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Prof. Edward Solomon Ayensu – (Former Chairman, World Bank Inspection Panel)

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…is an international development advisor on science, technology and economic development and is currently the Chairman of the Board of Trustees, African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS) Ghana, and Vice President of the Energy Globe Foundation.

TVM: How will you describe the state of the Ghanaian economy after 60 years of independence considering the preindependence, independence and postindependence events?

PESA: This is a very tall question. Luckily, I’ve lived long enough to have experienced a substantial portion of Ghana’s history. Ghana started with tremendous exuberance. At the time, we had a leader who literally whipped majority of Ghanaians into a frenzy. He believed that Ghana should become an important country; not only in Africa but the rest of the world. If you study his works, devoid of the politics, you will find out that we started off with a man with tremendous vision.

He knew where Ghana should be. As a matter of fact, I think he was 20 – 30 years ahead of most his colleagues on the continent. He managed to allow Ghana to experience something that, in my judgment, was lacking in other African countries. In order to have a country develop, there must be a national agenda, and have a critical mass of people who can turn ideas into something substantial and practical.

TVM: What did Nkrumah do differently?

PESA: When Nkrumah decided to put up the first seven-year development plan, he went outside his political party i.e. to the opposition to ask Mr J. H. Mensah and his team to get the job done. When you read that plan today, you will find out that it is literally the genesis of all the development plans we have encountered on the continent today. If you take the Lagos plan of action, for example, it’s literally a carbon copy of Ghana’s first development plan.

A lot of other African countries managed to take bits and pieces of it to use. Now, fast forward, we went through a period where the soldiers took control and now we’re back into the civilian mode. But in retrospect, I think, if Ghana does not go back to the drawing board where we started to the type of vision that the country was presented; 60 years on, the country may be worse off than it is right now and I have good reasons to speculate from this standpoint.

TVM: Good reasons like?

Prof. Edward Solomon Ayensu

PESA: Discipline is something that is absolutely essential if you want to run a country, an office or a house. You need leaders and people who are ‘damn’ honest to be able to make that happen. Unfortunately, we in Ghana are branded as indiscipline on all fronts in a way that, to be very honest with you, I feel even ashamed sometimes to talk about it.

At the same time, I have a glimmer of hope. The first hope I have is that all the young people I’m meeting of recent date want to be entrepreneurs and not civil servants.

But, they require something to be able to achieve that and that is, the need for the government to create a congenial atmosphere for them to operate in. Government has some very specific duties to perform to grow the economy. Government officials should also stay out of business.

I want to emphasize that, we have to discipline ourselves. I am pleased that at the beginning of his presidency, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo admonished his ministers and other appointees.

TVM: As an International advisor on economic development, what do you suggest Ghana should do to be on track to attain its economic independency?

PESA: To become economically independent requires a lot of work. It requires a programme that is devoid of interest of personalities and political parties. The country as whole must have an agenda. I’m saying this because I’ve tried to study all the manifestos of the political parties and to tell you the truth, apart from a few areas where you see major dichotomies, they are practically almost the same.

What is important is who is running the ship. If we get the correct leader to run the ship then we’ll get somewhere. If not, we wouldn’t and these are the facts. The economy of a country depends upon serious macro-economic discipline and we need people who know the subject areas.

Not all who comment on economics are qualified to do so. Theoretically, there are ways and means of getting the economy of a country going. But theoretical economics is not a strict science. There’s a human element and that element is the one that undermines any theoretical presentation that Ghana’s economy is premised.

There are people in official positions who are systematically looking for ways and means to undermine the systems so that they can take bribes to enrich themselves. To change the mind set of Ghanaians we may need to help form parties such as psychologists, sociologists and so on and not only theoretical economists.

Each government comes in with their own agenda. Unfortunately, because of the way we are structured, we tend to rely only on our party members. But, I would like to see us venture out a little and talk to other people who mean well. I mean people who love Ghana the way we should all love Ghana; instead of our parties only.

TVM: The President recently averred that: “Africans must move beyond aid…” As a renowned advisor on strategy, sustainability and relationship management, what steps would you advice we take as Africans to effect this new narrative?

PESA: I’m so delighted that the President is hopping on this subject. We should have been doing this long ago. I recall I wrote an article in the bulleting of Atomic Scientist, Einstein’s magazine in 1985 and I was talking about this same subject. I said “the greatest contribution the developed world can make for us is to stop giving us aid in its current form”.

The only aid that is worth receiving is, for example, when there’s a disaster or so and Ghana’s friends want to help, that is fine. The rest I have difficulty with. Sometimes, a whole country on the continent starts preparing its national budget and the government starts off by finding out how much aid it is getting from Britain, USA, China, France, Soviet Union etc.

This has been going on continuously decade after decade and I’m so delighted that the President has finally vocalized what has been on our minds for so many years.

TVM: You have worked with various African governments as a result of your position as the Chairman of the Inspection Panel of the World Bank. What were some of the things you noticed, which perhaps, is making Africa lag in its economic development?

PESA: To be very honest with you, I never wanted to deal with my own country when I was the chairman of the Inspection Panel for the World Bank. This is because people could easily misunderstand your criticisms.

But the truth is our own leadership often undermine the national programme. It is our indisciplinary nature that makes it possible to be dictated to by the IMF and other International Financial Institutions. In other parts of the world where I conducted investigations, I noticed that when I make suggestions, people do listen and they don’t take your comments in a negative way.

But, here on this continent, the tendency even for people to hate you when you make suggestions is there.

Banking and the Currency evolution

TVM: In the third chapter of your book, ‘Bank of Ghana:  Commemoration of the Golden Jubilee’, you noted that after Ghana’s independence, the West African pound, circulating in the colonies, was regarded as a vestige of British colonialism that had to be changed. On July 14th, 1958, the Ghana Pound was introduced. Can you shed more light on that evolution and the significance of our currency to our economic growth?

PESA: First of all, formal banking didn’t exist in the then Gold Coast. It was not until 1890 that the Colonial Secretary decided to establish some semblance of banking, called Savings Bank, in the then Post and Telecommunications Department. Fast forward, on 21st November, 1912, the colonial secretary decided that they better get some currency for the whole of the English speaking West Africa: Gold Coast (Ghana), The Gambia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone. All these ideas were harnessed by the colonial government because they wanted our cocoa and they realised that in buying the cocoa, they had to pay with something.

They then issued the first West African currency by the West African Currency Board in 1913. This money, which was used in the four former British colonies, was used to pay the farmers. So, what the West African countries are currently trying to do, in establishing a common currency is not a new phenomenon.

TVM: What is your impression of Ghana @60 as a whole with respect to the currency?

PESA: Initially, one could say that during the First Republic, it became obvious that Ghana should have total control over its own currency and the economy. Currency by itself doesn’t mean anything.

What is important is the productivity of the economy. When the first President, Dr Kwame Nkrumah got the Central Bank established, it became obvious that other things had to go with it. For example, you just cannot develop if you do not have the underpinning infrastructure needed to make things happen. Right from the beginning, Nkrumah felt the time had come for us to industrialise because without it, we were going nowhere. This was because he realised that capital formation was hard to come by.

Therefore government had to step in. The best way to go about it was for the government to literally start up some industries. You notice that all the countries that have major start-ups are the rapidly developing countries and recently developed countries have well established start-ups.

