In Ghana, even a senior official can't make ends meet. Despite six years of Western-backed economic reforms, only a few Ghanaians have clearly benefited. Others whose living standards have fallen are becoming disillusioned.
When Joe Mensah graduated from law school in 1972, it was reasonable to expect that by now he'd own a car, a house, and a few of the modern gadgets taken for granted in most Western homes. In 1976, with economic conditions in Ghana, Africa's first independent nation, still bearable, Mr. Mensah (not his real name) did in fact buy a car. But that was his first - and last - major purchase.Skip to next paragraph
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During the succeeding seven years, a combination of failed domestic policies, deteriorating commodity prices, drought, and the forced repatriation of 1 million Ghanaian migrant workers from Nigeria contributed to a 30 percent fall in food production; a 50 percent drop in export earnings; and inflation registering at 123 percent. Mensah, despite being a senior civil servant, had no choice but to sell his car to feed his family of four.
In 1983, the military government of Flt. Lt. Jerry Rawlings turned to the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank for help. Since then, the bank and IMF have invested more than $2 billion in one of the most vigorously pursued and widely acclaimed structural adjustment programs on the continent, restoring an average growth in GDP of more than 5 percent over the last four years. (Similar programs, without huge foreign inputs, have fared less well in other African nations.)
In nominal terms, over the same period, Mensah's salary has doubled to 14,000 cedis (about $50) per month. Yet this, plus the 10,000 cedis per month which his wife earns as a teacher, does not even cover the family's $100-per-month food bill. He can't afford a house and has shelved the idea of owning a car again.
``At a time when I should be sitting back and enjoying life, I find myself even worse off than when I began,'' says the pleasant-faced lawyer - among a growing cross section increasingly disenchanted with the reforms.
Under the two-phase plan, Ghana began with three years of standard IMF policy reforms designed to stabilize the economy, including a realignment of prices in favor of exports through massive currency devaluations; increases in crop prices; and reductions in subsidies and public spending, including reining in wages.
Since 1986, the country has launched a more ambitious three-year program to increase efficiency through massive layoffs in the civil service, privatization of state-owned enterprises, and more trade liberalization.
A small percentage of Ghanaians have benefited from these measures. Cocoa farmers receive 12 times as much for their crops as they did in 1982. In the bustling capital, Accra, where one can buy video recorders and dog collars, its not hard to detect a rejuvenated entreprenuerial class.
Derek de Graft Nettey is among those who took advantage of the infusions of foreign currency in 1983 to set up his own electrical gadget shop. A smooth salesman, Mr. de Graft Nettey usually manages to sell at least one deep freeze a week for a tidy profit. Enough to live on in relative comfort.