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Personality profile – Dr. (Alhaji) Adamu Iddrisu

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In greater recognition for your courage and valor in leadership, as a trail blazer in business and entrepreneurship, for your inspiration to your fellow human beings and your contribution to society in your long outstanding life of rising to the pinnacle of success, The Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology has deemed it fit to award you with a Doctorate Degree of Letters. We, hereby, celebrate your great achievements to mother Ghana!

– Dr. (Alhaji) Adamu Iddrisu

TVM: Ghana’s transport system is said to be underdeveloped. What’s your position on this and what do you suggest could be done to improve?

Dr. A.A.I: It is true! We need to have very good roads and government must be ready to provide them. I believe in toll roads where people have to pay for the use of these roads. People need these roads to enhance efficiencies in business operations so government should seriously provide these roads.

For instance, Accra to Kumasi, if the roads were good and dual carriage, people wouldn’t mind to pay the toll and travel because it gives them a good ride and possibly avoid accidents because the roads are good. It’s not just doing the road but also maintaining the road matters. Obviously, a lot needs to be done in the transport sector.

The road networks and the kinds of cars that come into the country should be properly considered. The old vehicles pollute the environment a lot and should be eliminated. There are too many trucks around because anybody can bring them in. We need to have properly established transport companies so that we can hold them responsible when things go wrong.

TVM: Ghanaians complain about heavy trucks that ply the roads during the day and their negative effects on the road and to motorists. What is your take on this?

Dr. A.A.I: I am a strong advocate of trucks transporting at night. In 2009, there was a law or a directive that heavy trucks should not travel at night anymore. But that directive did not make sense. So, I advised the government that the movement of trucks at night is the best.

The reason is simple. At day, the road becomes soft and unable to carry the loads of these heavy trucks. The bitumen and asphalt when exposed to the intensity of the sun literally melts and becomes soft for heavy trucks to ply. This, then, leads to the destruction of the roads. But at night, the cool temperature compacts the bitumen and asphalt and then they compress to become ‘motorable’ for heavy trucks.

Aside that, the road becomes very free from commercial passengers because majority of them will be in their homes resting. In some countries such as India, China, Germany etc. you will never see a heavy truck travel at day; they all do their journeys at night and park wherever they get to before the day breaks.

Also, we should be able to encourage night commercial activities to reduce human traffic during the day.

TVM: Ghana’s cocoa has been known to be illegally ‘spilling’ across the borders to other neighboring countries by courtesy of our haulage system. What measures do you suggest be put in place to curb such spillage?

Dr. A.A.I: I don’t believe it is the haulage system that drives smuggling of cocoa. Even if it is, what roads do the perpetrators ply and what are the security forces doing? So, it has to be a collaborative effort between security forces. I don’t believe it’s primarily the haulage system that is causing the smuggling. It’s fundamentally our economic situations; we are rational.

For instance, if a bag of coca in Ghana is $70 and it costs $100 per bag in neighboring country, there will be a price differential of $30 per bag. So, as rational economic agents, we will go to where we can get more. And this is per bag! So imagine if I’m to sell a thousand bags, how much extra income I will be making other than selling in Ghana, $30, 000, very huge for the poor Ghanaian farmer. If we don’t do the right pricing, cocoa beans will be sent across borders.

If we really want to address the issue of Ghana cocoa not going to the other side then we have to pay the right price. Let’s say if the price gap is just about $10, smugglers will not be interested in going through the hassles of smuggling. It’s an economic phenomena.

Anyone who makes it a political phenomenon does not understand the system. The stakeholders in the business need to be looked at. We have the farmer, the buyer, the government and the transporter; all have vested interests and all these interests must converge to ensure the smuggling is stopped. It’s an economic rationality and nothing more! If you want to use the security you will just be wasting resources. So I don’t want the haulage system to be blamed for this problem. The solution lies with the fixing of the price. That’s where the real solutions are.

TVM: The Akuafo cheque system used as payment order has been replaced by the cash and carry. What is your take on this development?

Dr. A.A.I: The Akuafo Cheque system was abused. The cheque system was better because cash is risky and as a result, farmers are constantly attacked by armed robbers after receiving their monies in cash. Also, for the Akuafo Cheques, farmers would have travel very long distances to access their monies. Some had to even travel days and sleep there for days before accessing their monies. All these inefficiencies and poor management collapsed the Cheque system.

Later, it was politicized and government was blamed for it. It is difficult to fathom why any wrongdoing in Ghana is blamed on government. The individual culprits are left off the hook for their doings and government is attacked. Amidst this situations, I can’t still say the cash and carry is better. We should be able to find simple technology to make life easier in this regard.

It is rather unfortunate that most of these farmers are women and they are old. Using cash is a very risky business so cash is not really the solution. Technology is advancing, so stakeholders should find simple technology to address the situation.

TVM: Has Ghana really maximized the benefit of cocoa?

Dr. A.A.I: If there were no benefits in the cocoa business, Ghanaians would have left it long ago. In the 1980s, cocoa production was hovering around 150,000 tons but now we’re doing about 800,000 tons to 1 million tons. What else do you want as a country from cocoa? Production keeps increasing so I think it has been beneficial.

TVM: What is the Impact of the current economic situation in Ghana and its effects on your businesses?

Dr. A.A.I: Currently, there is high inflation or increasing inflation, depreciating currency, high unemployment, very high interest rates. And all these are factors that are affecting business operations in the country and not only mine.

Obviously, the cost of funds to business is very high. As trading companies, we are experiencing very high interest rates hence very high finance cost to our businesses. If the finance costs are very high then there’s likely to be lower profits; if you do the math revenue minus cost.

An example is the cocoa sector. We buy cocoa; the cost of operations is mainly the finance cost because we borrow to buy the cocoa. The cost of finance constitutes about two thirds of the operations cost, so therefore, if high interest rates are looming or are in record high then obviously your operating cost will go very high and that’s how it’s affecting us; our profits are being whittled away.

We are on the fringes; just striving to survive. My group employs directly and indirectly about 12,000 people; so you can see how it is affecting us. Basically we are just paying monies away because business is not booming. Exchange rate is also another factor. Most of our inputs are imported. For example, our large fleet fleet of trucks have been imported, they were not produced in Ghana.

So you import them without a supplier’s credit but with loans and with the loans you pay high interest cost. Also with the payment which is in dollars, as a result of depreciating local currency, you use more cedis to buy the dollar.

So, obviously you end up having much problems with your cost. Your cost increases astronomically and end up having problems. So, in a depreciating currency environment your cost goes up as hell. The reason is that when you depend on foreign inputs (and we are not exempted), you have to bear the consequences.

That’s a major issue. Then inflation! So if you look at the relationship between these factors, you will see that we are caught up in a spiral and there is nothing we can do. Inflation is going up, there is labour agitation for increasing wages, we are employing 12,000 people; paying them is not easy.

So it is having a toll on us! We are borrowing and borrowing and borrowing but we believe the good times will come and when the economy stabilizes, we should be able to survive. The economy is killing us; inflation is killing us, wage demands, increasing overheads, electricity has gone up, water has gone up, fuel has also gone up.

Over the next month or in two, these increases are going to cripple a lot of businesses but hopefully we can survive with our muscle. We do hope that we may have the safety nets and the shock absorbers to survive.

Alhaji Adamu Iddrisu

TVM: How are you weathering the storm?

