I accepted the kind invitation of the Norwegian-African Business Association to deliver this keynote address for two main reasons: First, as you know, it has been the norm at such forum to listen to political leaders, international technocrats, business executives and the odd academics. These experts bring their own perspectives which invariably shape the thinking of the world community on the challenges facing Africa. Missing at every forum however is the voice of the true Africa, the voice of Rural Africa, where, ironically, the poorest survive on the richest resources of the land.
You will be aware that the bulk of the continent’s population is in Rural Africa. For this teeming population, as for many more in urban Africa, there is an unbroken link with their heritage symbolized by their traditional rulers. These constitute the primary pillars of governance in much of the continent. Contrary to what some may have you believe, our kings and chiefs are no relics of a bygone era. They remain not just the custodians of our tradition and culture, but the very embodiment of the hopes and aspirations of our rural people. Chieftaincy in my country and in many African countries is one of the major components in the architecture of good governance, and the stability which we enjoy in Ghana today is owed greatly to our success in integrating our traditional governance into the new democratic structure.
Apart from our role as the custodians of the land, we are the primary arbiters in the resolution of conflict on a daily basis, helping to maintain peace and order at all levels. Presidents and governments look to us for advice and counsel from the perspective of non-partisanship, in the pursuit of their constitutional mandate. Our traditional system of arbitration is now a source of considerable study among international legal authorities. And it is becoming clear that much of the conflicts in Africa arise in areas and under conditions of the breakdown of traditional authority.
Inevitably therefore, our traditional rulers have to be key players in the development agenda of the continent. That is why it is impossible to contemplate the realistic wholesome development of Africa without listening to the voice that brings to the forum the true aspirations and hopes of rural Africa.
I have to thank NABA for the opportunity to bring this voice to this summit and to express the hope that no longer shall the voice of rural Africa be silenced in the never-ending dialogue about the path to the development of the continent…
My second reason for accepting your invitation is my recognition, in spite of the great climatic diversity between our two regions, Norway and its Nordic neighbours, present critical lessons in the management of your natural resources, which no African country can ignore if the continent is to avert climatic and environmental catastrophe. One of the greatest dangers facing our continent is the creeping desertification and rapid deforestation of the land. In my country alone, close to 70% of the country’s forest reserves had suffered one form of degradation or another from only three short decades of the exploitation of forest resources. Contrast this with Norway. You have been felling and exporting timber since the 1600s – yes, for five hundred years, and additionally you have exploited your forest resource for energy, for construction and to feed your massive paper and pulp industries, and yet your forest cover has actually increased. Indeed, in the last hundred years, despite intensive exploitation of your forest resources, the standing volume of forest in Norway has more than doubled. I am sure you have not had to resort to rocket science to achieve this. The sound, sustainable management practices that have allowed you to continue to reap the benefit from your forest resources without losing its cover completely and leaving the land in a degraded state is possible to replicate in Africa.
In accepting to come to this summit, I hope we can highlight the challenges in the management of Africa’s resources and, together, explore the potential for collaboration in tackling those challenges for the sustainable development of the continent.
This summit is inviting all of us to play a part in Africa’s new growth story. In other words, we are invited to be partners in an exciting adventure to promote the growth of Africa and to secure her place at the very heart of the world economy.
It is a welcome departure from the erstwhile portrayal of the continent as an irredeemable basket case, condemned to endure harrowing famine and the horrors of civil wars, endemic corruption and bad governance. This portrayal of Africa as a burden to be placated with charity may still persist in some media but it is heartening to see that institutions like yours, and the World Bank, have come to bear the counter message that Africa is not a burden to mankind, only a challenge to our creativity and enterprise.
Distinguished guests, I will like to share some thoughts with my fellow Africans about Africa’s development. Fortunately we have seen lately the emergence of a new consensus, with the establishment of the African Union (AU) and the commitment of our political leaders to a New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD). The birth of the African Union and NEPAD had given fresh hope to the people of Africa that at long last our dreams for development may be on the horizon. While this new hope may have been well-founded, I think many in Africa may already be worrying about the slow pace of progress and the dangers that our African Union may not yet suffer the fate of the O.A.U. For I come to you from a perspective that we may be failing to provide adequately for all the building blocks needed for Africa’s development.
No one disputes that 54 disparate states, the majority of them desperately poor, but resourceful, can never muster the voice to be taken seriously in the affairs of the world.
The marginalization of Africa is a painful reality and whether we like it or not, it will continue until our continent is able to unite and speak with one voice. Equally the economic case has been well made. A United Africa, providing a market of over 800 million people, is the spur needed for development and growth. So what is holding back our progress? I want to suggest that there is a cultural dimension that is acting as a psychological block on African development. I believe that at the root of the African condition today is the lack of confidence in ourselves. We have separated ourselves from the initial thrust of inspiration by which our forefathers sought to instil in us the spirit of self-belief in ourselves and in our capacity to achieve the best for our continent. This lack of confidence springs from the fact that we have allowed ourselves to be persuaded that there is nothing useful in our past in our culture and tradition and way of life that is worth preserving and building upon. We have acted almost in the belief that there is nothing in our genes and we are simply fated to failure. As a consequence, we have almost jettisoned our culture and traditions and surrendered to everything foreign. We have got ourselves trapped in a near-Orwellian enclave in which everything African is bad and everything foreign is good.
