Africa Must Muster Confidence for Progress

Published on 22nd October 2012

No one disputes that 54 disparate states, the majority of them desperately poor, but resourceful, can never muster the voice to be taken seriously in the affairs of the world.

The marginalization of Africa is a painful reality and whether we like it or not, it will continue until our continent is able to unite and speak with one voice. Equally the economic case has been well made. A United Africa, providing a market of over 800 million people, is the spur needed for development and growth. So what is holding back our progress?

There is a cultural dimension that is acting as a psychological block on African development. At the root of the African condition today is the lack of confidence in ourselves. We have separated ourselves from the initial thrust of inspiration by which our forefathers sought to instil in us the spirit of self-belief in ourselves and in our capacity to achieve the best for our continent. We have allowed ourselves to be persuaded that there is nothing useful in our past, our culture, our tradition and way of life that is worth preserving and building upon. We have acted almost in the belief that there is nothing in our genes and we are simply fated to failure. We have almost jettisoned our culture and traditions and surrendered to everything foreign. We have got ourselves trapped in a near-Orwellian enclave in which everything African is bad and everything foreign is good.

I am the occupant of a sacred stool that embodies the heritage of a great and proud people. The history of the Golden Stool and the Asante Kingdom spans over four centuries over which a system of governance evolved that stood the test of time in peace as in battle. We had a developed administrative, legislative and judicial systems on which our kingdom was run before our encounter with the west. Nobody can suggest to me that there was nothing of value in our system and in our values. There are traditional Kingdoms in other parts of Africa with a history and civilization going back to antiquity. Is Africa not the cradle of world civilization? How come we have suddenly lost confidence in ourselves and abandoned our heritage?

To understand how crucial this is, I will respectively ask that we address our minds to the contrasting example of the people of Asia. The Great Economic Miracles of the past century have not been in Europe or America. The miracle has been in Asia and particularly South East Asia. The miracle of post-war Japan has been followed by the miracle of the Asian Tiger Economies. Now China stands on the verge of becoming the world’s Economic Super power.

Neither Japan, China, nor any of the so-called Asian Tigers has achieved its status by abandoning its heritage. Yes, the free market has been the driving force, but I will draw your attention to the undenying, even if less publicized fact that underpinning the phenomenon is the absolute self-confidence of the people, derived from their culture, history and way of life. Culture and way of life has been the foundation upon which their work ethic and creative energy has been developed. This is what has sustained their self-confidence, that whatever anyone has done, they can also do, and probably better.

Understanding our past and our culture which identifies us as people is important for our self-confidence. Self-confidence is an indispensable pre-requisite for our survival in the challenging new area. I do not imply that we need a complete return to our past. That will be rejecting the very valid case for democracy and the right of the people to choose their leaders and governments. But I strongly suggest that in this pursuit we should not be seen to throw that baby with the bathwater. For there are institutional structures developed over centuries that can be fused into the news democratic structures to make them more meaningful to the people.

My country, Ghana, was conceived in the proposition that the African has the capacity and the resources to be a full member of the global economic community. We have gone through periods of trial and tribulations, but through it all, we have emerged stronger, fitter and better able to pursue our goals. That is not just the story of Ghana. In a nutshell, it is the new African story.

Trials and tribulations there have been, and there will be. But the right lessons have been learnt and Africa is moving forward, if not at the speed of Usain Bolt, at least with the persistence and perseverance of Mo Fawler.

Today, the world is suffering one of the worst economic crises in history. The United States is still struggling and few economists will dare predict when and how it will emerge from its economic downturn. Even fewer still will dare predict how Europe emerges from the intense Eurozone crisis. The economic tigers of Asia are no longer immune from the global financial shocks. Now, even the economy of China, expected to drive the world out of recession, is slowing. Amidst all the gloom, it is comforting to note that Africa is more than holding its own.

Three years ago, Ghana recorded the fastest rate of growth in the world, albeit on the back of its newfound oil. But even before oil came on-stream, our rate of growth had remained remarkably impressive. Again, in the face of all the external financial shocks, the economy continues to show great resilience, recording a growth rate well above its peers, despite a massive 20% drop in foreign remittance and a further sharp drop in foreign directs investment. The strong performance of our two key commodities of gold and cocoa were important but no less important must be the improvement in the fiscal and monetary policy environment.

What lies behind this relatively satisfying picture? It is the combination of the quiet emergence of a remarkable consensus within the country’s political establishment and civil society alike over the general shape and direction of the economy as well as the continuous improvement in the process of policymaking. The years of sharp ideological cleavages, which created uncertainties about fundamental policy directions appears to be dead and buried. You may be aware that Ghana is only a few weeks away from the Presidential and general elections on December 7 and political campaigning is as intense as you will find in any democratic country. Yet the degree of consensus on the fundamentals of the economy shows no sign of breaking down. The risks resulting from uncertainties about sharp policy changes is reduced considerably. The international community and prospective investors can therefore look forward with confidence that whoever wins the next elections, the country’s economy will be guided along the right path and they can continue to do business in Ghana.

This is not the story of Ghana alone. Most African countries are set on the same path of sound economic policy-making and management. The demons of the past may not be killed completely but they are being gradually exorcised, opening the way for the vast opportunities in the continent to be fully explored for development.

It is time to ask that the African poor may not be looked upon as the burden of humanity but as the missing consumers from the global market place. Yes, Africa is sitting on more than half a billion consumers who are missing from the market place because of poverty and illiteracy. As we give them the tools of education, we will soon have the components of another engine capable of driving the world economy forward.

Remember, only a few decades ago, China was seen as some economic wilderness. Today it is the engine that is driving the world economy as Europe and America grapple with recession. Africa, I suggest, is the last wilderness, waiting to be explored. Maybe we have dwelt for too long on poverty alleviation and now need the courage to reach out for wealth creation, to effectively harnessing our resources for economic growth and development.

By His Majesty Otumfuo Osei Tutu II
Asantehene, Ghana.

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