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Economic Emancipation: Ghana, Africa, the World

This story first appeared in Z Magazine in Jan 2008:

Debt “forgiveness” and the financial assault on Third World countries

January 2008 By Chris Benjamin

In April of this year many Western news junkies were shocked to learn that the southern African nation of Zambia had been ordered by a British High Court judge to pay between $10 and $20 million to a “vulture fund,” a company that gets fat off the corpses of Third World debt. In this case, Zambia had been in the final stages of buying out a 28-year-old, $42 million debt to Romania for $3 million. British Virgin Islands-based Donegal International (partly owned by U.S.-based Debt Advisory International) swooped in at just the right moment when the process was stalled, bought up the debt for less than $4 million, sued Zambia for the full value of the debt, and made a fortune at the expense of Zambian nurses, teachers, and medicine for more than 100,000 people.

A few of the many news stories about this ruling tacked on a small but crucial piece of information explaining how Zambia acquired this large chunk of debt to begin with. In 1979 Romania lent Zambia this money for a single purpose, to buy Romanian tractors. For almost three decades, Zambia has struggled to pay interest and principle on a sweetheart deal for Romanian tractor manufacturers.

Vulture funds are the latest and most blatantly cruel tactic in an ongoing financial assault on Third World countries. Debt forgiveness, inspired in part by the worldwide campaign of Christians and rock stars, is designed to free Third World countries from heavy debt burdens, their crushing cycle of interest repayment and economic dependency. In an email interview, John Perkins, author of Confessions of an Economic Hit Man and The Secret History of the American Empire, called debt forgiveness a “ploy [that] almost always means the debtor country has to privatize and sell off many of its most important economic sectors to the corporatocracy and also accept unfair trade practices under the guise of ‘free trade.'”

Perkins speaks from personal experience. He worked as an economic “hit man” through the 1970s at Chas T. Main, a large U.S. engineering consultant, but also, more clandestinely for the U.S. government. He describes his role as being to “convince Third World countries to accept enormous loans for infrastructure development—loans that were much larger than needed”—for example, expensive dams and electric generating plants when a series of small, local dams transferring power directly to the nearby community would be cheaper and more effective.

Perkins writes, “A condition of such loans is that engineering and construction companies from [the United States] must build all these projects. In essence, most of the money never leaves the United States; it is simply transferred from banking offices in Washington to engineering offices in New York, Houston, or San Francisco.” The U.S. may be the lead nation in this game, but the concept of tied aid and loans is also common among most Western European donors.

Perkins points out that even though the money flows in a circular motion back to the source country, the recipient nation that receives a shiny new dam or highway is required to repay, usually with interest. In many cases, people like Perkins (before he quit the racket in 1980) convince developing nations to take such large loans that they cannot possibly afford to repay them. Instead they are forced to pay by means such as surrendering control of United Nations votes, allowing the installation of military bases, or seceding access to natural and human-made resources, until they can repay, which is usually never.

Tied aid and conditional loans are two of many tools wealthy nations use to maintain their own wealth in the guise of generosity. “[Economic hit men] funnel money from the World Bank and other foreign ‘aid’ organizations into the coffers of huge corporations and the pockets of a few wealthy families who control the planet’s natural resources,” Perkins writes on his website.

These efforts have borne giant fruit to the tune of $2.5 trillion in Third World debt and an accompanying annual servicing cost of $375 billion, “more than all Third World spending on health and education, and twenty times what developing countries receive annually in foreign aid.”

The Case Of Ghana

While the continued financial exploitation of Africans may surprise some Westerners, at least when it takes extreme forms like vulture funds, a quick scan of African media gives a sense of same old, same old when it comes to the treatment received from wealthier nations.

Among the many African nations under the thumbs of Western aid donors is Ghana, a West African English-speaking nation of 22 million people. In recent years, Ghana’s economy has undergone considerable improvement, reducing inflation from 33 percent in 2001 to just over 10 percent last year, all while maintaining impressive growth in real GDP, which has been steady and positive for four years running and is currently over 6 percent.

