Sunday, April 19, 2015

The “Fama Nyame” Fetish and the Dearth of Strategic Thinking: A Pyrrhic Drought in Ghana’s Democracy.

In the aftermath of the defeat of the Romans in battle at the beginning of the Roman ascendency on the Italian Peninsula, the ancient ruler of Hellenistic Kingdom of Epirus, King Pyrrhus is recorded by the Roman writer Plutarch to have exclaimed, “If we win another such battle against the Romans, we will be completely lost.” This candid admission by King Pyrrhus after witnessing the shattering carnage that ensued from the battle has ever since become a key staple of strategic management over the years. For those in need of biblical evidence, Luke 14: 28–32 encapsulates the need for strategic thinking in the broadest sense.

However, unlike King Pyrrhus, who probably never had the benefit of hindsight, there is no excuse whatsoever for a national leader today to pursue national policies without a well-mapped out strategy. As it stands right now, The President of Ghana, Mr JD Mahama, is in danger of becoming a contemporary example of Pyrrhus in the Ghanaian context. Even before the end of his current term, it is predictable and probably even obvious that his presidency may end up being described by future historians as a pyrrhic moment in Ghana’s democracy - the kind of democratic dispensation where the cost of efforts employed overly outweighed the benefits accrued.

Let’s be frank, Ghana is a mess; and has been for a long time. The matriarch elephant in the room is, firstly, the ignorance of strategic management at all levels in our society. I have often wondered why a culture imbibed with the treatise of the proverbial strategist, Kweku Ananse, is so prone to haphazard decision making and catastrophic short-sightedness. Strategic thinking is partly cultural and partly a learned behaviour. In Ghana, there appears to be a huge distance between the strategic sensibilities that lie within our culture-speak and the actual day-to-day practices and behaviour. The former is strategy rich, the latter less so.  I suspect that the reason could be primarily an absence of literacy in strategic management. Strategic management is barely taught in our institutions of higher learning.

We can safely assume that for a country like Ghana, bedeviled with minimal formal practice of strategy in our day-to-day activities, the incorporation of even a little dose of strategic planning will go a long way towards economic success and hopefully a culture of strategic thinking. The reality is that an overwhelming number of the work being done by the government is barely driven by a coherent economic strategy. Often, the goal is purely political. For example, constructing an impressive interchange in one place or an international airport or a new bridge in another may send a politically conspicuous signal to voters that something is being done; however, most of these ‘political’ projects make little economic sense, are devoid of any synergies whatsoever and are strategically hollow.

To reap a higher economic dividend, we need to engage the development of our country on a much more systematic and strategic traction. At its core, the debate about economic motivations and sensibilities versus politics considerations and exigencies is not a benign academic debate far removed from the realities of third world economics. Invariably, strategic nations put the economic horse ahead of the political cart and never the other way round.

Today, the pursuit of economic development by nations great and small is an incredibly refined version of the art of war espoused by Sun Tzu, the Chinese General and strategist; and only those with formidable strategic formulations have a chance of success.

Secondly, the Ghanaian mindset of “Fama Nyame” (i.e. the ubiquitous, naïve conflict-avoidance ‘kumbaya’ nonchalance) has dented our collective ability to critically analyse national issues and rendered us impotent in the face of diverse threats and opportunities upon which our very existence as a nation depends. As a nation we have given up on all manners of robust intellectual justification and cognitive persuasions in favour of trivialities and ‘midgety’ pseudo-spiritual alternatives that render neither physiological sustenance nor assuasive moral fulfillment.

As the current administration continues to defend the indefensible in the face of widespread nation-wreaking corruption, pathetic incompetence and gigantic mismanagement, while shamelessly resorting to emotional blackmail to create false impressions of wrongdoing in the minds of law-abiding Ghanaians who crave a hopeful alternative to the wanton economic and social carnage being unleashed mercilessly upon Ghana, I have often wondered why the tipping point hypothesis does not seem to hold in Ghana. Then, boom… an epiphany. It became clear to me that the perfectly elastic tolerance exhibited by Ghanaians is a function of our Fama Nyame culture. As a people, we have psychologically programmed ourselves to avoid dealing with problematic issues by passing them unto God. We do not do confrontation, instead we dish it all upon God to do the 'dirty work,' hence Fama Nyame.