Dr. A.A.I: All we are doing is to improve efficiencies in operations in terms of financial management, treasury management, and operational efficiencies. We hope to contain our cost and keep the business going; that’s all we can do. We cannot change interest rates or fix inflations. It all depends on government policy. There isn’t much we can do except that we must respond strategically as a business and that’s all we are doing.

TVM: What do you suggest can be done to reverse the trend?

Dr. A.A.I: Reversing the trend? The onus rests with government. These are macro economic fundamentals controlled by government; we don’t control them. I believe government must do the right thing; the excessive borrowing by government must stop. I’m referring to previous and current governments.

Once they keep borrowing, interest rates will go up. Alternatively, the more they pump more money into the system, the more inflation increases. So for me, it’s about the government trying to get its act together and eliminating wastes and I think economies are managed by governments, that’s why we elect them and give them the mandate and this is not about politics.

TVM: What do you make of the recurrent depreciation of the Cedi?

Dr. A.A.I: We are all part of the reason why the cedi is always falling against the major trading currencies. If someone should give you dollar right now, you will take it, right?

TVM: YES

Dr. A.A.I: But, if you go to China and India and you have dollars, nobody will accept it as a legal tender. That is what we are to do here in Ghana but the reverse is the case. So, we shouldn’t blame anyone; we should blame ourselves. We are all part of the reason for the depreciation of the cedi.

TVM: Who is Dr. Alhaji Adamu Iddrisu?

Dr. A.A.I: I’m a Ghanaian. My mother comes from Paga and my father from Niger. I grew up here in Accra– Old Fadama to be precise, at the timber market. We actually started the timber market at the post office and later moved it to the Makola Fire Service, then to Kantamanto before finally settling at Amamomo where the market is still situated.

But, before all this, I used to help my father on the farm. So, I learnt a lot about farming. At age 17, I joined my brother in Accra and we started the timber business. Through the timber business, I developed interest in the transport business as well because I needed to convey the woods to my clients and by 1964 I bought the first two Fargo trucks, during Nkrumah’s regime.

I bought the first CKD trucks in Ghana in 1964. At that time, trucks were imported in their skeletal forms and then assembled here in Ghana. We had Man Diesel, Mercedes Benz, Fargo trucks, in fact all the trucks were assembled in Ghana. So, no one could import an assembled truck directly from overseas.

After Nkrumah till Kutu Acheampong’s regime, all the leaders did same. Moreover, during Acheampong’s regime, he ordered that motorbikes, bicycles as well as cars should also be assembled in Ghana. No one could import a brand new car as of that time. This created industrial boom and job creation in the country.

TVM: Is that where you got the idea of your transport business?

Dr. A.A.I: No no no! I started the transport business even before Nkruma’s regime. I actually started the transport business with a horse-driven cart. I had a little cart tied to a horse on which I packed the wood from the timber market to distribute to our customers in Accra.

So I had the idea from there because I needed to keep supplying the customers’ everyday with the wood and that was how I got the idea and it wasn’t a bad one. Only that the transport business is very risky.

TVM: H o w risky is it?

Dr. A.A.I: Very! One cannot tell when a car or a truck can have an accident. You can buy a truck today and give it to a driver and you can’t tell what will happen in the next minute. It can be an accident, an arrest because of an illegal engagement by your driver etc. All these accounts for the risky nature of the transport business. TVM: Did you have to drive the trucks at a point?

Dr. A.A.I: Yes! When I started the truck business I was driving the trucks myself but also, I had other drivers.

TVM: At what age were you when you entered into the transport business?

Dr. A.A.I: I started working with my brother at the age of 17 but by the time I entered into the transport business I was in my thirties. I did it simultaneously with the timber business but after four years, I stopped the timber business to concentrate on the transport business. I had the opportunity to also supply the timber to countries like Togo, Burkina Faso etc.

TVM: What lessons did you learn when you were working with your brother?

Dr. A.A.I: My brother gave me free hands to learn the business very well when I was with him. I learnt how to serve as an apprentice as well as collaborate as a partner. I also learnt to manage my brother’s business as my own. I was very obedient to his instructions and contented with what I had.

TVM: Did you ever think you would be this successful while you were selling the wood?

Dr. A.A.I: I had a vision and that’s why I separated from my brother’s business. I was very hard working. For instance, when I was 16 years and staying with my father, I worked on his farm and did not give him the cause to work on the farm again.

I worked so hard he didn’t have to touch anything on the farm. I did the same for my brother when I joined him to sell the wood at the timber market. That is why today I advise people that they should not be selfish but work hard.

Even if it is not their job, they should go ahead and sacrifice themselves for the job. If they feel the company does not belong to them and so would do as pleased, such an attitude wouldn’t get them to be successful. Africans have a different attitude to work unlike Europeans and Arabs.

While I was with my brother, because of my hard work he wanted to build a house for me but I refused. My priority was not for the gift offerings but to ensure the business grew as expected for me to earn my income. I took nothing from the business without his prior notice and consent.

TVM: What was the motivation to refuse your brother’s gift?

Dr. A.A.I: Honesty! I never take anything that is not mine from people or steal from them. If I needed something, I always consulted the person. I was and am not a materialistic person, so I managed the business with honesty. Trust! I never wanted anything but just to ensure the business was growing. If you want people to trust you, you have to do things to earn you the trust.

TVM: What business did you venture when you separated from your brother?

Dr. A.A.I: I continued with the timber and transport business together for about 4 years before moving fully into the transport business. In three years, I had acquired about ten trucks and six years later, 1972 – 1978, I had about 100 trucks.

But I must say all these successes I chalked were as a result of trust. Merchant Bank had come onto the market around 1972. They were only servicing corporate clients and started to deal with us on high purchase bases. But when they started doing business with me, they realized I was an honest man.

All the monies I made from the haulage business, I used them to service my debts with Merchant Bank to pay off the loan on the trucks. Usually I took the hire purchase quota for 18 months but by the 12th month, I would have paid off. This created the trust between the bank and myself. I never defaulted and the bank helped me a lot.

TVM: Can you give a fair count on the number of trucks you have currently?

Dr. A.A.I: Currently, I don’t know the numbers. But I know they are about 600 that are in good condition and are moving.

TVM: From a sawn mill dealer to owning 15 successful companies. Was government involved in this success?

Dr. A.A.I: Government is not involved in any. By the will and grace of God, I have come along with my staff and I don’t think there is the need for government to help entrepreneurs like me. Moreover, I don’t see the need for government to support entrepreneurs because if you [entrepreneur] have built your own company, you don’t wait and expect government to help you run your business for you.

The only thing you need as an entrepreneur from government are the favorable policies and conducive business environment and not financial aid. The only people who need government’s support are the farmers and not entrepreneurs.

TVM: Did you ever envisage you would one day own all these companies?

Dr. A.A.I: Well, the companies did not come all of a sudden or on a silver platter. It was sheer hard work and focus. As and when there was a need, we registered and created it to supplement each other’s operations.

All the companies relate to one another; they are interlinked. It looks like different people helping each other to be better. For instance, the transport firm needs a warehouse to offload the cocoa, and the insurance firm underwrites the various activities against risk etc.

So the companies are interrelated to support each other’s activities and promote integrated growth. The only one with a different purpose is the bank. TVM: What inspired you to own and venture into Banking?

Dr. A.A.I: I could have sent the money outside the county and put it in an investment account to earn interest. But, I believe first and foremost letting the money stay in this country to do business and the sector I chose was finance.

