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Ghana – trouble now but plenty of hope for the future

Franklin Cudjoe, Director of the Ghanaan think tank Imani, who has been visiting the UK in order to contest the nonsense being spouted about how to solve Africa’s problems by Live 8 etc., gave a fingerclickin’ good talk at my home on Friday. The fingerclickin’ being a reference to the amount of money stolen every second – $4,700 – by African governments. My thanks to Helen Szamuely for also reporting on this event.

Ghana sounds like a relatively prosperous and urbanised country, by African standards, and it was interesting to hear an African talking about the complications of airline deregulation and exactly how much members of parliament get paid per day (enough to keep them snugly on board the gravy train, no matter what they may have said at election time), rather than just famine, malnutrition, etc.

The anti-globalisation crowd say that multinational corporations are causing corruption in Africa. Actually, they often find it a huge barrier to trading in Africa. KLM wanted to run some flights from Ghana to neighbouring African countries, but the bribes demanded of them were too extortionate, and they pulled out. Travelling between countries in that part of Africa seems to involve choosing which bunch of state highwaymen you prefer to be shaken down by. It is understandable that, economically speaking, lots of colonial African countries used to look outwards, so to speak, with most of their trade being organised by their colonial masters. It is not so understandable why this is still the pattern.

I asked Franklin who in Ghana he thinks is doing the most to improve the place. His answer was the Ghana Centre for Democratic Development. What Africa needs is good government. And the way to start trying to get good government is to talk and write out loud with anyone who will listen – especially the next generation – about what that is and ought to be. There as here, in enterprises of this kind, the internet has helped

Franklin sounded a lot like Hayek – which is no coincidence, because he talked about how much Hayek had influenced his early thinking – in his insistence upon the intellectual struggle as the first step in trying to achieve anything more concrete. You get nowhere by nagging politicians direct. You have to change the assumptions within which they work. That takes time but it can be done, and by the sound of it he is doing his best.

Michael Jennings pointed out that all over the Far East, lots of those little upwardly mobile trading niches that used to be occupied by the Chinese diaspora are now occupied by the Ghanaan diaspora. Clearly there is nothing wrong with the talents of the Ghanaan people. They just need the right setting to flourish in.

14 comments to Ghana – trouble now but plenty of hope for the future

  • John East

    I’ve always had trouble accepting corruption (internal or multi-national) as the reason for poor government in Africa. Yes, I agree the incumbent dictator in any given country is probably extremely corrupt, but it must be in his interests to stamp out all other corruption, have good government, and produce wealth from which he can benefit. A successful corrupt president might also be expected to be somewhat street wise, and more able to spot illegal practices in his subordinates.

    I think we must also include greed, laziness and stupidity. Greed because once a corrupt leader has salted away a few hundred million dollars I doubt that continuing to steal more money enhances his lifestyle, laziness because he has no interest in understanding or practicing good governance, and stupid because if he developed a more successful state he would make more money and be less likely to be unseated by a revolution.

  • John, the fallacy in your argument is that few rulers, whether democratically elected or installed by force, can expect to remain in power long enough to reap the benefits of good (or more accurately, less bad) governance. It is therefore entirely rational for those who are interested in personal gain to pillage as much as they can during the short time they have in power.

    Hans Herman Hoppe has written extensively on this theme in his book “Democracy, the God that failed”.

  • I think that 20 years from now, Ghana has at least a chance to be Africa’s great success story. The people are just too innovative and dynamic to keep down indefinitely and I suspect they have the best chance of overcoming the endemic corruption that so blights everything in that part of the world. It is without doubt my favourite part of the whole continent.

  • Brian, it was fascinating to hear an account from somebody “on the ground” as it were, but I thought that Franklin retained a touching faith in the virtues (and indeed the possibility) of “good” government, as though the problem in Africa is “bad” government as opposed to government per se.

    Perhaps I should have asked him if he thought that the government in Ghanna had ever done anything “good”, and if so, what? It would have been interesting to hear his answer.


  • Julius

    I knew someone would pick up on that word “government”. Depending on how you define it, Africa either has not enough of it, or a bellyfull.

    The good sort of government is things like: catching and punishing thieves and murderers, enforcing contracts. That kind of thing. And Africa needs more of that, just as most other people do. Well, good people want more of it.

    Trouble is, most good government has a bad government price attached to it, and the two processes tend to go hand in hand. Or to put it another way, government is a government monopoly.