In any case, Fama Nyame is not really about a belief in divine justice; rather, it is an attempt to rid oneself from our responsibilities by making God the scapegoat. This form of ‘bouc émissaire’ is not only the highest form of irresponsibility, it is totally ungodly but also morally, economically and politically detrimental. It justifies our reasons to do nothing because somehow God will do it; thus we keep on kicking the can down the road until it snowballs into a crisis, then we pass the buck. It explains why we are just not getting on with the cloak-and-dagger realities of life. Instead of rousing our battle instincts, Fama Nyame serves an override switch that keeps Ghanaians in a perpetual state of disengagement from dealing with our realities. As the stronghold of our internalised impotence, it has resulted in a psychological capitulation from doing whatever it takes to fix our problems. In a recent article, my friend and Man of God, Pastor Sunday Adelaja, addressed a similar issue titled “Only God can help Nigeria – What a myth” (Read his paradigm shifting article here). The deadpan small-mindedness, cowardice, slothfulness, irresponsibility, mediocrity, corruption, docility and ‘grit-less’ness so prevalent in Ghana are mere symptoms of a much bigger problem, Fama Nyame. In short, Fama Nyame has deadened Ghana.

And so I imagine that in the long run, an analysis of the cost of the strategic illiteracy at the highest echelons of political governance to the economic fortunes of Ghana will tell a sad story of how our own collective Fama Nyame fetish is the other side of the same coin of strategic-less existence, and how these have significantly perpetuated our proximity to poverty.

Alas, the pyrrhic decisions of our national leaders, coupled with the apparent national tolerance for mismanagement and corruption not only portray the incredible depth of ambivalence among many Ghanaians who do not regard corruption as a serious crime that warrant one to protest against but also how pathologically inured we are, and will continue to be for years, to woefully bad leadership.

To decisively tackle Ghana’s severely weakened economy, there is the urgent need to implement several structural reforms, the success of which will depend on how we successfully confront the twin evils discussed earlier. Firstly, economic policies should be based on sound and implementable strategies. That is the rational and logical pillar of any policy making paradigm. The second pillar should be deliberately motivational and premised on a behavioural imperative - zero tolerance of Fama Nyame in our political and economic posture. Ghana needs a merit-based system which rewards responsibility, competence, grit and performance, and punishes corruption, fraud, incompetence and the passing the buck in all it forms and shape. 

Ultimately, this will require the emergence of a concerted, strategic and paradigm-shifting leadership in our beloved land. As the lesson of King Pyrrhus shows, strategy and empowered mindsets are what it takes to avoid pyrrhic outcomes. Again as the examples of Singapore and other successful emerging countries suggest, incredible progress can be achieved through bold, concerted, strategic leadership. Ghanaians must therefore decisively do away with the nonstrategic mindsets and traditions that hold us back and with Christ's grace "mount up with wings as eagles" run unwearied and walk confidently towards our blessed lot (Isaiah 40:31). Only what is considered globally to be the best should be acceptable to Ghanaians. If Singapore and others could do it, so can we. 

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Could Behavioural Economics Help Ghana Overcome Its FTT?

Ghana's political governance has never been the most sophisticated in the world. Granted. That said, a few years ago, the country was considered one of Africa's most promising, fertile entrepreneurial fields. That was, until its nascent oil industry became a showstopper. Rampant suboptimal decision-making, caused by behavioural and judgement biases,  lies at the root of Ghana's economic mismanagement and underperformance. To understand current economic problems, looking back to the 1960s and 1970s for lessons on Ghana's Failure To Thrive (FTT) syndrome is instructive. 

Then, Ghana was newly minted as the first independent country on the continent and a vanguard of the anti-colonial struggle across Africa. Kwame Nkrumah's triumphalism atop the explosive mix of nationalistic optimism and the euphoria of independence morphed into a fetish cult of personality and hero worshiping. Ultimately, this paved the way for dictatorship, unquestioned wasteful expenditure, corruption, and... finally, when government expenditure could no longer be covered by government revenue, a catastrophic fiscal disequilibrium brought the party to an abrupt end.   

According to Vito Tanzi (1982), the causes of disequilibrium are classifiable into five categories: export boom; price-inelastic tax system; public enterprise performance; increased expenditure produced by political exigencies or administrative weaknesses; and worsening terms of trade. In Ghana's case, one of the most serious problems encountered by Nkrumah government was rising government expenditure caused by inadequate control mechanisms and certainly Nkrumah's hubris that he could create heaven right here in Ghana within a generations. 

And now? 
Ghana is newly minted as an oil producer and the same cancerous atmosphere of leadership hubris, euphoria and unquestioned optimism of the masses (herd mentality) has resurfaced. In the current dispensation, the twin evil of ethnocentric political exigencies and severe administrative incompetence has skewed political governance along a path of least resistance toward a catastrophic feeding frenzy. The ongoing wasteful expenditure, wanton patronage and spiteful corruption, to an absolute certainty, have led to a very severe fiscal disequilibrium. Thus, instead of a strategic and judicious management of the temporary windfalls to establish a foundation for a long-term economic prosperity for the country, the inordinate serial blunders by the corrupt ruling class have squandered a unique opportunity for an economic quantum leap. Ghana, essentially, is once again a heavily indebted poor country (HIPC). By most conservative analyses of the current economic and political landscape, Ghana is bound for a very austere IMF-prescribed path of economic reforms. 

