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The 400 Year Legacy of the Slave Trade: Reuniting affected Communities at the HACSA Summit 2019.

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Ama Ata Aidoo is quoted as saying that “Humans, not places, make memories.”

So, what do we do with a 400 year old memory of men and women who landed on the shores of America as slaves? Memories of Pain, struggles, despair and lost family ties.

Yet 400 years on, we continue to seek answers to basic questions in the hope of linking people to their roots and creating shared values and opportunities for all. 

In an interview with Ambassador Johanna Odonkor Svanikier (Founder and President of The Heritage and Cultural Society of Africa) (HACSA), we set out to understand the significance of celebrating such a dark part of our history. What legacies are there to celebrate and how she and the team at HACSA are focused on building a thriving community for networking and economic empowerment.

She also throws more lights on the 2019 Heritage and Cultural Society of Africa (HACSA) Summit and how governments, private sector, NGOs and individual can leverage on the socio-economic potential of Heritage and Culture as a country differentiator and a means of building value for citizens.

400 YEARS ON: Commemorating the Legacy of the Slave Trade

TVM: Being the Founder and President of The Heritage and Cultural Society of Africa, can you throw some light on this whole concept of slavery and “The Year of Return”?

Amb. Svanikier: The commemoration which is happening is in a very specific context. Exactly 400 years ago, there was a boat which arrived in the United States of America (USA) with what is perceived as the first enslaved people landing in the USA in Jamestown, Virginia. I believe the landing of the first enslaved people is symbolic. There were people enslaved long before that and we don’t want to erase their memory. In 2018, the US Congress passed legislation to mark these 400 years and that has lent impetus to commemorate this period. The Heritage and Cultural Society of Africa, celebrates the achievements of the African diaspora, people all over the continent and out of the continent; people beyond the shores of Africa who have excelled. We had our maiden conference in 2017. We are using this opportunity once again to bring the Diaspora and people who love Africa from all over the world; whether it’s Africa, the USA, the Caribbean, Europe or even Asia, all together in Ghana to unite, form networks and bonds amongst ourselves. The biggest problem is, once people were taken away and enslaved, they lost their roots, they lost their identity, and they lost the connection with one another. HACSA believes that that connection is something very powerful and if we reconnect with one another, we can enrich one another’s lives, not just one group; not just the African Americans or the Caribbean people will be enriched, we too will be enriched. On the other hand, they coming is not just doing us a favor, they’ll be doing themselves a favor as well because when they link with us, they’ll find a deeper meaning to their identity.

TVM: Three things come to mind from your narration – Celebration, Unity and Networking. Are these the three key things individuals coming should be expecting?

Amb. Svanikier: Yes, absolutely. We want to celebrate the fact that we are reunited and can help one another grow from strength to strength. Also, we’ll have a solemn commemoration because a lot of people were killed, a lot of people were tortured, a lot of people had their lives destroyed and families separated; whole communities were also separated. Thus, there’ll be some reflection and solemn commemoration at the HACSASummit 2019.

TVM: The theme for the celebration is quite profound. “400 years on: Legacy. Communities. Innovation.” Let’s talk about the insights within the theme and why you have chosen to focus on Legacy, Communities and Innovation.

Amb. Svanikier: The three are sub themes: Legacy, Communities and Innovation. The Legacy refers to what I was narrating earlier. The legacy of the slave trade is a very bitter one; it destroyed whole communities. The legacy of the slave trade still exists till today and the latest rendition is that African-American males are being incarcerated and killed in the US at an alarming rate. That’s a legacy of the slave trade which lives with us till today and which in my humble opinion has not been addressed properly. There are also some positive legacies such as innovation that were borne out of the hardship people suffered which include Jazz and Reggae music. Also, as a result of exclusion from many parts of the economy, people of African descent refined their skills and ability in sports and entertainment and now, they rule the world in these fields. This shows that if they are allowed to be in other areas as well, they will excel.

