Thursday, July 20, 2006

On Petroleum Prices and the Ghana Government

It is an article of irony that the very week that my organisation is discussing the liberalisation of services under the World Trade Organisation, and the adverse impacts it will have on gender, development, and community rights at our Pan-African meeting is the same time that the government allows so-called Oil Marketing companies, which I wrote about back in 2005 when I attended a meeting in which the then-Minister of Energy Professor Mike Ocquaye extolled the virtues of liberalising the downstream sector of Ghana's petroleum sector, to raise petroleum prices from 10-15%.

All this simply goes to confirm the increasingly neoliberal stance that the government of Ghana is adopting to its people.

Now that the rate of petrol is at exactly $US5.00/gallon, how are Ghanaians supposed to manage? Where are the safety nets in place that the government should be thinking about to cushion its citizens from the effects of the world market? SO, just because there is a serious inter-necine conflict going on in the Middle East, where Hezbollah is being targetted for wiping out by the Israelis, so we, in the developing world, have to suffer the consequences?

Now this issue was, thankfully, raised by Bernard Avle of the CITI Breakfast Show the beginning of this week, which was great.

Having said that, as much as I praise CITI-FM, I really think that the media does woefully in presenting to the public key issues, such as the challenge of liberalisation of services.

Liberalisation of services is merely a big word for opening up the services sector (tourism, finance, banking, waste disposal, etc) to the degree that foreign investors can come into this country--and any other developing country--and enjoy "national treatment"(in ther words, the same type of treatment and beenfits accorded indigenous enterprises) and tax exemptions so that they can charge fees on the locals, and expropriate (take away) profits from this country to theirs, or simply offshore, and out of this country. Much like the telecommunication companies of AREEBA and TIGO do. Didn't know? Now you do...

The question is: to what extent can public opinion be awakened to the urgency of these issues by way of the media, without it necessarily coming from civil society activists, like myself, who already are perceived in one way or another by policy-makers and the media alike for having more time on their hands than the media.

I think Dr.Graham, Coordinator of TWN-AFrica, hit the nail on the head when he...

...called on the media to offer analysis of the law governing the provision of services and generate debate that would enhance major transformations of the service sector
from: TWN discusses challenges of service liberalisation.

My final point is this: liberalisation and privatisation has been with us since the Reagan-Thatcher nexus, which in my view, was "the greatest exponent of a modern and amoral Realpolitik", as maintained by US historian Norman Rich in his classic book "Great Power Diplomacy".

That said, with the increasing and growing appetite of the US and EU for African markets on water, health and whatnot sector, they threaten to LOCK-IN permanently any commitments our clueless and hapless and uninformed African governments may be faced with.

The time for resistance against this locking in of liberalisation, or forever facing compensation of ALL WTO members is nigh...unless Africa wakes up -- seriously.

TAgs: Ghana liberalisation; Ghana petroleum; services liberalisation; services

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Is this Ghana's Middle Class?--Part I

In a post reminiscent of the one I wrote last year -- 6 July, 2006 to be precise -- which you can read here:, I had the opportunity to be...

...on Wednesday evening around 9.30pm at the Coconut Grove Regency Hotel, located "within 3-6 minutes drive of USAID, the World Bank Office, Danish, Canadian, German, Swiss, Nigerian and American Diplomatic Missions, Ghana Immigration Service and National Theatre, Government Ministries and the Accra Intentional Center, all on “traffic free” routes."(from: on private business with my parents when I heard feedback from the car's radio as we approached.

It was CITI-97.3FM--the Accra-based English speaking private radio station, which you can listen to in crystal-clear quality wherever you are in the world (I know, cos people from Germany and the UK have been calling in the 8.45am regular phone-ins to the CITI Breakfast Show; and listeners send emls from South Africa and the US!)--hosting its weekly Wednesday Salsa Mania event, where Latin American tunes are played, and people get FREE Salsa lessons.

Now whilst PAID Salsa lessons would be a better gauge, or indicator, of people being middle class, or not, I could not help but wonder at my perception of "middle class", which has preoccupied me since I arrived back home in Ghana in August 2004.

Let me leave you with this quotation, which I used in that entry to describe middle class:

The middle class (or middle classes) comprises a social group once defined by exception as an intermediate social class between the nobility and working class folk.

Since the working classes constituted the vast majority of the population, the middle classes actually lay near the top of the social pyramid.

Modern political economy considers a large middle class to be a beneficial, stabilizing influence on society, because it has neither the explosive revolutionary tendencies of the lower class, nor the stultifying greedy tendencies of the upper class. (239 words

A lot of people -- usually Westerners -- who come to Ghana for the first time either out of lack of deliberate discerning about the country, or mere foolishness believe that Ghana is a country of extremes, where there is the poor and the very rich.

Whilst I will not be the first to say that poverty may be rising in unseen areas than we know in this country, I think I can also emphatically say that visibly, what I have perceived about Ghanaians is that by way of so many changes in the political system and otherwise, we see changes in people's income (by way of the number of provate cars on the road, etc) that can lead one to assume that there is a growing middle class.

I spoke to a taxi driver two weeks ago who praised the incumbent administration, insisting that they had done very well, because even policemen could, from their UN missions overseas, come back and obtain loans to get cars, etc, whereas that was not the case before.

