Thursday, April 15, 2010

Great message, Wrong Messenger, Wrong audience: My thoughts on Dr. Kofi Sam’s Model for Ghanaian Self- Sufficiency

Dr. Kofi Sam graduated from secondary school in the 1950s (his classmate was Kofi Annan of the UN). He is an engineer who was trained in the UK and now has a compelling Ghanaian vision. He ran Steel Works in Ghana back in the day, and held the Housing ministry in Jerry Rawlings’ military government in the 1980s.

Below are highlight of the points he outlined in this interview(listen to audio):

  1. There’s a second wave of AIDS in Ghana called the Acquired Import Dependency Syndrome (AIDS). We import almost everything we use.

  2. Whatever the master in England does, we copy it. Our buildings should have big open windows. That’s how the imperialists, the white men, built their bungalows. We knocked them down and replaced them with glass houses, sealed glass.

  3. We only wear what we make (African attire) on Fridays — Friday wear! That’s a problem.

  4. There is a tunnel called ‘Western education.’ We enter it and learn how to forget. We go to Accra and forget about the village.

  5. The African intellectual is like a bee who has forgotten how to make honey.

  6. The governmental system in Ghana only caters to Western-educated people, even though they’re less than 15% of the population. From the president right down to the teacher, they get paid at the end of every month. No villager gets paid for anything. They get up in the morning, they go to their farms, and they produce their cassava or yam or plantain. Nobody guarantees them a market. Nobody gives them loans. All the taxes raised in the country are for Western-educated people.

  7. The aid from World Bank and Oxfam is in SUVs, restaurants, and swimming pools in Accra but the villagers can’t get a loan to buy a tractor, or cutlasses but somebody is collecting aid on their behalf.

  8. Even some of my very rich relatives won’t contribute to what I’m doing (developing the lives of people in the village).

My thoughts:
I like Dr. Kofi Sam’s enthusiasm and drive, and his vision for Ghana. I agree with most of his points. Unfortunately, I believe he’s the wrong messenger and he is preaching to the wrong congregation.

Take aid for example. We all know by now that the aid to Ghana never makes it to the masses in the villages. The US knows this and the government officials in Ghana who receive these funds know it as well. Statistics show that most foreign aid to Ghana from the US never leaves the US anyway. It is spent to make a huge portion of “American aid worker” lives more comfortable. As a result we can all agree aid won’t get us to the point of self-sufficiency. No American is sitting in Washington DC losing sleep over how to make Ghana as good as or better than the USA. It’s no surprise that aid money never makes it to place like Aburanza – it was meant to be in the SUVs, restaurants and swimming pools just like Dr. Kofi Sam mentioned.

What Dr. Kofi Sam needs to do is gather a group of rich Ghanaians in Accra and show them why it’s important for the farmer in Aburanza to have a cutlass and access to a tractor. He needs to go to the government officials in Accra who get rich by stealing foreign aid and show them the tangible economic value of investing the stolen money into businesses in places like Aburanza to make an even greater profit. He needs to convince the rich and the educated elite to visit their villages not only to attend a funeral but to invest in businesses that employ people and make a profit. He needs to tell the elite that it is not patriotic to say “everything in my house is imported from Italy or the US” while we have is quality made-in-Ghana furniture.

The right messenger will be a rich Ghanaian who is investing his own money in places like Aburanza and making an impact of the lives of the villagers and also making a profit. The right audience will be his colleagues who have the means to replicate that model around the country and the government officials who need to be told to help or stay out of the way.

No country has ever developed without the active involvement and investment of its citizens.


  1. Word! Completely agree with you. You have to live the talk. And as for telling people to invest in their villages instead of just attending funerals there, i wrote about this a few years ago. I hope you can read akan because the whole essay is written in modern akan:

  2. I worked side by side with Dr. Sam for several months on projects that he mentioned in this Huffington Post article. He is an interesting man who has lived through some unimaginable things. Still, he is an amazing person. He would go up to the rich people you said he should speak to, and he would criticize them for wasting their money on things like SUV's. One of the few people who actually walked his talk.