Part of this numerical success, which has drastically reduced extreme poverty but not circulated gains equitably among cities and countryside, rich and poor, or northern and southern Ghana, has been the result of Ghana’s designation as a highly indebted poor country (HIPC). This designation, however, comes at a considerable cost.

Ghana has to this point agreed to play the game and to meet the World Bank’s demand for macroeconomic stability and improve its numbers. It has been rewarded not only with HIPC status and debt relief, but has also received the largest chunk of aid given under the United States’ Millennium Challenge Account, set up to reward poor countries that make political and economic reforms favorable to the U.S.

The result, according to NYU Economics Professor Bill Easterly, as quoted in the Ghana independent daily newspaper, the Statesman, is that “Ghana has little input in how its donor partners mould their economic policies.”

One set of economic policies, opening its markets to international competition, was initially forced on Ghana when its economy was struggling with more than 50 percent inflation and interest rates. Since this liberalization, there has been an ongoing struggle against foreign imports like rice, especially the American rice that dominates Ghanaian advertising space and is perceived, like many foreign goods, as superior to the local brands.

In February the General Agricultural Worker’s Union reiterated a previous call on the government of Ghana to immediately “check the influx of cheap imported rice that has undermined the local rice industry,” citing a 600 percent increase in the consumption of foreign rice in a country with about 3 million farmers dedicated to the crop locally. The union blamed this change on trade policies that favor foreign farmers over local ones, and was asking for a slight increase on custom duties for imported rice. Rex Ayiku, a regional chairperson for the union, stated that Ghana’s “strategy of pursuing food self-security has been undermined” in favor of foreign-based multinational food companies benefiting from Western subsidies.

Ghana’s current rice crisis is one example of how food dependency is created hand-in-hand with financial dependency by wealthy nations. In his brief but powerful 1988 publication Food Aid, A Trojan Horse? the Ghanaian crop scientist and academic Akrofi Dzietror exposed a decades-old strategy used by numerous successive U.S. administrations to increase America’s share of the world food market using food aid to create food dependency in Third World nations.

Dzietror traced the use of food aid by the U.S. government for its own benefit to WWII, when it provided food to Europe in exchange for cash and gold at a time of massive food shortages, while farmers were too busy fighting to produce anything edible. In the case of his own nation, Dzietror writes that, “During the early years of our independence we concentrated on industrial development to the neglect of our agriculture. During those years a good number of our advisors were either American or American- sponsored.”

This use of highly-placed advisors bending the ears of African leaders has been common since African independence, as Lucy Ash of the BBC has observed. She recently reported that, “Ever since General de Gaulle oversaw the decolonization process, France has regarded its former African colonies as its backyard. It kept troops in Francophone Africa and a close eye on the natural resources within its former colonies. It has also sent hundreds of ‘technical advisors’ to work inside African governments.”

But wealthy nations gain control of poor nations using far more insidious methods than outright pressure. In her book How the Other Half Dies: The Real Reasons for World Hunger, Susan George points to the use of local currency funds, whereby food aid is paid for with local currency, U.S. currency, credit, and interest, all under the name of aid, giving foreign governments control over the local currency of Third World countries. At one point in the early 1970s the U.S. controlled more than half of India’s rupees.

Like other forms of aid, recipient see little if any money during the process. A receiving country purchases food directly from large agro-food companies, usually paying for it in U.S. dollars. The donor government then pays the company and treats this amount as a cash loan to the recipient country, to be repaid with interest. If the recipient follows the domestic economic policy prescribed by the donor the debt may be forgiven.

Wealthy countries, and particularly the U.S., have mature domestic food markets and relatively stagnant populations. The only ways in which agro-companies can increase their profits are to increase prices, create hungrier Americans, or create a need where none currently exists. This last tactic involves either an innovative new product or an untapped market, like Africa.