So, I decided to venture into the two areas– banking and insurance, to help add-on to what is in the system. I am, fundamentally, concerned about the high cost of borrowing in this country so I believe that having a bank if all things being equal, the bank will be able to lend money to people at very competitive rates.

The high cost of borrowing is killing businesses in this country and even the availability of the finance is also another factor. On the other hand, I thought it would help my business as well; to be able to provide my other firms with the credit needed for our operations and also to deposit our funds but the Bank of Ghana’s regulation restricts anyone who establishes a bank to transact with that same bank without limitations.

But, I have not regretted though, because it has created a lot of employments. If you check the value of the money I invested in the bank at the initial stage, it was not as huge as it is now because the investment has appreciated. My basic motivation is to see the impact on the cost of finance in the nearest future reduced, and also create more jobs.

TVM: Are you happy about the way the Bank is performing?

Dr. A.A.I: Oh yes, I am very happy.

TVM: Did you dream that one day your will own a bank?

Dr. A.A.I: Usually, I don’t look or focus on what I cannot do. So currently, if I get another idea that will be profitable I’ll venture into that space too. I’ve got very knowledgeable and trustworthy people who are running the bank and I’m happy with their work.

I told all the workers some time back that the bank belongs to them. They are enjoying from it and even, some of them are marrying each other in the bank. All these bring happiness and once they are happy then I’m happy too.

TVM: You were recently honored with a doctoral degree and also, most importantly, a laureate at the Millennium Excellence Awards 2015. How did you feel at the occasions?

Dr. A.A.I: I was very happy. But that was not the highest achievement or the first time I received an award. The biggest award I have received was in 2007 when I was presented the Order of the Volta spearheaded by the former President, President John Agyekum Kufour, for recognizing my efforts.

I was very happy and I realized I was a noteworthy personality and an appreciated citizen in the society. At the recent awards, I was also very elated and overwhelmed. I actually believe I should have been acknowledged a long time ago because of the way I am very practical.

Those who know me will testify that the awards were purely merited and not just conferred on me. Even those with very good education, still come to learn a lot from me. In 2007, people wanted to tag me with a political affiliation but the former President Kufour ignored all those and honored me.

TVM: Do these achievements make you a fulfilled person?

Dr. A.A.I: I am human, so yes! To have come this far and being recognized for my contribution to society, I feel I have served a great purpose to humanity. As an ‘unschooled’ person like me having professors, doctors, and other very educated persons under my various companies operations, I feel fulfilled. What makes me happy is when I manage to get all these engineers, doctors etc. to be working for me.

TVM: You have defied the general notion that ‘education is key to success’, what do you see as key to success?

Dr. A.A.I: Education is nothing and it’s not paramount to success. God is the giver of true knowledge. “Education is a collection of ideas of people put together”. All these books we usually study did not come by themselves.

They are made of humans’ ideas put together for others to study. But practical experience becomes a non-forgettable knowledge and that’s what culminates to personal knowledge. That is why I tell people practical solutions are more important. I am a problem solver.

Sometimes when I get to some of my sites and the engineers are struggling with the building project I am able to proffer accurate solutions which work. Meanwhile, I have never been to school before. So instead of education as a key to success, I’ll rather say practical knowledge or experience is the key to success.

TVM: Did you ever have a role model(s)/ mentor(s) when growing up?

Dr. A.A.I: At all! I never did. People rather want to look like me. All I do is a special gift and grace from God and not by my might or design. It was not by my strength and I never looked up to anybody. God gave me the talent and it is not my strength. I just used the talent he gave me.

TVM: Your philanthropic activities spread across the nation. Why do you engage in such massive benevolence?

Dr. A.A.I: I would not want to speak specifically about my charity work. I do them unto God and not for the pleasantries of men. Every day of my life is meant to meet the needs of society. There are some that are quite open but majority of my charity work I don’t disclose and I wouldn’t want to announce them.

 

TVM: What motivates you to do them?

Dr. A.A.I: It’s not the motivation. Charity should be done through your love for God. When you love God, you become motivated enough to provide for the needy. So, the fear of God in one is enough to engage one in charity.

The motivation comes from your quality walk with God. A lot of people don’t believe in Judgement but I do. On that Day of Judgment, everyone shall be accountable for his/her works, charity. And I know this, so I’m doing mine.

Any area I move to and live or do business, I make sure that they benefit from my benevolence in terms of social amenities – water supply to the communities among others. So I advise everyone to get involved to help solve the needs of humanities.

We should not be greedy to concentrate on ‘self ’. My desire is to be able to meet the needs of everyone who is in need. It gives me extreme joy when I’m able to solve those needs of humanities.

TVM: You have proven in all aspects that hard work pays. Do you have hobbies you engage during your leisure hours?

Dr. A.A.I: At my leisure hours, I spend quality time with my maker, God, by reading the Quran. All I do is to worship Him. I also make time for my family and kinsmen.

TVM: What discipline of sports did you or do you engage?

Dr. A.A.I: Currently, I don’t engage in any sports. I used to play golf but I don’t play anymore because I’m getting old. The energy I have now I use to worship God.

TVM: Do you enjoy specific kind of music?

Dr. A.A.I: I don’t have time to listen to music. I rarely listen to music. Sometimes I watch a bit of TV and sleep.

TVM: How many children has God bless you with?

Dr. A.A.I: So far I have 22 children alive out of 23. I’ve had about 4 wives with so many grandchildren that I have lost count. I’m happy when I see them and I advise them.

TVM: Can you share with us how a day in your business life looks like?

Dr. A.A.I: I always have a very busy day. There are no holidays, no weekends. I work every time when the need arises. There are no breaks. I give myself some time before stepping out. I usually step out in the mornings at around 8-9a.m. unless there is an emergency. I visit my staff (executives) every morning before I go anywhere.

TVM: At an advanced age, you are still strong and are able to perform your duties officially. What is the secret to your strength?

Dr. A.A.I: I eat very well and pay careful attention to my health. I believe whatever we take in has the potential to kill or to keep us alive so I watch what I eat and drink carefully and also the timing of meals, I pay attention to. I go for regular medical check-ups as well.

TVM: And so, what are your favorite delicacies?

Dr. A.A.I: I like traditional foods- the Tuo Zaafi and the rest. They are very nutritious so I take them more often.

TVM: General advice to Ghanaians?

Dr. A.A.I: Let’s love our currency because that is the only legal tender we have. We shouldn’t love foreign currencies more than ours. We are not helping ourselves and the economy if we continue to do that. The economy cannot be managed by only one person but every individual in this country is involved in the management thereof. We should also be conscious to patronize made-in-Ghana goods to help boost the economy.

TVM: What is your advice to the youth of today?

Dr. A.A.I: The youth of today are not like the youth of my time. Even when you are advising them, they don’t take it. But for the few who listen to instructions, I’ll say, they should work very hard, they should not cut corners; do it diligently, do it as though it is their own.

There should be no room for laziness. The other aspect is humility; it opens to you great doors and helps you to listen to people. If you are too pompous, you seldom listen to people. You become too full of yourself and that won’t take you far.

No matter who you are, be humble, respect other people and be receptive to people. The third one is Honesty. I don’t compromise on this! I believe the one who steals your 1 cedi is capable of stealing your 1 billion; so, you don’t entertain him. If you do honest labor you will be rewarded accordingly. The final one is good human relations.

So, I term them “The Four H”; Hardworking, Humility, Honesty, Human relations. Not in any particular order, they must be integrated into you. When you meet people, you must be nice and receptive to them. People will have problems; listen to them, don’t trample upon them. When you meet people, you must learn to respect them.