These then have the potential to mushroom into major companies. Right now the contribution that our industries make to the economy and therefore the GDP is relatively very small. Without the cocoa and our mineral resources and now oil and gas, our GDP will be very low. The reason is that the general productivity in the country is very low. Any economy that depends largely on imports of rice, tomato, onion etc. is not a serious economy. In fact such an economy is vulnerable.

TVM: The Central Bank last year raised the stated capital of banks to GH¢400million and some critics are of the view that local banks cannot meet the new requirement and will be squeezed out of the market. How do we achieve a balance of solid banks to drive economic growth and strong and formidable local representation?

PESA: This idea of recapitalising the banks was initiated by the previous government. With my knowledge of the banking sector I believe and was of the opinion then that if we do not take care we will drive away our local banks to oblivion. These other banks have their mother banks outside and can bring in money to recapitalise if need be. But with the new government articulating clearly why the banks need to recapitalise, my understanding is that if you raise the GH¢400million then you are a fully-fledged bank but if not, then there are other categories including savings and loans to fall on. Generally, I do not want government to take decisions that will drive our local banks under. We need Ghanaian banks and government should be friendlier to local banks so they can help the business community grow. If I had my way, I will protect local banks so they are duly represented in the economy. For example, when the banks in the USA were collapsing, the US government protected the local banks, removed the non-performing assets to one side, and gave them five years to pay back and in less than three years, they all paid back. That is how a Central Bank should behave and not to participate in killing our local banks. If present trends continue we may end up with only foreign banks operating in the country’s economy.

Business

TVM: One of the biggest debates is who drives business within an economy? During the Nkrumah regime, the state was heavily involved in driving growth. Today, there is a lot of private sector leadership. What is the right mix for an economy like ours?

Prof. ESA in his home garding

PESA: I would urge the government to become very proactive in getting the private sector fully involved. I expect the government would help create the requisite environment for the private sector to flourish. We should not forget that during the Nkrumah era capital formation was hard to come by hence the heavy involvement of government to start-up industries. If you look at all the recently developed countries, especially the Asian Tigers, the government encourages certain individuals and back them to get a lot of industries going. They are given all the necessary incentives to operate. One district one factory is a very good start.

TVM: Former American President, Barack Obama, is of the view that there has to be a strong correlation between Main Street and Wall Street for everyone to benefit from economic growth. But in some countries, where there isn’t a powerful Wall Street, the government is the leader in driving growth. What should be the role of a political party in the development of an economy?

PESA: For countries now developing rapidly, and I am referring to countries such as Malaysia, South Korea and Singapore, the common denominator is not the political party in power. It is the business community being the engine of growth that drives economic growth. The political parties just support the people who can help put bread on the table. These people are the ones that government, in my judgement, should really cultivate.

I do not think government’s business is to be running industries. I travel around the world regularly and I can say emphatically that all these countries doing well do not have the governments building factories and industries for the people.

What these governments have done is to use these companies properly by supplying them with the incentives they need such as by way of providing pragmatic tax incentives. When these businesses have good tax breaks, they are then in a position to invest more in their businesses and the ramifications of these include the getting of more people gainfully employed.

When I was with the World Bank, I travelled a lot to many developing countries. I realised that very often there are some Members of Parliament and government officials who have the habit to get involved in private sector activities by using their positions. This has to stop. We will never develop by allowing the private sector practitioners to grow their business if we continue to go this direction. Until we break these habits, we are not going to flourish.

Agriculture

TVM: We are rich with human and natural resources and therefore our success largely depends on how we harness these resources. Do you think that we have failed in harnessing these resources to develop? What should we do?

PESA: I think we have failed and I cannot emphasise this strongly enough. If you look at the natural resource base in this country and the considerable human resource capacity at our command, we shouldn’t be this poor. Our GDP figures are looking nice only because of the mineral resources and cocoa. Apart from that, what contributes to the GDP? Practically nothing to write home about. The state of our agriculture is not very encouraging.

Here is a country with tremendous amount of arable land, I don’t think we are using even 10 percent of our arable land effectively, and yet we are importing everything that we can produce here. For example, a few alligator pumps in the Volta River will help us to produce rice every 90 days. We should not forget that we have some three hundred miles of portable water that is going into the ocean to become sea water.

When we talk about agriculture, we should recognise that the subsistence farming we have relied on cannot sustain this country for long because of the population growth. It is unthinkable that we are practising subsistence farming today when we have all the technologies at our command. Glorifying subsistence farming will take us nowhere. We are in an age where science and technology in agriculture is the norm.

TVM: Why do we have considerable human potential contributing to global development, but such knowledge is not reflecting in the growth of our economy?

PESA: That’s the question we should be asking. It’s all because we have a very bad mind set that does not encourage us to use our highly technical people to participate in our development. This country has vast human capacity and in addition to this, enormous wealth in terms of natural resources, but we are unable to develop because of political polarization.

As stated earlier, when Nkrumah decided that this country needed the first seven-year development plan, he didn’t go to his CPP party folks; he called J. H. Mensah and others in the opposition to put their expertise to work. We should learn to see ourselves, first as Ghanaians. In the USA, a lot of people do not like the blacks and they say so. But when work must be done, they put the race card aside and let the black man do the job because he is good. That doesn’t happen here much because we are consumed with party politics.

We prefer to destroy the person who has the knowledge just because they belong to the other political party. If you do not belong, then you are out. We must change this bad habit immediately and begin to use our very best scientific and technical minds to help develop our nation.

TVM: The new government has introduced several policies in agriculture with the flagship known as “Planting for Food and Jobs” to employ about 750,000. To what extent do these policies help?

PESA: You can have all these policies and strategies on paper and beautifully presented to the country. But the fact of the matter is how do we operationalize what is on paper? You really have to have people who know how to do it. The farmers are the first people to concede that they need help. Also, farmers all over the world are very conservative people. Without a demonstration they have difficulty changing their operations. What needs to be done is an agrarian programme that allows the government to show the farmers the benefits of new and improved technology. Having plenty of people doing agriculture is not the answer, the answer is the injection of science and technology into the field. The Minister of Food and Agriculture, Hon. Dr. Owusu Afriyie Akoto, is pointing to the right direction. Our aim must be the production of most of the basic foods instead of relying on imports.

Education

TVM: The Nana Addo led government has made it very clear that education is paramount in its plan to drive economic growth. That is why it came in and wasted no time in introducing the free SHS policy but critics believe that the challenges will mount to cripple the policy. What are your thoughts on this policy and education as a whole in the country?

PESA: I don’t want to hear anybody talk about the country lacking the financial resources to educate our kids. Nobody, who is being very honest, should say we do not have the money for such a programme.

Regardless of what we are doing, we must have the resources to educate the kids. Education is the best investment we could make. In the First Republic, the President realised that education is a must because if we don’t develop the requisite human capacity to propel the country upwards using our natural resource base, we should consider ourselves poor stewards.

You can sit on gold and diamond and you will be poor all your life because you do not have the knowledge base to know the value of what you are sitting on. The amount of money we have wasted since independence is several times more than what we need to educate our children.

If the government doesn’t put enough money in science, technology, fundamental and applied research, we will fail. I am delighted that since the First Republic, this is the second major wave of serious focus on education; and more power to the government because with prudent management we will have money to do it.