Complementary to that challenge is the fact that storing surplus food is expensive. It is much cheaper to give it away to Africa, if you attach enough strings.

One such string is that the food provided is American. George McGovern wrote succinctly in 1964 that, “The great food markets of the future are the very areas where vast numbers of people are learning through Food-for-Peace to eat American.” Food-for-Peace turned post-WWII Japanese children into milk drinkers and current imports are turning middle-class Ghanaians into hamburger, fries, and pizza lovers, further necessitating the use of imported milk, margarine, cooking oil, and bread, none of which are part of the traditional local diet.

A new market is born and a very profitable one. Dzietror pointed out that in just two years in the late 1950s, “US food aid to 17 overseas markets was $3.1 billion and commercial sales of all US produces were $3.6 billion. Two decades later, US food aid to these same 17 countries was only $756 million and total commercial sales were $43 billion.” McGovern was right, the U.S. managed to turn its aid recipients into paying customers at great profit.

Vice President Hubert Humphrey was also keyed in to the market potential of food aid. “If you are looking for a way to get people to lean on you and to be dependent on you, in terms of their cooperation with you,” he said, “it seems to me that food dependence would be terrific.”

When Ghana can’t afford the luxury imports, wealthy nations are happy to oblige and barter food for gold and copper. “Copper,” Dzietror wrote, is “good for such purposes as construction of power lines, which would improve power generation and transportation, refrigeration, etc., spreading by multiplier effect throughout the food donor’s economy for many years to come.” Meanwhile less than half of Ghana’s population has a power source and the rest suffer frequent brown and blackouts.

“Industrialization creates two dependencies,” according to Dzietror. “Need for money, hardware, raw materials, and food [and] since we do not have enough the West comes in to loan us their money, and more loans to service the earlier loans, and on and on, resulting in a third dependency—debt dependency.” And debt dependency is used to leverage policy dependency.

Policy Dependency

Charles Abugre, a Ghanaian economic policy expert who now works for Christian Aid in the UK, has publicly decried the World Bank for using Ghana’s Poverty Reduction Strategy (PRS) to control the nation’s policy. According to him, the PRS thus “reinforces the old donor-driven system.”

Abugre explains that “through this [PRS] initiative, the IMF and World Bank assume new powers over low-income countries…. These creditor institutions only underwrite a small, almost insignificant, part of the costs of national strategies, yet they have the final say over national strategies.” Using this power, the World Bank is able to control social and political aspects of developing countries from behind closed doors. These policies are then announced by local governments as their own.

“Financing by the IMF and World Bank is contingent upon our government’s compliance,” Abugre said. “No one in Ghana has seen [the Poverty Reduction Strategy Statement] document. Parliament and its Comprehensive Development Framework sub-committees were left off the distribution list.”

This process of outside lending nations dictating policy violates Ghana’s constitution, which calls for government and the people of Ghana to develop their own poverty reduction strategies with no assistance from outside influence. Abugre also claimed that “representatives of civil society—trade unions, NGOs, religious organizations—are often hand-picked” so that they will play along with the rules set out by donor nations.

As a result of this process, the government of Ghana must make concessions to international demands. For example, it was forced to drop tariffs protecting small local businesses and infant Ghanaian industries and to allow cheap rice imports.

Despite its high-level control over economic policy, the World Bank portrays itself as an objective analyst of results, issuing annual report cards on its borrowing countries. “‘A’ students like Ghana,” said Abugre, “are micro-managed, just like ‘C’ students. Ghana might borrow more than a ‘C’ student…a dubious benefit. But, Ghana’s loan instruments are as heavily laden with policy conditions and directives as a poorly performing government.”

