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What a mess! That sounds like 2022 for many people. Chaos has been king. Hell may have even been closer with Lord Rahl himself calling Ghana home. We have been so close to hardship that no national cathedral could atone. Ghana, land of freedom, Ha! Before I colour this piece with some dark realism, before I sound like a white crayon on a white sheet, let me say, this article is about HOPE!
In 2020, Dr. Mark Carney, the rockstar banker and former Central Bank Governor for both Canada and United Kingdom in his seminal Reith Lectures took an interesting journey to the height of Scottish Enlightenment in the 18th Century where he questioned Adams Smith’s most interesting idea of the “invisible hand” and market sentiments. He questioned the idea as the most important ideology that has shaped everything in modern economics. Well, today, in this article, I ponder on how that invisible hand is relevant, to why water which is essentially life is almost free but diamond (except for its perceived beauty with limited use) is as expensive. I ask, where is the invisible hand in this equation in Ghana?
I pursue the question of value and hope to pass on some values from 2022. I was inspired to write this article when I met a lawyer friend in court recently. He is the friend who opened the door to the media for me. He gave me my first airtime to share insights I valued when the banking sector crisis happened; he was the angel when I had published my first book. He is a friend I value and so his indication that I had been too quiet considering all the economic drama and chaos, as he considered such conversations my strength, made me ponder 2022 carefully. I share the thoughts I have found valuable in all this chaos. I have however tried not to sound like a broken record, overbearing or redundant.
In many parts, I reckon many have been said. When I wrote this article https://www.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/features/Is-Ghana-s-borrowings-and-debt-stock-sustainable-1096936 in October 2020, I traced Ghana’s economic history and the worrying trend of our economics and yet my conclusion was sure: “Finally, there is no doubt about our developmental needs and infrastructural gaps that need financing, but we must seek and hopefully find the pathway to sustainable debt accumulation and increasing economic growth.”
In this article therefore, I pursue how we may escape this debt trap and become a wealthy nation by building the values that may engender sustainable financing. I suggest that the solution lies in aligning our values and recalibrating our valuation system. Value is an illusive concept based on time, context and narratives, but we know it relates to usefulness and importance which is why values are deemed as long-proven principles we may consider worthy of holding on to irrespective of the time or context.
We know Adams Smith for the “Wealth of Nations” which gave us the invisible hands, but we often forget his foundational thesis of “The Theory of Moral Sentiments” which may be summarised as: “The way humans relate socially is a better guide than reason to understanding how morals develop”. In simpler terms, how we live socially, our culture, determines values which then governs allocation of resources from which any market may be built or valued.
The more important point to get out of the way therefore is, Adams Smith could not have understood how we relate socially as Ghanaians or Africans. Adam Smith’s economics can therefore not understand what values define us and hinge our market valuations. Before my central arguments, I suggest that the wholesale swallowing of modern economics may be flawed in appreciating our current context. I argue that as a people from Nima or Chokor or Duayaw Nkwanta, the plenty economic rhetoric serves us very little unless one understands our social interrelations.
The all-important point therefore is, we must learn to free ourselves from working with models that have proven unfit for our context. We by all means must learn from the best, but we must have prudence to adapt it to our sociocultural context otherwise we will create such a hallowing mess, as several aristocracies have created in history.
Let me now suggest a view to recalibrating the current valuation system, pointing out that before the commodification of diamond in Ghana, diamond was used to play “oware”, the traditional game on the floor while we worshipped the water bodies as sacred objects worthy of protection at all cost. The real question therefore is, how has our society changed so dramatically that a people who protected water as deities risk importing drinking water by 2030 due to the pursuit of the market value for gold? I question how our society has changed in some two hundred and thirty years since Adams Smith lived. I invite readers to re-examine these changes in the light of models we have completely put faith in and by thus completely blinded ourselves of good policy judgement.
It is no longer news to shout the mess Ghana is in. Ghana has officially announced a pre-emptive breach of its debt contracts, seeking to renegotiate same. Of course, the reasons of frustration by COVID-19 and Russian-Ukrainian war have been over flogged by our policy makers. Today is however not the day for that analysis or indulging what weight these external events may have contributed to our internal crisis. The conclusion remains that we are in a mess. Whatever you find as a reason for this mess, it may come down to lacking the forte to hold on: Resilience.
How fortuitous that the word “value” originated from the Latin “valere” which means to be strong. The mess is therefore only because we are not strong enough! Strength therefore is what should be our goal, to build a strong society, a strong market, a strong people, a people of unyielding spirit and never defeated, always forging ahead, evolving even stronger. We must find strength to build wealth, and this article may be helpful: http://ex8.ad9.mywebsitetransfer.com/knowing-wealth-metis-son/.
I am however not unaware that the notion of strength usually invokes the machoistic imagery, bodily firmness or sometimes even brute force. As important as that imagery may be, I wish for you to imagine strength as the strings of a guitar or a grand piano; the harder it is pressed and stretched, the more it produces a melody. Strength therefore is not some firmness of mind which is unyielding necessarily, but the beauty of our harmony to inspire purpose and calm even in difficult times.
Since Nehemiah and his Sanballat and Tobiah friends are in vogue, let us turn to them for insights on strength. I find Nehemiah 4: 14 instructive:
“After I looked things over, I stood up and said to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people, “Don’t be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your families, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes.”
