Are we condemned to repeat history?

BY: Dr H. Aborbi
Mrs Frema Osei Opare,  the chief of staff at the presidency
Mrs Frema Osei Opare, the chief of staff at the presidency

I have been wondering lately what Ghana would have been like now if the industrialisation policies of the immediate post-independence period (the Nkrumah era) had been successful. Would the country have been at the same level as South Korea or Malaysia?

Perhaps! Unfortunately, Ghana is very far behind. So, what went wrong? According to the book, Economic Development in Action: A Study of Economic Policies in Ghana by Tony Killick, one time economic advisor to the Nkrumah government, many of the policies failed not because they were not well-intentioned or because of lack of resources. They failed mainly due to poor implementation.

A later edition of the book found poor implementation to persist into the late 2000s, the period examined in the book. Killick also found that the increases in educational attainment had not been reflected in the quality and efficiency of the civil service.

No change

Recent goings-on suggest that our leaders are yet to learn from the past. Take the botched implementation of the transition to the Junior Secondary School system (JSS), and how the government had to muddle through. There is evidence to suggest that JSS standards would not have fallen as much as it did had the policy been better implemented. More recently, the debacle about the on-again off-again ban on the fishing season also points to poor implementation of an otherwise good policy.

The same seems to be happening with the free Senior High School (SHS) policy. Very few people would argue that an SHS policy that allows all children with the ability to have education for free is a bad policy. To be sure, there may be disagreements about details of the policy. So far it appears the implementation of this policy is not as good as it should have been.


Let me explain. In simple terms, a policy is just a statement of intent; implementation is what actually translates the policy into desired outcomes; so a botched implementation means the desired outcomes may not be achieved to the extent envisaged. In fact, a good policy badly implemented could be worse than no policy.

Implementation basically involves specifying and interrogating and acting on the chain of actions needed for the policy to succeed. In the case of the free SHS policy, such a chain would run something like this: free SHS leads to increased enrolment, increased enrolment in turn requires additional educational infrastructure and teaching resources. Subsequent iterations involve quantifying the percentage increase in enrolment, the infrastructure and other resources needed to accommodate the estimated increase in enrolment.

In real life policy situations, there would be several iterations, with increasing details at each successive level. An important part of this process is consultations with the various people who will actually be implementing the policy — in the free SHS case, teachers, other school staff and relevant staff at the Ghana Education Service.

The experience of other countries which have undertaken a similar policy could be examined for lessons. The advantage of following this approach, right from the time of the conception of the policy, is that it helps to anticipate potential problems likely to occur during implementation and, therefore, allows for steps to be put in place to eliminate or minimise them.

In addition, it produces estimates of the resources needed for the policy to be successful and also helps to discover alternative methods of implementation. If done properly this process links the policy to the national budget to allow resources needed for the policy to be allocated in the budget.

Compare the process sketched above with what happens in Ghana.

Policies are usually launched with great fanfare in plush hotels, with the usual suspects in attendance and everybody lauds the minister for a nice policy. Few or none of the people who will actually implement the policy are in attendance. Anybody who criticises the policy or suggests an alternative is quickly branded a saboteur or a ‘nay-sayer’. His or her views are summarily dismissed. Then, later out of the blue the start of the policy is announced.

The President’s policy advisors

If the free SHS was announced as a flagship programme in a list of election promises over one year ago, my question is: Why is its implementation being done on the fly? If proper implementation process was followed, decision makers would have had estimates of the increases in enrolment to be expected and the required investment in infrastructure undertaken.

Schools are about to reopen and our leaders are only now working out the double track approach to adopt. The additional 8,000 teachers have not yet been engaged, let alone given any extra training they may need to cope with double track. Yet the President has policy analysts and advisors. What was that they say about those who do not learn from history?