Next is Communities. This is trying to bring people together. I feel very strongly that there was no truth and reconciliation process after the slave trade and so the legacies are still very heavy on the communities that were affected. There hasn’t been the level of healing that needs to take place. So, bringing communities together whether Danish, Dutch, French, British with the African communities that were affected and those who were unfortunately shipped to what was then known as the new world, will bring about a fruitful conversation.

TVM: And possible closure?

Amb. Svanikier: I don’t think we can achieve closure in one session but we can open the debate because I feel the debate is not even opened and I think it is a long term process which needs to start now.

TVM: I heard you talk about innovation in music and entertainment. From a tech perspective, have you considered that?

Amb. Svanikier: For innovation, we are really excited because if you look at the three themes, technically, they represent yesterday, today and tomorrow. Yesterday is the legacy, today are the communities and tomorrow is the innovation and technological innovation is what can move Africa to the next level. We really focus on women and girls because we feel those are the two elements for moving Africa from the socio-economic difficultieswe’re experiencing now to the next level, to prosperity, and a higher quality of life for its people. If we educate women and youth and teach them technology, I think the sky is the limit for us. The Heritage and Cultural Society of Africa, HACSA, has a “Girls Can Code” project which is in collaboration with UNESCO and other partners. There will be such technology Displays and Workshops at the Summit. In a way, especially in Ghana, empowering women I feel is part of our culture and our heritage. I think in Ghana, we haven’t done badly with projecting women as leaders and most recently, the former headmistress of Wesley Girls High School was honored as one of the Women of the Year because she has done such a good job with leadership and imbibing leadership into women’s psyche. We have done a very good job there and we need to bring the tech into the picture and when we combine the two, we will find that we will move very quickly. We will have an innovation exposition and we will try to bring young startups and also people who are doing new things with local products like Ghanaian chocolate makers. They are turning the cocoa beans into beautiful chocolates and that’s innovative as well. I have spoken in the past about coconuts and the fact that it’s completely underused in our economy. There are so many potential uses of coconut into flour, the oil now is very much in demand and coconut is basically a super food. We have it in abundance in this country but we’re not adding enough value. So, the innovation bit is a huge area of opportunity. It’s difficult to know where to start and stop but we need to focus on it to take us to the next level.

TVM: In recent times, there’s been some concern about the relationship between what you might call African-Americans and Africans and the question is, is it unhealthy? How do we ensure that this relationship is made better?

Amb. Svanikier: Absolutely. There are difficulties in the relationship and I think there are two events we hope to have during our summit which will highlight this issue and hopefully bring some understanding. Basically, I think we need to understand each other better; so, we need to look at each other’s cultures and see what we have in common. We have a group coming from Washington University in Seattle and they will host a special workshop which discusses the two cultures and how to bring the two cultures together. This is something they do in America. They bring young Africans and young African-Americans together and discuss what the issues are between the two groups and try to make them understand each other from each other’s perspective. The other is the Venture Smith Family story. We are looking for sponsorship and support to bring the family of Venture Smith to Ghana. Venture Smith was an enslaved person who was kidnapped in Cameroon. He was the son of a Prince and was brought to Anomabo, Ghana. He was shipped to the USA, landed in Rhode Island and later ended up enslaved in Connecticut. He was so enterprising and a highly intelligent person and as such was able to negotiate and buy his freedom. He was lucky his master loaned him out to somebody and that person allowed him to earn his own income and to buy out his freedom, the freedom of his children, his wife and also build a business, a farm and a homestead– his farms and homestead still exist today.   He wrote his autobiography. Venture Smith’s descendants still live in the USA. We exhibited his story at the last conference and this time we are trying to bring the family to the HACSA Summit.

TVM: That is a very strong story.

Amb. Svanikier: Yes, it’s a very strong story. We’re hoping this will come to pass if we are able to raise the funds to do it.

TVM: In the Year of Return, what should those coming to Ghana be looking out for?

