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With Willie Abraham at Star100 RoadMap Ghana

Willie Abrahams with Ade Sawyerr
Willie Abraham with Ade Sawyerr

Yesterday, 18th October 2014 was one of those days. I had agreed to top a conference – Roadmap Ghana, organised by Star100, a group of young dynamic professionals in the UK who were celebrating their 10th anniversary. I had been asked to share my personal journey of the Ghanaian economy with them and decided to go as far back as 1950, the year of my birth.

My talk was focussed on the various stops and starts in the economy and why we desperately need our own long term development plan if we want to prevent the episodic intervention in our economy by international economic ‘rescue’ agencies such as the IMF.
This is what i remember saying…..
The euphoria of the 1951  CPP victory at the polls meant that the country had to immediately shift its attention to the social issues that faced the country and to start delivering social programmes such as the accelerated education programmes from which i also benefited.  The British had left us with about 100 educational institutions during the 100 years that they had run the country.  We in reality needed 1,000 in 10 years and that was what we got.  Without this programme we would not have been able to transform our workforce from a largely uneducated resource to provide them with the skills needed to transform a structurally defective economy.
By the 1960s we had realised that the structure of the economy – primary commodities – cocoa, gold, timber, export oriented economy would not be able to pay for our social programmes.  We needed some form of industrialisation that would add value to our primary products and really also to substitute  our consumer oriented economy.
Most of the industries set up were import substitution joint ventures with foreign firms from both the East and the West. Several were also about converting our raw materials into finished and semi-finished products. There was nothing new about state enterprises, there were several in the UK as well as in Europe.  In the absence of individual capital, economic theories in the 60s recommended government mobilisation of capital ahead of an economic takeoff that would deliver the people out of poverty into prosperity.
The seven-year development plan initiated in 1964  could have delivered this transformation through accelerated industrialisation using science and technology.
We never felt the benefits because it was aborted by the 1966 coup and for the next three years we were subjected to a process of ‘rehabilitation of the economy’.  This  meant that economic projects were discontinued whilst we received PL 460 american agricultural wheat surpluses to be sold to compensate our government for the coup.
The PP government that took over did well to try out productive measures to free our economic.  the liberalisation programme worked too well in our gaining access to a lot of ‘essential commodities’ that flooded our markets.  There was easy access to capital and credit for small businesses at the time, but the Aliens Compliance Order created a a labour and entrepreneurship crisis as productive African ‘foreigners’ were driven out of the country.
The coup of 1972 was unfortunate, the cries of ‘yentua yentua’ resulted in a credit crunch that undermined the successful agricultural Operation Feed Yourself programme, and clearly demonstrated that a refusal to pay your debts is no panacea for for economic prosperity – it is myopic.
In time Kalabule surfaced and drove a lot of our productive skilled force to Agege further hurting an economy that was dying for an impetus for production strategies.  Agitation from professional groups and students alike led to some changes in the military configuration from NRC to SMC1 and SMC2 and re-denomination of the currency and finally to AFRC and a ‘housecleaning’ exercise when the economy ground to a total stop for 3 months.  Absolutely no production and the destruction of one of the main bastions of our economy at the time, Makola.
The PNP that followed in 1979 were incapable of reversing these seizures in the economy and they struggled but in the absence of a planned programme for development things got worse.
And then the military came again to entrench themselves in 1982 PNDC – no plan but a mobilisation of the economy with rhetoric! Of course that did not work and though there was much mobilisation of students and works and communities under this socialist rhetoric, it could not prevent the Rawlings chain.
So off we went to the international rescue agencies again – structural adjustment, SAP, PAMSCAD, FINPROJ something or the other etc. etc. as if all the acronyms in the world would put our economy back again.
Vision 2020, a plan modelled on the way Thailand achieved economic growth was implemented
The adjustment must have done us some good because  it did bring some further agitation for multiparty democracy that happened in the 1990s with the NDC in power.
The economy improved then but we soon became complacent and started selling the state enterprises as if there was no tomorrow and most were sold without the much-needed transparency.

