Ghana’s Developmental Challenges: Perspective on the Roles of Competence, Loyalty and Sycophancy
Written by Yaw Osafo Maafo Tuesday, 11 August 2009 17:27
Above all, the political somersaults of many people both young and old after military coups and at change of governments since independence make this topic relevant to our times.
Ghana in retrospect – the hope of our founders:
Mr. Chairman, in March 1957 as Ghana the then Gold Coast and once Britain’s model colony (Austin, 1964) attained independence (the first Black African Country South of the Sahara to do so) there was the general mood that an irreversible process of socio economic and political development was about to be unfolded.
The country was placed at a privileged position among the countries of the developing world (Szereszewsk: 1966, p56). As a new nation, it did possess abundant material and human resources for a better and hopeful future. In the 1950’s Ghana was the world’s leading exporter of cocoa which accounted for 50% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and provided much of the national wealth.
According to Dan-Bright Dzorgbo in “Ghana In Search for Development”, p.2: “Indeed the cocoa economy mainly a peasant agriculture brought improvement in the living standards to the extent that before World War II Ghanaian farmers in the cocoa growing areas were judged to be better-off monetarily and also “immensely better-off” in welfare than the majority of peasants in South Eastern Europe (Rimmer, 1992)”.
Mr. Chairman, using the per capita income criteria, Ghana was indeed a Middle Income Country, judged to be the richest or one of the richest countries in Sub-Saharan Africa (Killick, 1978:4-8; Ahene 1992:43; Bequele 1985). In the 1960’s, Ghana’s per capita income of $490 was approximately the same as that of Mexico, South Korea and Malaysia (Herbst, 1993:17, Shaw, 1993:62). The per capita income of Cote D’Ivoire, a neighbouring country, with comparable natural resources, climate, and physical environment including social structure during the same period was only $283.
Again Ghana also did inherit about £200 million as foreign reserves mainly from previous cocoa exports. There were other enviable assets. Ghana was reputed to have had more stock of educated and skilled manpower than any other country in Sub-Saharan Africa. Indeed, according to Kirk Greene (1986:30) “Ghana had more schools and health services per capita and better road system than any other British territory in Africa”.
Hill (1963, 1970) noted that Ghana boasted of a prosperous emerging middle
class and rural capitalists. The country produced 10% of the World’s gold
and some amounts of diamond, bauxite and manganese as well as tropical
timber. This is in addition to an abundant supply of arable and fertile land and
relatively favourable climate for agricultural development.
Given these material and human resource advantages, all shared the view that Ghana was going to develop into a coherent national unit and a successful modern economy to serve as a model for other African countries (Austin, 1964).
Mr. Chairman, the hope was short-lived. By 1982, at our silver jubilee, twenty five (25) years after independence, the most promising economy in Sub-Saharan Africa had descended into a state of atrophy with all the fundamental socio-economic and political indicators of well-being pointing downwards.
Ghana’s economy had between the mid 1970’s and mid 1980’s experienced what had been described as an extraordinary and self reinforcing economic decline, characterized by negative growth, hyperinflation, acute food shortages, massive unemployment, etc. What was worse, Ghana’s enviable modernity features i.e. transport and communication networks, the education and health systems attained in the first decade after independence deteriorated and finally collapsed disastrously (The Paradox of Ghana’s Post Colonial Development – D.B. Dzorbo).
Observers of the Ghanaian scene noted that Ghana had ‘squandered’ its assets. Ghanaians, especially intellectuals, sought economic refuge abroad in our neighbouring countries such as Nigeria and Cote D’Ivoire.
The irony of Ghana, the once economic haven of the sub-region, was ‘exporting’ economic migrants as there was no place for them in their own country.
According to Frimpong Ansah (1991:3) “Ghana’s economic crises seemed to have no parallel in Africa”. Ghana may be one to have led the way for African Independence, but as Frimpong Ansah put it, “Ghana was also the first to have suffered a classic case of economic stagnation and decline in modern Africa. It is said that only the decline of Argentina in Latin America can equal the Ghanaian experience.
Mr. Chairman, in the World Development Report of 1997 Ghana’s Per Capita Income of $390 was just half of neighbouring Cote D’Ivoire (i.e. $800) while South Korea had $9,700. As mentioned earlier, in the 1960’s while Ghana had a per capita income of $490, Cote D’Ivoire had only $283.