Amb. Svanikier: The HACSA Summit answers that question perfectly. This is the Year of Return and we’re creating an experience for people. We’ve negotiated discounts with the hotels and have a partner Airline- Brussels Airlines. So, we are asking delegates to book their flights and hotels online and come to Ghana for an experience of a lifetime. When they arrive; on the first day, there’ll be TEDTalks Osu. It is a platform and a forum to talk about important issues and this time we hope to have people giving their take on the 400 years. Then there’ll also be a welcome reception where people will be meeting with members of the Diaspora from all over the world. That is an opportunity to form long lasting networks. In 2017, some people who came alone are coming this time with their friends and families to experience it. They’re bringing their families along because of the incredible experience they had the last time. As such, we’re looking to form deeper relationships with people from all over the world. Anyone coming to Africa for the first time, maybe has heard that Africa is rising and therefore, there are increasing opportunities for investing in Africa. This is why there’ll be an Innovation Trade and Investment Exposition so that one can get to meet people who are doing very well here; running start-ups, small businesses, SMEs and need capital injection to take their businesses to the next level. There’s an opportunity there as well for somebody who is interested in investing in Africa. We hope to have three days of debate at the conference; thus, people will be educated as well. There are going to be academic presentations, discussion panels with practitioners and keynote speakers. Hence, there’s an opportunity to understand some of these issues mentioned earlier at a much deeper level; but it is not all work and no play so there’ll be a Gala evening which will have a fashion show of three Ghanaian fashion designers. There will be a music concert with African entertainers, and we’ll have African food, music and dancing. Some people may never have tasted African food before, so that could be an opportunity. Then also, there’ll be tours. There’ll be tours to the different regions of the country. People can pick and choose which tours they want to go on and the tours give the opportunity to let your hair down in a more informal setting and enjoy the beauty of the country and have cultural experiences. Some tours will include going to the Royal Palace in Akwamu and visiting the museum which has been set up there, which links the history of the Osu Christiansburg Castle with the people of Akwamu. People will have the opportunity to go to Elmina and Cape Coast castle and above all do the Accra tours. Accra is rich in history. HACSA will offer rich tours of Jamestown and Osu and there’s so much to see that there is not enough time to see it all in one day.

TVM: There are those who believe that Africa’s position globally still makes it look like it is within a subtle slavery, or it is within some sort of control and so that’s where the pessimists come in. What’s your take on this? Are we there or not?

Amb. Svanikier: I wouldn’t deny that. I’ll just say we need to start from somewhere and it is incremental. We are doing our bit to move Africa to the next level and I think Africa has started rising but we can’t rest on our laurels. We need to build on that and we’ll get to where we want to be. One thing I would say is, we have to be very clear on where we want to be as well. We don’t need to measure ourselves by other people’s standards. We need to look within to define what success means specifically for us. What does success mean for us? I am appalled at the fact that we have now adopted plastic for everything and especially for drinks and water. Our whole country and beaches and seas are littered with plastic. For me that’s not development – to drink coke out of a plastic bottle. When I was a child, we had glass bottles in crates. If we wanted to drink coke, we would take our crate and exchange it for another crate. We were more developed in my opinion and superior in my opinion to a community which is using plastics and throwing them away. We have gone backwards and we need to understand what success means. It doesn’t mean just following blindly somebody else’s model. It means looking at your environment and making sure you are developing in a sustainable way.

TVM: Talking about development, there’s a big question on the table all the time about the culture of maintenance. Why is that so?

