By Raymond Tuvi, Media and Development Consultant
In President Akufo-Addo’s presentation of the State of the Nation Address (SONA) for 2023 on Wednesday, March 8, he admitted that Ghana’s economy is in poor shape. Outlining the measures his government is taking to salvage the situation, the president prayed things wouldn’t get worse in the ensuing year. This is also the hope and prayer of every Ghanaian, countless of whom have been reeling under harsh economic conditions and similarly severe corrective measures not seen in years.
The Domestic Debt Exchange Programme (DDEP), that seeks to repackage and make the nation’s debt more sustainable as a means of keeping the economy afloat, has seen fierce resistance from various sections of the formal sector. It had to take a number of days of picketing under the midday sun at the Ministry of Finance by a group of our resolute senior citizens—pensioners and bondholders—for the sector Minister to address them and, subsequently, grant the exemption of their pensions from the DDEP they so gallantly fought for. But the question on the lips of many, be they CSO activists, Media personnel or just any discerning and concerned Ghanaian, is, “How did we get here?”
The President, who no doubt must be feeling the burdens of office in these times, assured in his address that “he is confident this too shall pass!” And, truly, this situation that has unfortunately put many Ghanaians in such a fix must be treated holistically and arrested as soon as possible.
Parliament, as the preeminent oversight institution in the nation’s governance structure, the Media, as well as independent and corporate financial and economic policy analysts, are up to the task of subjecting the President’s SONA to rigorous analysis on the floor of the Legislature and in the Media. Such dissection ought not to be the run-of-the-mill talk shop but rather imperative to guarantee an outcome that, in the short term, would communicate a message to soothe the aches, needs, hurts, pangs, and frustrations of the populace. Giving much thought, concern, and prayer is the demographic subset of the aged, the unemployed, orphans, street children, and other vulnerable groups and individuals.
Many have indicated that we are in a global recession with many global challenges. So, a good number of individuals and corporate entities in the governance sector have suggested a raft of interventions that could have been better managed, referencing the Auditor-General’s Report on the COVID-19 Fund disbursements and so on and so forth. Consequent to this, citizens are citing a disconnect between leadership at the centre, with operations, actors and beneficiaries on the fringes. Such uncharacteristic disconnect is what, in the opinion of some, is worsening our plight. Others would put it more forthrightly, that the President is oblivious to the reality on the ground.
The comparisons of the present situation to the seeming helplessness or hopelessness of recent or past global health and security crises are not wholly accurate and may also lack ample sincerity. History is replete with examples of change managers who, in times of crises, stood up and owned the process. They practice the management principle of “touch a heart before asking for a hand.” That is, the leaders make an unmistakable and intentional commitment to winning the people’s confidence and trust through the consistency, integrity, and “follow-through” of their choices and crisis-time plans and policies.
It would therefore be easy for them to get the people’s buy-in for their vision and strategy through and out of the quagmire. Legendary British Second World War Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill, voted “Greatest Briton of All Time” by one million voters in a 2002 BBC poll, was able to withstand the full onslaught of a determined Nazi Germany’s war machinery because he threw everything into his stirring wartime speeches as well as firm and grounded guidance.
The British people responded, and their allies united solidly behind him, giving him all the support he needed to turn the tide and ultimately win the war. Crisis leaders or managers lead from the front, either through tightly-regulated austerity policies and programs or by their sacrifices and personal example and that of members of their core teams. In this direction, a laudable move for crisis-era thrift was made by the Nana Akufo Addo-led Government a year ago to cut Ministers’ salaries by thirty percent.
Pretty little remains to show for that thoughtful commitment, after the President mentioned it. Crisis-era leaders rally the people around a common cause or message of, “We swim together; or sink together”. From indications, however, if there’s been a call, through any of the President’s previous comments or speeches, like the rather lampooned “We’re in this together,” citizens’ progressively frantic feedback does not paint a picture of “rowing together”, “pulling together” or “swimming together,” the challenge-infested waters of our current socio-economic woes. From the foregoing, resolving dire circumstances such as Ghana’s current economic crisis, as outlined in President Akufo-Addo’s SONA, would require the input of both leaders and citizens.
The commitment of leaders to make the necessary shifts and stay the course is crucial. Followers are also expected to offer the necessary support, trust the process, and stick to its implementation. All boils down to the integrity of the leaders as well as the led, though, since leaders are cut from the same cloth as the led and trust, at its most effective expression, is a two-way street expression.