Harnessing the Potential of Ghana: The Role of Ghanaians Abroad

Harnessing the Potential of Ghana: The Role of Ghanaians Abroad
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  Harnessing the Potential of Ghana: The Roleof Ghanaians Abroad Remarks delivered by Dr Samuel Laryea to the Cambridge University Ghanaian Society incommemoration of the 54 th    Anniversary of Ghana’s Independence Day  5 th March 2011 Cambridge, UK  Introduction Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen.Let me begin by saying that it is a great honour to be here today to address you. Iwould like to say thank you to the Cambridge University Ghanaian Society and toMoses Agaawena and his leadership team in particular for inviting me to this specialevent that you have organized to commemorate the 54 th   Anniversary of Ghana‟s Independence Day. Well done and can I say that you deserve a round of applause.Today many of us take independence for granted. But things were not easy in thosedays of colonial rule. Our people were oppressed by foreigners in their own country.And things are still not easy in the current times. Although we gained independence 54years ago, we are still not truly free yet. We lag behind badly in terms of economicdevelopment. So there is a next stage of independence that we must attain to become truly free as a people. That next stage of independence is “economic” independence.  That is why I believe that you have chosen the right theme for this occasion. To be ableto improve the quality of life of our people, we need to harness all of our potential. Weneed to harness the potential that is based at home and we also need to harness thepotential that is based abroad. And so I would be speaking on the theme: “Harnessingthe potential of Ghana” with reference to the role of Ghanaians abroad.There are three main areas I will cover in connection with the topic:The Ghanaian population in the Diaspora;The past, present and future situation in Ghana; andRole of the Ghanaian population abroad. Ghanaians in the Diaspora A lot has happened in Africa in the past 600 years in connection with Africa‟s relations with the rest of the world. The first Europeans arrived on the shores of Africa in 1450.  Between that time and 1850, that is, for a period of 400 years, more than 12 millionAfricans were shipped abroad as slaves. These people were made to labour onplantations, mines, construction sites and in private homes as servants.It has been 160 years now since the mass purchasing and shipment of Africans todestinations around the world was abolished. What you find these days, particularlysince the early 1980s, is a situation where many Ghanaians leave to countries abroad insearch of greener pastures. This emigration of our people is what has created aDiaspora of about four million Ghanaians abroad. In fact, people like Kwame Nkrumahleft Ghana in 1935 to go and get an education abroad before returning in 1947.Today there are about four million Ghanaians living abroad and the bulk of thispopulation is concentrated in Europe and North America. These days you also findGhanaians emigrating to countries in the Middle East, Asia and Australia. Altogether,these Ghanaians comprise of people who are unskilled, semi-skilled, and skilled. Thenyou also have a large population of Ghanaian students studying in various institutionsaround the world. Some of the people who leave Ghana to go and study abroad fail toreturn back home. This situation has often led to a severe siphoning of some of our most brilliant human resources. Some people refer to this phenomenon as “Braindrain”. If you consider Ghana‟s current population of 24 .3 million, then it means that about 17 per cent of Ghana‟s population is based abroad. Most researchers haveactually said that up to 20 per cent of Ghana‟s population is based overseas.  We know clearly that the potential of every nation resides in its people and in itsnatural resources. It is people who do things; it is people who make things happen. Sonow that we have almost a fifth of Ghana‟ s population based overseas, how can weharness their contribution to the national and African development agenda? Ghana Let me turn my attention to talk about the past, current and future situation in Ghana. Independence and big aspirations in 1957 As a country, we started with big aspirations in 1957. Here are some of the declarationsand promises we made to ourselves and the world on the eve of independence: “We have awakened. We shall no more go back to sleep anymore. Today, from now on, there is a new  African in the world. That new African is ready to fight his own battles and show that, after all, the black man is capable of managing his own affairs.”   “We are prepared to build it [Ghana] up and make it a nation that will be respected by every other  nation in the world.”      “We know we are going to have difficult beginnings but … we can prove to the world that when the  African is given a chance he can show to the world that he is somebody.”   “… from now on – today – we must change our attitudes, our minds, we must realize that from nowon, we are no more a colonial but a free a nd independent people.”   “We are going to demonstrate to the world, to the other nations, young as we are that we are  prep ared to lay our own foundation… we are going to see that we create our own African personalityand identity. It is the only way that we can show the world that we are ready for own battles.”   