TVM: After educating the people, jobs must be created for them to work and contribute to economic growth. The government, through its One District, One Factory initiative and industrial parks is seeking to aggressively industrialise the economy. Are we on the right track?

Prof. ESA in his factory as he puts it

PESA: I believe we are on the right track but my issue is with operationalization. Take a small country like Israel. A lot of the major multinationals have their research and development centres there. That is what I hope the government is talking about with the industrial parks. With that, your industries will immediately flourish because you get to train the requisite people to help and enhance the productivity of the various industries. Unfortunately, most Ghanaians think they have to go through the university to get a degree.

Look at the unemployed university graduates. Degrees per se do not bring the jobs needed. What is key is technical education; but we tend to look down on it. What makes the developed countries productive is the technical people, not the philosophers and thinkers. Once you develop a critical mass of technical people, they are the ones who will get our industries and infrastructure moving.

TVM: You are the Board Chair for the African Institute of Mathematical Science, Ghana (AIMS Ghana) and in getting the right mind set going and utilising technology, math, science and logic are critical to technology but as a country, we do not seem to be doing very well. How do we get around that?

PESA: For the past five years, the Board and Trustees of the Institute (AIMS Ghana) have been trying to get the government to help us attain a UNESCO Category 2 status, which allows the Institute to benefit from information and resources from UNESCO’s other international centres of excellence. We were unable to get the needed assistance. But the coming in of this government has facilitated all that.

Upon meeting with Minister for Education, Hon. Dr. Matthew Opoku Prempeh, he immediately saw the importance and significance of science and mathematics in our development. In a relatively short time, he managed to get UNESCO to come and inspect our facilities. I am delighted to inform you that we have attained a Category 2 status. You will also be pleased to know that this happened just before Professor F. K. Allotey, President of AIMS Ghana, passed.

We need good quality teachers for our school children. For years, University of Ghana didn’t produce a PhD in Mathematics; for a premier university in our country, this is a disappointment. We need to sharpen our tools in the areas of science, technology and innovation. We do not have to wait a 100 years to do certain things. Technology transfer is here and we know where to go find the knowledge.

Governance

TVM: When there is a change in government in this country, several state institutions see changes at management and board levels. Many analysts are calling for governance to be a continuum and not radical changes when there is a change at the political seat. Should there be a change in that direction?

PESA: I definitely wish we will become very objective in talking about this situation. There is no question that every time a new government comes in, there is the call from party faithfuls to throw everybody out and start afresh.

My experience in discussing this issue for example, is that any country that regularly changes its agriculture minister can never have a sustainable programme. I do not care how brilliant any person is. If you are appointed an agriculture minister, you need to get in, develop through the learning curve before you attain any success. Very often the Minister is thrown out and another person comes in.

We must be mindful of removing dedicated technical staff who are not officially branded as political faithfuls. It is not every institution that you throw everybody out and get a new person in. In the USA, for example, when Barack Obama came into office, he didn’t change the Secretary in charge of Defense. He said something to the effect that you are doing a good job so you are staying on. My observation is that every party has its own people ready to assume power.

Therefore they should be given the opportunity to field their own people. To have institutional memory, you cannot start every four years with new set of people in all institutions. There are certain people who should be rooted out because of their performance but others who are very measured and think about Ghana first should not be changed unceremoniously.

We must however, be realistic. Because we have been changing key personnel with incoming administration, it will take some time before the new administration develops the confidence that the incumbents will not sabotage their plans. My verdict is that the incoming President should have the power to select his/her own trusted people!

TVM: Ghana is 60 years but how do we ensure that we can put Ghana on a very aggressive path of growth so that when the country is 120 years, the future will be proud of us with their economic growth? What are the things we should do to ensure growth?

PESA: Certainly I will not be around but don’t count me out. But seriously what will sadden me is for our grand and great grandchildren to say that we have let them down. I believe that in terms of development, we can leave a great legacy for them and with their superior knowledge in science and technology, they can help continue to make Ghana become the showcase for the African continent.

I think we can do it because I believe the natural resource base we have haven’t been properly exploited. We do not have enough technical know-how but I hope in the next few years we will establish a solid foundation to make sure that we are producing the correct type of persons who can read and write properly, to exploit our resources to ensure that future generations will be proud of what we have done.

PERSONALITY PROFILE

TVM: Who is Professor Edward Solomon Ayensu?

PESA: That’s a very interesting question. I was born in Sekondi, all of my ancestors are from Elmina and Anomabo. I come from a fantastic family with the matriarch, that’s my mother, at the head of it. I wish I had a quarter of her brain power.

I wouldn’t be sitting here; I would have been a very well of entrepreneur. I attended Sekondi Methodist School. From there, I went to Achimota and afterwards to the United States of America (USA). I was also in England where I read for my doctorate at London University.

I was a Visiting Fellow at Oxford University and then from there I went back to the USA where I was probably one of the luckiest persons you could ever find at one of the most prestigious establishment in the US. I was hired by the Smithsonian Institution, which is the largest museum complex in the world, and it was there my career actually took off. Before then, I was very interested in natural history.

I like to learn everything and anything, and I played a lot. Most of my class mates will tell you that I was an athlete but not a scholar. I was the first person to jump 6 feet in the history of Achimota. I was also the centre forward in hockey for the Gold Coast and Ghana and that’s how I was characterised. I have a secret that I can now share. What I really wanted to do was to become a professional boxer; prize fighter. This is what I loved the most. However, in the olden days we use to listen to our parents. I told my mother I wanted to become a prize fighter and in a very nice way she said no; “you can’t be a prize fighter but you have to go to school”.

Of course, we had a good culture in the house because everybody went to school. So, when I left Methodist school Sekondi for Achimota, I didn’t quite kill the spirit I had for boxing. I ended up being the Welter Weight Champion at Achimota.

Those were the days when Roy Ankrah and Attuquaye Clottey and others used to come to the school. So, my spirit in boxing was never really quenched completely. Then later, when Ghanaians were being selected to become pilots, I told my mother that I wanted to be a pilot and again she dismissed that idea very rapidly. But I ended up going to learn how to fly planes. I was flying the Cessnas and pipers – those small planes – in Florida. So, my inbuilt interest have not been destroyed but with the good advice from my old lady, I ended up like this.

TVM: In 1980, the Voice of America interviewed 30 African scientists who have contributed to the building of knowledge in their areas of specialization. You were one of them. The interviewer noted that in 1963, you made a dramatic discovery at London University on a subject that had baffled scientists for over half a century. Can you throw more light on that?

PESA: When I went to London university, the main theme of my research was on something people love to eat all the time; yam. But do you know what that plant is used for? It does contain the chemical diosgenin which is a steroid and that’s part a major of the starting material for making birth control pills for ladies. I was working on it. Scientists in that field for years were trying to clearly delineate the old world yams from the new world yams.

From their research, they knew the new world yams contained more of this chemical than the old world yams. So I, in the course of my research, looked through the various techniques they had used in trying to separate these yams that they couldn’t for donkey’s years. I decided to set up a different set of indices and behold, in a relatively short time, I was able to separate all the old world yams from all the new world yams.

Naturally I was delighted when the Linnaean Society of London, the oldest and prestigious biological scientific organisation in UK appointed me a Fellow. My research work took off from there. Everything that I needed was provided by the Institution because my bosses knew precisely what they wanted out of me.

