Beyond Politics: An Economic Narrative for West Africa #Realnews2019Lecture

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John Mahama 
John Mahama 

By Mr. John Mahama 

 

I wish to acknowledge Maureen and the team at the Realnews Magazine for the commitment towards organising these annual lectures, as it provides a great platform for sharing and discussing ideas on contemporary issues that are impacting not only our sub-region, but the rest of the world.

I recall the efforts you made last year to get me here, unfortunately because of a number of prior engagements I was unable to confirm my participation. Thank you very much for the honour done me in inviting me to share my thoughts as your Guest Lecturer for 2019. It sure feels like home when I am in any part of Nigeria. As many already know, it is my second home.

Having studied history at the undergraduate level, before branching off into communications and social psychology, I like to begin my presentations by putting things in context with a bit of history. This will help to reconstruct the past- connecting the economic dots, in order to provide a brief narrative leading to where we are today.

AFRICA AND THE EARLY TRADING RELATIONS

Africa’s early intersection with other parts of the world began as far back as the 8th century with the Trans-Saharan trade. Goods from the Middle East, Europe and Asia were traded across the Sahara into the Savannah and forest regions, in exchange for gold, diamonds, kola nuts and other commodities. The direction of this trade changed dramatically when the early European seafarers pioneered by Portugal, under Prince Henry the Navigator, arrived on the Western coast of Africa.

The resource endowment of Africa has been known for centuries and these resources have been exploited mainly to the advantage of the developed world. Convinced about the boundless opportunities in our part of the world- with respect to the wide variety, inestimable value and the huge quantum of natural resources they met- the European powers set up trading posts, forts and castles along the West African coast.

They did this, ostensibly, to trade with our local people and have a stake in the rich resources of West Africa and of Africa in general. Eventually, trading on a basis of equal partnership was not enough. They carved up Africa and took direct control of its resources. Post-colonial independence for Africa made no difference because the neo-colonial arrangements put in place meant that the flow of natural resources from the continent continued uninterrupted at prices determined by the richer countries.

WEST AFRICA, A RESOURCE RICH SUB-REGION

Like most of the rest of Africa, our sub-region is resource-rich and blessed with bountiful minerals and natural commodities. Brimming with resources, the region stands out on the global map. To cite a few examples, Guinea has an estimated 25% of the world’s known bauxite reserves, which translates to some 1.8 billion metric tonnes.

Ghana, together with Cote d’Ivoire is responsible for about 65% of the world’s cocoa beans used to produce cocoa products across the globe. Our two countries also have oil, and Ghana is already exploring this resource, which is contributing to our GDP. According to World Bank reports, Ghana is Africa’s largest producer of gold, overtaking South Africa and the 6th largest in the world.

Nigeria is Africa’s largest producer of oil and gas and the 6th largest in the world, producing an estimated 2.5 million barrels of crude oil a day. Estimates by the United Nations put the population of West Africa close to 400 million. About half of that population can be found in Nigeria, clearly the leader in the region, a country, which according to the AfDB African Economic Outlook report, contributes nearly 70% of the region’s GDP.

Indeed, each of the 16 nations of West Africa are either rich in agriculture, precious minerals like gold and diamonds, or oil and gas. We also have arable land that can feed a huge part of the whole world; and aside from the sea, there are plenty of water bodies, many of them fresh, and also the sun. The prospects for West Africa and its people have always been enormous.

OUR CHANGING WORLD

But Africa does not exist in isolation. Africa is an integral part of our world and cannot be immune to the changing global conditions. Our world is changing and there are many emergent risks to Africa’s survival and prosperity.

The 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall was celebrated just last week. It was a symbolic end to the era of the Cold War and the Iron Curtain. These were heady times and the prospects for the world seemed bright. Talk of a global village and world prosperity were espoused in all international fora. The global targets resulted in reducing hunger and extreme poverty and raising millions of people out of poverty.

