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.
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.
A small elite in the government ministries is also enjoying the fruits of new money. Attached to one ministry is a semi-autonomous technical unit, funded by the World Bank and a UN agency. Employees here, who are on a totally different salary scale, earn up to 20,000 cedes ($70) a month. In addition to perks like free housing, lunch, and transport, they frequently travel overseas, receiving per diems of up to $150 a day - a small fortune in Ghana.
Most vulnerable of Ghana's civil servants and those who work for state-owned enterprises are the 90,000 who have either lost or are slated to lose their jobs in the second phase of the economic recovery program (45,000 from the civil service, 20,000 from parastatals, and 25,000 from the Ghana Cocoa Board).
In theory, those layed off are to receive severance pay and the chance of fresh employment under Ghana's much vaunted ``program of actions to mitigate the social costs of adjustment'' or PAMSCAD, the only donor-funded social security component to an IMF-sponsored structural adjustment program.
But the PAMSCAD is set to generate only half the jobs needed. While workers laid off from the civil service have received their benefits, many have quickly gobbled it up, leaving themselves jobless and penniless.
Worse still, those redeployed from state-owned enterprises say they have not received their severance pay because the government seized all subsidies earlier this year, and the enterprises are too broke even to pay those still on the payroll. It is uncertain how people in enterprises up for sale will fare under new ownership.
``The mood here,'' said a worker at the state fishing corporations, one of 32 enterprises currently for sale, ``is one of frustration and disillusion.''
Within the wage-earning sector, World Bank officials admit that despite salary increases, real wages have remained stagnant since Ghana's recovery program was launched. At about 50 cents a day, the minimum wage is far below the $4.20 which the Ghana Trade Union Congress says a family needs to survive.
Not surprisingly, other means must be found. ``In every sector of every enterprise and government bureaucracy there are varying degrees of thievery,'' says a World Bank official. These range from moonlighting with government vehicles, to over-invoicing, to bribes and kickbacks.
Still, many try to make an honest living. A professor during the day turns taxi driver at night. A doctor can be found farming peanuts on the weekend. Such opportunities are generally more available to the better skilled, yet even they say it can be hard going.
For Mensah, an honest professional just trying to make ends meet, the only consolation that government, IMF, and World Bank officials have to offer is that if Ghana sticks it out long enough, things will get better.
The greatest threat to the recovery program, said Flight Lieutenant Rawlings in written answers to questions submitted by this reporter, ``is unrealistic expectations of quick results,'' rather than appreciating how much better their present situation is than what it might have been. ``Some Ghanaians want to enjoy what will be now, before they have contributed to its creation.''