The Ties of Forgiveness

Given the track record of the world’s wealthy nations and their international financial institutions of using aid as a tool more for their own development than for that of the Third World, it is not surprising that experts are skeptical of the new tide of debt forgiveness.Like most loans and aid, it always comes with conditions.

In 2004 Ghana became the 26th nation to qualify for debt relief from the World Bank and International Monetary Fund under the Highly Indebted Poor Countries initiative. As a result, Ghana should see a 67 percent reduction in its debt service to the World Bank by 2025, and a 49 percent decrease to the IMF by 2012.

The conditions are in the water. Ghana must move to a full cost recovery model of water delivery, which has resulted in drastic increases in the cost of water for Ghanaians regardless of their income. Ghana’s water costs have also been linked to fluctuations of Ghanaian currency on the international market, which protects international investors, but not local consumers of the most essential means of life.

Still, when scrutinizing the actions of the international donor community in recent years, it is clear that there is a movement afoot to challenge the traditional authority of wealthy nations. In 2003, 28 recipient countries and 48 donors (including both countries and institutions) met in Rome to discuss foreign aid. Participants from both sides of the table recognized a need for a more effective system of distributing development money to countries in need.

The product of the conference was the Rome Declaration on Harmonization, which began with the following statement: “We in the donor community have been concerned with the growing evidence that, over time, the totality and wide variety of donor requirements and processes for preparing, delivering, and monitoring development assistance are generating unproductive transaction costs for, and drawing down the limited capacity of, partner [recipient] countries.” What is not recognized in this document is the use of aid to control policy in recipient countries and benefit donor countries at recipients’ expense.

Two years later, 90 countries and 41 aid organizations met in Paris to further negotiate ways in which recipient countries can improve their transparency and accountability, and donor nations can be more efficient, more abundant, and more reliable providers of aid money. From this meeting the Paris Declaration was released.

The Paris Declaration commits donor nations to align their aid with recipient priorities, as determined by the recipients, and to “respect partner country leadership and help strengthen their capacity to exercise it.” Donor countries also commit to use a recipient nations’ “own institutions and systems, where these provide assurance that aid will be used for agreed purposes.”

This change is a shift to direct budgetary and project aid, i.e., money being entrusted to governments directly, and it is designed to reduce donor control over development and allow poorer countries to solve their own problems using their own strategies. Specifically, the Paris Declaration states as an objective to “halve the proportion of aid flows to government sector not reported on government’s budget(s) (with at least 85 percent reported on budget).”

Further, donor nations have committed to “a single framework of conditions and/or a manageable set of indicators” that all aid, worldwide, should be drawn from. In other words, money coming from Holland to Ghana should follow the same process as money given to Mongolia by the U.S. As stated in the Paris Declaration, “This does not mean that all donors have identical conditions, but that each donor’s conditions should be derived from a common streamlined framework aimed at achieving lasting results.”

Recipient countries in turn committed to use “broad consultative processes” to determine what their development-related strategies should be, and to take steps to improve accountability and transparency, adopting a results-based approach to development with evaluation, monitoring, and diagnostics of projects performed in cooperation with donors. For example, there is a renewed focus on research and statistics tracking mechanisms, and adopting internationally accepted accounting systems.

Ghana is taking these commitments seriously. The National Development Planning Commission of Ghana held a forum in March on District Monitoring and Evaluation Guidelines. High level ministers are attempting to create a culture and knowledge of monitoring in Ghana.

Perhaps most importantly, but not most emphasized, is that donors admit that “untying aid generally increases aid effectiveness by reducing transaction costs for partner countries and improving country ownership and alignment.” And untied aid is considered an indicator of progress, to be measured nationally and monitored internationally. However, the most specific objective listed in this regard is “continued progress over time.”

In general, the Paris Declaration reads like a carefully guided attempt to reconcile two groups of countries that fundamentally mistrust one another. In the end, it puts recipient nations in a position to replicate the systems of highly industrialized countries.

