Why Ghana’s economic crisis is solvable
FEBRUARY 6, 2023: In a matter of seconds, memories turned into a cloud of dust for millions of people in Turkiye and Syria who were caught in the tragic earthquake that reduced hundreds of houses to piles of debris.
That disaster in the two countries was thousands of miles away.
But its impact has brought us gloom under the most difficult circumstances.
In equal measure, it opened our tear ducts to grieve and open our eyes to the generosity of one of its victims –a former Black Stars player, Christian Atsu, who played in Turkiye’s elite football division.
He was found dead under the wreckage 12 days after the disaster.
Our optimism failed to count when death rummaged through the debris to make its choices of more than 44,000 people.
While I ponder over the heartbreaking way the 31-year-old footballer died, it began to dawn on me that the tributes pouring out for him were not about his skills on the pitch, but rather, how he touched the lives of unaccountable number of people.
To some ex-convicts, he was a liberator, some orphans, he was a father, to some patients on hospital beds yesterday, he was a philanthropist, to his family, he was a man who dug them out of hopelessness and poverty and to some other average Ghanaians who encountered him, Christian Atsu was their lifeline in their moments of need.
These tributes should be a learning point for all of us. How are we contributing in our own small ways to lift our communities and our people out of the dungeon of poverty and need?
Imagine what would happen if we had more Atsus in our footballers, accountants, politicians, engineers, doctors, pastors, chiefs, mechanics, tailors, seamstresses and the wave of other professions.
Imagine if our government made it easier for our diasporans to return home to generous incentives and tax breaks.
Imagine the difference we would make in communities where children continue to learn under trees and take vacations when the sky gets cloudy.
In an era when the economy is on its knees, pleading for economic clutches, it is time to wear our badges of patriotism and support our fellow citizens wallowing in dire need.
Corrupt civil servants and their collaborators in the private sector must begin to look at how much the country could save if they for once stopped sacrificing national interest for personal gain.
The same goes for our politicians.
How South Korea did it
South Korea has a classic example of how patriotic citizens and their leaders could save a country in the jaws of debt.
In 1998, Koreans donated billions of dollars’ worth of gold jewellery to help pay their country’s International Monetary Fund (IMF) debt in the wake of the 1997 Asian financial crisis a debt Korea paid off ahead of schedule.
The economic malaise of South Korea isn’t different from what we’re experiencing today.
The national currency, the Won, took a rapid dive, speculative bubbles burst, companies and banks collapsed under the weight of their debts, and millions of people lost their jobs during the course of the crisis, DW reported.
With nowhere but the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to turn to, the country sought IMF support.
The IMF gave South Korea $58 billion.
But it came with stifling conditionalities.
Interest rate hikes, fiscal austerity, and structural reforms. This tripled unemployment figures.
To pull itself out of the debt, South Korean leaders, with the marketing strength of its mega companies, including Samsung and Hyundai, sold the idea of giving up precious golden jewels to help pay their debt quickly.
In 1998, millions of people responded to the call as individuals and families went to special collection points to give the government what they could in heirlooms, wedding rings, or small gold figures, such as those traditionally presented in Korea on a child's first birthday.
Athletes brought in gold medals and trophies.
According to the Insider, in as little as two months, 226 metric tonnes, valued at $2.2 billion, were collected, every last scrap of which was melted into ingots and promptly delivered to the IMF.
Now, what could be more patriotic than that?
Proposed Ghana version
What will be your response if our government moots this idea?
Conservative estimates from different sources peg Ghanaians living abroad at about three million.
Imagine if we can run a campaign to get at least half of them to contribute US$50 monthly into a fund for the next three years.
That is about $2.7 billion.
How about Ghanaians living in Ghana.
If we can rally at least 15 million of the population to contribute GH₵10 a month for the next three years, that will amount to GH₵5.4 billion.
Rich Ghanaians could pay more to support the cause.
These figures could clear Ghana’s debts and give us a clean bill of economic health to start afresh. While at it, government must trim its spending.
I am sure there would be a deep-seated mistrust because of the way the government has handled the Debt Exchange Programme and its tenure in general.
But to engineer public confidence, these funds should be controlled by prominent Ghanaians with no questionable character just as we did with the COVID-19 Trust Fund chaired by former Chief Justice Sophia Akuffo.
No one can turn around our country, not even the IMF if we’re unwilling to make the difference required to lift us out of the deep economic hole we find ourselves in.
We have a lot to learn from South Korea. But are we willing?
The writer is the Founder/Chancellor,
Wisconsin International University College.