Amb. Svanikier: I think human beings are like that. When you give them the right incentives, they behave in the right ways. When we talk about the culture of maintenance, what I would say is, there are issues. I think we’ve come a long way. There was a time when I would be terrified to go to a public restroom. That has changed now. A lot of places now have suitable facilities. We have come a long way from a decade or two ago but so much more needs to be done in this area especially at tourist sites. Although, we have a long way to go I think the solution is in partnership. One thing that I don’t think is working well at the moment is the partnership between government, NGOs, and the business community or the private sector. For example, running a tourist site should be treated as a business. If it is not run on a business model, it is not going to succeed. Many tourist sites are under the Ghana Museums and Monuments Board and there’s no NGO or private sector participation. But, if you bring the three elements together (government, NGO and private sector), you’ll find that everything is going to work so much better. I think this module can be extended to other areas where things are not working well because we can’t expect the government to do everything. That is HACSA’s point of reference. HACSA was established because we realized, in the heritage and cultural space there is a vacuum, and there is a gap. We need to leverage our heritage and culture for socio economic growth and the benefit of the Continent. We complain we don’t have sufficient foreign exchange but other countries are making billions out of tourism and yet our tourist infrastructure is not in place. We need to invest in tourism and we’ll get the payback. There are certain areas like the roads, restroom facilities mentioned earlier, the actual maintenance of some of the sites that are the responsibilities of government but there are other things like the tours, ticketing, that either a private or NGO can manage. It is a kind of well-oiled engine and an engine has parts and one part doesn’t function well on its own. So, we need government, the non-for-profit organization and the private sector to get working nicely together and we’ll see the difference it will make to all the things we’re trying to do.

TVM: Gradually, the young African is losing interest in his/ her culture and adopting foreign cultures as a result of cultural penetration through music, movies, fashion and other social media.  What’s your view on that? Is this part of the way to build closure or to have a good relationship between us and them?

Amb. Svanikier: No. I think it is about content. We have the social media space, we have the traditional media space. What are we producing? What content are we producing? Everyone is putting their content in the space and then people decide what they want to watch. Consequently, if you produce something that is worth watching, people will follow through. One thing you find is, the entertainment industry; music, films etc. also bring huge socio-economic benefit to a country. We need to build content that is rich enough to get the followership and not we following them. Unfortunately, we turn our noses down when our children want to make music, films and work in the creative arts and yet we’re rushing there to consume what other people are producing. For example, in Ghana, we’re obsessed with the English Premier League when the best footballers come from Ghana – everybody knows that – and yet we haven’t made any effort to create something which can capture the world’s attention. Everywhere you go, people know Ghana for soccer and yet what money are we deriving out of it? As a nation, we should have a football museum. We should be making our soccer stars heroes in the world and yet we are busy following other countries when we have the best. We have the ability for others to be following us and not we following other people.

TVM: In a previous interview you acknowledged some other countries’ symbolic cultures, for example France that is noted for wine that has transformed their economy by making it a revenue stream. What can we leverage as a culture to generate such revenue streams?

Amb. Svanikier: First of all, I think we need to be strategic about it. I think those countries who have created that aura around themselves have been strategic about it. We need to decide what we have and what we want it to symbolize. Some things are low hanging fruitsso like I said, the Black-Stars are known globally; they are adored globally and we can make much more out of that. If you consider chocolate for example, we are not known for it. It’s the likes of Switzerland, Belgium and France that are recognized but we are producing the cocoa. As far as I’m concerned, why aren’t we producing the chocolate? Well, we have started and hopefully we can grow that space. We can even leapfrog and have a cocoa museum in Ghana or a theme park where people come and know that this is the country where cocoa is grown. Everyone loves chocolate, let’s make something out of that. For Gold, why don’t we have a gold museum? You can go on and on and on with so many things where we have a comparative advantage. Other people are using what we produce to great effect. Go to Dubai, they have a Souk especially for Gold. Do they have gold in the desert, I don’t know but I doubt it? So, there is a problem. We allow people to take our heritage, make something out of it, be known for it and we are busy looking elsewhere.

TVM: I hear you say there’s a very strong socio-economic value within heritage and culture but we are not taking advantage of it.

Amb. Svanikier: That’s exactly what I’m saying.

PERSONALITY PROFILE

TVM: Many people may want to know more about your personality just beyond your name. Kindly tell us about yourself and your growing up?