Dr. Adamu Iddrisu in a cheerful discussion with his son Alhaji Abdul Aziz

TVM: What will be your advice to government?

Dr. A.A.I: There’s been mention of a lot of things already. We need more social cohesion. The country is too polarized. The NDC-NPP divide is too wide, so good materials cannot cross over from one side to the other to help in the management of the economy. That is totally wrong! The ‘Dumsor’ (electricity rationing), currency depreciation, high inflation as well as high interest rates are some of the challenges affecting the economy. Energy is everything these days. Obviously, if you need energy to produce and you don’t have energy, it means you can’t produce meanwhile you’ve invested in plants, you took loans, and you have to keep servicing the loans yet you don’t produce then you will crumble. The government should find a way to fix the energy problem because in the whole world now, energy drives everything. IT is power, manufacturing is energy, and education is energy. Energy is everywhere! So, if businesses don’t have consistent supply, their operations are likely to be affected adversely. So I agree the problem must be fixed. But we also have to think about alternative energy sources; wind energy, hydro is very conventional to us but the fuel powered sources are very expensivehence if we want energy we must think about these alternative sources. Our beaches can be used for wind mills, our fields can be used for solar; we need very diverse minds to deal with these issues and come up with more energy sources so we can complement the existing sources. If we become mono dependent it can be disastrous, we need alternatives.

TVM: What advice would you give to SME’s in this trying times? SME’s should strive to thrive on honesty, humility, good management skills and hard work and they will be on their way to success. It is very unfortunate in this trying times for this growing sector but better times await.

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“In order to bring about a fundamental transformation of our economy …” – Dr. Kwesi Botchwey, Former Minister of Finance, Ghana

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“Rethinking Ghana’s Economic Development after 62years of Independence”

Ghana marks its 62nd independence and many still wonder if the number truly reflects its developmental achievements. The questions boggling many include: where have we gone wrong, what did we not get right, how did we get here? Some even go to the extent of comparing our development with countries such as South Korea, Singapore, Malaysia and the likes. In this all enthralling and thought-provoking edition of the Personality Profile, Team Vaultz meets Dr Kwesi Botchwey to discuss the most crucial topics on the minds of Ghanaians and find ways of rethinking the country’s economic development after 62years of independence. Dr Kwesi Botchwey is termed the longest serving finance minister in Ghana who led a team to restructure the failing economy between 1982 and 1995. The Professor of Practice in Development Economics at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy of Tufts University in this interview offers some suggestions that can help to rebuild the Ghanaian economy after 62year of independence.

 

TVM: Thirteen years as a finance minister in charge of Ghana’s economy. How did that feel?

Dr. Botchwey: It was very demanding, challenging, and mostly stressful but yet fulfilling. At the end of it all, when I look back, I feel a sense of some gratification

 

TVM: Ghana is 62 years this year. You have been at the front and have understood how our evolution has been. Give us your understanding of how the Ghanaian economy has felt like, studying through the literature; pre-independence, independence and post-independence.

Dr. Botchwey: Well, the story of Ghana’s economic development, according to some, is a very simple one. The most familiar one is “The grace to grass’ narrative that simply says Ghana was a sort of model colony, a country of tremendous natural resources, a good civil service, and a cushion of reserves of about £200million, equivalent to about three years import cover at independence, a legacy that we somehow squandered.

That is the familiar narrative that then goes with our comparison to the Koreas and the others who have done so much better, to drive home the point.

The real story though, is a trifle more complex. To begin with, yes, we were a country of tremendous natural resources at independence and had a very good and committed civil service and all that. But the country was still your typical under-developed country; agriculture was still basically cutlass and hoe activity and we were very dependent on cocoa production and had very little in the way of an industrial base. Indeed we lacked the skill sets for rapid industrial development.

So, Yes and No. We were not exactly the model colony suggested by some in the literature, but were better off than most. In the 50’s when Kwame Nkrumah and the CPP were managing affairs in the transition to independence, the country followed pretty much the path that the colonialists had charted: a stable exchange rate regime, and a cautious monetary policy.

And in the first five years of independence, at least, until 1961, when he launched what was, at least by self-assertion, a socialist path characterized by state – led industrialization and development and a whole host of industries, in just about every aspect of the national economy. It’s important to bear in mind that it’s not as if Nkrumah inherited this bountiful legacy and just squandered it.

This was a time when state participation in the economy was more or less the norm for developing countries. So, Nkrumah’s strategy of state – led industrialization was by no means reckless, although it is not to say that the strategy did not meet challenges.

 

TVM: Was it more tactical than strategic?

Dr. Botchwey: It was more in the implementation of the strategy and in the challenges of governance and good management of the infrastructure and large public investments that were made. The strategy continued till the coup in 1966. President Busia, in his short reign, signaled a change to a more-private sector driven development and all that; but nothing really happened.

We muddled through our economic development for a long time till the onset of the 80s. By the 80s the economy had become shackled by controls – exchange controls, price controls, trade controls, import licensing etc. The exchange rate was fixed and  stayed at GH¢2.75 to a dollar for a very long time although nobody in his right mind who had dollars would surrender them to the bank voluntarily to exchange at this official rate  when on the black market, it sold for GH¢ 10 or GH¢15. Successive governments avoided taking any corrective action to avoid any political upheavals and maintained the peg to the ruin of the economy.

As the exchange rate got hugely overvalued, the export sector including our main export cocoa collapsed, as many cocoa farmers left their cocoa to rot in the bush. They reckoned correctly that that the price they got at the official exchange rate for their cocoa barely even covered their cost of production.

 

TVM: Really?

Dr. Botchwey: Yes, which is why with Rawlings’ first coming, many students were actually deployed to the countryside to help with the collection and carting of cocoa from the hinterland to the ports. There were widespread shortages of basic commodities and inputs for agriculture and industry. There were shortages of virtually everything. The country was literally on brink of total national disintegration. Even so nothing really changed till the mid – 80’s.

It was a very challenging conjunction. We had suffered three successive years of drought accompanied by bush fires that raged all over the country and caused the loss of a substantial acreage of food and tree crops. Then in the mist of all this, many of our country men and women, the relatively better trained and skilled segments of the labor force who had fled to neighboring countries in search of a better life were sent back. Suddenly, we saw a 10% increase in population amid the famine and economic collapse.

That was the setting in which I became, first, the Chairman of what was called the National Economic Review Committee (NERC) and then subsequently, after a few months, was appointed the first PNDC Secretary for Financial and Economic Planning. I must hasten to add that it was a team that was put in place.

I only happened to be the leader of the team but the work was done by the team including Dr. Joe Abbey, one of our leading macro economists and a former Minister of Finance himself; the late Dr. Gobind Nankani who was working with the World Bank but would come and help with macro-economic analysis and programming; Mr. Ato Ahwoi; Dr. Assibi Abudu, Dr. Kobinah Erbynn and Nrkrumah’s last Minister of Finance, Mr. Kwesi Amoako Atta.  Our task was to war to fashion a radical program of economic and social transformation, open up the economy and just make things work.

 

TVM: Move it from the controls?

Dr. Botchwey: Well yes. The controls were not working to start with. People would get import licenses at GH¢2.75 to a dollar and would not even bother to import anything. They would just sell them to willing buyers. The reality was that the cedi was grossly overvalued. Even the State Gold Mining Corporation could hardly pay its workers.