They didn’t spare any chance to let me travel to wherever I wanted to go. As such, I ended up travelling literally throughout the whole world to do my research work. Such an exploration allows you to think big and become productive.

TVM: You were a major contributor to the book titled “The Timetable of Technology” which provides a chronology of developments in communication, transportation, industry, medicine and agriculture since the turn of the 20th century. From your point of view, has Ghana fit into this timetable well enough?

PESA: No, not quite. We haven’t.

TVM: Why haven’t we?

PESA: Because we are still working in silos. Instead of working laterally so that the experiences we gain from one subject area can cross over to the other does not happen. We are not talking to each other the way we should. Take the Indian planning commission for example, the quality of people you find in that institution, coming from different ministries, assigned to the planning commission, send information back to their own ministries so that all relevant Ministries know what everybody is doing. This will also give you far better idea of how that book works as against our current situation. We do have a lot of Ghanaians who unfortunately may not be very well known as party functionaries hence nobody wants to engage them but they are dedicated to the course of Ghana. We have all the policy documents at our command but at the same time, we are unable to operationalise anything. These are some of the things that I hope 60 years on, we are going to rectify to ensure that the complexion of the country will change for the better.

TVM: What, in your view, can be done to correct this?

PESA: This is a big question. Each government comes in with their own agenda. Unfortunately, because of the way we are structured, we tend to rely only on our party members. But, I would like to see us venture out a little and talk to other people who mean well. I mean people who love Ghana the way we should all love Ghana; instead of our parties only. Luckily all our parties in Ghana, to me, are almost the same. But, the way in which the leadership pushes its agenda is what will help all parties to agree on the way forward for the country. If we will be humble enough to change the way we do things, this country will become fantastic because we have literally everything to give us happiness.

TVM: Who was and is your role model?

PESA: Well, it’s difficult to say because I’ve gone through various stages in my life. At every particular point in life, there’s somebody you will love to emulate; someone that says something and it gets to you.

I can say from that stand point, may be I’ve had about half a dozen of people from home and abroad. Just having discussions with them makes me feel so happy. Happy in the sense that I’ve learnt somethings from them. There are certain things I could consider as a common denominator in those persons I have interacted with. They all have what I have also learnt; to develop “inner peace”. When you are at peace with yourself, you use very little energy to do big things but when you are not at peace with yourself, you waste a lot of energy trying to put things together. I must say, I’ve been very blessed in many ways that I’ve had senior colleagues who clearly made me feel encouraged to do the things I’ve been able to do.

I’m a perpetual student and I’m learning all the time from elderly people as well as younger people. The big problem is anybody who fails to learn becomes intellectually bankrupt.

TVM: At this stage in life, what motivates you to get out of bed in the morning to do what you’re doing?

PESA: A lot of people ask me how I have managed to write so many articles and books. The truth of the matter is, if you don’t discipline yourself and get up in the morning or evening for that matter and sit on your seat you cannot write anything. Years ago, I said to myself when there’s a subject area I don’t know much about, my motivation is to write a book or an article about it so that by the time I finish I would have learnt something. That has been my guiding light throughout. I wake up early in the morning and I write for few hours in the morning before I take my bath and leave the house for my office. I do it religiously because I enjoy it. I think it’s a habit that when my brain is no more I would miss, then I will stop. But, so long as my faculty is in good repair, I would continue to do so. That’s what motivates me, else I would be so bored.

TVM: What are your hobbies?

PESA: I have a hobby that sustains me; Boxing. Would you believe if I told you that I still go to Bukom to watch boxing matches? I go with a cap on and sit to watch. I read a lot. I like to have an understanding of the world we live in and the various issues in it. I love to understand the psyche of a lot of the leaders we have in the world today.

The ability and the capacity to run a country is no easy thing and so people who do this, even if I disagree with their politics, I can tell you I respect them in the sense that not all of us can be presidents of a country or finance or foreign ministers. All those who are saddled with that job I pray for them and wish them well.

TVM: I can sense you are a lover of music

PESA: Absolutely correct.

TVM: What genre of music do you like?

PESA: I have probably one of the largest jazz collections and this goes way back. I have even 78 plates; the old round plates that when it falls down breaks. I had all of them in my office. My doctor once told me that that’s probably why I’m always happy. I listen to music a lot. I have speakers in my home and office and I enjoy them. I love music because it’s the only thing that soothes the nerves of disturbed children. We are all disturbed children and good music can calm us down.

TVM: What is your favourite delicacy?

PESA: I have one of the best cooks in the world and that happens to be my wife. She wrote “The Art of West African Cooking” and other books but she will be the first person to tell you that I hate food. I eat only once a day most of the time. I don’t like eating because when I eat I feel sleepy immediately. The less food I have in my stomach the better for me and my brain works much better. But my favourite is fried plantain.

TVM: And wine?

PESA: I have never drank beer, whiskey, gin, brandy, vodka in my entire life. But don’t tempt me with a very good prosecco or some excellent champagne. Apart from this, I love very good wines. I am, however, a social drinker but alone I’m not good to drink unless I’m in company. An excellent red wine goes with good company.

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One thing that the oil money should have offered the nation is cheaper money for investment in agriculture – Dr. Abu Sakara Foster, Executive Chairman of Sakfos Holding

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The Role of Agriculture in Economic Development

TVM: What is your general assessment of the current state of the Ghanaian economy?

ASF: Our economy in its current state is one in which the essential transformation of its nature has still not happened. It is still an economy based primarily on production and export of raw materials and not one predominantly described as a value added economy. The service sector has grown but not by servicing Ghana’s industrial sector; it is rather servicing imports. So the nature of the economy really has not changed much. However, in terms of the performance of the economy, what you are seeing essentially is a stabilization of the currency, the building of our reserves, which basically has contributed to the stabilization of the currency and steadying of the national inflation. All this not withstanding, bank interest rates (generally above 20%) are still too high for many primary producers and manufacturing industry to maintain and expand operations competitively in the domestic market. Also liquidity is very, very tight!

On the latter point,  recent enforcement of rules in the financial regulatory sector has meant an even tighter squeeze on the liquidity of funds. This action is however indeed good in one way because it will help bring interest rates down to a more realistic level as entrepreneurs progressively turn towards incentives to do more sensible business and turn away from more risky businesses. But in the short term these measures have dried up access to funds from banks, as they themselves have struggled to find money quickly to meet their obligations with the central bank.

So in terms of macro economy, there is a good turn around in terms of the fact that you have a stronger foundation for improved performance mostly from improved fiscal management. But when I say foundation, I’m relating to the performance of the economy, not the structural nature of the economy per se. By and large, it is a more predictable economic environment; but in terms of evolution from one kind of “creature” to another kind of “creature”, we are still where we are, an economy based on production and export of raw agricultural produce,  raw minerals, raw timber, raw fish, raw unconventional products and crude oil even when we have a refinery. This is where then major challenge of our generation lies.

TVM: Ghana’s economy has been predominantly agric-led for decades. For about two decades ago, there was a boom in the service sector and its continuous growth has seen agriculture over taken. What in your view might have accounted for this?