Excellencies, I am the occupant of a sacred stool that embodies the heritage of a great and proud people. The history of the Golden Stool and the Asante Kingdom spans over four centuries over which a system of governance evolved that stood the test of time in peace as in battle. We had a developed administrative, legislative and judicial systems on which our kingdom was run before our encounter with the west. Nobody can suggest to me that there was nothing of value in our system and in our values. There are traditional Kingdoms in other parts of Africa with a history and civilization going back to antiquity. Is Africa not a cradle of world civilization? So how come we have suddenly lost confidence in ourselves and abandoned our heritage?
To understand how crucial this is, I will respectively ask that we address our minds to the contrasting example of the people of Asia. The Great Economic Miracles of the past century have not been in Europe or America. The miracle has been in Asia and particularly South East Asia. The miracle of post-war Japan has been followed by the miracle of the Asian Tiger Economies. Now China stands on the verge of becoming the worlds Economic Super power.
Neither Japan or China nor any of the so-called Asian Tigers has achieved its status by abandoning its heritage. Yes the free market has been the driving force but I will draw your attention to the undenying, even if less publicized fact that underpinning the phenomenon is the absolute self-confidence of the people, derived from their culture, history and way of life. The Culture and way of life has been the foundation upon which their work ethic and creative energy has been developed. This is what has sustained their self-confidence that whatever anyone has done, they can also do, and probably better.
I suggest to you therefore understanding our past and our culture, which identifies us as people is important for our self-confidence and that self-confidence is an indispensable pre-requisite for our survival in the challenging new area.
I do not imply that we need a complete return to our past. That will be rejecting the very valid case for democracy and the right of the people to choose their leaders and governments. But I strongly suggest that in this pursuit we should not be seen to throw that baby with the bathwater. For there are institutional structures developed over centuries that can be fused into the news democratic structures to make them more meaningful to the people.
My country, Ghana, was conceived in the proposition that the African has the capacity and the resources to be a full member of the global economic community. We have gone through periods of trial and tribulations, but through it all, we have emerged stronger, fitter and better able to pursue our goals. That is not just the story of Ghana. In a nutshell, it is the new African story.
Trials and tribulations there have been, and there will be. But the right lessons have been learnt and Africa is moving forward, if not at the speed of Usain Bolt, at least with the persistence and perseverance of Mo Fawler.
Today, the world is suffering one of the worst economic crises in the history. The United States is still struggling and few economists will dare predict when and how it will emerge from its economic downturn. Even fewer still will dare predict how Europe emerges from the intense Eurozone crisis. The economic tigers of Asia are no longer immune from the global financial shocks and now even the economy of China, expected to drive the world out of recession, is slowing. Amidst all the gloom, it is comforting to note that Africa is more than holding its own.
Three years ago, Ghana recorded the fastest rate of growth in the world, albeit on the back of its newfound oil. But even before oil came on-stream, our rate of growth had remained remarkably impressive. Again, in the face of all the external financial shocks, the economy continues to show great resilience, recording a growth rate well above its peers despite a massive 20% drop in foreign remittance and a further sharp drop in foreign directs investment. The strong performance of our two key commodities of gold and cocoa were important but no less important must be the improvement in the fiscal and monetary policy environment.
What lies behind this relatively satisfying picture? It is the combination of the quiet emergence of a remarkable consensus within the country’s political establishment and civil society alike over the general shape and direction of the economy as well as the continuous improvement in the process of policymaking. The years of sharp ideological cleavages, which created uncertainties about fundamental policy directions appears to be dead and buried. You may be aware that Ghana is only a few weeks away from a Presidential and general elections on December 7 and political campaigning is as intense as you will find in any democratic country. Yet the degree of consensus on the fundamentals of the economy shows no sign of breaking down. The risks resulting from uncertainties about sharp policy changes is reduced considerably and the international community, and prospective investors can therefore look forward with confidence that whoever wins the next elections, the country’s economy will be guided along the right path and they can continue to do business in Ghana.
I suggest to you that this is not the story of Ghana alone. Most African countries are set on the same path of sound economic policy-making and management. The demons of the past may not be killed completely but they are being gradually exorcised, opening the way for the vast opportunities in the continent to be fully explored for development.
It is time to ask that the African poor may not be looked upon as the burden of humanity but as the missing consumers from the global market place. Yes, Africa is sitting on more than half a billion consumers who are missing from the market place because of poverty and illiteracy. As we give them the tools of education, we will soon have the components of another engine capable of driving the world economy forward.
Remember, only a few decades ago, China was seen as some economic wilderness. Today it is the engine that is driving the world economy as Europe and America grapple with recession. Africa, I suggest, is the last wilderness, waiting to be explored. Maybe we have dwelt for too long on poverty alleviation and now need the courage to reach out for wealth creation, to effectively harnessing our resources for economic growth and development.
Norway may be small in size but you are as big as any in ambition and inventiveness, as your scientific and technological advancement clearly testifies. In oil and gas, renewable energy and telecommunications you have the profile to share in Africa’s growth story. I hope this summit produces some concrete measures for all to share in a glorious adventure to place Africa at the heart of the world economy where it deserves to be. Thank you and let me wish you Gods blessings and a successful summit.