Our world is changing further, both in terms of physical circumstances and in terms of current world events. The stability guaranteed by the mutual deterrence of nuclear annihilation is giving way to many proxy wars in the Middle East, and unilateral actions by many of the major powers.

The glue that held the post-war multilateral system together is becoming unstuck. Russia is resurgent and intervening in many theatres to re-establish her place as a world superpower. America is locked in a trade war with China, which is rattling global markets. China’s economic slowdown is having an impact on the commodity markets. Economic emasculation, increasing cost of living and the fight for democracy have overthrown Governments in Sudan and Algeria. There are currently demonstrations and riots in Lebanon, Iraq, Egypt, Iran, Hong Kong, Bolivia, Ecuador, Chile and Venezuela.

A crisis of capital and western democracy is leading to the rise of populists and demagogues into political office in several developed countries.

In Africa, migration of young people in a hazardous journey across the Sahara and the Mediterranean to reach the borders of Southern Europe in search of greener pastures has developed into a steady flow of humanity.

CLIMATE CHANGE

The greatest threat to our existence as living species is the warming of our planet. Archaeological studies have revealed many living species that have gone extinct as a result of some cataclysmic world events. Most famous among these are the dinosaurs.

Humans could go the same way as other extinct species if the current warming of our planet is not halted in time. Already many believe we are at the tipping point. Fires in the high rain forests in Borneo, Indonesia and the Amazon, threaten flora that have been described as the lungs of the earth.

Apocalyptic wild fires in California and Australia due to unusually strong dry winds, floods in Europe and Asia, droughts in Africa, Hurricanes in America and the Caribbean, typhoons in Asia, cyclones in Mozambique and Southern Africa, are all a clear sign that our planet has had enough and can take no more of the years of abuse and plunder we have subjected it to.

West Africa is the most threatened part of our continent from this phenomenon. Having contributed the least to this adversity of nature, we are the most threatened by the change in the world environment. Being closest to the Sahara, the largest desert in the world, West Africa risks becoming completely transformed into a desert in the next two to three centuries. Droughts and erratic rainfall are an early warning signal of climate adversity.

TERRORISM AND INSURGENCY

The greatest threat to security in West Africa is the rise of terrorist insurgency. The rise of terrorist insurgency is as much the result of inequality and poverty, as it is, of religious ideological brainwashing. This is exacerbated by the exclusion of large segments of our populations from the modest economic growth that our countries are enjoying.

Increasingly, insurgency is also being fuelled by competition for dwindling natural resources to sustain life and economic activity, such as land and fresh water. This general insecurity affects investment and hurts economic activity. The whole of the Sahel/Savannah Region stretching as far as into Central and East Africa, and all the way to Northern Mozambique face some degree of threat from terrorist insurgency.

POPULATION DEMOGRAPHIC

The world is experiencing a changing population demographic. While population growth in the developed world has slowed, to an extent where in some parts the rate of child birth is below the human replacement level in maintaining the size of their population, in other places especially Africa, the population is growing at an explosive rate.

Africa’s population currently stands at about 1.1 billion people. At current rates, it could soar to four billion people by the end of the century, 2100. Nigeria alone will have approximately 400 million people and become the third most populous country after China and India.

Africa has averagely 4.8 live births per woman, which is still lower than the average of 6.8 in the late 70’s. This demographic dividend presents both a benefit and a risk. An energetic workforce with greater prosperity if the next generations lower their fertility rates and have fewer babies.

“Smaller families allow more women to secure paid work, and parents and Governments are able to invest greater resources in each child” – says Bloomberg. The challenge facing Africa at the present rate of population growth is how to find jobs for this teeming population of young people. Africa adds almost 12 million young people to the job market every year, and yet is able to produce only about 7 million sustainable jobs.

This means almost 5 million idle hands every year. African economies must grow and clip along at above 8% GDP growth rate to be able to sustain this rate of population growth.

ECONOMIC NARRATIVE FOR WEST AFRICA

The reason, ladies and gentlemen, why we must explore the topic for this year’s anniversary ‘Beyond Politics: An Economic Narrative for West Africa’ is because we need to aggressively position our economies for growth in other to provide more employment avenues for our growing populations. To do this, we must change our existing economic models and paradigms.