Whatever gold they were producing was dwindling because they had no resources to bring in spare parts, and auxiliary products. They were coming to the budget for support to pay their workers. Not only were they not paying any tax to government, they were taking from government. Our studies revealed that it cost the corporation more to produce a dollar’s worth of exports than they received at the prevailing exchange rate.

We eventually freed the exchange rate and made it market determined. It was not a popular decision. It caused fissures and cracks within the ranks especially of the progressives with some taking the position that this was a neo liberal solution that the revolution wasn’t meant to pursue.

But we forged ahead and launched a phase and integrated exchange reform plans that combined adjustments in the exchange rate and trade reform, thereby bringing about a gradual and to some extent dramatic recovery in exports and output. Long story! But we did.

 

TVM: Could that be based on the confidence in the economy?

Dr. Botchwey: Absolutely. Many African countries were suffering the same ills but were deterred by the prospect of social and political opposition to corrective measures, preferring instead to live with stagnation.

We bucked the trend. But the Program of Reconstruction and Development, as we called it, wasn’t just about exchange rate policy and trade reforms. It was also about a massive program of social and economic infrastructure rehabilitation, better expenditure management and discipline, better public expenditure programming generally, improvement in fiscal policy and social welfare, and civil service reforms to improve efficiency and compensation levels. Indeed social welfare spending went up steeply as a percentage of government expenditure over the program period.

We set up all these institutions that we now take for granted: the forex bureaus, stock exchange, among others. Importantly, we instituted wide ranging reforms of the financial and banking sector which had been badly affected by the general economic crisis and had suffered a major loss of public confidence. We recognized that the crisis facing the banking sector was that they were weighed down by huge non-performing loans of state owned enterprises (some of it guaranteed by Government) and that of the private sector.

Essentially, we removed from the banks’ portfolios all non- performing loans to state enterprises and the private sector, and either offset or replaced them with Bank of Ghana bonds. The banks were thus able to meet the new Capital adequacy requirements within the stated period. All this was accomplished totally transparently, with the full participation of stakeholders and without the uncertainty, the politics, turbulence and angst. The non-performing loans were then vested in a newly created Non Performing Assets Trust (NPART) which was charged with recovering as much as was possible.

 

TVM: That was quite of bit of work!

Dr. Botchwey: that’s an understatement!

 

TVM: You did some privatization as well?

Dr. Botchwey: Yes we did. It was an important part of the reform program and perhaps the most difficult from the political economy point of view. We still had a large number of state enterprises about 200 of them, covering mining, transportation, agriculture, services and the utility sectors. Only a handful of them were operating profitably. The rest mostly had huge financial and structural issues.

We privatized about 50 of them in my time, and those that remained in state ownership, were put through reforms aimed at improving performance. They were made to sign performance agreements with government and legal mechanisms were put in place for the improvement of the financial accounting and the institution of a better framework for assuring the accountability and operational autonomy.

 

TVM: These must not have been easy decisions.

Dr. Botchwey: Of course not. For me personally, some of these measures were rather awkward. In fact, even the turn to the IMF, was awkward given my well known criticism, at that time, of the role of the IMF in low income countries.

 

TVM: I saw an article online that said Kwesi Botchwey, the socialist. So you have obviously taken decisions like these that went against your socio-political thinking?

Dr. Botchwey: Oh Yes. Yes I took many knocks from both the left and the right. The left from those who preferred that we went the way of the Paris communards during the French revolution and the right from those who thought that even my elan and dress code on the job was somehow incompatible with socialism or what you call my socio-political thinking.

This is not the time and place to respond to these criticisms, there will be such a time and place sometime. Suffice it to say that I take Marxism very seriously to this day, and see it as the foundation of social science. I never forgot that Marxism, required a concrete analysis of the concrete situation when faced with any situation. So when I was confronted with the economic crisis that we faced, with state enterprises that we couldn’t run, with workers taking over state enterprises as they did then notably with GTP and running to the budget for financial and other support, and with the prospects of legal action by previous owners of these factories staring us in the face , and so on, I knew that I couldn’t say that in the name of Marx’s theory, I was simply going to find money that wasn’t there to give to the workers. Then I knew we needed some sustainable policies even if as a transition to whatever else we wanted to do rather than stick to the dogma of an ideology and other people’s idea of ideological purity or…

 

TVM: Stay true to your principles.

Dr. Botchwey: Yes. I often remind my friends, sometimes to their irritation of Marx’s observation that we make our history not in circumstances that we wish, but in circumstances that we confront. I couldn’t wish into existence a stable and prosperous economy in which money was just plentiful in the budget and we could deploy money any way we wanted. So there was some pragmatism. Anyhow, the result is pretty much what we see today.

 

TVM: Listening to you, I heard you talk about the exchange rate. Let’s do some ‘juxtaposition’. The exchange rate is still a problem today. So, are you really seeing a difference between the economy then and the economy now?

Dr. Botchwey: I have over the past few years often asked myself whether we are going back to the brink of the crisis of the 80’s. I think not. Yes, we have an exchange rate problem, between December 2018 and February 2019, the exchange lost about 13% of its value against the dollar, compared to a modest appreciation in the same two months period in 2018. The President himself is on record as saying he is not happy with the slide.

The consternation is understandable. When the cedi’s value drops, especially steeply, it does have consequences that are destabilizing for businesses, and consumers alike, it doesn’t make planning easy. It is something that must be moderated and kept within a band that is sustainable.

I see two problems, one is that the public’s perception of the magnitude and causes of the problem is in part a function of the narrative from some policy makers that suggests that the stability of the cedi is just a function of the sheer brilliance and competence of economic managers and that, by sheer dint of such competence the cedi can be somehow immunized from the vagaries of the market.

The other problem is that the public discourse on exchange rate issues is so ridden with partisanship, arrogance and even insult that a principled discussion becomes impossible. The truth is that nobody is omniscient and I mean nobody! Among economists there’s always room for disagreement. It is not for nothing that George Bernard Shaw the Irish playwright, polemicist and social activist, famously said that “if all economist were laid end-to-end they’d never reach a conclusion”. We must foster an environment in which principled and dispassionate debate is possible.

 

TVM: What’s more important? If it is possible to separate them, what should I deal with first? Do I deal with the exchange rate hoping that all other things will work or I need to deal with all other things hoping that it will influence the exchange rate? What do you go for?

Dr. Botchwey: Well the two factors are rather dialectical but if you had to make a choice on pain of death I would have to say the latter. You deal with the factors affecting a particular episode (such as this recent one or the one we had in 2014). First, you identify and deal with the proximate causes such as seasonal and other short term factors and hope that the particular episode subsides.

And then you deal with the longer term structural issues in the economy that affect foreign exchange demand and supply. Trust me there is no magic bullet. We’ve been here before this latest episode and it won’t be the last.

 

TVM: There are those who argue that there was a strong call that was made at independence that the Ghanaian was capable of managing his own affairs. 62years down the line. Are we really capable of doing just that; what’s your assessment?

Dr. Botchwey: Yes, we are capable of running our own affairs and we have by and large been managing (and mismanaging) our own affairs. But it is interesting you ask: are we capable?

Of course, we are capable. If you are asking whether we are really in charge of our national economy, do we have ownership of our national development policy, well, that is a bit complex.

As Ghanaians we own the Ghanaian economy at least nominally. A good chunk of it is owned by those who provide the funding and investments, some of it is also influenced by those who give us support. But not only are we capable, we can also be the ones who decide what our developing policies shall be. I recall in 2014 when we were going through a similar exchange rate crisis as it is today.

