Children working for survival
Children working for survival

A case for paradigm shift in tackling national poverty

Ghana is very rich in natural resources, boasting an impressive array of such metals and minerals as gold, diamonds, manganese, bauxite, iron ore, lithium, silica sand, clays, kaolin, talc, phosphate rock clay, feldspar, mica, columbite-tantalite, feldspar, barite, chrome, quartz, salt, limestone, dolomite, jasper, beryl, betonies, granite, uranium, iron ore, oil and natural gas and many more.


The critical importance of these minerals and metals is that they are used in the manufacture of such things as automobiles, agricultural machinery, construction equipment, airplanes, ships, aircraft carriers, spaceships, mobile phones, microchips, batteries, household appliances, computers, nuclear reactors, rocket engines, robots and all such manufactures that are radically transforming the world.

Yet, despite this enormous wealth, Ghana is chronically poor. For example, the national daily minimum wage is less than what is spent for the daily upkeep of a single cow in the advanced industrial countries, and a typical Ghanaian diet does not compare favourably with that of a typical animal pet in some parts of the world.

Sprawling slums

Apart from a sprinkling of a few salubrious and lavishly manicured neighbourhoods, our cities are mostly sprawling slums, with major intersections bursting at the seams with hawkers, mainly school dropouts, meandering their way dangerously among traffic with their merchandises in a daily struggle to eke an existence.

Such despondency, coupled with the lack of economic opportunities has been pushing the more adventurous among the youth to seek greener pastures especially in Europe, by embarking on, until recently, very perilous journeys across the Sahara Desert, often on foot, and then in rickety vessels across the Mediterranean Sea in embarrassingly painful and tragic reminder of transatlantic slave ships of earlier centuries.

The situation in the rural areas is even more desperate and clearly visible in the ragged clothing and prematurely emaciated bodies of the rural folk. The virtual collapse of the rural agricultural economy has led to massive rural-urban migration, and as the active rural population abandon the harsh rustic lives and head in droves for the urban centres in search of better lives, they leave behind decaying villages of mostly squalid hovels.

The lack of potable water in some of these areas forces the inhabitants into daily competition with cattle herds at waterholes, and the almost complete absence of the most rudimentary health facilities exacerbates an already precarious situation in which life expectancy is far lower than the national average.

Added to these woes is the lack of motorable roads, effectively ensuring that these rural areas are physically isolated from the centres of national activity. And these are our compatriots who produce most of our food and whose lands hold most of our natural resources.

Natural resources

The point must be made that the abundance of natural resources, as is the case with Ghana, is not conterminous with successful socio-economic transformation. What matters is the quality of the human resources, the brainpower and the skills needed to convert the natural resources into tangible wealth and concrete production.

This will require leveraging science and technology, including indigenous technology, for the manufacture not only of consumer goods but of capital goods as well. This should be our main preoccupation, but this cannot be done without restructuring our economy away from its present state of neo-colonial dependency occasioned by our status in the global economy as primary producers and an enclave for the extraction of raw materials.

Unfortunately, we have over the years mystified our economic problems to mean the lack of growth in terms of GDP while completely ignoring the neo-colonial nature of the background economic environment which we erroneously consider as given, believing that it is the only natural and practical option, and all that is required is prudent financial management.

This misdiagnosis of the problem has led us to an obsession with financial performance and an overwhelming preoccupation with such indices as budget deficits, interest rates, inflation, tax revenues, foreign exchange when, in fact, these only address the symptoms of the crises.

At best these are auxiliary structures, and not the fundamental structures that generate the crises. For example, goods and services have first to be produced before they can be traded, priced, monetised or exported for foreign exchange.

The focus should therefore be on the physical production of goods, converting our natural wealth into tangible products to meet the basic needs of the majority of the people in terms of food, housing, clothing and health.

Finally, and this is very important, the restructuring of our economy away from neo-colonial dependency will necessarily demand a radical reorientation of our education system towards practical science and technology, as well as hands-on, technical and engineering skills acquisition.

The writer is a Senior Research Fellow at the Baraka Policy Institute (BPI), a research think tank on education and citizen well-being.

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