An example of the change in funding philosophy at the country level is found in the document “UNDP Country Program Action Plan, 2006-2010, Government of Ghana and UNDP.” Rather than specify exactly how development dollars (and non-monetary support) should be used, the UNDP (UN Development Program) outlines the areas it is willing to support, all of which are in line with the Millennium Development Goals agreed upon by all nations of the world in 2001.

Chantal Ruel, program officer for UNDP in Ghana, explained to me that UNDP, in accordance with the Paris Declaration, bases its support on Ghana’s Poverty Reduction Strategy. However, as pointed out by Mr. Abugre, this strategy has already been heavily influenced by the World Bank.

The UN deserves some credit for its efforts to address the issue of tied aid, but the practice still continues. In 2006 Ghana received a 45 million euro loan from Holland to expand its water distribution network so that more northern residents will have access to water in their homes. The catch is that 90 percent of this fund will be spent offshore in Holland. Ghana will receive its water pipeline and many northern Ghanaians will benefit from running water in their homes. In exchange, the Holland offices of Biwater, a multinational engineering firm, will take home 40 million euros and Holland will take interest from Ghana for many years to come.

According to Perkins, this deal is “highly unfair,” but Ghana, being a poor nation, actually worked for nearly a decade to find financing for its water expansion plan because with all cards marked in their favor wealthy nations and companies are becoming more selective about which countries they will support financially.

Stephen Lewis, former UN special envoy on AIDS in Africa, argues that the U.S. is one of the worst offenders of giving not only tied aid, but giving aid only to countries that fall in line with its current political agenda. Recently, when USAID pulled funding from family planning organizations that discussed safe abortions, Planned Parenthood Association of Ghana lost half its staff and most of its volunteers. Its ability to help Ghanaians achieve healthy, manageable families and promote safe sex has been drastically reduced. Nations and organizations that fail to fall in line with the U.S. administrations’ political outlook are left to falter.

Now Ghana has a financier for its water expansion. But the price is steep and the water comes at a cost thanks to the IMF’s requirement of water privatization. Whether or not privatized water makes socio-economic sense, Ghana had little choice in the matter.

Southern Solidarity

In the 1980s Professor Dzietror wrote, “When we complain of rural urban exodus and our youth refusing to take to farming, we should realize that it is all planned, and begin looking seriously for appropriate solutions, rather than crawling to the people who created the problem for us.” He recommended the development of diversified pastures instead of grain and other cash mono-crops, saying that this approach is cheaper than industrialized farming and gives control back to Ghanaian farmers. It was a controversial call for economic autonomy ahead of its time.

A quarter-century later, since the Paris Declaration, rich and poor countries have continued butting heads. In mid-March of this year, at a meeting in Germany, EU nations stepped up pressure on African, Caribbean, and Asian nations to open their markets to a competitive international market more quickly, in line with a World Trade Organization deadline. Some African media reported that African nations are unhappy with the degree of economic liberalization being demanded by their former colonizers. The EU responded by threatening to take away export markets from their poorer partners.

After this conference the UK newspaper the Guardian published a letter written by several international aid and fair trade organizations, which said, “The EU proposals include trade liberalization that goes far beyond what is being negotiated at the WTO, and demand commitments in other areas such as investment. Future economic growth of the millions of livelihoods and the environment are at risk. The current proposals will undermine poverty reduction. Yet if poor countries don’t sign they risk losing critical trade preferences.”

The poorer nations of the world are increasingly banding together to create an economic force to be reckoned with, so that they won’t need to worry so much about trade preferences from the West. Last year an Africa-South America Summit was held in Nigeria and Brazil to discuss economic and political ties between two very large continents that collectively control enormous resources, including a good chunk of the world’s oil supply.

Jacob Songsore, professor of Regional Development Planning at the University of Ghana and author of Regional Development in Ghana, The Theory and The Reality, takes heart in Africa’s collaborative efforts. “We cannot be ignored as a continent,” he told me. He feels that the only way for Ghana to break the cycle of economic dependency and free itself from controlling and self-interested donor nations is to develop to the greatest extent possible from within.