Because of fiscal indiscipline across the board, the hand of the prodigal government has been forced to turn to the IMF for help to deal with the debilitating self-inflicted wounds. As the denouement of Mahamanomics plays out, Ghanaians would have to buckle up for what is set to be a very difficult economic environment up to 2017, at the earliest.  Given that IMF assistance is conditional on the government of Ghana meeting a range of economic management and performance targets, Ghanaians will have to condition themselves to bear the indignities of the IMF's undesirable pressures. The truth of the matter is that in the next few years, Ghana will be leashed and led along a path of austerity to an unfamiliar territory of extreme frugality. For a nation that has just barely tasted oil wealth, the prescribed medicine would be particularly bitter. 

The behavioural economics lessons at stake here border on causal ambiguity among Ghanaians in general. And that is: what a little bit of economic discipline on the part of the government could have accomplished with much less pain for everybody, will now be imposed on Ghanaians with amplified pain by a bunch of youthful number crunchers at the IMF; all because when it mattered the most our leaders made reckless decisions with our money. The sad truth is that while our sovereignty is tossed over to the IMF, the architects of the mess will have the time of their lives, counting their looted stash. Shame.  

What Ghanaians hope for, and expect, is for the pathological binge borrowing under the current administration to be brought under some form of rational sanctity and control, and that the disparate, and often conflicting, policies currently in vogue will be given some strategic alignment to propel the economy forward. It is my cherished hope that the state will emerge out of the current crisis with a more streamlined and disciplined governance framework, including a much stronger checks-and balances element, and that the IMF will resist all forms of political pressures arising from the 2016 general elections to deviate from the much needed reforms.  Is that too much to ask?

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Ghana in 2015: An Outlook

To an absolute certainty, 2015 will have huge implications for Ghana's political, economic and social developments for many years to come.

One scenario stands out as the most probable: A severe economic downturn.

By the middle of the year, the accretion of the systematically irrational decision making at the highest echelons of political governance over the last couple of years is expected to reach a crescendo. The worsening fiscal disequilibrium, severe balance of payment deficit, shrinking foreign reserves, huge debt repayment requirements and a depressive business environment will lead to an oppressive economic downturn.

To a large extent, the tragedy of Ghana's failure to thrive at this crucial hour of Africa's rising only illuminates the magnitude of the cripplingly bad decision  making at the centre of our political governance. As our reputation as a viable frontier economy takes a beating, foreign direct investment (FDI) is expected to dwindle significantly, wreaking havoc on our economy with severe repercussions on the already weakened cedi.

With he advent of another IMF-prescribed economic recovery programme, troubling echoes of our recent past will come knocking, tearing down further our collective pride as a nation. All in all, the cedi is expected to bleed again and inflationary pressures are likely to be on the ascendancy in 2015, weakening the hands of our national leaders in any negotiations with IMF.

Contrary to familiar presidential pronouncements, problems with electricity supply will not get better in 2015. In fact, “dumsor” will get worse, dragging down economic and social welfare across the country. Thus in 2015, Ghanaians will increasingly feel the heavy weight of the state’s administrative incompetence.

Because our political decision makers manifestly lack the kind of discipline necessary to sort out the problems they have effortlessly created, Ghanaians should expect an environment of economic haziness and a clumsy misery of confusion throughout 2015.

Alas, investors, business people and Ghanaians in general would need to temper their expectations; for Ghana will fare rather poorly in 2015.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

I am Back!

Its been a long while. Almost 2 years.
I moved away from this wall on 14 January 2011 to pursue an academic goal.
After the holidays I will be submitting the final dissertation.
After that I hope to tap into the accrued angst to share a few thoughts.
Until my next post welcome to these shores again.
Wishing you all a Blessed and Merry Christmas.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Moving On

Decked in their finest robes

From within my boundless sanctuary

The chequered currency of glory

Footsteps of the purple twilight
Whirlwind of contentment
The summon of courage

Close at hand
The time
To move on
To press on

Blessed are those
Led by the guiding whispers of accompanying audience
Trust fate in the embracing arms of hope
Carried on wings of favour
To the womb of resurrection

Friday, November 12, 2010

Quote Of The Day

I share my life with six honest and selfless companions.
They help me in all I do. Their names are:
Where and
....................................................Adapted from Rudyard Kipling

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Shredder In My Mind

Your mawkish choice to make your heart a museum
Of our past encounters is the least of my bothers
I will however not fail to let you know
That I have already shredded that past from my mind