There is no doubt that Nehemiah was a strong man for whom his nation saw great rebuilding, but who was he? Nehemiah lived in the mid-5th century BC. He was a returnee, an immigrant who was the cup bearer for the Persian King Artaxerxes I. He apparently served as governor of the small district of Judea for 12 years, during which he undertook various moral and economic reforms before returning to Persia. Yes, he led in building the wall but what is more important about him was his institutionalisation of extensive moral and economic reform amongst the Israelites. He set the base for rebuilding because he recalibrated the culture of the people. Let us now re-examine Nehemiah 4:14 again as we appreciate Nehemiah as a man who was pursuing value through shifting societal values:
- After I looked things over. I miss the preacher in me! That is a word right there. A culture that thoroughly looks things over. Diligence, thoughtful examination, analysis! This is the man who upon returning surveyed the extent of the brokenness. He analysed and then strategized! Sometimes, just sometimes, I truly wonder if the leaders of this land ever bother to look things over: To understand! A culture that primes obedience and embraces the status quo without questioning is a problem for this goal for strength. Freedom and independence matter! They matter because in the fierce debates, we can pursue the idea of meritocracy, i.e. the best ideas should win but all ideas must be thoroughly weighed and thoroughly examined. We have become a people of party colours when these current political constructs are just about thirty years. We must all embrace the culture of looking things over and remaining independent-minded enough to overcome our own bias, preferring what is beneficial not because it was said by our person.
- I stood. How often we sit for fear. In 2023, we must all embrace courage; courage not to despise our own insights after carefully looking them over. I know many people have chosen silence and sitting as prudence, not to put themselves in the crosshairs of anyone’s ulterior motive. Many are tired and are drained by the mess and only prefer silence in order to maintain their sanity. This has been me for about three months now, until my friend reminded me, like Nehemiah to the Israelites. So I pass the message on and say to you, “do not be afraid, remember the Lord who is awesome.” The call to stand is so you may inspire others to keep believing; to keep working. The call is that together let us each build the broken wall in front of us. I therefore urge you in 2023 to rise and inspire, live your best possible life, do not give up, keep evolving to your best possible self. Stand and be counted!
- Remember the Lord. If all of this pursuit does not reconcile in an all-intelligent God who has created us and entrusted us with earth so we could tilt and tend it to produce fruits and to create beauty while loving one another, then, all of this might actually be meaningless. People hoard and do not engage in creating a much better earth because we have forgotten the Lord. We have forgotten it is about loving one another. We have forgotten it is not about religion and quoting scriptures but pursuing a social reform, creating a system that makes things better for everyone. Everything was made by men for the purposes of making living on earth worth it, so remember the Lord and do not let another man define you by the poverty he forces on you or by his standard of measurement without looking it over. Let not another man with a mandate to seek his own well-being define your existence. Remember the Lord for your own assignment and mandate and create a much better world. Remembering the Lord empowers us to have agency, for it is only the slave who waits for another man to save him. Remember the Lord and do not forget you are His ambassador on earth.
- Fight for your families. I say this particularly to young people. Fight for your future! We must seek a nation that works because we have an interest. We must all be invested in rolling back this mess and building stronger communities and nations because of our families. The disfunction and inefficiencies must give way for resilience and sustainability because we have an interest.
Now about the state of the economy and our debt, in answering my friend Selorm directly, looking things over suggest that about 33% of Ghana’s domestic debt is held by commercial banks, 25% is held by firms and institutions, 9% is held by Bank of Ghana and another 9% held by foreign investors which brings the total debt percentage to about 76%. If we focus on restructuring the debt held by this almost 80% then the problem may have been solved largely. There may absolutely be no need to add individuals and pension funds; focusing on building consensus with these institutions that are assumed to have perpetual succession must be priority one. Insurance Companies are suggested to have less than 1% holding but touching that may have significant impact on the industry, pensions funds hold about 6% so let us focus on finding a restructuring model that allows for these institutions that hold about 80% of government debt excluding Insurance and Pensions. Whatever model we find that works for these institutions must not rob the market of liquidity. We should use this opportunity to create an effective longer term bond market with multiple exits that can be traded. And yes, the government must pursue values that engender trust, values of efficiencies and understanding! I have often argued that the whole state architecture perhaps does not need more than 20 well-oiled efficient and competent ministries, so now is the time to pursue such efficiencies as a foundational cultural reform.
In conclusion, let us all seek to be reformers. Let us aspire to contribute to the cultural reform of our values while we seek to be like my friend, Selorm Adonoo, who inspired this article. Let us become men and women of value nudging others to their best selves without necessarily being driven by a “market price”; true value is usually priceless. Let us remember the market is a tool, an instrument created by human beings to offer price to anything we collectively find useful. Let us therefore focus on providing useful things to society.
Let us re-examine our narratives for usefulness and adjust our values for resilience, solidarity, connectivity, sustainability and efficiency. Let us endeavour to build a high integrity and a trusting society. Let us remember the invisible hand has no wisdom to adjust for what is right and fair and so policy makers must look things over in search of practical wisdom. We must carefully engineer our policies to respond to speculation, arbitrage and allocation of capital. We are on an edge of commodification of social designs and equating value to market price but this, my friends, is the danger we must become aware of and solve.
For the last two weeks, I have lost almost 200 points on my chess scoreboard. It is as though I have forgotten how to play this game I love. Nothing I play seems to work, and I lose against almost any average player. I guess I have not been good enough, not strong enough! My task into this new year is in many senses like my country Ghana – to find our rhythm as we are hard pressed and to fight our way back up, but we must first question our game style and learn new strategies. To anybody who has lost anything this year, I say let the pain of the suck tender us towards learning to be strong as we find our way back.
My name is Yaw Sompa and I wish you a happy new year. I pray for you prudence’s values that guarantee value. Above all things I wish for you strength and resilience. UHURU!