ASF: Of course the growth in the service sector naturally means that somewhere in the total GDP pie, some other portion of that pie must give.  The reduction in agricultural sectors’ GDP contribution relative to the increasing size of service and manufacturing industry and the mineral mining industry does not necessarily mean that agriculture is doing badly. After all in the final analysis, we want to have the agriculture sector reduced as a portion of it’s contribution to GDP if the manufacturing sector grows in return. We want to have the manufacturing sector grow because it is based on growth of domestic productivity growth and will most likely increase jobs and incomes more significantly. However the service sector can do grow without much domestic productivity increase in fact it may hurt domestic productivity growth and stall our competitiveness in our own domestic markets. That is not any guarantee that increased service sector growth in economies such as ours will increase the good paying jobs for any sustained period. Ultimately the wealth has to be created from somewhere and that in our situation is mainly from transforming the primary to secondary processed products.

In my view the service sector can grow but by only as much as the manufacturing sector is growing and it is servicing the domestic manufacturing sector. But if the service sector growth  is only servicing imports and the manufacturing sector is not growing very much, while agriculture sector is declining, then that is a problem!! Because it means that we are actually going backwards in terms of progressive capacity to have a home grown economy that is more robust and less susceptible to external pressures.

The increase in income from the oil sector has also brought about a new dynamic in terms of proportions of GDP contribution by various sectors, including agriculture. The impact of oil income on national GDP is not perhaps as big as one will imagine, but it has certainly influenced growth of the service sector because we had no previous history of a service sector for the oil industry.

All this recent growth means little if there is no evolution of the economy.  Metaphorically speaking if you are an eight-year-old child and that looks the like the size of a teenager, it doesn’t mean you’re grown yet, it just means you have only expanded in size. The evolution has not yet occurred. So we need to look more closely at how agriculture is contributing to transforming the economy basically from a raw material producing economy to a more value added agriculture. We must also closely observe the changes in all the technological innovations that comes along with investment in agro processing. It is happening, but too slowly. It needs to happen at a faster rate to effect that sorely needed evolution.

 

TVM: As a country, we’ve kept believing that agriculture is the back bone of our economic development. But then, unfortunately, the hypothesis has been disproved by the continuous decline of the agricultural sector’s contribution to GDP. Should we still continue to bank our hopes on agriculture as the basis for economic development?

ASF: The hypothesis has not been disproved at all; and we’ve not been believing. If we really believed, it would have happened. And that is the exact problem with agriculture. We say that agriculture is the backbone of the economy, but then when it comes to the allocation of the pie of the budget to it, sometimes it gets less than three (3) percent, or even a tiny little amount. You don’t need to go to Harvard Business School to figure out that in trading, the thing that is bringing you the most money is the thing that you have to spend your money on, in order to turn over more of it, to make even more money.

 

TVM: What in your view do you think are the main challenges confronting the sector from achieving its maximum impact.

ASF: There are three areas. The first is in the area of national policy which creates the medium within which everything happens including agriculture. The second area is the limits of knowledge base within the sector. Finally there is the service industry associated with the agricultural sector that provides it with inputs and marketing of its outputs. If we take these three areas, all of them have different kinds of challenges.

The main challenge in the policy area is a dysfunctional democracy that is not closely allied with the real things that matter in the economy. We can’t blame politicians alone. They have to get elected. So they respond in short term ways that the populace will appreciate but ultimately are ways that are detrimental to real growth of the agricultural sector. For decades people have called for a reduction of rice importation by any and all means possible. However the same people will scream to the high heavens if rice prices went up a pesewa because tariffs on imported rice were increased. Ghana has also seen the rise of “middle class political activism” that demands more accountable government and better balance of trade to reflect growth in made in Ghana products of which processed agriculture products should have the lion share. However policy makers have encouraged and boasted about the mushrooming of shopping malls filled with mainly imported goods that are consumed by the same “activist” middle class. It appears the need to win elections has dulled the capacity of governments to act more firmly in favor of the national interest to stimulate growth in the domestic agricultural sector.

The second issue associated with national policy is conviction by the leadership. There needs to be a very firm conviction among leaders that agriculture can indeed work sufficiently to give us the take-off we need the next phase of our national economy.  This will make us commit to it for long enough to make it work. Leadership needs to convince themselves and the populace that we can and will make it work!! Every country that has successfully transformed their economy from an agricultural base at the end of their colonial period did so with a very strong commitment and sometimes with only a single single crop. The Malaysians that we admire so much did it with only palm oil. And yet we have palm oil, yam, gold and so many other things. Mauritius transformed an agricultural economy based on only sugarcane to a modern value added economy.  

Fortunately or unfortunately, because we’re blessed with so many good things, we have so many choices. We have consequently dissipated our efforts trying to exploit all of them at once as and when it dawns on us. It is like a drummer with too many drums in front of him and trying to drum all the drums at once. There has to be a coherent medium to long term plan and a focus beyond four year terms of office. In addition to a national focus and we need to learn to live according to our pocket, a good manager should always tries to live within their means. The country and its citizens are carrying too much debt. We need to renegotiate terms even as we  work our way out of debt. Our national debt is not insurmountable given our resource base and it is in our debtor’s interest to give us more conducive terms to work off our debt.

Talking about the knowledge base, we have to have a system where we start looking at the variety of crops that fit our farming systems rather than the mono crops we relied on during the colonial economy that is still with us in great measure. The truth of the matter is that we know a lot more than we are actually applying because our researchers have come up with different varieties that fit many more farming systems, crop patterns and types of farmers. This sometimes leads farmers to make the wrong choices by opting for technologies that they cannot sustain. It’s like choosing a BMW car over a Volkswagen car but you can’t drive faster than 60 km/h because you lack the skills and experience. In spite of that you still want to join in groups talking about the pros and cons of a Ferrari versus a Ducati.  Farmers need to be educated to choose the right technologies for their level of capacity and at the same time take advantage to upgrade their investments to match their capacity through extension and farmer to farmer learning. Farmers that opt for high end technologies beyond their capacity can be likened to ordinary drivers that choose to run a Ferrari car but do not have enough fuel, a good road to race on and also lack the skill to control a fast car in the first place. Just because collapse of farms are not as dramatic as car crashes does not mean that they have less of an important effect on the national economy.

Our operators themselves (the famers and value chain actors) need to assess their capacity and know-how relative to the investments that they can make. I don’t think our farmers are ignorant, they know a lot and they’re quite experienced. If a farmer is not using a particular technology, it is not always because he hasn’t heard about it, sometimes it is because he/she has figured out that it doesn’t make any more money. This is because our marketing system does not always give them sufficient incentives. Also, the transaction cost are so high that sometimes they leave significant portions of the products in the bush.  We need to resolve that through development of farm track roads and greater use of appropriate rural transport to reduce the costs of the first aggregations and homesteads and subsequently at village markets.

 

TVM: In this age of technology, how crucial is agriculture to our economic development

ASF: Agriculture is still very crucial because it must form the platform that serves as a foundation for take-off of our industrial and manufacturing sectors. Agriculture is also where we have the greatest comparative advantage.  However three things need to happen to establish this foundation in sufficient measure. First, we have to intervene to turn our comparative advantage in agriculture to a competitive advantage. We cannot go and start competing with producers of space technologies and all of that very high end stuff. We don’t have even have comparative advantage for that yet.