Amb. Svanikier: I’m just a Ghana girl. I’m born in Ghana; I attended University Primary School. When I look back, I feel so privileged because currently, I see schools rising like skyscrapers with no compounds for the children to play. In our time, we had a huge compound to run around and play and just feel like children. I am very grateful for my upbringing and my childhood.

TVM: What is your fondest childhood memory?

Amb. Svanikier: I grew up actually in Tesano and most of the fun moments were with friends. We used to pass through the barbed wire and hedges to our friends’ houses as in those days we didn’t have walls. We played till evening and came home. We played on the streets. But Ghana has changed a lot since then.

TVM: You are a barrister by profession and were called to the Bar of England and Wales in 1990 and to the Ghana Bar in 1991. Where did your passion for cultural interests’ spring from?

Amb. Svanikier: I spoke about how we have our norms as a people. Let’s face it, we try and encourage our children to do certain things and not other things. I don’t think Ghanaian children have enough space to explore career choices. We need to expose them to a variety of things and then let them explore what they want to do. The space has opened up a little bit but, in my time, we were expected to be lawyers, doctors or engineers and to quote a goodfriend, “You had to make up your mind by the time you were 5 years old!” To tell the truth, my weakness in school was Mathematics and therefore I decided to do law because I knew that in law, you wouldn’t come across any Mathematics except calculating your bill. However, I think I’m a more creative person and also very visual so I felt I needed more to stimulate me and even to stimulate my intellect. People are really surprised because they see law as something very intellectual but in the end, I moved away from law to broaden my intellect and my horizons.

TVM: You authored a book entitled “Women’s’ Rights and the Law in Ghana.” What is the state of women’s rights in Ghana today?

Amb. Svanikier: We haven’t moved that far. In the public space, I think there’s room for improvement. Legally, things like maternity leave and now paternity leave are of essence in their implementation not just on paper. As a board member of Fidelity Bank, I try to make the bank more aware of women’s issues. We’ve set up a Women’s Forum and we’re advocating for lactating rooms, crèches, men to have leave to help their wives when their wives give birth, longer maternity leave for women to avoid worrying about leaving a new born baby at home. These practical measures can really move the women’s agenda because when women are supported in their child bearing function, they become more productive.

TVM: In 2017, women were celebrated for their tremendous contributions to their societies under the theme “Women in the Changing World of Work”. Some argue that some women are more productive in leadership positions than their male counterparts and that’s why the saying goes thus: “…, but if you educate a woman you educate a nation”. Why hasn’t a woman been president in Ghana until now?

Amb. Svanikier: To be very honest, after studying law, I studied politics and researched for a PhD in “The Evolution of Democracy” using Ghana as my case study and I think therein lies the problem. Ghana is actually quite advanced politically and therefore countries which have more established political traditions, I found that, it’s harder for women to emerge whereas countries which are just beginning to develop democratic traditions like Liberia and some other countries in Africa are more likely to have women leaders. It is easier there because there’s not so much political elite activity in the political space unlike our political traditions that are more rooted. They go back even a century or more and so it is harder for them to evolve and take women on board at this stage but I think it will happen. We just need the right moment and the right configuration. I think it will happen eventually.

TVM: You have served in various leadership capacities both locally and globally, how will you describe your leadership style?

Amb. Svanikier: I’m a very detailed person. I would admit that as a fault. I’m a perfectionist and therefore when I undertake any task, I expect those I’m working with to work with me as a team. I try to ensure quality at every stage and at every level and that can be quite annoying. But in the end, when people work with me, they are very proud of what they’ve achieved because I hold them to the very standards I hold myself and I hold myself to very high standards and I feel like that is what is needed in our environment. I ‘chill’ where I need to be more chilled and push harder where there is a need. But in Ghana, we are too chilled so we need to be kind of pushed a little to heat us up.

TVM: How would you describe your management philosophy?

