Welcome Mat Is Out for Ghana's 'Profiteers'
With education and experience from abroad, expatriates are returning to broker deals and attract foreign investment
WHEN Ken Ofori-Atta left Ghana as a high school student in 1980, ''home'' was a painful memory. Decades of political chaos and economic mismanagement left the West African nation a skeleton of its former self.Skip to next paragraph
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Lt. Jerry Rawlings took over the reigns of power in 1981, and again on New Years Day 1982, with a pledge to restore order and clamp down on unscrupulous ''profiteers.''
For a decade, Mr. Ofori-Atta emersed himself in his studies in the United States, earning an undergraduate degree in economics from Columbia University, and a master's degree in management from Yale University. Then, he landed a job on Wall Street with Salomon Brothers Inc., an investment banking firm.
In 1990, Ofori-Atta made his first trip back to Ghana. What he found made him think twice about remaining in New York.
Despite his revolutionary fervor, President Rawlings had led the country through an economic recovery program sponsored by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank, involved massive devaluations of the currency; lifting price controls; laying off 45,000 government employees, and an ambitious privatization program involving the sale of more than 300 state-owned enterprises.
As a result, Ghana was gaining a reputation as a unique African economic success.
The Ghana Stock Exchange (GSE) had just opened its doors, with 11 listed companies.
''I saw a niche,'' recalled Ofori-Atta in an interview in his Accra office.
Months later, the dapper young business executive was back with a Ghanaian colleague from Yale and another who had been working for the international accounting firm KPMG Peat Marwick in Washington. They formed Databank, an equity-research, stock-brokerage, and financial-advisory service company with Ofori-Atta as executive chairman.
The company, which boasts 18 professional staff (many of them Ghanaians returning from abroad) has since helped broker major privatization deals and facilitate the entry of reputable overseas fund managers into the stock exchange.
''To the extent that I decided to try my luck in Ghana rather than anywhere else, you might say there is an umbilical chord,'' Ofori-Atta remarked. ''But more than anything I saw an opportunity. I saw that I could be doing what I was doing in New York in a place where that would have greater impact; where I could be more successful and more fulfilled.''
More than a million of Ghana's 16 million people are estimated to be living abroad; many in high-profile international and private-sector jobs. It is estimated that Ghanaians abroad repatriate $300 million annually to family and friends at home.
Evidence that even a trickle of these expatriate Ghanaians are returning home is one of the most positive signs yet of a change for the better.
Still, much remains to be done as youngsters accost drivers at street lights in this bustling capital city, selling everything from apples to dog collars.
As the World Bank notes in a recent report titled, ''Ghana: 2000 and Beyond,'' with a per capita income of $390 a year, the country remains among the poorest in the world.
Although the economy has been growing at 5 percent a year, the population has been growing by 3 percent, leaving a net increase of per capita income of only 2 percent. That's high for black Africa. But many of Ghana's poorer citizens have been badly hurt by cuts in food subsidies; increases in health and education costs; as well as massive retrenchments in the public sector.
To achieve its ambition of doubling income by 2007, Ghana's 50th anniversary of independence, the economy would have to grow by 8 percent a year, says the World Bank, which -- with the IMF and Western donors -- has been pumping an average of nearly $1 billion annually into the recovery effort.
More private investment
Such levels of aid are unlikely to be sustained beyond the next few years. ''It is important to donors that Ghana be a success,'' commented a Western diplomat. ''But this is not a blank check.''