In Ghana, especially the northern part, we have in abundance arable land, surface and ground water and a varied climate suitable for many crops and livestock.  With good climate it is a question of choosing the right combination of crops, applying the right technology both in terms of the physical equipment and inputs, and also the management know-how. Then we can be competitive in the market place. If Usain Bolt was sat in his lazy chair all the time, he could have never been a world champion in spite of his great potential. He has to go out and train to realize the potential is already there. Our policy makers profess our great potential all too often but what are we doing to realize even a little of that great potential?

This is basically where we have to make more effort and a very deliberate effort at that!  Beyond effort in agriculture, other parts of the economy have to be tuned to support the agriculture sector as the main point of thrust for the economy. When we do that for a consistent period, we get to a stage where we lift the whole economy and then other sectors can then start growing to then exceed agriculture in their contribution to the economy.

TVM: Do we need to reinvent the wheel as other developing countries are doing by focusing on agricultural development as a basis for economic development?

ASF: I don’t think we need to reinvent the wheel. The matter is we haven’t pushed the wheelbarrow far enough to the stage where economies can take off. So we need to push the wheels more and faster to get to the stage where it agriculture becomes a foundation for other sectors to take off organically in synchrony and yielding the greatest synergies. The other Countries like Malaysia and Mauritius did not forget about agriculture and then come back to it. Instead they rode on the back of Agriculture. They developed agriculture first and then it formed the foundation for their investment in other sectors. Also we have to remember that one of the key things that we use for development is human resources. So we need to empower and retool the people for productive engagements. That is another important reason agriculture must come first, it helps build the technological innovation skills needed for the other industries. We have to build agriculture as a foundation first.

 

TVM: But then, the government has rolled out several policies to revamp the agricultural sector with the flagship of Planting for Food and Jobs. What is your take on this and do you see this programme succeeding in the long term?

ASF: I think it is going in the right direction. Of course, there are teething problems with it and there are major challenges. It’s success is contingent on the determination to ensure that the fundamental things that have normally failed previous programmes don’t fail this one. So we must all resolve not to let it fail. If there is a threat that there will be no funding for it, policy makers should to sit round the cabinet table and raise the money for it by taking cuts from elsewhere, it is as simple as that. Why? Because agriculture is what is driving the economy and it must take precedence over consumptive expenditure that does not bring immediate income.  That is the kind of leadership direction that we need for initiatives such as PFJ to succeed. The fundamental thing that it is addressing is the availability of seeds and fertilizers at farmers’ doorsteps, using our own local seed producers and fertilizer distributors. Of course some seed is still are being imported, but we hope that will change in time in favor of locally produced seed. It doesn’t just change overnight, nor will it happen without persistent effort and investment in local seed producers and seed systems. We don’t yet have the domestic capacity to meet our full seed requirement. We have to build seed production capacity alongside growth of effective demand to ensure that the seed business is financially viable. For a viable seed system the seed produced must be sold. If it is not bought, producers will reduce seed production and some seed growers may get out of the seed business altogether.

We must strengthen the seed distribution for farmers to be able to buy seeds at their door steps. This means that seed dealerships between seed producers and farmers must be tackled effectively as a national priority and maintained as a national asset. The incremental gains that will accrue as a consequence of the dealership system will exceed its value for access to seed and inputs alone. It can also serve as a point of interface for output markets and evolution of the remaining agro-industry. We need to make these seemingly simple things happen for our agricultural system to work sufficiently well to support interventions and programmes like PJF sectors to succeed. I believe we can do this and already the early signs of success are showing. PFJ will succeed if we don’t blow it by taking things and people for granted.

 

TVM: In Ghana, the old folks practice subsistence farming. Being the executive director of the Rural and Agricultural Development Associates, how can the rural folks be empowered to turn the woes of this sector into fortune.

ASF: I think first of all when you describe our agriculture; it is a composite of different types of farmers. You have the small scale farmers who are subsistent farmers. You have the emerging medium scale farmers that are people who have determined that agriculture is where they are going to make a living and extra money from. Then there are the commercial scale farmers who have decided that they are going to put their lives to it for big time returns to investment. So our agriculture has a spectrum of farmers like an accordion. It is not a one single thing or type of farmer.

Now, it is true that small scale farmers in the past have formed a large majority of where we get our food from and are also the majority in numbers. Together small scale farmers make more money than the medium and large scale farmers. This trend will not however stay as it is in future. If agriculture evolves as we expect it to, then as numbers of the medium and large scales farmers grow, small holder farmers’ numbers will decrease. Small-holder farmers won’t be eliminated all together. Instead the remaining small-holder farmers will become more efficient. Even if they are still on small-holder allotments, they will become more productive and efficient. What we expect to see is that the medium scale grows significantly and maybe the large scale will also grow in a highly specialized market driven manner. Irrespective of the variations and specializations of different types of farmers there exists a relationship between them. That relationship and interdependence will grow stronger through linkages to market networks so let us not divide them artificially.

TVM: You spoke about you knowing older people that started farming and they falling out, so how do we now get the youth to be interested in this? How can the state make agriculture appealing to the youth?

ASF: Agriculture has to be appealing to everybody. If it is not appealing to the old people, it will not be appealing to the youth. And the greater appeal about agriculture is not as a hobby. It is as a business. No one has ever asked how we can make shop keeping appealing to the youth. If you have the capital, you go there and you make your money just like any other business.

Agriculture is however not an easy business like sitting and selling in a shop. Agriculture involves a certain level of difficulty because of its specialized knowledge and physical involvement, especially when one does not have the right equipment and tools. So one of the ways we can make farming more attractive to people starting is to have service centers for tools, equipment and specialized know-how. This applies not just for the youth but also for other farmers and value chain actors because it reduces transaction costs for ownership of equipment and use of services. It also makes service providers more accessible to farmers and value chain actors in rural areas.

TVM: A few years ago you cautioned the nation to focus on the soil not the oil. Can you explain why you did say that?

ASF: When the oil started flowing we were all dreaming and salivating about how this oil was going to change the whole economy. I’m glad you’ve raised that question. We’ve seen the oil sector come and stay. So what has changed?  Not so much and that is why I said at that time, focus on soil not oil. It was on the basis that if we were to see a big transformation then what ever income was coming from that oil, should go into the soil! At least the interest from the saved oil income should go into the soil to address all these challenges we’ve enumerated above to give us that quantum leap we expected from a completed foundation in agriculture.

“One thing that the oil money should have offered the nation is cheaper money for investment agriculture.”

It should be used to make sure that we have the range and volume of seeds and equipment needed to make productivity higher on a big scale. We should not be relying on donor funds that may have their own priorities, areas of focus and limit on the scale of investment.  With sufficiently expanded scale of intervention in agriculture, would come many fold increased incomes from agriculture. Concurrent scale of investments of the cheaper money in improved agro processing would have also pulled up price incentives to sustain the production because higher profits from the added value goods can be shared as price incentives to sustain flow of raw materials to factories. Currently, operators have mills that are not getting enough rice because cost of financing operations greatly limits their capacity to share slender profits. The price structure of commodities across the entire value chain must be scrutinized to ensure a strong incentives for operators either as producers, farm service providers and aggregators. There are many jobs in agriculture apart from production.

