Sunday, 21 July

Prof. Frimpong-Boateng: An open letter to anybody who wants to be Ghana’s president in January 2025

Feature Article
Prof Frimpong Boateng

Ghana has not done as well as it should have done since President Kwame Nkrumah was unconstitutionally ousted from office through a military coup by the National Liberation Council on February 24, 1966. Ghana has had three other interruptions of governments. The present 4th Republic, dominated by the National Democratic Congress (NDC) and the New Patriotic Party (NPP), has not brought the transformational change that will put the country on a path of sustainable development and prosperity for its people.

I dare say that the fight ahead of Ghana is greater than the fight for political independence and it cannot be won with leaders who lack the zeal, commitment, and conviction to confront their own demons and other forces and headwinds that are against the development of the country.

It is always said that one cannot reinvent the wheel and I believe in that old adage. I present here examples of what happened elsewhere on this planet not too long ago. I personally believe that the country can make progress when we get leaders who exhibit the qualities in the examples that follow.

The first example of transformational leadership is from Singapore. When the government of Lee Kuan Yew took office in 1959 it set out to have a clean administration. The Prime Minister said that “we were sickened by the greed, corruption, and decadence of many Asian leaders” and “We had the deep sense of mission to establish a clean and effective government”. This was a solid commitment from the newly elected Prime Minister. With determination and a credible program committed to scientific and technological development, Lee Kuan Yew and his team were able to live up to their good intentions and Singapore, which in 1819 was a village with 120 fishermen without natural resources and hinterland, propelled itself from third world squalor to first world affluence in just 35 years. This was commitment and a sense of mission personified.

The second example is from China. The economic development taking place in China is the result of an initiative taken by four scientists. On the 3rd of March 1986, four of China’s top weapons scientists: WANG Daheng, WANG Ganchang, YANG Jiachi, and CHEN Fangyun, jointly sent a private letter to Deng Xiaoping, the leader of the country, with a warning that decades of relentless focus on militarization had crippled the country’s civilian scientific establishment. They recommended that China must join the world’s “new technological revolution,” or it would be left behind.

They called for an élite project devoted to technology ranging from biotech to space research. Mr. Deng Xiaoping agreed, and scribbled on the letter, “Action must be taken on this now.” This was China’s “Sputnik moment,” and the project was code-named the 863 Program, for the year and month of its birth. In the years that followed, the government pumped billions of dollars into labs and universities and enterprises, on projects ranging from cloning to underwater robots. The program initially focused on seven key technological fields: Biotechnology, Space technology, Information technology, Laser technology, Automation, Energy, and Advanced Material Sciences.

Two more fields were brought under the umbrella of the program: Telecommunications (1992) and Marine Technology (1996).

In 2006, Chinese leaders redoubled their commitment to new energy technology; they boosted funding for research and set targets for installing wind turbines, solar panels, hydroelectric dams, and other renewable sources of energy that were higher than goals in the United States. China doubled its wind power capacity that year and then doubled it again the next year, and the year after. The country had virtually no solar industry in 2003; five years later, it was manufacturing more solar cells than any other country, winning customers from foreign companies that had invented the technology in the first place.

Korea transformed itself from a stagnant agrarian society into one of the most dynamic industrial economies of the world within 40 years. In the early 1960s when Korea first launched its industrialization efforts, it was a typical poor developing country with poor resources and production base and small domestic market. Korea’s Gross National Product (GNP) in 1961 was only $2.3 billion (in 1980 prices) or $87 per capita which came mainly from the primary sectors. The manufacturing sector’s share of GNP remained at a mere 15%. International trade was also at a very infant stage: in 1961, Korea’s export volume was only $55 million and imports were $390 million. As late as 1970, the three top exports were textiles, plywood, and wigs. South Korea now has established world prominence in such technology areas as semiconductors, Liquid Crystal Display (LCD), telecommunication equipment, automobiles, shipbuilding, and many more. Indeed, it has emerged as one of the key international players in the global economy and is considered the 13th largest economy and one of the major trading countries of the world.

The last example is from the United States of America. When the 56 signatories of the Declaration of American Independence met in the State House of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia on the 4th of July 1776 to append their signatures to the famous document Declaration of America’s Independence this is what they said: “And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor”.

The signers of the American Declaration of Independence, twenty-three lawyers, fifteen merchants, five plantation owners, four physicians, three scientists, two land speculators, one farmer, one military man, one lawyer/musician and one Minister, showed tremendous courage and bravery by willingly putting their names on that document. They knew full well that they were committing treason against England and they knew the penalty was death. Their commitment to the United States of America led to the creation of what is still the richest and most powerful country in the world.

Ghana has not yet seen the type of closed, united, committed, focused, and dedicated leadership that is ready to sacrifice for future generations of Ghanaians. We have not had leaders who see beyond the next elections and plan for future generations. If a few leaders of this country, relying on the protection of divine providence, would mutually pledge their lives, fortunes, and sacred honour for the development of Ghana, there would be a palpable change within 2 years. Maybe there is no sacred honour or fortune to pledge on.

The political corruption that is gradually gaining root in Ghana is very disturbing. When it comes to choosing leaders to run the political parties and the nation it is no more a question of looking for selfless and competent individuals who have what it takes to move the nation forward. It is more of who is loyal to powerful individuals who want their interests to be served after the power is won.

I expect anyone who wants to lead this country to tell the nation now how things are going to be done differently so that young people would begin to have hope and a stake in this country.

Our leaders have devalued themselves to the extent that they think only foreigners can help us out of our misery. How can someone tell us that he is waiting for a loan from some other country before roads, schools and other infrastructural projects can be executed?