The cedi had lost over 30 percent of its value dropping off about GHc 10billion of our nominal GDP at the time. A number of measures were introduced by the central bank, and some attempts were made to introduce new revenue models and some were condemned as “nuisance taxes” and all that. That was the very activity to deal with the crisis that beset the issue. The government actually then called a forum, The National Forum, that met in Senchi. I had the good fortune to chair the committee that was to look into macroeconomic policy issues.

And it would be interesting for you to know that, I chaired that committee and it had people like Sydney Casely-Hayford and Franklin Cudjoe on it and we discussed the matters openly and frankly. The NPP boycotted the forum as a party but there were some NPP delegates there. So we discussed a lot of things. It doesn’t matter what we say, nobody knows everything.

So we had to pull together and a number of good decisions were made. We noted that we had lost policy credibility as a country so inward flows of investments were being affected, donors were more reluctant because we had set ourselves policy targets that were achievable but we had missed them for three successive years. So, the market did not believe whatever we were saying. It was a good forum. Unfortunately, the follow up wasn’t as good as we had hoped and so the body of consensus that had been built somehow got dissipated.

 

TVM: In 2019, Ghana is expected to exit the IMF program. What are your thoughts on this entry and exit to the program? Are we ready to exit based on the experience you’ve had? And how do we ensure never to get back onto the program anymore?

Dr. Botchwey: Interesting! It is important to understand that we are a sovereign country. Nobody can force us to go to the fund even in crises. It is always our choice.

We go to the fund when we need to. With the International Monetary Fund, all the countries join it to get some funds except for those that the US won’t grant membership. Developed economies, when they get into trouble even go there. The IMF was set up after the Second World War as a body that will help countries in Balance of Payment crisis and provide them support in other to dissuade them from resorting to policies that are destructive for international trade. So, the IMF and the World Bank were set up to provide the multilateral institutions that would provide members with support. And we are members. It is for us to decide if we want to go there or not. We did in 2014 but we’re sovereign. We can leave when we want.

Now if we say, we don’t want to ever go to the Fund, it is fine! That’s our prerogative, provided we pursue policies that gives us the credibility that the market wants. This program was supposed to have ended in 2017 but was extended for another year. Now it is coming to an end. Should we decide that when the program comes to an end we won’t renew it, fine! It is all very fine provided that, as a country, we have internalized the discipline of living within our means, subjecting ourselves to fiscal discipline that we need in order not to create the conditions that will take us back to the fund or make the return to the fund necessary.

Secondly, people talk as if the IMF rains conditions on our heads; insist we keep a low deficit, insist our other macroeconomic indicators are fine– low inflation, growth, employment, generating growth and above all, keep our fiscal situation stable.

People forget that even without the IMF, the market today will subject every country pretty much the same conditions. If we choose to go to the bond market, they will look at our budget, look at our ability to pay back the debt etc. In 2014, we went to the Fund because we wanted policy credibility plus resources of about US$1billion, plus a crowding in of private sector investments and donor assistance.

 

TVM: So, it’s not even an issue of going to the IMF but an issue of discipline?

Dr. Botchwey: Yes, it’s an issue of discipline which the market will compel you to demonstrate anyway with or without the Fund. We should not be under any illusion that when the fund is not here we can do whatever we want. Sure we can but we shall bear the consequences.

 

TVM: And five years down the line we will be back.

Dr. Botchwey: Yes. Quite possibly. If you look at our history, I have heard some narrative that suggests that one party, is a better manager of the economy than the other. The facts don’t bear out that kind of narrative. If you look at our history well, you’ll find that we spend years messing up, especially election time, then we wake up to the realization that there is a problem and so we spend three years sorting ourselves out till another election comes then we mess up, then we come back, do fiscal consolidation, get things back on track and sail through until elections come again and we overspend again.

This has been happening quite consistently in our multi-party experience more or less and that has to stop. In order to bring about a fundamental transformation of our economy and make a real dent in poverty which still afflicts our people, we need to be growing at about 8-9% per annum for a generation. One of my biggest worries in my moments of sober reflection is that, at the rate we are going, even when we think we are doing better compared to previous regimes, I fear that very little is going to change and our children in 30yrs will be facing some of these same issues, there wouldn’t have been a really fundamental change in their condition.

 

TVM: So from your estimation, we must be doing around upwards of 8% consistently for almost about a generation?

Dr. Botchwey: Yes, consistently for about a generation. We need to have policy continuity in its essentials. China has done something no other country in history has done. They have brought over 700 million people out of poverty. I mean, out of poverty! Their lives have changed fundamentally just in a generation. We need to be looking at what China has done a lot more carefully.

 

TVM: Once we cut ourselves off the IMF, would there be an impact on the already stretched foreign exchange?

Dr. Botchwey: It depends. If we wean ourselves off the Fund and demonstrate that even without the external restraints that come with an IMF program we will continue to act responsibly in the management of our economy (and politics), that we’ve internalized the discipline of prudent fiscal policy and demonstrate this for an extended period straddling election cycles and political transitions, we will be fine.

But let not get ahead of ourselves. Even developed countries do have recourse to IMF supported programs, even if infrequently. The so-called East Asian Tigers, among them Thailand, Indonesia and Korea with which Ghana has been compared frequently, have had recourse to IMF supported programs in billions when they needed to, During its boom years, Korea made huge investments mainly financed by external short – term borrowing, and when the economy and export growth especially slowed, these large loans caused huge problems for enterprises, in unutilized capacity low profits and severe cash flow difficulties for enterprises and for banks, large non-performing loans.

Korea actually nationalized KIA after Banks refused to lend it money and when traditional policy responses failed, Korea turned to the IMF as the best and perhaps in the circumstances only feasible option. But sure we can say good bye to the Fund and survive, even thrive. Let’s just remember it’s not like eating a piece of cake.

 

TVM: Control our borrowing, drive up our revenues and spend wisely?

Dr. Botchwey: Yes. But you see, all these require something that a lot of politicians do not like to hear. We need both fiscal space and political space. When an incumbent government is in the trenches and must take actions and policy decisions, that are hugely difficult and unpopular and challenging, it needs to create some sort of national consensus, across parties so that it doesn’t look over its shoulders and worry about other parties taking political advantage. There must be a sufficiently large body of national consensus around the basic direction of our national economy. We must live within our means, borrow prudently making sure that the monies we borrow don’t cost more than they should and that they’re invested prudently.

Above all, we can’t transform this economy in just a few years, nobody can. It is not a matter of genius. Nobody on this earth has the kind of genius that can bring an end to poverty and youth unemployment in two years. If that were possible, why would any country be poor? Find the geniuses, bring them to a country, give them two years and, bingo! Nobody can do that.  It can’t be done.

 

TVM: “Ghana: A country of wealth, a people of poverty.” Ghana is a resource-rich country yet with people who are embedded in poverty. ‘Good Growth and Governance in Africa: Rethinking Developmental strategies’ is a book you co-authored with noble prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz. In your view, what accounts for this situation in the case of Ghana? What are we missing?

Dr. Botchwey: Yes, we are a country of enormous wealth. We often tell ourselves Ghana is a rich country. We need to qualify that. We are a potentially rich country. The natural resources we have make us only potentially rich. The most frustrating thing for any economist or manager of the economy is to see the macroeconomic indicators moving in the right direction and still hear people saying, as they are doing now, and rightly, that times are hard, that they can’t see the improvements in their pockets.

