The Heritage Foundation was on the road in Africa last month with a message of economic freedom. The final stop was Ghana, whose capital is Accra. Ghana is the second most populous country in West Africa, after Nigeria, and has a population of nearly 25 million.
Famed for its production of cocoa beans as well as gold, oil, bauxite, and other commodities, Ghana is also the home of infamous “slave castles,” located in an area called Cape Coast about 80 miles west of Accra. Two of these “castles,” in particular, stand out—one built in the 15th century by the Portuguese and the other, much larger one that was constructed later by the British.
These seaside fortresses were heavily defended, complete with large and hideous dungeons through whose grim portals (“Doors of No Return”) millions of shackled Africans were loaded onto the ships of European slave traders in the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries. If they survived the gruesome “Middle Passage” across the Atlantic, they were sold into slavery in the New World.
Those castles are now museums, providing a sobering witness to visiting tourists about slavery’s brutal origins.
Thankfully, that barbaric chapter of world history has long since closed, but billions of people around the world—including millions in Ghana—are shackled by systems of bad economic and political governance that offer too few opportunities to them to make better lives for themselves and their children.
Today, Ghanaians want economic freedom. That is why Heritage partnered with one of Africa’s leading classical liberal think tanks, the Accra-based Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA Ghana), to present the 2016 Index of Economic Freedom at an event attended by leading figures from the government, diplomatic corps, media, opposition political parties, and the academy.
With relatively sound institutional and legal frameworks, Ghana has made significant progress in poverty reduction despite slowing economic expansion. But, as the index reports, maintaining momentum for reform will be critical to securing improvements in the entrepreneurial framework and achieving more broad-based economic development.
Poor management of public finance, resulting in mounting deficits and growing public debt, has contributed to current economic troubles. The index concludes that measures are needed to cut government spending, reduce the bloated bureaucracy, and restore the soundness of fiscal policy.
One of Ghana’s biggest and most chronic problems, as noted by the CIA Factbook, is “the lack of consistent electricity.” Too many Ghanaians, especially in the country’s interior, lack any access to power at all. Heavily indebted and facing the fallout from low commodity prices, the government has sought assistance from the International Monetary Fund.
The country is preparing to hold a general election on Dec. 7 to elect a president and members of Parliament. Under Ghana’s constitutional “winner-take-all” system, the party that wins that election will literally “take over” all posts in the government at all levels. Many top positions have been seen as lucrative by politicians; stories abound of corruption as ministers grow rich in office. Lesser officials are also reputedly on the take.
IEA Ghana’s report on the “winner-take-all” system concludes it fuels cronyism and is undermining Ghana’s development, and calls for it to be overhauled.
Several of the questioners at the IEA Ghana/Heritage event made reference to the fact that 60 years ago when Ghana obtained its independence from Great Britain, the country had a higher per capita income than South Korea. Today, the income disparities are striking, and South Korea’s economic freedom score is much higher than Ghana’s. Why, they asked. That would be a good question for the next Ghanaian government to answer.