The economic decline was such that Ghana had been written off by some analysts as a hopeless case. Indeed in one World Bank assessment, the average Ghanaian was poorer in the 1980’s than at the time of independence (World Bank, 1989a.1).
Within the background of the paradox of the country’s post colonial development, she has to begin afresh to create the conditions that will ensure socio economic development and improvement in the welfare of its people (Ninsin 1989:1).
The State of Our Development:
Mr. Chairman, according to the Human Development Index (HDI) compiled by the UNDP which measures development beyond the mathematics of gross domestic product (GDP) growth rate but rather uses well-being captured in long living and healthy life (access to quality health), education (literacy and enrolment rates) and decent standard of living (signifying our purchasing power and incomes power), as at 2008 the HDI of Ghana was 0.533. This made Ghana ranked 142 out of 179 countries. This index translates that life expectancy at birth was 59.4 years, literacy rate for 15 years and above was 64.2% and enrolment ratio, 52.9%.
The same report indicated that 28% of our population are well below the poverty line, as much as 23.8% of us are not likely to live beyond 40 years, 30% of our people are without access to improved water while 18% of our children below age 5 are underweight (malnourished).
It is interesting to take a snapshot of our economic performance since the ushering in the Fourth Republic in 1993. According to data from CEPA reports, the annual budgets between 1993 and 2000, the December year-on-year, inflation begun with 27.7% and ended with 40.5% with a peak of 70.8% in 1995 and recorded its lowest rate of 13.8% in 1999. There was thus such a big range of 57.0% between the minimum and maximum figures indicating that the period was characterized by a lot of instability and uncertainty which made planning difficult. By contrast, in the period 2001 to 2008, inflation begun with 21.3% ending with 18.1%. The year-on-year inflation reached its peak in 2003 with a rate of 23.6% while the lowest rate of 10.9% was recorded in 2006. The range of 12.7% was much smaller and thus ensured certainty and made planning easier whiles the lower rates also meant lesser cost.
In 2000, the budget deficit was 9.8% of GDP, but this deteriorated to 14.5% of GDP in 2008, a clear sign of over expenditure over the last two years. It is relevant to note that the examination of 7 key economic indicators namely:
1. Total Budget Deficit % of GDP
2. Inflation (December year-on-year)
3. Nominal Exchange Rate (end-period, GH¢)
4. Gross International Reserves(in months of imports)
5. Real GDP Growth
6. Domestic Revenue(GH¢ million)
7. Nominal GDP (GH¢ million),
the only economic indicator in the range of 7 that deteriorated over the last eight years was the budget deficit as a percentage of GDP.
Real GDP growth produced contrasting results for the two periods. For the first eight years (1993-2000) the highest GDP of 5.0% was recorded at the beginning in 1993 with the lowest of 3.7% recorded at the end of the period in 2000. In contrast for the next eight years (2001-2008), the period recorded the lowest real GDP growth of 4.2% at the beginning whiles the highest growth rate of 7.3% was recorded at the end of the period in 2008.
For the first time in the history of this country, growth consistently improved annually for eight continuous years.
Nominal GDP increased yearly from GH¢387.3 million in 1993 to GH¢2,715.2 million in 2000 whiles in the second period of 8 years it moved from GH¢3,807.1 million to GH¢17,212.9 million in 2008. Domestic Revenue as a percentage of GDP hovered between 14.9% in 1993 and 19.8% in 2000 with the highest rate of 20.2% being recorded in 1995. Between 2001 and 2008, Domestic Revenue as a percentage of GDP, was 19.9% in the beginning year and 27.9% at the end of the period which was also the highest recorded figure for the period. (A detailed table is attached).
It is important to note that on 11th May, 2004 the US Government announced that eight (8) countries in Africa including Ghana had qualified to benefit from the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) out of 62 countries in the developing world which were pre-qualified.
The country’s selection for the MCA was based on a strict and transparent process which employed multiple economic and social indicators. The three broad policy indicator categories include Ruling Justly, Investing in People and Establishing Economic Freedom in the milieu of Good Governance.
