The need for the economic transformation of Ghana has become more urgent than ever. This was the principal message that emerged from a two-day brainstorming conference organized by the African Center for Economic Transformation (ACET) and Ghana’s National Development Planning Commission (NDPC): the Ghana Transformation Forum.
Addressing a gathering of over 100 national and international thought-leaders, economic planners, and government and business leaders at the La Palm hotel in Accra, the chairman of the NDPC, Dr. Kwesi Botchwey said: “The transformation agenda is at the very heart of our strategy for the future. We have all been committed to it but no one has put in the hallmarks on it as has happened at this forum. This allows us to synthesize crucial economic issues that need transforming and go into action. We will do what we say we will do. It is most inspiring.”
Opening the conference, Dr. K.Y. Amoako, president of ACET, recollected that during a forum held last May at Senchi to address Ghana’s most pressing problems, he made two overarching points: one was that Ghana had an exceptional history, valuable resources, and proven successes on which to chart a new path forward; and the second was that economic transformation should be that path forward.
“Since Senchi,” Dr. Amoako continued, “the government has devised, for the first time, a national transformation agenda. We’ve had long-term development plans and economic action plans before, but never within the framework of economic transformation.”
He added: “Our goal is to build a coalition for transformation involving all key segments of society, and to agree on some immediate actions towards Ghana’s development objectives.”
Dr. Botchwey said Ghana’s newly minted Agenda for Transformation would provide a long-term development framework and prevent the cycle of crisis the country continues to experience. “We have a series of short-term crises because we have failed to plan for the long-term.”
NDPC and ACET identified six vital topics to be discussed during the forum and ACET commissioned studies in each of these areas to form a basis of discussion. These topics are: energy, export promotion, labor-intensive light manufacturing, local content, skills development, and tourism.
Amoako told the audience that in producing these studies, “we brought in outside researchers and experts to work with us—from the private sector, from government, and from other think tanks. It wasn’t just ACET and the NDPC. It was a full participatory process.” For economic transformation to take place, he argued, it required the commitment of all citizens so that it becomes “an unstoppable movement.”
To add perspective to the discussions, ACET and NDPC invited leaders from four African countries—Ethiopia, Mauritius, Kenya, and Rwanda—to share their experiences on their own transformation journeys.
One of the most riveting speakers was UNIDO Goodwill Ambassador Ms. Helen Hai, CEO of the Made in Africa Initiative. Ms. Hai recounted the extraordinary story of how she led the establishment of the Huajian shoe factory in Ethiopia, which began exporting to the United States in just three months and employed more than 3,000 Ethiopians after two years of operation.
She argued that the conditions were ripe for Africa to become a global manufacturing base in the near future. But for that to happen, she said, Africa’s leadership had to live the transformation message and seize the initiative. “I did not choose Ethiopia,” she explained, “Ethiopia chose me.”
Mr. Getachew Adem, Deputy Commissioner of the National Planning Commission of Ethiopia, outlined how his landlocked country had registered double-digit economic growth figures over the past decade, while Dr. Julius Muia, Executive Secretary of the National Economic and Social Council of Kenya, described how enormous infrastructure investments in his country were transforming the economy and improving lives.
Dr. Ramesh Durbarry, Professor in Tourism and Deputy Director, Academic and Partnerships, at the Amity Institute of Higher Education in Mauritius, recounted how his island nation has achieved great success in promoting sugar, tourism, real estate, export-processing zones for textiles, and offshore financial intermediation through a flexible, pragmatic approach.
Dr. Uzziel Ndagijimana, Minister of State in the Ministry of Finance of Rwanda, described perhaps the greatest transformative story in recent times, how the Central African country, virtually destroyed after the 1994 genocide, has now become one of the continent’s shining economic stars.
Wrapping up the forum, Amoako quoted journalist Thomas Freidman, who has warned: “Countries that do not plan for the future tend not to do well there.”
ACET announced that it would hold the first Africa Transformation Conference in Kigali, Rwanda, in September.