Extracts from Kwame Nkrumah’s Eve of Independence Speech, Old Polo Grounds, Accra, 5 -6 March1957, Source: How much of this promise have we delivered in our 54 years of existence? Current environment Ghana‟s current position in relation to other countries in the world is far less than the potential we have.Ghana is currently ranked 130/169 countries in the world in terms of HumanDevelopment. This reflects Low human development, i.e. 77 per cent of nations inthe world are ahead of Ghana when it comes to education, life expectancy, and percapita Gross National Income (UN Human Development Report 2010);Life expectancy in Ghana is 57 years for men and 59 years for women (UN 2010);Our Gross National Income (GNI) per capita is US $700 (World Bank, 2009). We relyon a small annual budget of 10.8 billion dollars for 24.3 million people. And around60 per cent of this money often has to come from donor countries;In terms of education, UNESCO recognizes 9000 universities around the world. TheUniversity of Ghana, Legon ranks around 6000 and KNUST, Kumasi is 6500; andWhat all of these statistics mean is that 40 per cent of our people in Ghana live belowthe national poverty line (according to the Human Poverty Index).I don‟t think these statistics represent where most of us want Ghana to be as a country. So clearly we have to improve. To have a better future, we would need to put ourcountry to work. We have great potential as a people and we can certainly do far betteron these statistics like we are able to do in a few other areas.When it comes to international football, for example, Ghana competes very well. Weare currently ranked as the 15 th best nation in the world when it comes to football (FIFARankings for February 2011). This is an excellent achievement when you consider thefact that there are 203 FIFA nations in the world. We had two successful FIFA WorldCups in Germany 2006 and South Africa 2010. As we know, football has become a verypowerful way to harness and demonstrate the potential of a country. So here we owethe Black Stars a lot of gratitude for projecting a positive image of Ghana and Africa onthe world stage. With the right mental and physical attitude, I believe we could have  gone on to win the World Cup in South Africa. We also owe the Black Satellites a lot ofgratitude for beating Brazil in Egypt 2009 to become the reigning World Under-20champions. Why can‟t we replicate this same potential when it comes to other areaslike economic development, education, healthcare, energy and jobs for our people?There is no doubt that things are improving gradually. But the improvements are nothappening fast enough to meet the aspirations of our people.Growth rates in Sub-Saharan Africa have been appreciable in recent years, comparableto Asia, hovering around 6 per cent, a result of high commodity prices, a favorableglobal environment – and also of improved economic management, investment climate,private flows and governance. Although the global financial crises of the past threeyears has eroded some of the gains and continue to threaten these gains, most Africancountries have weathered the storm of the worst financial crisis since the greatdepression of the 1930s.In Ghana, initial hiccups following the transition in 2008 and drying up of capital fromglobal financial markets brought increasing pressure on the exchange rate, increased thefiscal deficit and temporarily threw the economy out of gear. Recent data suggests anormalized situation, with commodity prices back in their highs.There is currently excitement among young Ghanaians both abroad and at homebecause of the emerging oil market. On Dec 15 2010, Ghana officially became an oil-exporting nation. The antecedents to this, however, started much earlier, culminating inthe discovery of crude oil in commercial quantities off Cape Three point in July 2007. Itis estimated that Ghana will become the seventh largest oil producer in Africa, withinitial deposits of around 3 billion barrels. About 60,000 barrels of oil will be exportedper day from 2010, 120,000 barrels a day in 2011, fetching the country $836 millionannually and over $20 billion over the production period 2012-2030.The oil find has thus raise d expectations and hopes of a „Better Ghana‟ where jobs would be created and the state of the economy improved for all and sundry. However,this depends on whether Ghana is able to avoid the natural resource curse typified bybad management and corruption, exchange rate appreciation and crowding out ofprivate investments. It is thus not surprising that the oil discovery has led to suchheightened expectations of the next oil giant in Africa with all the attendant benefitsthat come with oil revenues. Future aspirations Ghana is 54 years old now. What kind of Ghana@100 would we like to see, and howcan we get there from our current position? In response to this question, I prefer todescribe the kind of aspirations we should hold for the future in plain and simple  language rather than in any other form like economic statistics. It is simpler that wayand simple language is what the ordinary man in the street understands.For me, it is better to express quality of life in simple terms that the ordinary canunderstand. I remember once when Former President Jerry Rawlings was asked abouthis ideology during the revolution days, he told a group of journalists that he was neverparticularly keen on ideology. He said: “Don't ask me what my ideology or economic programme is. I don't know any law and I don'tunderstand economics, but I know it when my stomach is empty.”   The ordinary man in the street understands things in terms of their feelings. And manyof us are ordinary men so it is always best to express things for us in simple and plainlanguage that we can understand. Economic statistics clearly have their purpose.However, I always find it hard to accept the usefulness of economic statistics when ourleaders point to them as evidence of progress but you go on the ground and people aresuffering to have the meals they need to keep healthy, people can‟t find jobs, people don‟t have access to good health care, and can‟t af ford a decent place ofaccommodation.In that respect, I outline seven aspirations that I would rather use to define and measurethe quality of life of our people in Ghana and Africa. That is where we should be by thetime of Ghana@100 (i.e. 2057) and each of us must play a role in helping us to get there:1.   Everyone should be able to find enough food to eat everyday;2.   Most people should be able to afford a decent place of accommodation;3.   Most people should be able to find a job that pays enough money to help themsupport themselves and their families;4.   Everyone should be able to have access to quality healthcare;5.   We should have a good system of Government in place which responds to theneeds and aspirations of our people;6.   We should have adequate infrastructure to support quality of life and economicactivity;7.   We should live in peace with ourselves and all countries in the world.Are these aspirations too difficult for us to attain in the next 50 years? We can do it! From present to future So what do we need to do in order to get out of our current situation of low humandevelopment and poverty? There is not an easy or single answer to this question.
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