s the African Growth and Opportunities Act (AGOA), which Obama mentioned and which considering that it creates 100,000 jobs in the US ought to be called the “American Growth and Opportunities Act”; the New Alliance Cooperation Framework through which African nations legitimise the theft of natural resources to for profit corporations under the aegis of “private sector investment plans”; the “Pan-African initiative”, or PanAf as it deceptively locally sounds, was set up by the EU to improve trade, observe elections, run governance initiatives, yada yada – it just so happens that African states are forced to tie a large portion of their markets to Europe in exchange. There’s also the rather sinisterly named “Trade Africa“, which boosts intra-African trade, not a bad thing per se, but what does the US get in return? Well, how about a million bucks.

Read the full article here.

Patience Akumu: Why Obama doesn’t understand the lust for power of our African leaders

To African leaders, Obama’s solutions for Africa are untenable. They view him as detached from the challenges and realities of an African leader. For starters, this African son has one wife and no known concubines. No wonder he comes up with wayward ideas such as educating more African women. Does he know how hard it would be to convince a scientist, engineer or entrepreneur to become a second wife? Does he know how many legal cases African countries would have to deal with if most of the masses – whose human-rights violations nosy organisations such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International do not tire of reporting – were educated and employed rather than hungry and destitute?

The reality is that these African leaders do not realise that their argument that human rights, dignity and democracy are a western concept force-fed to the African continent no longer holds water. Its demise happened around the time when Bakayoko, the protagonist in Senegalese writer Ousmane Sembène’s God’s Bits of Wood, declared that dignity, good food, water and housing, are not for white people – they are for people. The notion that human rights and democracy – the kind that Obama speaks about – are not African was stripped of all legitimacy when African leaders, evoking the universal declaration of human rights and drawing inspiration from the French and American revolutions, demanded self governance and equality. They made these demands in English, French, Portuguese and other languages that their tyrants would understand. With their sweat and blood, they adopted human rights, made them African and used these ideals to liberate the continent from colonialism. It is baffling that these same people now dare to reject such ideals as being foreign. With worrying nostalgia, some Africans of an older generation will tell you that colonialism was so much better than the governments they live under. If African leaders cared, it is this kind of talk that would keep them up at night and push them to do whatever it takes to perform better.

Read the full article here.

What do you think? Do you agree with Minna, Patience, or Andrew?