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Five things to change Africa – what can we get right in this coming decade?

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Five things to change Africa – what can we get right in this coming decade?

Africa Economic Independence – Independent Africa took a long time in the making: from the late 1950s when Ghana became independent right up to the last decade when new countries like Southern Sudan have emerged.  There was hope for the continent in the early days whmen we all thought that we would harvest the independence dividend and economic independence will automatically flow from our political independence.

The economic times have been difficult because the economies that we inherited were structured in such a way as to benefit our western colonisers and because we have not been able to dismantle and restructure these economies, economic growth has lagged behind our social development needs.

Stability has been a problem, we have had droughts and floods, civil wars, military governments, all factors that have thwarted our determination to succeed as independent countries, but we have also seen the problems of transfer pricing of multinational companies morphed into globalisation from which we are yet to reap benefits.

Our governments have tried all sorts of palliatives; we have benefited from bilateral aid from benevolent countries, and multilateral aid from international agencies and we have not been able to rid our countries of poverty to achieve some stability in terms of economic growth and sustainable development.

It cannot all be about doom and gloom and as we move into a new decade there must be a lot of hope on the economic front.  We have rich resources and perhaps this is the time to start thinking more creatively as to how we would use our resourcefulness to transform our countries from one stage of development into another.

The beginning of this decade is perhaps as good a time to make suggestions about small simple things that may help us along the path of increased development, hoping that these simple solutions may just be what we need for our seemingly intractable problems.

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With my crystal ball in hand and some heavy doses of blue-sky thinking, I hope that we will succeed if we follow these five small things: an industrial policy, strengthening of our public sector, mobilisation of our people, cultural independence and a new work ethic.

Without an industrial policy, we will not know where we are going or how we will get there….

We need to undertake constant mapping of our economy to determine our needs and to identify our competitive advantages. Mapping our economy will enable us to determine our development objectives and establish our place within this globalised economy.  We are busy delivering sustainable development goals, which is great since it attracts some funding from our aid partners, but this is also the time for us to focus on our industrial development.  We need a plan that will enable us to prioritise which sectors we must support and when and how incentives to these sectors will add to overall economic growth.

This plan must identify how we are going to provide jobs for the teeming number of unemployed young people to bring them into the formal sector of our economy.  The plan should state what skill sets our young people will need to enable them to be competitive and add value to our economic growth.

The plan will enable us to identify the different models of development that others have used, but we must recognise that we must select the model of development that considers our own unique set of circumstances that will serve our interest better, and if none exists now, we must formulate one.

Without an efficient public sector, we will not have a profitable private sector….

It is often said that the private sector is the engine of growth. While this may be true in western advanced countries, where the public sector is already strong, in developing economies a weaker public sector will not support a growing private sector.

Apart from a few state-owned companies, most of our large private sector companies are foreign-owned who repatriate their profits outside the country. Our indigenous companies are still small and though they employ the mass of people and contribute to economic growth, their profits are not large enough for the massive capital formation we need to take off economically.

To grow the private sector, we need to strengthen and reform the public sector. This reform will enable the better formulation of informed policy that will assist the private sector.  Whilst our politicians will set the vision for the future, the policies that will transform the economy will come from civil and public servants who are experts in their fields.  Without these informed policies, based on research and analysis, we will not have robust frameworks for the establishment of sustainable economies in Africa.

A professional and well-paid public sector will be more diligent in implementing, monitoring and regulating effective policies of the government.  It is the public sector that will ensure that incentives for the private sector are provided, rules and regulations are complied with, and entrepreneurs who use their skills and innovation are created.  without these types of entrepreneurs who work hard to produce and provide services that add value to the economy, we will be left with rent-seeking ‘tenderpreneurs’ who will milk the economy without creating any wealth.

A strong public and civil service will support the government better with policy analysis of what is needed for development.

If we cannot mobilise our communities, we will never be strong players internationally….

Community mobilisation is critical and cannot be left to foreign non-governmental organisations to do social work for us.  We need to track our rural and urban communities so that we can identify the needs and aspiration of our people and the social problems we need to tackle.