According to Songsore, Ghana requires “self-reliance in a global society, recognizing the need for internal production. We have no strong basis for real production except cocoa,” he explained. And cash crops, while good for export farmers in the short-term, ultimately benefit only the countries wealthy enough to consume them because they do not provide means of survival.

“What matters,” he said, “is local consumption of energy, water, etc., and currently we are doing nothing about this. There is a lack of infrastructure.”

He complains that agriculture and industry are both being ignored in Ghana because of its dependency on outside aid that benefits donors first. He takes hope in organizations such as the Economic Organization of West African States (ECOWAS) and the African Union, saying that collectively African nations have enormous bargaining power.

Indeed, there have been pockets of resistance to foreign dominion over the local economy. Charles Abugre advocates for change on the part of international granting lending agencies. “We would like to see the institutions support a process wherein borrowing country governments and citizen’s groups develop a set of macroeconomic policy options,” he has said, “along with the expected impacts of each option.” He gives Kenya as an example of a developing country that made use of extensive participation from citizen’s groups in order to determine recommended actions.

Abugre supports the objectives of the Paris Declaration in calling for a more coordinated donor system whereby recipient countries are treated equitably and without undo external influence. He advises the World Bank to “de-link the debt reduction process from the [poverty reduction strategy paper] process,” and ensure that their influence remains proportionate to the amount of budget they fund.

Perhaps taking his inspiration from these writer-activists, the chairperson of Ghana’s National Development Planning Commission, veteran MP J.H. Mensah, publicly called for the rejection of World Bank policies in lieu of made-in-Ghana solutions in March. “The option of having World Bank officials speaking for Ghana on our development policies and programs by default is, I hope unacceptable to all of us,” he said at a National Dialogue on the Long-Term Development Plan.

He recommended a “comprehensive dialogue with Ghanaian civil society and with our own best scholars in disciplines of national economic development” to develop an alternative development plan. In fact, a team of experts has already been assembled to do just that. MP Mensah was building on the advice of his president, John Kufuor, who in 2005 called for Ghana to take a more active role in its relationship with creditors.

Also inspired to resist in some small way, the former finance minister of Ghana, Yaw Osafa Maafor, once refused the sale of Ghana Commercial Bank to a foreign buyer despite pressure from the World Bank and other multilateral agencies. Instead he sold government shares via the Ghana Stock Exchange in order to maintain local ownership. The Secretary General of the Organization of African Trade Union Unity, Hassan Sunmonu, got into the act in April when he called for unequivocal, unconditional, total debt relief for Africa, and for good measure, the “repatriation of all stolen public funds and cultural artifacts stashed in the vaults of European and American banks and museums.”

And, buoyed by his country’s recent admission into OPEC as one of the largest African oil producers, Jose Eduardo Dos Santos, president of Angola, recently responded to a World Bank report slamming Angolan economics by saying that the World Bank is not responsible for Angolan economic policy. As a continent, Africa has the second richest oil reserves in the world, and accounted for a quarter of new oil and gas discoveries in the past five years. African oil countries are increasingly taking control of the resource, refusing to let Western interests exert their influence and even forcing them to renegotiate long-standing resource extraction contracts.

Enter China

If the trend toward self-sufficiency and cooperation among the world’s poorest countries continues, the days of G8 economic control may be numbered. At the same time, a new, independent force of 1.4 billion centrally controlled capitalists is emerging and China has not been shy in its courtship of Africa. Last November more than 50 African heads of state and ministers assembled in China where they were promised an additional $5 billion in aid money—untied aid money. More than 2,000 deals went down at the meeting.