The Development Focus:
Mr. Chairman, many people including myself believe that Ghana is an incredible place of abundant future and hope. But we need to create better avenues and conditions for the realisation of such promising future, and to do that, it is important to stress that our individual and collective energies and resources should be channeled to achieving accelerated development:
Ghana’s Development Challenge should be to promote broad-based development within a stable and peaceful environment with the ultimate aim of increasing the standard of living of its citizens. We are not there yet because of these problems. As my topic suggests, I will discuss the issue from the angle of the Roles of Competence, Loyalty and Sycophancy in our development efforts.
Definitions of Competence, Loyalty and Sycophancy:
According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, competence is the combination of qualification, attitude, and behaviour, which enables an individual to consistently carry out tasks to a designated standard that demonstrates knowledge, experience, intelligence and skills. The need for us to emphasize competence in our decisions and actions towards our development is fundamental and paramount. The most important resource we have in the country is human resource. Ghana should not be denied the services of its competent human resources.
Competence is needed in every area of human endeavour be it at the national, corporate, or individual levels to ensure excellence for development. This is because whatever competence is brought to bear in a country’s daily political, economic, and social life, productivity would be maximized and bring about increased national development.
The country demands competent leadership that galvanizes human and material resources of the country for development. There is the need for competent leadership that will create consensus in the development agenda.
Loyalty signifies a person’s devotion or sentiment of attachment to a particular object, which may be another person, or group of persons, an ideal, a duty, or a cause. Politically, loyalty is a devotion to, and identification with, a political cause or a political community, its institution, basic laws, major political ideals, and general policy objectives. Every country counts on the loyalty of its citizens to develop politically, economically and socially.
A true loyal citizen of a country is no doubt a patriotic one. In every country where the majority of citizens exhibit a high sense of patriotism or loyalty, it would mean that they would be faithful, law-abiding, disciplined, and committed to every national cause. Once the citizens apply these qualities in their daily national lives, there would be accountability, hard work, increased productivity, less bribery and corruption, and as a result, the development of the country politically, economically, and socially would be enhanced.
The German Experience:
In certain countries such as Germany, no German national wants to cheat fatherland. It is considered very bad to cheat government in productivity, taxes etc. On the other hand, in Ghana people will cut corners to cheat the country or government first. The output of people when they are working for government is about 50% of the same people in the private sector.
If loyalty is geared towards a person, group of persons, political parties, or particular government in power, then it must be consistent and in tune with societal norms and expectations so as to promote the national interest.
In the Bible, (Matthew 6:2 4 NIV) Jesus defines loyalty in a very simple way: “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon”.
One would agree with Karl Menninger’s definition of loyalty which will serve as a relevant advice to our political parties. It goes thus “Loyalty does not mean that I agree with everything you say, or that I believe you are always right, or that I follow your will in blind obedience. Loyalty means that we share the same values and principles, and when minor differences arise, we work together, shoulder to shoulder, confident in each other’s good faith, trust, constancy, and affection. Then together, we go forward secure in the knowledge that few day-to-day matters are hills worth dying on”.
This brings to mind American President Harry Truman’s advice to all his staff and aides that “I want people around me who will tell me the truth, who will tell me the truth as they see it”. Ghana has suffered a lot of economic set backs because some of the people, who surround leadership at all levels tell them what they want to hear.
Harry Truman continues “You cannot operate and manage effectively if you have people around you who put you on a pedestal and tell you everything you do is right because that in practice can’t be possible.”
Sycophancy is any attempt to please someone in authority in order to gain personal advantage. A sycophant is therefore a servile person who, acting in his or her own self-interest, attempts to win favour by flattering one or more influential persons, with an undertone that these actions are executed at the cost of his or her own personal pride.
The culture of sycophancy is becoming a growing phenomenon in Ghana today. This is partly due to our politics of winner takes all. This is especially very noticeable among holders of political or public offices. Some of our public officers behave as if their lives depend entirely on the authority that appointed them. In order therefore to please the appointing authority, most of them engage in untoward acts. They do not just bootlick and kowtow before their superior officers, but they flatter them in words and deeds with a view to gaining the favour of the superiors of the public offices. In Ghana sycophants start by running down their colleagues before starting their enterprise.