Our leaders seem to know it all and can develop this country without Ghanaians. After all, they do not need Ghanaians to travel around looking for loans, grants, and handouts. They do not need Ghanaians to build the infrastructural projects. As it is, those who give out the loans also provide highly qualified and skilful workers from their country to get the work done.

Our leaders’ understanding of development seems to be only the provision of infrastructure. No country ever developed by borrowing to build infrastructure. ‘Something’ else must be built on the infrastructure. That something is the true development.

As far as I am concerned the many roads, interchanges, schools, hospitals, wells, electricity, and other infrastructural projects, erroneously called development projects, do not alone determine the success of a Government. Rather the success of true leadership is measured by what extent the people can be mobilized to lead independent lives: to feed, shelter, clothe, heal, and defend themselves, and also produce tools, implements, spare parts and machines they require for daily living, so that if for one reason or the other ships and airplanes are unable to access the country the citizens can stand on their own and survive.

We need attitudinal change. We should realize that the overall development of the nation, including the economic, social, cultural, and technological development is the responsibility of the Ghanaian. Mr. Future President, the men, and women to solve the myriads of problems facing us are here at home and in the diaspora. They have to be found and encouraged to perform. The task of political leadership is to unearth the actors needed to transform the nation. If we say we have the men, let us use the men and not the boys.

We should exorcise the ‘beggar mentality’ from our lives and accept that our poverty is self-inflicted and it is absolutely unnecessary.

We pride ourselves on having been endowed with abundant natural resources. That is true but it is also important to know that natural resources have no natural owners. The real owners are those who have the technology, skills, and financial power to exploit those resources. They are the ones that take 90% of the mineral and other resources and leave a mere 10% for the host country.

It really beats my understanding that our leaders do not seem to realize that the real difference between the developed countries of America, Europe, Asia and the Far East and the underdeveloped countries of Africa lies in their technological capability. This capability has been defined as the extent to which countries access, utilize, and create science and technology for the solution of socio–economic problems. Technology has a track record of solving developmental problems. Our modern world is driven by technology. Energy, agriculture, medicine and health, clean air and water, transportation, sanitation, management, utilization, and conservation of natural resources — all are based ultimately on science and technology. So, it is obvious that to be a part of that world, there must be science and technology elements in the development process.

Despite efforts to alleviate poverty, Ghana still exhibits a chronic inability to alleviate poverty. Poverty alleviation means, for many people, being able to afford nutritious food, access to clean water and sanitation, energy, safe shelter, education, and a healthy environment. Since science and technology have a historical record of providing solutions to poverty problems, any efforts to alleviate poverty will not succeed without innovations in food production, water, energy, and health provision and in general economic growth.

We must understand that Science, Engineering and Technology will give us the capacity to manufacture machines, develop processes and materials and exploit our abundant natural resources for national development. If we do not develop the capacity to manufacture machines that will work for us, we should as well forget about any dream of developing the Nation. No country ever developed without the capacity to manufacture machines. If we characterize Ghana as an agricultural nation, we do so by default because we cannot do anything else. We will continue to run the Adam and Eve, Cain, and Abel economy: planting yams and rearing animals.

We have not advanced to Noah’s economy. He built a sophisticated ship that saved humanity and other forms of life. About 2200 years ago, the Chinese built the over 6300km Great Wall of China, without any assistance from the World Bank but we in the 21st Century have closed our minds to technology and need assistance to construct everything, including toilets. We need to constantly remind ourselves that the POVERTY GAP is a TECHNOLOGY GAP.

Again, our development should be driven by our ability to understand, interpret, select, adapt, use, transmit, diffuse, produce, and commercialize scientific and technological knowledge in ways appropriate to our culture, aspirations, and level of development.

Ghana needs a new brand of leadership. It is unacceptable that about 80% of inputs into agriculture, education and health are from foreign sources. It is a shame that a major thrust of our economic policy is to try as much as we can to attract foreign investors. Good as foreign investments are we just cannot sit down and think that without confronting our problems ourselves we can still be prosperous.

To my mind, Ghana is unable to attract significant Foreign Direct Investments (FDI). Any country that does not take the development of its human capital seriously finds it difficult to attract Foreign Direct Investments (FDI). The high-income developed countries with well-developed human capital are not only the major source of direct investment, but they are also the major recipients. China and the United States of America are the major recipients of FDIs in the world.

There is ample evidence that multinationals are more active primarily between similar, high-income countries and that outward direct investment, in particular, is associated with skilled labour abundance. Even when a multinational decides to invest in a developing country with a low human capital base the type of investment is the vertical one in which the production process is geographically fragmented by stages, the capital-intensive intermediates being produced in the

home country of the multinational and the labour-intensive stage produced in the host country. This is in contrast to the horizontal investments in which the multinational carries on basically the same activity in the host country as at home, for example, German investors producing the same cars in the United States of America as they do in Germany. This type of investment is almost non-existent in Ghana.

Finally, Mr. Future President, I believe that the greatest asset of a nation is the trust and confidence of its people. This should, however, not be taken for granted. Leadership must also fight for this great asset by working hard with even-handedness for the people in all honesty. This asset has been and still is being squandered through misgovernment and corruption to the extent that leaders are not trusted and citizens do not see that they have a stake in their country and its future.

Most Ghanaians do not see any virtue in working for the future of their country. Our leaders have not been able to invoke in the citizens the spirit of nation-building. Mr. Future President how are you going to rectify this situation?

God bless our homeland Ghana and make our nation great and strong.

Prof. Kwabena Frimpong-Boateng
September 13, 2023