    But I do think that the basic problem of Africa is that it does indeed have not enough of the good kind of government, and the price, in bad government for what good government they do have is way too high.

  • John East

    I don’t disagree with Hoppe on the short term perspective of politicians, but many African dictators expect to be in power for life, and therefore might better fit Hoppe’s category of ruling monarchs which he claims take a longer term view, including the preservation of their states wealth for their desendants.

  • Bernie

    Franklin’s talk was very enlightening. He managed to inform us about the most appallling practices of governments in an amusing way. He has a good sense of humour as well as a sharp intellect and I predict that if Africa does manage to pull itself up by it’s own bootstraps, he will have been a major influence in bringing it about. He is worth hundreds of stupidly ill informed rock stars

  • I find it hard to believe anyone who has spent much time in Africa would disagree with the idea that corrupt governance is the single biggest factor in why people are so poor (with desertification coming a close second in some parts).

    But as Brian points out, the Africans get the worst of all possibe worlds: they have all too much government when it comes to regulating and taxing people into grinding poverty yet have hardly any government at all when it comes to securing property rights and preventing theft and violence.

    Moreover I think John East’s point about how African rulers tend to more closely fit Hoppe’s description of monarchs is well made. And whilst I am on record as noting how flawed democratic systems tend to be and oposing the fetishisation of democrcy, the experience of Africa also points out what a load of complete cobblers Hoppe’s thesis is if he thinks that is somehow preferable to democratic alternatives.

  • I’ve always had trouble accepting corruption (internal or multi-national) as the reason for poor government in Africa. Yes, I agree the incumbent dictator in any given country is probably extremely corrupt, but it must be in his interests to stamp out all other corruption, have good government, and produce wealth from which he can benefit

    Not necessarily, and not just because of any expectations he might have about his longevity in power either; as it turns out, there are indeed plenty of situations in which misgovernment turns out to be a perfectly rational strategy for remaining in office – it is by no means an accident that Botswana is the best governed country south of the Sahara. Too much of the wrong type of government is certainly the proximate problem, but the underlying causes are such that one has reason to be pessimistic that this is about to change anywhere on the continent.

  • Perry:

    I too tend to share your scepticism about Hoppe’s thesis, but logically it must be right that somebody who is in for the long term has an incentive for better husbandry than somebody who isn’t.


    It is a fascinating question as to whether Africa’s exceptional poverty is primarily a consequence of the lack of secure property and contractual rights (i.e. lack of the good) or whether it is primarily a consequence of corruption, over-regulation etc (i.e. too much of the bad).
    Another question I should have put to Franklin!

    Either way though, it is not a consequence of lack of International State to State aid!

  • Julius,

    If there was ever something I thought the Ghanaian government did well, it was to recycle cliches of good governance and golden age of business and seek applause for doing what should be the right thing.

    Well, they have been able to keep the peace, relatively though, in one of the most turbulent regions of the world. Ghana now looks like Iowa in the States , indeed an oasis in the desert. But this was largely due to the good sense of security of the old regime and generally the proverbial Ghanaian innate love for peaceful coexistence with the neighbour.

  • Selorm Branttie

    Being a Ghanaian and living in Ghana, I cant help but agree with Franklin’s assertions. Ghana’s government has performed exceptionally well in terms of putting the right spindoctors in place to advance their arguments of creating an “enabling environment” for poverty alleviation and good governance. However, the truth on the ground is that all the mechanisms that could check corruption among government officials have been crippled and underpowered, while the Parliament (Ghana’s Legislative Body) wastes its time haggling over laws and bills that do not contribute in any way to the advancement of good governance.

  • Bernie

    Perry I don’t think the current examples of what are being called monarchs are what Hoppe has in mind. I think they are acting as criminals who expect to be caught some time and so are looting as best they can while they still can.

  • Brian and Julius,

    If as we know it, secured property rights and respect for contracts constitute the nexus of unprecedented economic growth in advanced countries, we wouldn’t be from another planet if we did what others have done sensibly.

    Economic freedom begets political freedom. Democracy alone, ala elections are not enough, we need a liberal democracy that circumscribe the domain of government to what Martin Wolf says “Under liberty, the state protects everybody from predators, not excluding itself”. Property rights begets individual ownership and that in turn promotes individual as well as economic freedom.