Sycophantic behaviour begins early in the educational system. Criticism is usually unwanted by institutions. The perks, benefits and privileges of power are too important to tolerate criticism, especially anything that diminishes power. People who criticize are often vilified, for they are labeled complainers or whiners.
The question is: Can Ghana overcome sycophancy in her political and developmental challenges? Yes, it can be overcome only when we stand firmly against the causes, perpetrators, effects or dangers of it, and be ready to acknowledge it as a social canker that needs to be eradicated objectively and with a common purpose by all.
The Relationship that Exists Among Competence, Loyalty and Sycophancy:
Loyalty, competence, and sycophancy can be said to be related in view of the fact that they complement each other or undermine each other depending on the combination.
Of the three: competency, loyalty, and sycophancy, only sycophancy has a negative connotation; the first two are positive unless one misuses them. Sycophancy has the more serious implication for governance and development whether at the institutional, corporate or national level.
Loyalty and sycophancy – (Feature Article of Monday 6, July, 2009, by Seth Nketiah, Lecturer, Regent University College on the Ghanaweb) “The loyalty we are experiencing in our political circus in particular is however turning into something evil which, if not checked, has the potential to derail us from the democratic track we are in moving Ghana forward. And for me this evil is more dangerous to our democracy than the coup makers”.
Mr. Nketia continues, “Today there exists a thin line between loyalty and sycophancy to such an extent that the two seem to be synonymous with each other. People no longer mean what they say, and say what they don’t mean. This is our 21st century enemy to our democracy! Today in our political development, people say and act just to get the attention of the powers that be for their own personal gains. In fact, our politics is sadly infected with quintessential professionals who have the habit of singing hosannas when they really mean crucify him”. In Nigeria it is such big business that it is described as the Fifth Estate of the Realm, thus the Executive, Legislature, Judiciary, Media and now Sycophancy. (The first four are detailed in our constitution with defined roles and powers).
Any competent individual who holds any office (be it political or not) one way or the other possesses the required experience, knowledge, intelligence and skill, which are key attributes of competency to carry out or perform his or her duties in office with distinction and which earns him or her progression to the top on merit. However, it is not uncommon to find incompetent people appointed to hold especially political positions in Ghana all in the name of loyalty. This has persisted in all governments since independence.
Therefore, in order for such people to perpetuate their incompetence and continue to remain in office, they have no option than to always dance to the tunes of their appointing authorities thereby making them sycophants. Also, it is not out of the ordinary to find competent individuals who are sycophants as a result of being blinded by unquestioned loyalty.
This is especially so because loyalty turns into fanaticism when it is not tempered with reason and logic. At that point, such professed loyalists always turn a blind eye to the truth and objectivity hence, sycophancy.
We should acknowledge that we are all different according to our abilities and capacities so it is important that in addressing issues of national interest the best and competent persons available are engaged irrespective of the socio-economic and political opinions. Of course loyalty is important in deciding who should be engaged but we must be able to identify real loyalty from that of loyalty through sycophancy and praise singing.
Mr. Chairman, it is time we placed emphasis on competence and the best available human capacity, skills and experience to facilitate the building of stronger institutions needed to move this country forward.
Mr. Chairman, competence is key to our development and all people in authority should bear that in mind. How come that after a heavy downpour, our City, Accra, is seriously flooded and a number of people die from the floods. Millions of assets of individuals, parastatals and government get destroyed. The main cause of this unfortunate incident is that many unauthorized structures and unauthorized buildings have been put in water ways for some unexplained reasons. Our City Mayor must receive the necessary political backing to remove the authorized and unauthorized structures which are in waterways. The leadership of all political parties, particularly the ruling government, should support the new City Mayor to remove all the structures standing in the waterways to minimise deaths and property lost after heavy rains. We should find the necessary money to do the work. We should also find out those who gave building permits for houses and other structures, to be constructed in waterways and punish such professionals.
Lessons to learn:
Mr. Chairman, the success of America and other countries in creating huge opportunities for their people can be explained by the strength of institutions that have been built around competence and state loyalty and not loyalty to personalities in authority.
The level of trust that leadership in such countries have in the competence of some public officers irrespective of their political lineage has also played a remarkable role in making such countries what they are.
