I’ve received numerous requests from people asking me to publish some of the writings of the legendary PAV Ansah. I am yet to get permission from the publishers of ‘Going to Town’, which is a compilation of writings but I am sure they won’t object to me reproducing the following excerpt, which I had to type out from the book. This was Prof. Ansah’s last article on earth. Shortly after it was published in the Ghanaian Chronicle on June 14, 1993, under the heading ‘The land where success may be a high risk factor’ he passed away.>>>
Beloved Friends and Lovers, dear Brethren and “Sistren”, pray, lend me your ears for today I’ll commence by donning the skull cap and comfort myself like the sanctimonious prelate whose hobby consisted of inflicting unedifying and insipid homilies on a docile congregation. I do, however, crave your indulgence and assure you that I shall not be too “preachy”, though I will resort to the Holy Writ at least once to make my point and drive it home.
For it was said to them of old in the last of the Ten Commandments: “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house; thou shall not covet thy neighbour’s wife. Nor his manservant, nor his maidservants, nor his ox, no ass, nor anything that is they neighbour’s.”
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If the commandment had been given to us today through Moses, I am sure the good Lord would have added, “Thou salt not covet thy neighbour’s soap factory, nor his poultry farms, nor his cement paper factory.” But alas, the Big Man above spoke too early and so these vital items were not specifically mentioned.
This country of ours seems to be buffeted in contradictory and whimsical directions, and it looks as if we don’t know where we are going or how to get there. Or it is even possible that we don’t know exactly what we want. We appear to be so fickle, unstable and undecided. At least that is the indelible impression our leaders give by their capricious actions and unguarded pronouncements.
There is a tendency among human beings this side of heaven to react in various ways to the success of others. Some are admirers and try to emulate the good example given; others yet are consumed by envy, jealousy, covetousness and would wish the successful entrepreneur, industrialist or professional dead. For the first category of persons, we in Ghana in our infinite quest and unquenchable thirst for fun, jest and levity are reputed to have found a parody to depict the syndrome, meaning, the “pull him down” syndrome. Yes, indeed, it does exist and manifests itself at all levels.
Since independence in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, we in Africa have undertaken all steps to develop our societies. Many of our efforts were guided more by unjustified idealism which lacked touch with reality, so that even where there appeared to be some growth, it was growth without development because it did not pay enough attention to the equitable redistribution of the wealth that had been created. The result was that there wasn’t much evidence of social justice. The people had been fed on extreme populist rhetoric. The result was a re-creation of poverty and its equitable re-distribution in a levelling down operation. There was vociferous bombast and vacuous rhetoric but nothing more.
In the early 1980’s, we settled for the free market model of development under the spiritual guidance of our new “old” masters from overseas. Thus it was that our Investment Code was revised to make it even more liberal, a floating currency was put in place, protection of the products of local manufacturers was reversed, subsidies were removed from essential social services such as health and education; the price of petrol went sky-rocketing, and many other measures besides, all meant to help resolve the survival equation.
There were several dislocations; people were forcibly retired and lost their ability to provide for their families’ needs. The promise of employment in the private sector could not be fulfilled because the private sector industry was not getting the necessary incentives and nurture for growth and expansion.
The official statistics said one thing while the reality of our pockets presented a different story. School leavers were frustrated because there were no jobs to go to and they had no marketable skills to sell on the job market.
This was the time when we all expected that local sons who had made it should be commended, praised to the skies, held up as models and objects of emulation and adoration by others who might be encouraged or inspired to find out how they made it. This is what one would expect from a well equilibrated political environment. This sounds only commonsensical, but we in Ghana seem to have a natural penchant for denouncing, decrying and deprecating what we should rather be praising to the skies.
Let us not protest our innocence on this score. We as a people did what was expected of us, but not our beloved President. The man seems to be allergic to other people’s success and never misses an opportunity to express his sentiments. Instead of holding up our indigenous entrepreneurs as examples to follow, he berates them, as and when in an appallingly condescending and derisory manner he referred to the NIP presidential candidate as “akoko Darko”. What the cheek! As our elders said Nnye asem na oaba ma Kwesi Mensah ekowia serekye ma aporisifo rikyin dan ho ritsiw no a, nkye nnye kopol ne nyenko tsipen nye sagye-megya – if it had not been a question of political argument, how dare Mr. J. J. Rawlings even have the effrontery to speak so disparagingly of this successful self-made man, Mr. Kwabena Darko.
