Oman Ghana Baako — Chairman’s address
I want to speak with you today about Ghana’s future & what we can do for our country.
The first thing we can do is to clearly understand threats & opportunities facing Ghana right now.
Africa is very large. It’s nearly twice the size of Russia. Africa is larger than the US, Europe & China combined.
Ghana is a small part of our continent: less than 1%.
Early next century the population of Africa will overtake Asia.
Ghana is a small part of that too, but like the rest of Africa, Ghana is growing rapidly.
At Independence our population was a mere 6 million.
We’ve just passed 30 million. Already, more than half of us live in cities.
By 2050, just 30 years from now, we will exceed 50 million, & reach 73 million by the end of this century: twelve times our Independence population in less than 150 years.
These demographics are both threat & opportunity. Ghana’s median age is now just over 20 years. Our young adults today, & their children, will build a prosperous & secure future if Ghana is to have one.
That is why Oman Ghana Baako asserts that our youth are Ghana’s most precious resource.
Oman Ghana Baako’s vision is that young Ghanaians will know they can satisfy their basic needs & reasonable aspirations at home.
Our youth are Ghana’s opportunity, but there are two threats here:
- If we fail to retain & empower our youth now, demographics will work against us. By the end of this century Ghana’ population will be older, less innovative, more dependent on fewer young. Development cannot wait. That is our present threat;
- By the end of this century only one in every 60 Africans will be Ghanaian. Whatever our youth might achieve, if the rest of Africa does not match it, Ghana will be overwhelmed. That is our future threat;
Our founding President, Kwame Nkrumah, understood these threats & opportunities.
It is a simple fact, observed by Nkrumah’s contemporary, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru of India, that an economy may grow, but if more slowly than population, per capita wealth declines.
Oman Ghana Baako is an initiative of the Ghanaian diaspora, initially here in the UK & elsewhere in Europe. We know we cannot resurrect the Pan African project on our own, but we can contribute to African development. We believe that together we can achieve positive change in Ghana, now & in future. That is the first & most important part of our broader contribution to African prosperity.
There are exciting developments:
- According to the IMF, Ghana’s economy is the fastest growing in the world in 2019. That is our present opportunity;
- The African Continental Free Trade Area is an emerging reality that will do much to remove the costs & impediments of post-colonial divisions. That is a future opportunity.
You might wonder, since both present & future look so rosy, why we believe yet another non-government organisation is necessary.
The young African Australian writer, community leader & entrepreneur, Yassmin Abdel-Magied, wrote simply that “there is a need for change, because the world isn’t perfect”. [Yassmin]
Oman Ghana Baako is about more than youthful idealism & striving for perfection. We see that those threats are real: that if Ghana does not take its opportunities now, or does not do enough, its future will be far from perfect.
So, we begin with present problems while planning a better future. We retain & engage our youth; we tackle corruption together; we pursue a social program to last lifetimes.
We diasporans have all moved away from home. This is not a trivial matter. James Rebanks, the English pastoral author, wrote that “People that went away ceased to belong; they changed & could never really come back”. [The Shepherd’s Life]
We must ensure that Ghana’s youth do not feel a need to go away in the first place, & that those who have left are able to return to full participation in our communities.
There’s nothing radical about that; it’s current government policy.
Oman Ghana Baako’s focus on corruption might make many of you uncomfortable. We all know it; we’re probably sick of hearing about it; for some it will have been a factor in leaving.
Yet it must be faced. Conservative estimates put the cost of corruption at 2.4% of Ghana’s GDP. That might not sound like much but, compounded from Independence until now, it means that our economy could have been more than four times its present size.
Youth would not be dreaming of foreign opportunities. That lost growth would create a lot of both public & private sector employment; it would buy a lot of education, health care & infrastructure. The basic needs of Ghana’s entire population would easily be met.
Oman Ghana Baako’s program addresses those needs from cradle to grave. Our honoured guest & keynote speaker, Naseem Ayub, Mayor of Luton, will speak with you in more detail about our program.
