Is Ghana the next African economic tiger?


Ghana was the first African country to gain independence. It might become the first African country to become a developed country excluding South Africa which is a first world country in a third world continent.

A visit to Ghana leaves no doubt that something big is about to happen. You feel welcome right from the airport. A travel through capital city Accra and the hinterland reveals a country coming to terms with her past and dreaming of a beautiful tomorrow.

So what has brought Ghana to the verge of an economic take off? Can Kenya emulate her?

To be sincere, Ghana’s great prospects are not accidental, the country has come from far.  From coups to counter coups, a nation has been reborn, a thriving democracy where presidents can now retire in peace without leaving the country.

Dig a bit into history and you see a nation that has learnt from her mistakes. Nothing illustrates Ghana’s rebirth more than rehabilitation of the founding president Kwame Nkrumah.  After his overthrow, he lived in Guinea Conakry but died in Romania in 1972. He was buried in his hometown in Ghana but his remains were later interred at a mausoleum in Accra.

Natural resources

Enough digression; what is driving Ghana’s economic revival? First are political reforms, which have not only attracted investors but also built confidence in her people.

The number of cranes in greater Accra is an indicator that the economy is humming. Elections are held often and the rule of law is gaining currency. A graph of Ghana’s economic growth against time shows that after 1985, things stabilised — the Jerry Rawling effect.

Ghana is also endowed with natural resources, with lots of bauxite, which is used to make aluminium to recently discovered oil. The nation has tried to avoid the oil curse by ensuring that about 30 per cent of oil revenues are reserved for future generations. River Volta provides her with a lifeline in terms of water for irrigation and consumption but also electric power, which they export, to Togo and Benin.

Akosombo Dam on River Volta is the world’s largest, manmade lake and seems to symbolise Ghana’s resilience in spite of adversities.  Ghana’s economic growth has another driver, her people. Ghanaians take great pride in education. You find them all over the world as medics and other professionals.

The importance of education in Ghana is symbolised by the location of Ghana’s premier institution, University of Ghana on a hill overlooking Accra.

Interestingly there is not much evidence of abject poverty in Ghana. Though I found hawkers on the streets of Ghana, they looked more organised and better fed than Kenyan hawkers. I never saw a Kibera equivalent.  Very few homes have walls around them with razor wire on top. Good neighbourliness is another driver of Ghana’s economy. She is a member of ECOWAS and an attractive destination of people from neighbouring countries who bring new ideas and thinking. There is even a hostel for international students at University of Ghana at Legon.  Ghana is a major exporter of high-level manpower that rewards her with remittances.

Tourism is thriving because of Ghana’s good reputation and a rich history. Even Mrs Michelle Obama traces her roots to Cape Coast in Ghana.

Though there are lots of ethnic groups in Ghana, 40 plus, tribalism does not seem to be as virulent as in Kenya; perhaps because it has been accepted with traditional chiefs holding revered positions in society. I never got a chance to meet the Ashantehene, but will try next time.

Lessons for Kenya

Interestingly Ghana and Kenya seem to have more in common than expected; obsession with politics, love for education, domination of the economy by services and recent discovery of oil. They have matatus called tro tros, but theirs are mostly Mercedes Benz and looks older. Lots of church adverts as in Kenya and mineral water called SAFINA. Lots of road construction and Chinese presence. And more closer to Kenya, lots of academies.

There is a surprising difference; they drive on the left, much unexpected from a former British colony. They swapped sides in 1974. Diesel costs more than petrol! Ghana is listed among the fastest growing economies in the world up to year 2015. We are not.

Could it be that we have never learned from our history?  Ghana learnt from her turbulent political years and is now at peace with herself.  We have not learnt from our past as recent events at the coast and PEV seem to suggest. We are yet to be forged into a nation; we still see and interpret events through the tribal lens. Forging Kenya into a nation against the backdrop of devolution will be the first assignment of the next president.

Ghanaians think intergenerational; it was ingenious to reserve some oil money for those not yet born. That is our soft underbelly, we rarely think intergenerational, one reason corruption thrives.

The greatest lesson from Ghana is that is even the darkest night turns into day.