Africa with its urbanizing population must look more to developing its service and digital economies faster. This sector of the economy, if nurtured, is prone to fast growth and can provide employment for millions of young Africans coming out of school. Great potential for growth also exists in tourism, the creative industry, ICT, and financial services.

In my country Ghana, as in Nigeria and other African countries, the services sector has overtaken agriculture as the largest and fastest growing sector of the economy. African countries must create the right environment for these to grow through tax incentives, reduced regulation and red tape. We must change our model of being producers of raw commodities.

Africa’s gold must reach the rest of the world as valuable jewelry, her oil must arrive as petroleum products, her timber as furniture, her cocoa as chocolates, bauxite as aluminum and copper as semi-conductor parts. Value addition and processing will provide more wealth for African economies and millions of jobs for our young people.

To achieve this, Africa must invest in making power more available for domestic, industrial and agricultural use. While Africa cannot follow the model of the past industrial revolutions that have polluted and threaten the very existence of our planet, cleaner forms of energy, including gas-fired thermal, hydro, solar and wind energy are areas we must aggressively invest in.

Nigeria must as a priority aggressively pursue a gas-to-power policy and stop the flaring of almost 300 billion standard cubic feet of gas per annum representing a loss of almost $700 million a year. Africa must support the Inga dam and other potential hydro power projects, which could bring about an additional 40,000 MW of power to South, East, West and Central African economies.

Investment in social and economic infrastructure is imperative. We must make the big push, especially in the transport sector. Road, rail, maritime, aviation must all receive priority attention in order to ensure efficient movement of passengers and goods both within and between our countries. This will enhance trade and services across the West African sub-region.

Sometimes trade between African countries is curtailed because there is just no transport link between them. Where the roads exist, they are in many cases so bad that they do not facilitate efficient exchange of goods between them. West Africa must consider a ‘Roll-on Roll-off’ ferry between coastal countries. This kind of service is used as an efficient and cheap transport link in many parts of Asia and Europe.

Vehicles and goods are moved by ferry from port to port and avoid the torturous long journey by road and most especially avoid the hundreds of check points that extort money from motorists. Trade between the Lagos-Abidjan Corridor could be a potentially very viable route.

We must aggressively pursue the dream of a Continental Free Trade Area. This is a dream our founding fathers fought for. Having served as Chairman of the African Union High-Level Committee on Trade beforee, I was privileged to participate in the work leading up to the signing of the agreement on ACfTA. I have an abiding belief in its benefit for all African nations.

Trade between African countries, reports say, stands at about 11%. Comparable statistics with other regions are:- the Americas at 47%, Asia 61%, Europe 67% and Oceania 7%. Intra African trade will staunch the current outflows that leave the continent yearly and result in a recirculation of wealth within the continent.

Since the signing of the ACfTA however, developments in the two biggest African economies have been worrying. The attacks and expulsion of foreigners from South Africa has been, indeed, most unfortunate considering her history.

Africa stood in solidarity with South Africa in the struggle against apartheid. It is a slap in the face to see the lynching of fellow Africans as a result of the recent waves of xenophobia in that country. Off course, one does not advocate that foreigners engaged in criminal activity must be entertained in any country. Such persons must be arrested, prosecuted and deported by the security enforcement agencies. But where the presence of such persons is legal and are based on a positive investment in the economy, they must not be persecuted and killed on any basis.

South Africa must take aggressive steps to improve the circumstances of its excluded black population in order to remove the negative emotions that prompts such unfortunate xenophobic attacks.

In Nigeria, the unilateral closure of the borders since August is a worrying development for the growth of free trade in the ECOWAS sub-region. Off course, one can understand the harmful effects of unbridled smuggling goods on the growth of local production. But it is problematic that sub-regional economic activity and trade should suffer because of domestic institutional weaknesses. Nigeria must invest in strengthening its institutions and systems that are responsible for preventing the importation of illegal or prohibited goods.