The second thing I meant by that was, when you focus on the oil, how many people will be employed into that sector? How many towns can be touched by that sector? If you are not in Takoradi, you won’t know that there’s oil in Ghana. You don’t feel anything. But if we invest those monies in the soil and there’s soil everywhere in Ghana, the impact on people’s lives will be far more pervasive and we would have all felt it by now.

At the time, I said categorically that the best way of managing that money was to pretend we did not have it. In other words, all of it, not one drop should have been brought into the normal economy. All of it should have been kept out of the economy in an investment fund. And we only use the interest from that fund to reduce our rate and cost of borrowing. We could also fund specific turn key projects that are arranged in a hierarchical order of priority setting and they feed into each other. It would have helped us know just how much we take each year taking as chunk of money. In return for that money we must see at the investment period its end product and its value for money on the ground. For example if it is a railway we want to build to reduce transportation costs, we take the chunk of money and build the railway. We would not borrowed the money from anywhere and the railway is in place.

 

The Personality profile segment

TVM: When I started the interview, I did say a lot about who you are and your personality. When you go onto the internet you can read a lot about yourself but then it is always best to hear it from the horses own mouth. So who is Dr. Abu Sakara?

ASF: Well, I’m a family man.  I have been married for 36 going on to 37yrs with the same woman and I have four grown up children. The eldest is 35 years, the next is 32, then 29 and the last is 28yrs old. They are now adults, three ladies and one gentleman. We basically are a very close nucleus family and I’m also close with my extended family too. I come from a family of 22 children and 5 wives. We are the first generation of truly monogamous people but marriage in our culture is still predominantly polygamous.

I had initially had a village upbringing. I was born in Damongo but lived in Kpembi near Salaga for the first 6 to 7 years of my life. I grew up in my great grandfather’s house (the Sinbung royal household of Kpembiwura  Lanyor I). I learnt so much form the village life and my character benefited immensely from their culture of sharing and caring. Above all it left me with a strong identity and high self esteem.

My first crossover happened when I went to live with my father S.S. Sakara, the then Distrct Commisioner for West Gonja in Damango. Living with him in his European style bungalow with European accoutrements and affectations was very restrictive. I liked my freedom in the village  and felt like a prisoner in the bungalow life. But of course it had its benefits for learning academically and struggled to learn how to sleep in the afternoon, siesta!.

Then I went and visited my other cousins in Western Gonja who taught me the differences in culture between Western and Eastern Gonja, so I learned to become a cultural hybrid with capacity to cross over in accent and names of things. Capacity for cultural crossing over has been a major theme in my life. I have  lived between cultures both East and Western Gonja, African and European culture and Eastern and Westen Africa.

I  left for the UK when I was 12 years old. I went to school and grew there so I had to learn to live in that environment. When I became older I started travelling to other parts of the world like Latin America. My experiences have shaped who I am, because life is a sum of all our experiences.

 

TVM: You are one the few celebrated personalities in your field of endeavor. Was this what you always wanted to do?

ASF: When I was younger, I was very active. I was always dong one thing or another.  I initially struggled academically because I wasn’t paying enough attention but one day I was sat down by my foster parent and I learnt  and fell in love with the art of reading and that changed my world.

When I was in England I started doing a lot of sport and I got very much involved in judo. I rose very quickly through the belts and I won the England school boys at 15 years old. Later on I served the national judo team for the u16 and u18 at the same time. And when I was a bit older I was in the u18 and u21 men’s team at the same time. So that took a lot of my attention and at that time I thought my career was going to be in professional sport.

Unfortunately for me I tore a cartilage when we were at the Junior European championships in Bad hamburg, Germany in 1977 and I was required to take some time off and it came just at the right time because I was between 6th form and the university. As a matter of fact, I tried to overcome that and my attempt to get back quickly splitted the stitches so it took a longer time to recover. Thw long lay-off helped me make up my mind to actually go to the university because at the time, though I had a university placement at Reading, I hadn’t quite made up my mind to go yet.

I got into agriculture not because I made a deliberate decision in terms of career choice. It was simply because I had the sciences under control and that was the course that gave me an intercalated year abroad. So I was looking forward to this year abroad because when I saw the brochure, it was somewhere in the Philippines.   I thought if I do this course, I’ll get to go abroad for one year. So I chose the soil science course, only after the second year to find out that I had to win an award scholarship first.

I initially lost hope of going abroad because I didn’t think I had a fat chance of getting that Scholarship considering a student population of more than 18,000 at University of Reading at that time. But, my tutor was very insistent so he went and brought the forms and asked me to fill the forms and bring it back. I filled the forms and on the appointed day went to sit the examination for the scholarship. After leaving the examination hall I just took if off my mind because of the multitude of students that sat the examination.

It was a few months later when the result came to my surprise and I won it. The Dean called me to his office and asked me where I was going with the award? I wanted to go to the  Philippines but he advised IITA in Nigeria because he had been working in Nigeria as a researcher. So I after my seconds year at University I went off to Nigeria for one year as a research scholar.

When I came back to England, I was completely sure that I wanted a career in International Agricultural Development as a Scientist. So may career choice did not happen in a day. It took a period of two years. But by the end of that two-year period, I had submitted my research work and people had gotten to know me and I knew what international agriculture was about. After graduation, I applied for a post graduate training awards with ODA and went off to do my masters at Wye College London University and then off to Mexico for another year that turned out to be three years and  Ph.D. Since then I have been travelling with my work until I arrived in Ghana from East Africa via Washington.

 

TVM: You sought to become the president at some point in time. Given the opportunity for you to assume that position or that portfolio, what key things would you want to do as a president that would change or transform this country.

ASF: The way I’ll approach it is to ask: what can I do as an ordinary person? And then, what can I do as a president that I can’t do as an ordinary person? I will then as a President address those things that I cannot do as an ordinary person.

As an ordinary person, I’m within the policy environment created by others. All I can do is to try and do my best to make whatever I’m doing work well within the limits set by the policy makers. But as a President I can change the limits set by policy makers. This is especially true for developing countries where institutions are weak and policy is still maturing and not well defined. There is obviously less room for maneuver at ministerial level than at the presidency level where the President has the greatest influence toset that policy environment for everybody else.

We have institutions in Ghana and we shouldn’t belittle them because there are  in countries where they are almost non-existent. So I have great respect for our country and what we have achieved as a democracy of sorts. But nonetheless, we are a developing country, not a developed country. Sixty (60) years in the life of a nation is like six years in the life of a man. The countries we admire so much and try to emulate have been around for hundreds of years and yet we want to fly at the same pace. Yes, we can all aspire to shared values but the rate at which such values become an integral part of our society will differ. Values demand an understanding and common acceptance of certain ethics in the society. There is need a cultural adjustments take time to make between generations.

I think that there’s still opportunity to mold or shape our country in a different way along a different path. When I think of the role of a president, what is important is the opportunity to mold and shape the country not just for the present but more for the future. I’d like to be able to address those things that are fundamental to the system of governance, the architecture of our economy and the kind of society that we want to become. And these are three separate areas that all must be worked on in tandem with each other.

I think naturally, one will ask: “So what would you do differently?” For me, I perceive that you can be a president that presides over the most efficient incremental gains but you leave with nothing really fundamentally unchanged. Or you can be a president that seeks to restructure, recreate so that the country can have big quantum leaps thereafter. Those are big challenges. Of course it is not one or the other because there is a graduation in between the two options. One must however pitch camp decisively towards one of them as the totem pole for a presidency.

