Tuesday, Ghana celebrated 50 years as Africa’s first independent nation south of the Sahara. Founding president, Kwame Nkrumah told Ghanaians and Africans on March 6, 1957 that Ghana’s independence would be meaningless unless it meant the total liberation of Africa. Fifty years after, Africans gathered Monday at the Ghanaian Embassy in Washington to discuss the theme: Economic Emancipation Fifty Years after Political Independence.
The Ghanaian Embassy in Washington was festive, dripped in the bright green, gold and red national colors of the country. Among the speakers was K.Y. Amoaka, former executive secretary of the U-N Economic Commission for Africa. He said Africa’s struggle for economic emancipation is as important as the struggle for independence 50 years ago and the current campaign for democracy. Amoako said Africa can only achieve economic emancipation by transforming its economies.
"When I speak of economic transformation, I mean moving away from the agrarian-based economies towards far more industrialized-based ones. As an illustration, rather than just growing food and then selling it on the domestic market or for export, the shift to a more industrial economy allows people to add values to what they produce, to process it so they can sell more," he said.
Amoako identified a number of policy reforms, which he said, if implemented by African countries, could help the continent achieve growth and poverty reduction.
"First, we must improve the investment climate, which is essential to reducing the cost of business. Second, we need to invest heavily in infrastructure with particular emphasis on transportation energy. Third, a key to increase competitiveness is a global knowledge-based economy is innovations through the applications of and advances in science and technology and investment in higher education," Amoako said.
He called for the strengthening of certain institutions, including budgetary expenditure and revenue management, legal and judicial reform and institutions that can effectively keep an eye on corruption.
Also speaking at the workshop was George Ayittey, professor of economics at American University, who is also president of the Washington-based Free Africa Foundation
Ayittey said he was saddened that Africa’s abundant mineral wealth has not been fully utilized to lift its people out of poverty, and he blamed the generation of the sixties and seventies for letting Africa down.
Professor Ayittey said in order to bring about economic emancipation in Africa, the continent’s elites must change their mentality.
"There’s nothing wrong with wanting to make money, but go into the private sector and make your money in the private sector, you’ll be safe. When there’s a change of government, nobody is going to haul you before a commission of inquiry and probe your assets because you make your assets because you make your money legitimately," he said.
Professor Ayittey said there are plenty of opportunities in Africa to make money in the private sector. For example, he said he has entered into partnership to help Ghanaian fishermen maximize their catch by building larger boats. Ayittey also called on Africa to abandon what he called the diplomacy of despair by begging for everything.