It is important, even essential, but material security alone is not enough. It is only part of our mission.
The American author, Tom Robbins, wrote that “consumption… is deadening to the soul”. [Tibetan Peach Pie]
Satisfying basic needs must not lead merely to increased consumption.
Political Scientist, Moises Naim, wrote that “by itself, the growth of population & incomes is not sufficient to transform the exercise of power”. [The End Of Power]
We need engagement… broad, popular engagement.
- see the need for change
- believe that change is possible, &
- that the work can be satisfying & rewarding
…then we have engagement.
Kwame Nkrumah understood that too.
Oman Ghana Baako seeks to recover & celebrate that spirit of Independence.
We all understand the need for change.
We believe it is possible, or we would not be here today.
The remaining question, then, is: Can the work of change, of social transformation, be satisfying & rewarding?
Oman Ghana Baako exists to help make it so.
Dr Brittney Cooper, African-American academic, wrote this just last year:
“Joy arises from an internal clarity about our purpose. My purpose is justice. & the fight for justice brings me joy.” [Eloquent Rage 2018]
She is an inspired individual. For broad popular engagement we need practical processes for going to scale.
Fortunately, Ghanaian civil society has well-developed & diverse structures at all scales.
Family life is robust & extended, maintaining connections between generations & between cities & villages. No more vigorous source of joy & purpose can be imagined.
Traditional community structures remain strong in Ghana. While not always progressive, they retain authority. Their cooperation was essential at Independence & will be again, for engaging Ghanaians, particularly our young, in purging daily life of petty corruptions, acquiring knowledge & skills, applying themselves with energy & belief to meaningful work so that… Ghana Can Be Better.
Most Ghanaians are members of congregations, whether Christian or Muslim. Like families, these are sites of moral instruction, emotional & practical engagement in community life.
Our schools, technical & academic institutions already exist to convey knowledge & inspire purpose. They have access to the entire population for those important years of their lives when hope & belief in our future is formed… or lost.
Our media, in its familiar forms — newspapers, radio & television — & now on apps in everyone’s pocket, similarly reach the entire population through one or more of these channels, whether at first hand or by information sharing.
Each of these structures will be engaged by Oman Ghana Baako.
To achieve this, we are preparing materials;
- on how to recognise corruption & respond to it;
- resources on which Ghana’s wealth depends & how they can be best deployed for maximum common benefit;
- basic entitlements necessary to assure Ghanaians, again particularly our young, that their futures are secure & promising, at home;
- inspiring projects that will prepare Ghana for the high population, high technology future that is coming, whether we wish it or not.
Oman Ghana Baako, in cooperation with government at national, regional & local levels, will train & deploy young people to disseminate these messages of hope, of positive change, social transformation, justice & joy, through our family, community, religious, educational & media structures.
That is how we go to scale.
Expectations have changed since Independence.
Choices available to young people, & to all of us, can be limited by poverty, of course, & by law, tradition, family & friends.
Conversely, choices can also be expanded & enabled as poverty is reduced — it is markedly reducing; our middle class is growing rapidly — & by crafting supportive law, incorporating tradition, & engaging those close to us.
Young people are aware of this & express it most clearly:
Yassmin Abdel-Magied wrote that “For anything to change we should all be a part of dismantling the structural inequality that exists, which we can do by recognising its existence & becoming effective allies to those with lesser privilege than ourselves.”
Change is, of course, inevitable. It’s happening right now, faster than ever & accelerating by the day. It cannot be stopped. It would be reactionary & futile to wish it.
We believe that change can & will be positive.
In China & India, many new enterprises, both commercial & social, are being seeded by diasporans who return with ideas, knowledge, experience, goodwill & wealth. This is already happening in Ghana too, to a surprising & pleasing degree. Many of these entrepreneurs are young & enthusiastic.
Not surprisingly, Ghana’s government encourages this. So should we all.
Knowledge & work will power the growth & transformation necessary for a better future.
That summarises Oman Ghana Baako’s mission: Growing Ghana Together.