Amb. Svanikier: My overall philosophy is that you are only as good as your team. And so get yourself a good team and you will shine with them. We need to work as teams. We need different elements in a team and we need to work and come together to achieve our aspirations. In everything I do, I try to create a team. Also, the team must have young people because it is through the young people that we as a nation can grow. Young people need experience, they need mentorship, and they need exposure. It is not only by travelling abroad that you can get this exposure; you can get it in Ghana too. And by being innovative and enterprising, we can give the young people exposure right here in Ghana.

TVM: Did you or do you have any mentor(s) that influenced your thinking in life, business, etc.?

Amb. Svanikier: Both parents were good role models and mentors. My father expected a lot from us academically. Actually both parents did, and my mother socially. She had high standards for us socially so I think the two things combined – the academic and the social – made me what I am today.

TVM: What do you do in your leisure time? Where would you like to be during your leisure time?

Amb. Svanikier: I would like to be in the Mediterranean or Caribbean drinking fresh coconut, walking on the beach, enjoying breeze and sun. I don’t like too much sun or too much heat and neither do I like it too cold as well. I want a nice combination of warmth and breeze and that you can get in the Caribbean and the Mediterranean.

TVM: What kinds of books do you read? Is there any particular book(s) that has significantly shaped or influenced your life?

Amb. Svanikier: I do have books which have really impacted me and given me an ‘aha’ moment. One of them is “The Book of Sarahs: A Family in Parts”. It is written by an African-American (mixed white and black) woman who was adopted by a white family and thought that she had been separated from her black heritage only to find out that her mother was actually white. That’s a very interesting book and I met that lady in Ghana a while ago. She came to Ghana as a Peace Corp Volunteer and I think her experience in Ghana also influenced the book. Another favorite book is James Barnor’s book which I brought to Ghana. It has his pictures which depict Africans in the 50s and 60s on their own terms. Ghana actually is a leader in that because we achieved independence early. Kwame Nkrumah was so focused on creating our own narratives and stories and as such, we had our own film institute and photographers working on our own stories earlier than other African countries. So, the pictures of photographers like James Barnor tell storyof Africans in Africa by Africans; it’s a beautiful book.

TVM: What is your favorite meal?

Amb. Svanikier: Waakye. I make the best Waakye.

TVM: What genre of music do you listen to?

Amb. Svanikier: I love all kinds of music; Classical,Jazz but Afrobeats is my go-to. To raise my spirit, I love dancing to Afrobeats.

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

Amb. Svanikier: To be very honest, in my youth I was repressed and when you’re repressed you don’t speak up and when you don’t speak up things go wrong. That is what I’m trying to rectify even now. Now, I don’t protect myself so much because in the end, shyness is actually protecting yourself. I’m more open and if I see something, or know something is wrong, I try to say it and face the consequences.

TVM: Due to your wealth of experience in life and business, do you intend to document your life in a book (autobiography / biography) to benefit the younger generations’ especially young women and girls?

Amb. Svanikier: At this stage, I don’t have time to write an autobiography, maybe sometime in the future. If I do write, maybe it’s unlikely to be an autobiography. It would probably be about lessons learnt in life which I can transmit especially to women. I feel I have something to say to young women to make their lives easier and help them go through life in an easier way than I did.

TVM: What advice would you give to the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture on preserving and maintaining Ghana’s culture and heritage?

Amb. Svanikier: I suggest the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture should partner with the private sector and NGOs to get their work done because they can’t do it alone; they shouldn’t be doing it alone.Sites like the Nkrumah Mausoleum; there should be some private sector involvement, there should be some NGO involvement in maintaining the Mausoleum so that it can be a much better experience than what it is today; I think there’s huge potential.

TVM: What advice would you give to young women and girls?

Amb. Svanikier: To girls and young women, they should be more vocal, speak their mind, shouldn’t worry so much about what people think about them and how people react towards them. They should try to get strength from within and whatever people say, they can take on board but not let it define them.

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Profiles

“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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