Mr. Chairman, Alan Greenspan served as Chairman of the US Federal Reserve Board (i.e. the US Central Bank) under three successive governments – Republicans and Democrats. Nobody can say that Alan Greenspan has no political affiliation but the US governments looked beyond political loyalty and inclinations and trusted Greenspan’s competence and capability for the work of the US economic management.
The two most high profile ministers in the United States are the Minister of Foreign Affairs referred to in the U.S. as the Secretary of State and the Minister of Defense referred to as the Secretary of Defense.
President Obama has also retained Robert Gates, Secretary of Defense under ex-President George W. Bush in his Cabinet. Gates may be loyal to Bush as a person but what is important is his loyalty to the United States as a country. He was loyal to the flag and his competence to work for the collective national interest and to help President Obama carry out his agenda for change surpasses every other interest hence his retention in the Obama Administration.
In the UK the former Cabinet Secretary, Lord Buttler even though had different opinions from that of the then Prime Minister Tony Blair on many policies and issues including the war on Iraq, he was kept in his position on the basis of his competence and loyalty to the interest of the British people and not in the person of the Prime Minister. It is important to note that he was the Cabinet Secretary to Margaret Thatcher and John Mayor before Tony Blair. Can we also begin to allow people who have what it takes to develop Ghana to work even when we do not seem to share the same political opinion?
Mr. Chairman, these are some of the vital ingredients missing in our national politics: respecting others political opinions and allowing competence to flourish.
Many of our best human resources are left unutilized because such people are perceived to have different opinions from those in authority when in practice that may not be the case.
Ghana’s problem of sycophantic loyalty:
Mr. Chairman, many of us here today will agree with me that some of the problems we face today are as a result of incompetence, mediocrity, favouritism, tribalism and nepotism all in the name of loyalty to leadership process, power and authority. So is it strange that our institutions are not delivering as expected and that people on whose shoulders the destinies of millions of people are placed end up shattering hopes and aspirations? Even within the same political organisation competence is sacrificed for perceived loyalty as a result of sycophancy. Only God knows how many million more dreams will be shattered by such acts.
Our sense of loyalty as citizens should be to Mother Ghana not to persons in positions of power and authority as indicated in the 1992 Constitution.
Hence, it is our responsibility to fight any tendencies of crooked and malleable system of interaction that will nurture sycophants who only create very juicy messages that leadership wants to hear and not what will support them to govern.
Mr. Chairman, Ghana is the only nation for all Ghanaians. Sycophancy is unacceptable not only because it undermines meritocratic advancement and destroy development process but also because its close cousins – backstabbing, character assassination and worst of all, pure corruption are usually lurking right around which will retard our development agenda.
Both Ex-President J.A. Kufuor and Ex-President J.J. Rawlings know how on some occasions sycophants led them to make wrong decisions.
I believe all our previous leaders would have experienced this phenomenon. Some of the sycophants summersault to the new government as soon as the handing over ceremony is complete or even as soon as election results are announced, pretending to be more loyal than the long toiling genuine party members and sympathizers whose support and activities brought victory to the winning party.
I believe that many sycophants are gradually warming themselves to President John Evans Attah-Mills. I understand some are already there. Indeed, some may use tribal politics which they wrongly interpret to be loyalty. Sycophants thus play the card of loyalty with some using tribal connections, creating a false impression to the leadership at all levels that you can best be served by people from your tribe, area and sometimes family or friends. This falsehood breeds tribalism and nepotism in our politics based on false loyalty. All the oaths in our constitution require office holders to be loyal to Ghana, our motherland, and not to individuals.
As we celebrate the life of a man who underlined competence and loyalty to Ghana as the best way to move a nation forward and always stood against sycophancy and mediocrity, we should continue to live his dream by fighting out sycophants in our national development agenda. However, small their actions are, their negative impact can mortgage generations after generations and when that happens we will only be best at building a nation that cannot realize its full potential.
I hope the best legacy we can give to Freddy is to set up a “NO TO SYCOPHANCY” Campaign to help immortalize his fight against this social canker. In all this, let us always bear in mind that competence and loyalty must be guided by integrity.
Thank you very much and May the Almighty God help us all to say no to sycophantic loyalty.