The total closure of, especially, the Benin border is having a significant toll on many small and medium businesses especially in Togo, Ghana and Cote D’Ivoire that rely on this inter-country trade. I am sure that businesses in Nigeria that rely on supplies from these countries are also suffering.

With the signing of the joint border task force agreement between Nigeria and her neighbours, I would like to take this opportunity to appeal to Nigeria to open up her border so that economic activities can resume.

As the largest economy in West Africa, I believe it is not by accident that Nigeria is home to the headquarters of the Economic Community of West Africa States. The import of the following quote from the objective principles for establishment of ECOWAS cannot be lost on us.

“ECOWAS was set up to foster the ideal of collective self-sufficiency for its member states. As a trading union, it is also meant to create a single, large trading bloc through economic cooperation. Integrated economic activities as envisaged in the area revolve around but are not limited to industry, transport, telecommunications, energy, agriculture, natural resources, commerce, monetary and financial issues, social as well as cultural matters.”

As a former Chair of the ECOWAS Authority of Heads of State and Government, I have an abiding interest in the progress of ECOWAS and its people. I believe that as an economic and regional bloc, a lot of economic opportunities are available to us, and we must take advantage of them.

Back home in Ghana, I also look forward to our government’s intervention that brings an immediate cessation to the forceful and illegal closure of shops of foreigners, especially Nigerians, by members the local trade associations.

The uptake of science and technology in all sectors of our economies will allow Africa to leapfrog its development. Africa need not go through all the stages of industrialization the developed countries went through. Today, biotechnology and tissue culture would allow us to multiply agricultural productivity tenfold. Use of innovation will allow us to increase productivity and free more people from back-breaking labour and allow them to pursue careers in services, tourism and the arts.

We must grow our SMEs and blue collar labour. SMEs and middle level blue collar manpower have been the main drivers of growth in middle income Latin American and Asian economies. This means that our educational curriculum must be rejigged to produce the skilled human resources to drive this sector.

Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) must be rebranded to be a career of first choice, rather than the humbler alternative when other doors of progression in the grammar schools and humanities track have been closed to a student.

Despite the end of the Millennium Development Goals, we must strive to achieve the basic goals of universal enrolment of African children in school. We still have nearly 30% of African children out of school. We must also work to keep them in school, especially with the girl child. Keeping girls in school till post secondary means less early child marriages and also delays the onset of pregnancy till well after 18 years of age.

Finally, the path of democratic consolidation we have adopted must be aggressively deepened. Regular elections in all West African countries have ensured greater participation of our people in governance. Democracy has created relative peace with most political interests willing to wait patiently to stake their political claims during elections, rather than attempts to usurp power through force of arms, which was the norm in the past.

This has created a peaceful and predictable environment that is conducive for investment and creativity. In the nearly two decades that West African countries have been pursuing a path of democracy, improvement in the human development index has been far better in terms of education, health and other social outcomes, compared to the period of unconstitutional rule.

It is necessary for us to provide leadership. We must let our people continue to have faith in the democratic process. West Africa must look beyond its short term domestic political interests and promote a new economic narrative for the West African Sub-region. It is achievable if we see ourselves as one people.

I enjoyed a plate of Moimoi during dinner yesterday. When it comes to Moimoi, there is no competition. Nigeria certainly is the place to enjoy a delicious plate of moimoi. But when it comes to the ‘Jollof war’ and the Black Stars/Green Eagles soccer rivalry, Ghana will never cede an inch to our bigger brother, Nigeria.

Thank you Ladies and gentlemen,

Thank you Maureen and Realnews

Thank you Mr. Chairman, and I look forward to what I foresee will be an exciting panel discussion to follow this presentation.

May God bless us all.

Full text of the lecture delivered by Mr. John Mahama, former President of Ghana at the 7th

Realnews Magazine Anniversary, on November 19, 2019.

– Nov. 22, 2019 @ 09:39 GMT |

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