And let us all take the case of Mr. Appiah-Menkah and his Apino soap, which is serving the local market in the face of fierce competition by other types of soap officially imported or smuggled in. If for nothing at all, the entrepreneur has provided employment opportunities to the locality where his soap-making plant is established. For this alone, shouldn’t he be given the accolade? And yet our envious and jealous head of state not only finds it appropriate to denounce him, but actually calls on people to boycott the products from Mr. Appiah-Menkah’s factory because he will use the money to finance a rival political party. What do the businessmen and contractors, local and foreign, who support the NDC do with their money? Throw the whole damn lot into the sea? Come again, Mr. Rawlings. Can anybody sink lower in subverting and sabotaging the economy? This is most unpatriotic and betrays the President’s penchant for vindictiveness and covetousness. If he has failed in any cherished mission, he shouldn’t take it out on innocent persons who deserve praise and not denunciation.
And then Dr. J. A. Addison, a most admirable person, a humane employer and responsible taxpayer who should be held up as a model, is instead being denounced as an exploiter whose goods must be boycotted in preference to imported substitutes. And yet we continue to talk about encouraging independent and indigenous enterprise. Why should the whims, caprices, aberrations and personal hang-ups of our president subvert all the work being painstakingly done on the labour and economic front; why should they be neutralised by the unguarded utterances of our head of state.
Since the discoveries of the virtues of the IMF/World Bank package, we have been mercifully spared the sterile ideological rhetoric of incipient and infantile Marxists. With the demise of Marxism in Eastern Europe and elsewhere, we had assumed that we were permanently rid and cured of those sterile mouthings directly or by implication or inference. Even they have also discovered the strengths and virtues of private enterprise as well as the weaknesses and vices of the collective thinking approach to economic development. They are now encouraging entrepreneurship, so who are these cheap, incoherent latter-day proletarians who are waiting for Rip Van Winkle to wake up to shake them from their ideological slumber?
During the last decade, the government has spared no effort in promoting private investment in local industry and hence the spate of divestiture, including the hiving off of enterprises which because of their encouraging performance or strategic importance had better been left in the public sector. But if you consider the enthusiasm of a convert you can easily appreciate why a fresh convert would like to show that he is more Catholic than a Pope. The result is that most of the state enterprises including profitable ones are being sold to private persons and companies. The slogan seems to be free market all the way till thy kingdom come. The climate ought to be created to attract investors, but with these leftist outbursts by our head of state, is the atmosphere not being polluted? These outbursts send the wrong warning signals. This certainly is not the first time our head of state has performed so disastrously. Let us pray that this is the last, at least for the next four years.
A few years ago, the butt of the attack was a retired manager of the Ghana Commercial Bank who was doing pineapple farming and who had chalked great success in a short time. He was exporting his produce to Europe and decided to facilitate shipment by having constructed at the airport, near the tarmac, a facility to ease the handling of the products. This man had been selected as the Farmer of the Year and was mentioned in despatches. When it came to the turn of Flt Lt Rawlings, he bitterly criticised and denounced this enterprising young man who was as much taken aback as the rest of us. As we say, ennyi me ayew a, mma nnsee me dzin, that is if for any reason you can’t praise me, please do not take my name in vain. This is a very appropriate piece of advice to our president.
What is the point in spending money on campaigns both at home and abroad, canvassing support for your economic recovery programme and inviting investors when all your efforts are being undermined and subverted by inappropriate utterances which less polite merciful colleagues will qualify as irresponsible and damaging? The foreign investor will say that having regard to the way and manner the head of state treats his own local and loyal subjects and their best efforts, is investing in such a country not tantamount to throwing good money after bad?
After several years of aimless wandering in the sterile ideological wilderness, we seem to have settled for a free market economic system and the enabling environment or congenial climate has been propitiously available. If we have settled for a free market economy, let us abide by it.
It does not make sense that any individual’s personal frustrations should colour and influence vital decisions. After all, we have a stake in the fortunes and future of this country, and there is no reason why one person’s ill-considered and ill-timed utterances should have any adverse repercussions on our destiny. Is our president only lamenting and complaining about the fact that individuals are becoming wealthy by dint of hard work? So what should they do with the profits they make by dint of self-denial and sacrifice? Cast them into the sea or use it to buy umbrellas?
We do hope and pray that the spirits of our industrial heroes, both those who were mentioned and those who are “guilty as charged” by association are not daunted and dampened, and that they will not be deterred or terrorised into taking a back seat in the journey towards development. We do assure them from (excuse me to say) the bottom of our hearts that their good deeds have already been recorded in letters of gold.
Dear heroes and comrades, you are making an invaluable contribution to the development of your country and you have more than a dozen reasons to feel proud and gratified. Posterity and Ghana will be ever more grateful to you for ages to come. (I almost said Amen!)
A final word. We salute the gallant industrialists in Ghana and we invoke God’s blessing on them. This is the least we can do. But to those consumed by envy, jealousy and covetousness our only words are: wobosu ara ewu or oye woe hi a, fa aposo botwa.
Hei, Prof. Kwesi Yankah, what are you waiting for before you translate this on behalf of your big brother?