I think my desire to see some big changes and be able to count them off the tip of your palm is a driving force for any ambition I had to be president. I would definitely want to go with referendum agenda for governance (one six year term limit), organize Ghana into 25 regions as units for decentralized government and abandon the farce with local government a district levels, change nature of the economy (scrap export of unprocessed cocoa beans, timber, Gold and oil) and achieve self-sufficiency in rice production in five years and sugar production in 15 years. Ensure renewable energy for 20% of our energy needs and grow our jute (kenaff) for bags so that we can completely ban use of plastics as bags. And have a compulsory two year army service for all 18 to 29 year olds.

Normally when you ask people what they’ve achieved, they start mentioning so many things but many of those many things are not fundamental changes and will be swept away in the sands of time. This is not to praise the president because he’s my friend but when you look at what has transpired over this short period, what I like is that I can count some fundamental things.

  1. He has tackled a big challenge in the education sector at a fundamental level free universal education up to secondary level
  2. He has began the journey for change in architecture of governance by the creation of five new regions
  3. He has achieved a monumental task of peace in Dagbon which eluded so many for so many years. Yes many others were involved but without his steely determination it could have easily gone on for another five years.
  4. The progress with rail transversal rail transport and industries is too early to count. So I will hold back on that for the moment, the reopening of Obuasi mines not withstanding. We must wait for the commissioning of an oil refinery that stops export of our crude oil and a Gold refinery that stops the export od unrefined Gold and indeed makes it illegal.

 

TVM: The free education?

ASF: Yes the potential  impact of free secondary education is huge. Because free universal education to secondary level will restructure the numbers of people in education and it will have a long term impact if we do it well. It help to prepare Ghana to be able to absorb those people that will come off the farms and give them the  technological skills that we need to transform the economy in a significant way.

Secondly, the recreation of the regions will fundamentally change the architecture of governance in a sense that you will have 16 region. For example, in the Northern Region we had one region covering 30percent of the land mass of Ghana, now we have three regions having 10percent each. What it means is that it will bring the higher caliber of people that one needs at the regional level to stimulate the growth and development of the region.

Also is, the long standing Dagbon crisis which has now been resolved. Again I mention these only to highlight the fact that the hard things are the ones that are worth doing and they make the biggest difference.

TVM: Should Ghanaian still be considering you as a potential presidential hopeful?

ASF: That’s a difficult question to answer. I think if something is in your destiny, it will come to pass. I think every person that has a public spirit will answer that call if it comes to you, at the right time and in the right way.  As I said, for me what is important now is to focus on building a strong agribusiness as an example of what people in agriculture can do to help people in a qualitative way, not just a quantitative way; because if I don’t do that who else is going to that?

Above all, I think there are many people who can answer that call so at the right time, if we’re lucky and blessed, we’ll get the right person to answer that call, it could be me or it could be someone else, I don’t rule myself out. In the meantime I am doing what I advice all technocrats to do, excel in your area of expertise in the private sector if you can. I like the example of the proprietor of Asheshi University.

 

TVM: How would you describe your leadership style?

ASF: I am a fairly open person because I was brought up that way. I’m also somebody who believes in systems and their principles. I tend to find my patience with people who want to bend the rules is a little bit short. I believe very much that you can only make headway if you follow the principles.  One of the things I’m not very tolerant of is that in Africa, we believe the there should be different rules governing our conduct with regards to time, seriousness and morality as if the law of gravity doesn’t apply in Africa. Time is the same anywhere. Whether you are wearing a Rolex watch or a Timex watch, it is still the same time. Whether you are in Ghana or somewhere, same is the same  in its amount. We have to give time a higher value.

It is very important that our country works and follows systems that have been proven and tested. And my leadership style is always to make sure that I push people in that direction.

 

TVM: What kind of books do you read?

ASF: I like to read biographies of people that have achieved a lot. Their lives are very instructive and also gives one a firm conviction that if one persists, one will succeed. I think sometimes, reading about other people’s lives helps. I also read science fiction and mega trends in the world.

 

TVM: what genre of music do you like?

ASF: Generally, I like cool music. I also like cool jazz as well as modern music because I’ve children. I know what Busta Rhymes sounds like. Not that I like it much but I follow what is happening and of course I’ve seen the trends and the genres of new music coming.

 

TVM: If you had the opportunity to right a wrong, what would it be?

ASF: I am somebody who has always moved on. My attitude has not always been not to cry over spilt milk and that is one of the things my foster parents built in me. My frame of mind really is always getting on with the present and the future, so I don’t like to dwell too much on the past.

TVM: A lot of Ghanaians know you as a politician, an agribusiness entrepreneur, an agronomist, what else do you do?

ASF: That’s more or less the sum total of my life. If I’m in consultancy, it’s an agricultural and development consultancy. If I’m in politics, yes it’s about society but I would like to drive the emphasis on the role agriculture can play in shaping the country because I never let go of that part of my life. I don’t try to be something that I am not, you know, I think I have a fairly broad education that allows me to integrate sources of different knowledge and use it but when I want specialized knowledge, I go to the person who has it if I don’t have it.

 

TVM: In your lifetime now, what would you want to be remembered for, as your legacy?

ASF: My legacy would not be complete without being successful in agribusiness. Because, the intellectual and development part  of my career have been done. But I want it to be punctuated with tangible success in agribusiness as an entrepreneur. I want to leave that as my flagship of an intergenerational wealth creation industry. I want to be remembered for taking a successful risk with my own resources and savings  legacy to create not just a production industry but a processing industry that is sustainable over time. I want to be remembered for putting my money where my mouth was. I hope it will be successful, if it is it will be a real legacy. As you know it is important because we can decide that from today, we’re not wearing any make-up, we’re not buying any Brazilian hair anymore. We can even decide not to buy Lexus cars or not to wear expensive suits any more, BUT we can never say we won’t eat!

 

TVM:  Interesting, now with everything that you said, I would want you to advise the government, especially, on what to do to make agriculture more productive and make the economy benefit more from agriculture, make the sector more valuable.

ASF: The real issue about agriculture is that we must walk the talk. If I would give advise to anybody, I’d say walk the talk. Let’s not talk and we don’t walk. If you walk the talk, we know what we need to do and it’ll be done. But we cannot leave it for one person to do it because that person needs help and we have to make sacrifices in other areas for it to happen.

 

TVM: How about advice for the youth and your parting message for Ghanaians?

ASF: To the youth, they should decide what they want to do; decide where their passion is, cultivate their skill set and the relevant industry experience. Rise to the zenith of their profession and then get into policy making to expand their impact. Also, they shouldn’t believe that certain things are not achievable either because they don’t have money or they come from a certain background; the human potential is vast.

The opportunity to change, the opportunity to adapt, the opportunity to overcome are always there for the taking for the person who has the courage to dare. So be somebody who dares. Don’t accept the status-quo. Push the boundaries and I’ll say for African youth that is very important because our societies are changing but not necessarily in the way we want them to change. We are subject to so many influences and we’re copying many things we shouldn’t copy, but find out who you are. Interrogate yourself: who am I? You cannot be who you are separate from your cultural identity. Put faith in your character not your degree. Don’t be rude and arrogant because it is fashionable. So just build your identity, character and passion.

 

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