It is on one hand a commentary on the fact that we don’t have all the answers to many of the challenges we face in our development- which is why a dose of humility is needed among the protagonists in this enterprise called ‘development’ and what it will take to assure the long – term welfare of our growing population and their basic quest for food, decent housing and leisure – that we’re not growing at a high enough level, and that the growth is not employment generating.

 

TVM: So you’re saying the growth must lead to a good employment generation

Dr. Botchwey:  It must be transformational and employment generating and no transformation can ever take place except on a long term basis; it takes sustained effort and continuity in development policy.

 

TVM: There are some who’ve argued that government in government out, there seems to be some degree of political biasism when you talk about corruption. So the left is corrupt when the right is in power and then the right is corrupt when the left is in power and we don’t seem to be addressing it. What is your take on this and how can we attempt to deal with it?

Dr. Botchwey: Ah Biasism! I like that. I’ll take that to my lexicon of evolving Ghanaian inventions! The greatest harm that we can do to our country is to jeopardize or compromise the integrity, competence and independence of the key institutions for our democracy including those that are charged with fighting corruption.

When we compromise them by politicizing them, what happens is, we reduce the fight against corruption to just jailing people, especially political opponents through an interesting law on our statute books, a law of ‘strict liability’, more or less, tantalizingly called ‘causing financial loss’ in our popular parlance, which has become a ready-made hatchet that incumbent governments can and often do wield to prosecute their political agendas. That is not fighting corruption. The discourse on corruption is rather confusing.

Apart from the incidence of what you call political biasism which is unfortunate because it undermines the credibility of the fight against corruption and makes the populace cynical – they are not fooled –  except perhaps the growing legion of so –  called ‘party communicators’ who are fired by blind loyalty and other activists often masquerading as journalists!

We have institutions that are meant to address corruption including the Public Procurement Authority and statutes – the Public Procurement Act, Act 663 of 2003 and its subsequent amendments, that are meant to provide the legal framework for preventing and punishing corruption in public procurement where we know value for money considerations in large public investments can be compromised to the detriment of the nation.

The integrity of this legal framework so that it doesn’t get used selectively and worse, as a hatchet for intimidating political opposition, but to prevent, curtail and sanction violations, especially egregious violations that hurt the common good. It is as simple as that. And the fight and public discourse on corruption must also be broadened to include ‘petty corruption’ which is what the average person struggling to make a living confronts daily in getting paid public officials to do their duty, whether it be issuing driving licenses, or passports or clearing goods at the ports or registering title to land. Ever tried to register title to land? It is a monumental scandal!

 

TVM: To smoothen the process?

Dr. Botchwey: Yes ‘smoothening the process “is a convenient euphemism that soothes our senses and curbs our indignation. It must be abandoned in favor of the naked truth; it is bribery! So yes corruption is still a big issue, I think that we are making some progress in dealing with it but I fear there’s too much of what you call political biasism in the fight against corruption.

 

TVM: Let’s talk about Ghana beyond 62years. There are those who are pushing for us to change the dialogue or the discourse in the country, pushing for much more intellectual based discussion, changing the narrative. How can we see this pan out? How do we ensure that we are changing the dragging regressive politics of needles comparison? How do we change the entire narrative to make us more progressive?

Dr. Botchwey: it is a responsibility for all of us i.e. shared responsibility for all of us including the likes of you.

 

TVM: Who?

Dr. Botchwey:  Civil society. Unfortunately, journalists are just worsening the process. We’ve made tremendous progress in our journalism but it is often mired in the same political biasm even in reporting and conducting public debate.

 

TVM: How can we capitalize on the late start advantage to develop as a country? How do we get around that? What is the concept of the late start advantage?

Dr. Botchwey: It’s an interestingly question. We live in a globalized world. Enterprises are able to source and locate anywhere they have the best advantages but unfortunately it is a trend that is under threat now, with the eerie re-emergence of the same tensions that marked the inter-war years and a US led bilateralism which has put the world economy in rather uncharted waters unfortunately. Nevertheless we need to position ourselves to take advantage of globalization. We need to decide as a nation where our comparative advantage really lies in.

If we are going to leap frog- and we can, we must train our work force and equip them with the skill sets required in today’s world. Unfortunately, this is not quite happening. Although, we have a proliferation of universities now, there has been relatively little diversification in course offerings. If you ask any young man or woman who has finished secondary school and is looking to enter the University for a degree, what career they have in mind, the most likely response will be: HR, or Marketing. We cannot leap frog unless we harness the force of technology and technical innovation.

 

TVM: We need good skill sets?

Dr. Botchwey: Yes. To take advantage of globalization, we need that. We need planning as I mentioned earlier. Just study what China has done. Now, they are not just assembling things for the world, they are actually manufacturing things from the scratch and are spawning new products. They are going to space. They have just landed on the part of the moon that nobody has gone to before.

They are building their own aircraft carriers but above all, they have internalized those skills and have developed programs for developing even more skills. So in order to be able to take advantage of the late-start advantage, we can’t insulate ourselves from globalization. We must identify what we are good at and how do we prepare ourselves to deliver what we are good at? We sought to address these issues at the NDPC in the 40 Year Plan which is currently under review.

 

 

TVM: In your experience, in just some few seconds, if I ask you to pick two or three things that you think the Ghanaian is good at, as a collective, which should be an area of focus that we could dial up on, what would you pick?

Dr. Botchwey: Not easy. Broadly, labor intensive light manufacturing, and agricultural and horticultural products come to mind. Much work was done at the NDPC in the context of the preparation of the 40 year Plan which is currently under review.

 

PERSONALITY PROFILE

TVM: Many Ghanaians think of you as a man of deep insight. Quickly tell us about your growing up. How was your upbringing like?

Dr. Botchwey: People are very gracious to me, for the most part. I was born in Tamale. My dad was a civil servant and my mother a trader. I didn’t exactly grow up in the same environment with my mum. I went to school mostly in the North: Bawku, Yendi, and Wa. By the time we got back to the south from all these voyages, I could hardly speak any Akan. I mainly communicated in English and was often laughed at by my friends.

I won scholarships and went to PRESEC, St Augustine’s and so on and finally to Legon where I did my first degree. I won a scholarship to Oxford and just a day before I traveled to Oxford, I got admission also to Yale with a fatter scholarship so I ended up going to Yale. But in between, as I was reading my Masters degree something awakened in me a certain revolutionary fervor, a compelling yearning for social activism to do something about what I saw as pervasive injustice especially against the African person.

 

TVM: That’s where the passion started from?

Dr. Botchwey: It started from my days in America and saw its maturation in my days at the University of Dar es Salaam in Nyerere’s Tanzania, and my association with a cluster of progressive academics including Walter Rodney of ‘How Europe Underdeveloped Africa’ fame, Clive Thomas, John Saul, Reginald Green, Forster Carter, Dan Nabudere, Mahmoud Mamdani, Horace Campbell, among others.

 

TVM: What is your fondest childhood memory?

Dr. Botchwey:  Ah! you know? It had to be childhood liking for ‘boflot’, later to be replaced by koose and kurikuri! Going to school in Bawku, we would  walk past loads of it by the road side and far enough from the adjacent houses. We would slip one or two into our pockets and then call someone to come and sell us whatever our daily stipends (few pennies) could buy, and  I’ll tell myself, when I grew up, I would try to make lots of money so that I could eat all the boflot I wanted! Unknown to me, the lady boflot maker had noticed our pranks and reported me to doting mother who not only spared me the cane, but made boflot a steady part of my breakfast! To this day my food preferences if I can get them are Northern delicacies. I’ve long given up my craving for artery clogging Fante doughnuts!

