Imagine if Ghana were China

BY: Enimil Ashon

I was at a ceremony in Accra this week at which the Standard Bank Group, in the name of Ghana’s Stanbic Bank, and the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China Limited (ICBC), collaborating with the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture, launched ‘I Go Ghana: I Go China’.

It is an initiative that seeks to leverage the global presence of the two financial institutions and their deep insight into Africa for trade and tourism promotion between Ghana and China.

Why China? It happens that China is now the number one global source of tourism. In 2017, some 129 million Chinese tourists travelled overseas.

That is when the thought struck me: in the last one decade or so, China seems to be topping all the league tables. Why?

In spite of its population; in fact, because of its population, China is now the second largest economy in the world. Once upon a time, China’s biggest burden was its population.No more. After the Cultural Revolution under Chairman Mao, the new leadership decided from 1978 that population ought not to play to the country’s disadvantage. The answer was industrialising through liberalisation.

Having read what I have read in the last four days, including James Kynge’s ‘China Shakes the World’, however, my answer is one: Wisdom. Call it pragmatism.

Of course, they went through the same teething problems as we are going through in Ghana today. For instance, they had to rely on foreign direct investment. So for almost a decade late, some US$550 billion FDIs flowed into the economy.

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Then its leadership sat up. They were aware that companies, by and large, derived their technologies either by buying them, copying them or by encouraging a foreign partner to transfer them as part of the price for access to a large potential market.

The game plan was to ride on the back of the population. China was industrialising and every western company wanted to either win contracts for the manufacturing or supply of technology. The leadership also realised that all the big western multinationals needed was the market. The prospect of a large market that was to become the key to luring foreign investors.

Take the gas-fired turbine market. China let it be known that any foreign company hoping to win contracts in that field had to form joint venture with state companies and hand over the advanced manufacturing specifications.

This presented the multinationals with an agonising decision. The technology embedded in gas turbines was close to that of the engines which powered commercial airliners. But for the sake of the market (the Chinese population), America’s General Electric (GE) had to play ball.

For the Chinese, the attraction was a double-win: obtaining the technology and educating Chinese scientists in some of the world’s latest theories and technologies. That is how China leapt up the technology ladder.

So, in the late 70s, China did not have a single super-computer ranked among the top 500 in the world, but by the end of 2003, it had nine, and its fastest computer, DeepComp 6800, built by Lenovo, was ranked 14th.

Here is another decision by the Chinese leadership. The government set out deliberately to ensure that its manufacturing sector would be a world beater. Thus, it kept the cost of electricity artificially low, subsidised the price of oil to make it cheaper to industry and provided generous tax rebates to any company that exported its goods.

Once the technology and raw materials were available, China announced to the western multi-nationals that while it was not against their sleek vehicles such as Mercedes, Toyota and BMW, all foreign vehicles must be manufactured in China, not exported into China. The market was there and the banks knew it.

The banks calculated that the number of people wealthy enough to buy a car in China was growing. Between 2005 and 2010, it was expected to grow from 60 million to 160 million. The banks envisaged that by 2010, China would become the fastest growing auto market in the world, a forecast that came to pass in 2009.

India is another country that is almost a continent in size. Once upon a time in the 1960s, all that Ghanaians knew about India was superstition. It played out in their films where Sabu flew the magic carpet. Its films were just like our Kumawood movies of today.

Then India decided to put that brand of thinking behind it in favour of science, technology and innovation. Today, India has landed in space. From building its first satellite way back in 1975, India has come a long way to where it was able to launch 104 satellites in one go and on a single rocket.

On the back of Science, Technology and Innovation, the country launched the "Indian Green Revolution" of the 1970s and has not looked back. Today, India is the largest producer in the world of milk, cashew nuts, coconuts, tea, ginger, turmeric and black pepper, and is the second largest producer of wheat, rice, sugar, groundnut and inland fish. It is the third largest producer of tobacco.

Here in Ghana, we are less than 30 million people. Can you imagine Ghana with a population of 50 million? Imagine the higgledy-piggledy on our roads! We would be buried under filth.
Any lessons to ponder?