It got me thinking about the ramifications of the possibilities of obtaining loans as an indicator of "middle class". Teachers, for example, in the West are considered middle-class (whether lower or middle is a moot point), but it's clear to many that their education, coupled with their ability to obtain loans to buy a house and car makes them middle class. A labourer does not get that designation by any stretch of the imagination, though labourers can afford to buy Mercedes also! Their work is esssentially working class.

But can one not argue that that they can also obtain loans for cars, and houses, make them middle class? But that's another story...

I was pretty outraged--not just peeved--when the other day, I came across a website by one "Howie Klein", who had a story featured about one Adam's trip to Ghana. This is what Adam wrote:

I am in a small village called Kwamoso in the Akuapem Hills Region. The village is extremely rural with no electricity or running water. Compared to middle class America these people are dirt poor but they are Ghana's middle class. They live in houses literally made out of mud with tin roofs. In many the mud walls are coated with a layer of cement but not all. The poor live in houses with straw roofs and the mud walls look like they are crumbling...

How can this description possibly befit middle class Ghana? I mean, when I talk about Westerners being foolish, this is one of them. The cultural relativism is just a bit distorted. People with no electricity or running water--how on Earth can they ever be middle class--anyhwere?

I suppose that is what propelled my desire to comment on Ghana and middle class, which, for me, is a dicey issue, which deserves a lot of rumination, and treatment. For now, though, I think I will leave you with this interesting definition from wikipedia:

  • Achievement of tertiary education, including all financiers, lawyers, doctors and clergymen regardless of their leisure or wealth.

  • Belief in bourgeois values, such as high rates of house or long-term lease ownership and jobs which are perceived to be "secure." In the United States and in the United Kingdom, politicians typically target the votes of the middle classes.

  • Lifestyle. In the United Kingdom, social status has been less directly linked to wealth than in the United States, and has also been judged by pointers such as accent, manners, place of education and the class of a person's circle of friends and acquaintances. Often in the United States, the middle class are the most eager participants in pop culture. The second generation of new immigrants will often enthusiastically forsake their traditional folk culture as a sign of having arrived in the middle class.

  • A net worth, what a person's total material assets are worth, minus their debt. Most economists define "middle-class" citizens as those with net worths of between $125,000 and $250,000. Those with net worths between $250,000 and $500,000 typically are categorized as upper middle class. Those with net worths below $125,000 can be further broken down into working class to lower class.[1]

  • from:

    While this definition is positively Anglo-Saxon and Anglo-Centric, I think there are elements for cogitation that transcend Western perception of middle class.

    Whilst you are at it, you might want to take a look at the guy wearing the tie to the left of the picture. Asset#1: mobile phone; Asset#2: probably a car costing millions of cedis;-)

    Definitely middle class dontcha think?

    Useful and Related links

    tags:Accra; Middle Class Ghana

    Friday, July 07, 2006

    As the Week Draws to a Close in Accra:Thoughts on an ECOWAS Regional Police Organisation (FBI?), and Combatting the Narcotics Menace

    The week opened with drugs on my mind: a popular musician, Daassebre, who had been caught with two kilograms of cocaine in the UK. It prompted a radio discussion on Tuesday as to why so many Ghanaians want to defy the risk of carrying narcotics into European soil. I called in and made a contribution, which I can summarise thus:

    There are two levels we have to be looking at this. There is, first, the local level.

    At the local level, we should have a billboard at Kotoka International Airport (KIA) that states explicitly that Ghana is a no-drugs country. That always helps, plus the one thrown in for good measure that Ghana is a strong partner in the fight against drug-trafficking. We should also be building the capacity of officials at GCAA (Ghana Civil Aviation Authority) to be able to have a good idea (discerning eye) for those who might want to take drugs out of the country, or bring it in. If this means going on courses overseas, then fine!

    At the sub-regional level, I maintain that there should be an ECOWAS Convention on Combatting Drugs in the same manner there is one on small arms to the degree that the Kimberely Process on Blood Diamonds has eventuated from it. I also think that one should go back to the discussions back in 2002 when ECOWAS Police Leaders met (, and this was discussed:

    Plans for the establishment of a regional criminal investigation and intelligence bureau were considered at meetings of the ECOWAS Police Chiefs on 23 September 2002 and the Interior Ministers on 26 September 2002 as part of efforts to combat cross-border criminal activities

    There is after all a West African Police Chiefs Committee (WAPCCO), but few people know of this! What about a website detailing activities to inspire some degree of confidence in ECOWAS Citizens! My main beef was that ECOWAS should be thinking back to the ECOWAS type of FBI, or more specifically, a regional criminal investigation group—unprecedented in Africa. It is not beyond ECOWAS! And a very serious point is that once you have these anti-narcotics ECOWAS Police officers fighting narcotics on the sub-region, you have to ensure that they are HIGHLY-PAID, so as to ensure that they do not feel tempted in partaking in the proceeds of those whom they catch. Seeing as we are dealing with the human condition, we will always get rotten apples, but they should be few and far between.


    I was, truthfully, disheartened that the host, Bernard Avle, did little to touch on the issue, but it is something I would like to pick up on again. Attacking the menace of drugs at so many levels is, in my view, a more concrete way of ensuring that we touch it at the root.

    What do you think?

    Have a good weekend!!

    ; ; ;


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