The writer
The writer

COVID-19: Building blocks to Ghana’s industrialisation; Where are we now?

The COVID-19 pandemic has made countries all over the world re-strategise for the immediate (near) future. 

Generally, it is expected that there will be a decline in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of many countries.

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Throughout history, we have learnt that disruptions (human or natural) result in changes in economic strength of countries.

While some countries maintain their economic strength, others become weaker.

Some economically weaker countries become stronger and other weak economies become weaker.

The changes in strength is not spontaneous or even entitled (because we are not entitled to anything anyway); rather, a country’s economic position is a matter of proactive strategy.

For many developing countries in Africa with many structural weaknesses and looking for an opportunity to turn the tables, it appears the pandemic has brought a glimmer of hope.

Nature has smiled on us in the midst of the pandemic and we have another chance to reduce our dependency on imports and strengthen our economy.

Because there is scarcity of some health-related essentials in the whole world, the remedy is found locally and countries are looking for local alternatives.

For those who argued that the government as the biggest procuring entity could use policy to change our problematic terms of trade, they have been vindicated because we see the government awarding contracts for the production of Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs), face masks, medicines, sanitisers and other health-related equipment needed to fight the pandemic to local manufacturers.

I dare say, and it does not take a prophet to allude, that but for the pandemic and shortages in the world over, the government would have continued in its bad ways of importing these health-related equipments from abroad.

The call for industrialisation

Successive governments agree that the way to come out of our economic problems is to industrialise.

Here, the call is for the establishment of import substitution industries.

The government initiated and is still pursuing the 1D1F policy, a policy that is commendable and, if implemented well, will be the beginning of our drive for industrialisation.

However, we are yet to see the full benefits and real changes in respect of how it helps our terms of trade.

We have realised that we can produce some of the basic necessities that we need locally.

So even if our outflows in terms of manufactured goods cannot significantly boost our prospect of surplus terms of trade, we can reduce inflows of manufactured goods through import substituting industrialisation.

This will make a huge difference in our international trade and finance indicators.

Proactivity but not reactivity

With the COVID-19, we have heard the popularisation of the adage that “necessity is the mother of all inventions”.

We have seen prototypes of several locally developed equipment for our use in this era of pandemic.

Indeed, this is not the first time such local innovations have come up due to necessities.

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In 1917, Alfred North Whitehead argued that “the basis of invention is science, and science is almost wholly the outgrowth of pleasurable intellectual curiosity”.

Whitehead believed that we should not limit our sense of innovation to necessity but seek to use scientific curiosity to proactively innovate.

For those suggesting that Ghanaians are innovative and hiding behind the expression that necessity is the mother of innovation, I dare say that such ideas do not fit in today's world of innovation anymore.

It is not that the adage is not true, the problem is that it is a reactive strategy and not sustainable.

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That is why we have not as a country been able to commercialise the many prototypes or inventions that we have developed over the years.

It worked throughout history but lately countries plan and create a need and get people to identify with the need so they make money.

As a nation, the need to create and innovate is forward looking and one will constantly need to monitor trends and create to survive.

We need to change our definition of when necessity starts to generate innovation.

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Necessity is not entirely out of our control; we can control and create necessity.

It should not be that necessity occurs without our control; it is actually within our control.

So far, all our innovations have been reactive to COVID-19.

The panic-fuelled reactive strategy is not going to help us in the long run because once this pandemic is over, we are likely to go back to our old ways of depending on imports.

This will happen because there was no long-term strategy for its sustainability. So as we come out of the pandemic, will we continue to produce our own sanitisers, PPEs among others? If we do not have a long-term strategy, we will go back to our bad habits.

Those countries that are proactive in their strategies will take over once again and we will continue to follow.

*9The good thing is that we have discovered our sense of creativity once again.

This is the time to soberly reflect and redefine the content of our “import basket”.

Let us look deeper into the import basket and begin to define which items should be removed from it.

While at that, we need to also look into the “export basket” and consider filling them with not only primary products but value-added products.

This requires practical policy direction from the government.

The way forward

There is a need for targeted investment in research and development. Research and development are not things we take seriously in our public discourse. Perhaps this is because we focus too much on short-term gains.

As a nation we do not allocate enough resources to research and development.

We like to be certain about results before we proceed to invest.

But that is anti-innovation. As a country, what is our budget for research and development?

There are no shortcuts! The less interest in funding research activities is seen at the micro and macro levels.

The countries we depend on to get medical and other supplies have invested and continue to invest in research and development to get “the next big thing” to commercialise.

In the many industrialised countries that are constantly innovating; research is prioritised and there is reasonable budget expenditure for research and development.

In Ghana, where there is investment in research, it is for short-term results. Perhaps the cure for the COVID-19 and many ailments confronting the world is in Ghana.

But how can we tell when we have not put our best foot forward in research?

Conclusion

The key is openness and willingness to challenge the status quo and daring to try new things.

If in the past we have ever been scared to dare and try new things, then I dare say that COVID-19 has given us another opportunity to try to do things differently. Let us not fail!

The writer is a lawyer, senior lecturer and vice dean of the Faculty of Management Studies, University of Professional Studies, Accra. He can be reached via email at [email protected]

 

 

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