 

TVM: Your journey from the young man who liked ‘boflot’, to a statesman and political economist today, was it born out of reading? Or was there a mentor?

Dr. Botchwey: Yes, it was born out of reading. At Yale, if you wanted to do a master’s degree in Law, you needed more than a passing acquaintance with political economy especially in the areas that I was interested in– Corporate Law Finance. But I acquired my revolutionary fervor, from reading Marx as we all did then.

 

TVM: So the Marxism was what drove you as a people’s person?

Dr. Botchwey: Absolutely!

 

TVM: Interesting. What struck you most about Karl Marx?

Dr. Botchwey: Well, his passion for fighting injustice in the work place for the downtrodden. It was right in the 19th century when injustice was at its worst; with child labor and dreadful working conditions in the mines, coal mines, and his determination to mobilize working people to participate in development and the fruits of development to change their lives. That really informed me and kept me reading mostly radical socialist literature.

 

TVM: In 1982, just fast forwarding to when President Jerry John Rawlings reached out to you to assist in stabilizing the Ghanaian economy. It is on record that you achieved some very strong results out there. What mechanisms do you remember deploying with your team to get the change that we saw?

Dr. Botchwey: Well, the most difficult one was to adjust the exchange rate. Let’s not forget, everybody who had tried it was overthrown. So we had to do it in mechanisms and language that people understood.

 

TVM: If you were in office today, and seeing what we’re seeing now in terms of cedi depreciation, the rise in public debt etc., would you have done the same? Or the antidote for now is different?

Dr. Botchwey: The situation now is different because we have a market determined exchange rate. We just need to make sure that our fiscal policies, our matching policies are sound so that we can have a stable macroeconomic environment.

 

TVM: You did talk about having a fiscal space but also having the political space. There are those who argue that you stormed out of the NDC in 1995 after you were overruled, so to speak on the plan for a spending splurge to win the 1996 election. Does that fall part of the political space that you were looking for? And what’s your take first on this allegation?

Dr. Botchwey: Idle speculation. Fake news, in today’s parlance.

 

TVM: There are those who argue that the Party needed you most during that period.

Dr. Botchwey: I didn’t think so. I had been in office for 13 years; I thought it was time to move on and return to the relative quietude and intellectual rigor of academic work.

 

TVM:  There is a quote attributed to you in the political window and it goes like this “If elected flagbearer, I would elaborate a clear plan to build on Ghana’s potential to take advantage of the global economy and the network of globally influential individuals and organization I have worked with to the benefit of the party and the people”. How could this have translated into the Ghana we wanted?

Dr. Botchwey: I had the good fortune of network on International Development when I was at Harvard and at the Fletcher School. I worked on the Millennium Development Goals, the UNDP’s Human Development Report  (HDR) and was a member of the UN Committee on Development Policy. So I had a good network and I was saying then when I was seeking flagbereship of the Party that I would reach out to people I knew in this network to help in fashioning the right policies if I were elected. In the event, I didn’t win.

 

TVM: There are those who say a strong team is important and I also believe that a strong leadership is important. So if you were the president, tell me two or three things that you will you do differently?

Dr. Botchwey: I am what you will call a yesterday’s man. My career reached its peak and has ended. I am humble enough to recognize that. I still have those networks. Hypothetically, if the good Lord should somehow change the laws of biology and return me to my 40s and I got elected as president, I would reach out to all talents and expertise of Ghanaians wherever they may be and whichever party they may belong to. I will end this bout of vengefulness and recrimination. I believe in inclusivity and ethicality in governance and temperance in the public discourse on matters that affect our common good. That is what would move the country forward. I think that is what presidents should do.

 

TVM: The 2020 flagbearership race of the NDC, did you intend to run for the flag-bearership?

Dr. Botchwey: No. If I did intend to, I would have run

 

TVM: The last flagbearership election and the aftermath of it, is it a reflection of what you saw going round?

Dr. Botchwey: To some extent, yes.

 

TVM: What does Kwesi do at his leisure time?

Dr. Botchwey: Reading and Jazz, especially smooth jazz.

 

TVM: Favorite sport and why?

Dr. Botchwey: Tennis, on clay courts when I can– they are gentler on the knees. Not golf. It is much too laid back for me. I reckon that what I can get from a game of tennis will take me two days of golf or something. My friends think the contrary.

 

TVM: If I put economic books aside, what others do you read?

Dr. Botchwey: Thrillers, crime and investigation– that’s series. It kind of tells me the working of the human mind. And cartoons.

 

TVM: Is it because you are inquisitive?

Dr. Botchwey: It is part but I like to understand how people’s minds work and the kind of mischief they are up to.

 

TVM: Will I be right in saying that the Dr. Kwesi Botchwey we are seeing today has been largely influenced by the Marxist theory or are there other books that may have influenced you?

Dr. Botchwey: Yes, it has defined my world outlook.  A lot of my friends laugh at me when I say that. They tell “You are Marxist but you wear nice clothes and nice things”. But I laugh it off. I have sort of gotten used to these taunts. But of course I have been influenced by philosophy generally, from the Greeks through the Enlightenment to E.O. Wilson’s work on Consilience, and, yes, the wisdom I learnt at my mother’s knee. Enough!

 

TVM: On Friday, if team Vaultz decides to organize an amazing meal for you, a delicacy, what should it be?

Dr. Botchwey: Interesting. For me, food is basically for restitution and livelihood so I don’t really have any favorite foods. No. That’s not true. I love French cuisine! But I’m a fish man. So if you decide to do any such thing, any old array, anything with fish would be just fine.

 

TVM: You have betrayed your ‘boflot’?

Dr. Botchwey:  Haha. You forget it got displaced long ago by kurikuri and koose long ago!

 

TVM: If you had the opportunity to rewrite a wrong. What would it be?

Dr. Botchwey: I’m sure I committed some wrongs in my long period of public service. Can’t remember any that stand out like a sore thumb. But there must be some – I have been all too human all my life – I will enthusiastically correct them if I am duly reminded.

 

TVM: On the Vaultz interview, we try and always have guests speak to their peers. The current minister of finance, Ken Ofori-Atta, what advice would you give him as somebody who sat in his chair before?

Dr. Botchwey: That’s an interesting one. Nothing really comes to mind. But, it will be nice if he could bring us all former finance ministers who are around, together sometime and have a chat and share a bottle of Barolo or Amarone!

 

TVM: What is your advice to the youth?

Dr. Botchwey: The youth are for me both worry and a tremendous source of inspiration. My heart bleeds when I see throngs of them roaming the streets trying to make a living. As a nation they represent our greatest asset and yet our greatest challenge. Their increasing anger and desperation should remind us that we are sitting on a time bomb. Providing them with the skills and training for to cope and flourish in a fast changing world, with advances in technology robotry and Artificial Intelligence that portend unimaginable changes human employment opportunities must be our topmost priority.

To the youth and especially to our young graduates, my advice is: don’t put your faith in government or public sector jobs all the time. There will never be enough to go round. Entrepreneurship and self- employment, doing anything or providing any service the market needs or wants can be an alternative. And finally, I do hope that the younger generations don’t repeat the ‘sins’ of the older generation and that they spawn a political culture that is less polarizing and partisan, more unifying. I do hope that we don’t see another generation that is just like us in that regard. It will be a huge tragedy for Ghana.

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