Our solutions to our social problems must be based on what the people themselves tell us and our effectiveness in solving these problems will rest on our ability to mobilise our communities.  We will be amazed that with little resources but with a lot of empowerment the communities themselves will willingly provide us with most of the solutions.  A lot can be achieved when we communicate and engage with the communities so that we can get their involvement.

We court them for political activity to get them to join our parties and vote for us but beyond that, we do not engage them in self-help and community support and service delivery to our needy communities on a voluntary basis.

Mobilising for voluntary activity is a key ingredient in resolving social problems and for replicating solutions across communities.  Engaging people for voluntary community activity is the gateway to mobilisation for an organised small-scale entrepreneurial activity where their creative energies are unleashed.

Perhaps we already have the active citizens that we need for a transformation of our development fortunes, mobilising them will make them more committed, recognising them will further encourage them into cooperative activity and then further into small social enterprises. When they are fully involved it takes only little amounts of resources for them to be able to extend the gains of what they have achieved in their local areas.

NGOs operating in our patch is killing the creativity of our people

The mass of foreign NGOs operating in our patch is killing the creativity of our people to own the solutions to their problems.  Mobilisation is the key to solving all the problems of unemployment, but it cannot be done in the cities alone, it has to be done in the hamlets and villages and towns before people drift down to the cities.

Without cultural freedom, we will not have economic freedom…….

We keep on talking about jettisoning bits of our culture that we think we do not need and yet culture is central to most economic development.  We lag in this world because we are not culturally independent, and we wait for others to come and appropriate and validate our culture in the global world.  Our language and our metaphors, our symbols and totems, our clothes, our food are all there to be exploited because these are the best spur to creativity.  Most productive things and implement are rooted in the culture of the designer or inventor

Most advanced economies went through a process of patronage of the arts, in Europe, we had the enlightenment and the renaissance and recently we had a cultural revolution in China without which the Chinese would not have moved from developments by cooperatives in workshops to joint private enterprise with state assistance in massive factories.

We may just need to pay more attention to our creative industries and that may unlock the door to different art forms and designs leading to more matured industries.

An enduring work ethic is the only real key to sustainable growth and development….

There is a lot of talk about some people who have made it because they worked smart!  The truth, however, is that we must re-inculcate in the minds of all Ghanaians that the only way out of poverty and our present economic situation is to work hard.  The change in the work ethic should not be seen as demeaning at all indeed it makes us all rather very conscious of our responsibilities to one another.

Working hard is also about being conscientious and willing to learn new things and new skills. We must be prepared to apply these skills to what we do so that things change.

There was a time when people who worked hard and were diligent were recognised and applauded by their peers and by others.  It is time for us to adopt a new attitude because whatever changes will be for the good of all of us.

Some countries were assisted by autocratic governments who cracked the whip, that happened in some socialist and South Asian countries, others such as Britain were spurred by a mixture of the protestant work ethic, thrift societies and temperance organisations that instilled new attitudes into the people.  Those who became wealthy had a responsibility to assist those who were not through charitable institutions and people were not respected because they rode in big cars or lived in palatial homes.

We need to start thinking about hard work again.  Whilst we make all these new year resolutions about deepening our relationship with God, we must also realise that praying and sowing seeds must go hand in hand with hard work.

So perhaps now my task is to welcome in a new decade of prosperity for us in Ghana and Africa as we find the key that will unlock our development and growth problems and transform the doom and gloom that is often preached into hope for the future.

This decade truly belongs to Ghana and Africa.

Ade Sawyerr is a management consultant at Equinox Consulting who works on enterprise, employment, and community development issues within the inner city and black and minority communities in Britain.  He comments on social, economic and political issues and can be contacted at or

originally published in Africa Briefing Magazine March – April 2020 Edition

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The Matters Arising blog is a collection of thought-provoking, thought-leadership pieces sprinkled with some blue-sky thinking on pertinent issues affecting African communities both in the diaspora and at home. It includes articles on culture, politics, social and economic advancement, diversity and inclusion, community cohesion topics. It is also a repository of the political history of Ghana, traditions of the Gadagme people of Ghana, and the Pan-African politics of Kwame Nkrumah. Read, enjoy, like, share, and join!


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