In Ghana, the Chinese are already leaving their mark. In February the government of Ghana re-announced the 400 Megawatt Bui Dam project in the heart of ecologically sensitive Bui National Park. More than a quarter of the park will be flooded, necessitating the movement of at least a thousand households (some of which were relocated to their current place 50 years ago when Nkrumah’s Akosombo Dam was built). The project had already been rejected by the World Bank and the IMF as too risky and too expensive for the payoff, but China, fresh off its own experiences reaping socio-environmental disasters, apparently has no qualms supporting mega-dams. NGOs across the globe are expressing concerns about China’s tendency to bypass human rights and environmental concerns, with most of the focus going to China’s $1.8 billion support for the 1,250 MW Merowe Dam on the Nile in Sudan, which will displace more than 50,000 people (mostly small farmers), create environmental catastrophe in the area, and put 5,000-year-old cultural artifacts underwater forever.

China’s low interest concession loan is welcome news for a Ghanaian government that failed to manage Ghana’s power crisis, which could cost them parliament and presidency in 2008. The deal’s only obvious catch, besides potential environmental and social catastrophe, is that the labor involved in the project will be largely Chinese (with unsubstantiated rumors abounding that these laborers are actually unpaid Chinese prisoners).

The Western world is not amused with China’s sudden interest in Africa. Only the most naïve or partisan observer would claim that the recent continental tour by the Chinese—during which loans and grants were handed out in countries where government behavior makes apartheid look like the good old days—is purely altruistic. While the UK and World Bank have been particularly vocal in condemning China’s cash toss as more likely to create new dependencies than sustainable development, there may be little if anything they can do about it as long as Africa is willing to take the money.

Africa is willing to do so, it seems, because of the attractiveness of the terms, and the relative lack of obvious conditionality, compared to Western money. According to Africa Report, “At least a third of Eritreans will need food aid in 2007, despite the government’s reluctance to accept Western help. This has less to do with fear of aid-dependency than possible constraints on its use. Eritrea will turn more and more to China for unconditional assistance.”

African nations may also look more and more to foreign investment in order to avoid conditional loans. Yet, in attracting such investments, some African nations have developed their own sets of special conditions making investment easier and more attractive. Foreign investors are given preferential terms while local entrepreneurs and investors can’t get so much as a bank loan.

Meanwhile, those skilled Ghanaians who go abroad to clean toilets are providing far more economic value than all loans, grants, and foreign investment combined, yet they have almost no influence on the nation’s development policies. Collectively, non-resident Ghanaians (NRGs) remit the equivalent of 20 percent of GDP, almost all of which goes to their families. While some of this influx is invested in new business start-ups, the majority is spent on family enrichment, which includes new housing, education for younger siblings, elaborate funeral expenses, and medicines.

Many NRGs, among them Benjamin Afrifa, chairperson of Ghana’s National Patriotic Party’s U.S. branch, are calling for greater channeling of these funds for development initiatives. Afrifa explained to me that such funds could be targeted to specific projects of infrastructure, healthcare, and education to reduce dependency on foreign aid. This source of funding, if spurred by international bond issues (which have brought billions of dollars in revenue to countries like India and Israel), could far exceed international aid’s contribution to development without any foreign influence on domestic policy.

Ghana, which was the second state to gain independence in sub-Saharan Africa, has always had ambitions of being a beacon of hope to the continent, going back to its first President, independence hero Kwame Nkrumah, who died in exile after Ghana’s first coup. This year Ghana celebrated its 50th Independence Day on March 6 with the theme “Championing African Excellence.” John Perkins advises Ghana to be just such an example, to raise awareness about the danger of being manipulated by donor nations, and the importance of true economic independence.

“Make yourselves heard around the world,” Perkins says. “Join together with other West African and African countries. Speak out in loud voices. Learn from organizations like Rainforest Action Network and the NAACP that protests, marches, and demonstrations do work…. One of the most important things is to speak out, to make people around our planet aware, to raise consciousness. This is a time for courage and action.”

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