The elections saw us overspending and in 2000 when the people spoke again it was to usher in what some expected to be the best chance for real development.

The NPP   came in 2001 and went HIPC and succeeded in getting most of our loans forgiven.
The NPP did not look at growth – they were wedded to what the donors wanted so went for a poverty reduction plan topped by sourcing money from everywhere under the sun including chinese barber shops in the UK.
They promoted presidential initiatives that were not private and that have not been properly evaluated.  they missed the opportunity to invest in the people of Ghana but they opened that country to a lot of foreign direct investment that ensured that confidence for investors returned to the country.
They even re-denominated the currency.
A lot of diaspora Ghanaians started returning home to contribute their lot to the development effort.
Their efforts ensured that we found oil but their efforts were really squandered in not promoting the private sector development that they talked so much about but did little to implement.
True democracy was working in Ghana and by the end of the 2008, the NDC was back in government with an Agenda, not a plan.  they have bet on the oil delivering us out our problems but it is too early to evaluate that first period of the Mills regime and even to monitor what Mahama is doing except to say that after re-basing the economy and turning us into a middle-income economy – from less than $1 a day to about $3.7 dollars a day economy. all the avenues for cheap money are closed.  the economy is once more exposed to the whole world – it is not a bad thing if the investments will benefit our people.  Going to the IMF is a good thing, at least it is an acceptance that we need some assistance in reshaping our economy.  It would have been better if we had a long term plan of where we want to get to and how we want to get to it based on our distinct needs and not the interests of foreigners.
An economy in flux can be a good thing since it could benefit from disruptive activity that could release some innovation and creativity.  It is that disruptive intervention of entrepreneurs that creates value and not the measured management of technocrats.  We need a plan for the future that our young can work with and so this RoadMap Ghana which is our response to Senchi is a much-needed conference.  It shows that we are away from Ghana but very interested in its development.  It shows that our affinity to Ghana is not only because we were born there or our parents were born in Ghana, it shows that we are part of the attempt to assist in the future development of our country.
I hope that we find the day useful and that we are able to ‘Talk Ghana Proper’
I think, my introduction was well received, if i may say so myself, because it was really my truth about the development in Ghana and that fact that there is hope for the future.  We have not done badly if we compare to other African countries, but then that standard is very low, and we could do better.  But we cannot always blame our governments if we refuse to be community activists.
A gentleman sitting in the audience commended me for a forthright assessment of the journey but I did not catch his name or who he was immediately till I was having a discussion with his son who had brought him to the conference.  He was called Abraham.  So I asked him who he was with and he said that his father was called Willie Abraham and then in dawned in me that this guy who was asking me whether I knew Professor Tetteh Kofi in California was really the first African Fellow of All Souls College in Oxford

I left his son standing in mid sentence and ran to shake the guys hand and I was so star struck that I asked to take a photograph with him.
To think that I would run into this ‘Father of Consciencism’ in London, who at  age 30 was Pro Vice Chancellor of the University of Ghana was unbelievable. He had left the University in 1966 after the coup and so I missed basking in his brilliance when I entered in 1968.  I can only imagine how my education would have been more complete if I had had the opportunity to have studied under one of the most brilliant scholars that Ghana has ever produced. He was so modest that he did not even want anyone to know who he was.
But I did the right thing and asked the organisers of the Conference for them to give me the mic again so that we should all applaud this hero of mine.
His response was that the conference had re-energized his interest in Ghana.
The story of this great man needs to be told to inspire the youth – that we can also count giants in our midst even when they are so humble!
Henry Abraham with father Professor Willie Abraham
Yesterday was a day well spent because I went on to listen to another lecture in the evening on Christianity and Gadangme Culture, an enlightened view by Reverend Odonkor, Chairman of the Ga  Presbytary in Ghana. Such an erudite presentation and in Ga too.

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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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