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Otabil’s perspective of a new Africa

BY: Theophilus Yartey
Dr Mensa Otabil
Dr Mensa Otabil

The General Overseer of the International Central Gospel Church, Dr Mensa Otabil, has carved an image for himself over the years as a visionary leader. Apart from his deep sense of spirituality, he has always been very passionate about the development of Africa.

It is almost his second nature to speak profoundly about the developmental challenges of the continent and question the economic models that have been prescribed to lift the continent from poverty, lack and ignorance.

He, therefore, chose this year’s GREATER WORKS conference, which is the church’s flagship event, to address his pet subject - the New Africa. The Independence Square in Accra, which was built to commemorate Ghana and Africa’s political liberation, is where the world’s attention has been this week and one would have to agree that Pastor Otabil got both the timing and the location right.

On the opening night of the conference, Dr Otabil, who stood before tens of thousands of congregants and over a million television and internet viewers across the world, spoke passionately about a new Africa. He mentioned all 54 countries by name and prayed that they would not miss this window of opportunity.

The renowned clergyman defied the naysayers and declared that it was time for nations on the continent to experience unprecedented and inconceivable growth rates of between 20 and 30 per cent year on year in order to catch up and make a significant dent in the world. This called for a new Africa embarking on a domestic mobilisation of resources and not relying on foreign donor partners such as the Bretton Woods institutions.

“The economists will tell you that it is not possible to grow at rates like 20 or 30 per cent, and that we can only grow realistically at three per cent per annum. They will tell you that it is not possible. I say it is possible. I don’t agree with them and l am not being unrealistic. In fact, in the context of my spirituality, l am only being realistic.


Africa’s GDP

“I will show you some statistics to buttress my point. The current total worth of Africa, with all its 54 countries, is US$2.2 trillion. I will give you the statistics of four companies: Apple is worth US$950 billion, Microsoft is worth US$570 billion, Facebook is worth about US$500 billion and the last one, Amazon, is worth US$430 billion.

If you put these four companies together, they are worth about US$2.5 trillion. The four companies are, therefore, wealthier than the entire continent with all its resources put together.

“I chose these companies because they are all new, and each one of them was formed after most African countries had gained independence, except maybe Zimbabwe and a few others that gained independence in the 1980s.

All of Africa’s national incomes combined do not match up to these four companies all of which are incidentally based in one country. This suggests that if our countries had been run like companies, our wealth would have been more.

“I checked the revenue growth rates of these companies and Facebook has been growing at an average of 50 per cent. I checked that of the parent company of Amazon and it has an average growth rate of almost 25 per cent.

This is why I believe that we can grow by a minimum of 20 to 30 per cent and I am not throwing words into the air. If a 25-year-old man can do it and you think all of us with our white beards cannot do it, then you are insulting us,” Dr Otabil told the audience on the second day of the conference.

Dr Otabil hasn’t hidden his abhorrence for some economic theories and prescriptions given by economists and development experts on how to chart a growth path. He thinks that the economic growth targets set for African economies are too modest and cannot lead to the overall transformation of the continent.

“I don’t trust so-called experts one bit. The problem of Africa is that we believe everyone else’s report. We throw about names and accept people’s ideas because of the institutions they represent but these names in themselves mean nothing in the context of global development. I will tell our leaders to close the books on the IMF and the World Bank. Close the books and let us rewrite our own story.”

The World Bank is projecting that economic growth in Africa will continue to rise to 3.2 per cent in 2018 and to 3.5 per cent in 2019, on the back of firming commodity prices and gradually strengthening domestic demand.

South Africa is forecast to tick up to 1.1 per cent growth in 2018 from 0.8 per cent in 2017. Nigeria is anticipated to accelerate to a 2.5 per cent rate this year from one per cent growth in the year just ended. Growth in Angola is expected to increase to 1.6 per cent in 2018. Most of 2018’s top performers are non-commodity intensive economies.

The list is led by Ghana (8.3 per cent), Ethiopia (8.2 per cent), Côte d’Ivoire (7.2 per cent), Djibouti (7 per cent), Senegal (6.9 per cent) and Tanzania (6.8 per cent).

Ghana’s GDP target

“Ghana must aim at a minimum of 20 per cent growth for the next 20 years. Growth is relative and normally when you are down, you grow faster. The economies of US and Europe have reached maturity.

That explains why they are growing at one per cent and two per cent, but we are an infant economy so our growth rate has to be furious,” Dr Otabil stated.

Even though not the classical economist or the investment banker, Dr Otabil is not a novice when it comes to the issues of national growth and development.

He earned the right to speak authoritatively on national issues decades ago. He was recently voted twice consecutively as the most influential Ghanaian.

Pastor Otabil founded the International Central Gospel Church in 1984, which has grown to have a significant presence across the world. He also led the church to build the Central University, which is the nation’s largest private university. The church also pioneered Central Aid, the nation’s biggest non-governmental scholarship scheme, and the list is endless. His thoughts are bound to challenge the status quo and ignite a debate on the way forward for the continent.