Monday, December 2, 2019

Book Nook: Poverty Crusade - A Little African Village’s Campaign Against World Poverty

The poor of this world, especially those in the developing world, are caught between a rock and a hard place. Their countries suffer under the burden of the unfavourable trading practices of the advanced countries. Their plight is further worsened by their own greedy and corrupt leaders who squander whatever meagre resources is left at their disposal.

Even though the basis for this book came from a dream the vision and plan to work towards ending world poverty is very real.

Still, inspired by the dream, Dr. Robert Peprah-Gyamfi resolved to do what he could to alleviate if not completely eradicate world poverty. As a first step, he has set up the “Poverty Crusaders” to serve as the charity through which he would channel my efforts.

Learn more in this interview:

What motivated you to write this book?
I grew up in the little village Mpintimpi which is the centre of the story. The village is situated about 100miles (160Kilometres) to the north west of Accra, Ghana’s capital city.

Over the years, I have yearned for an improvement in the living conditions of the residents of the village in particular and the poor and deprived of the country in general. Unfortunately, this has not been forthcoming.

Ghana is a multi-party democracy with two main parties. Irrespective of which of the two parties is in powers, practically nothing is done for those who for various reason are not in the position to fend for themselves, by way of a state supported benefit system, for example.

Through the hands of providence, I made it all the way from my deprived background to medical school in Germany.

Residents of my village, both relatives and those not related to me, look up to me for financial assistance in time of urgent need –for example when they have to send a seriously ill to hospital. I have in the past done my best to help.

With age telling on me and no sign of improvement in their deprived living conditions on the horizon, an idea dawned on me to bring their pitiful plight to the attention of the world community at large.

Can you please briefly describe the situation in the village Mpintimpi?
At the time I was growing up the village boasted around 300 residents; today the population has grown to about 600. The inhabitants are peasant, engaged in small scale farming involving the cultivation of crops for their own consumption. The residents literally grown what they eat and eat what they grow.

At the time I was growing up there about 50 years ago, the land was well suited for the cultivation of cocoa, Ghana’s leading export earner at that time. The harvest from cocoa brought income, which though meagre provided a fair degree of sustenance. Now owning to global warming and climate change yields from cocoa has decreased substantially leading to the worsening of the already precarious financial situation of the residents.

In case of ill-health and in old age the residents are left to themselves. There are virtually no state support systems in place to cater for the unemployed, the sick, the handicapped and the aged. Traditionally the extended family members who are in the position to do so have taken care of members in need. Today, due to the worsening economic situation of the residents, the tendency is for everyone to concern themselves with their own financial survival.

Why is the creation of state welfare system in your country not possible?
It boils down, in my view to the setting of priorities.

On the attainment of independence, Ghana, and this applies to other African countries, wholeheartedly adopted almost every institution put in place by the colonial masters-- the civil service, a standing army, the diplomatic corps etc.

Since independence many African countries have had a tendency to copy from their former colonial masters. Today many of the colonial masters— France, Germany, UK, have a welfare state in place to cater for those who fall through the social net. In my opinion, it is high time Ghana and other African countries took steps to introduce such a system into their countries.

I don’t buy the argument that it would be financially unsustainable. African countries spend billions on arms, prestigious projects, on the salaries of a bloated and corrupt ruling elite etc. It is only when it comes to putting a support system in place to cater for the weak and vulnerable that countries come up with excuses. Caring for the weak and vulnerable of society--- the blind, the handicapped, orphaned children-- in my view should be topmost priority of every country. Sadly, in Ghana and several other African countries such individuals are left to themselves.

What positive changes, if any, has the government made since Ghana received its independence?
The first post-independence government introduced free and compulsory education.

Whereas my parents, who grew up under the British colonial administration had no access to education, I benefitted from the free education policy of the newly independent Ghana. The free and compulsory education system led to a significant increase in the literacy rate.

The healthcare system was also highly subsidized to make it affordable to all.

Beside that the government embarked on infrastructure development and also set up several small-scale industries with the goal to providing employment.

That government was overthrown in a military coup just nine years after independence.

Following the coup, the country experienced almost two decades of political and economic turmoil.

In 1983, at a time of severe economic turn down the government approached the IMF and World Bank. A so-called Structural Adjustment Program (SAP) which led to liberalization of the economy was launched.

Almost every state subsidized healthcare and education program was cancelled as a result of the SAP.

Whatever advantages the IMF cum World Bank supported market liberalization brought by way of economic development, it has led to a widening gap between the minority affluent upper class and the majority lower class. As already mentioned, there is no state supported benefit system in place at the moment. One can imagine the hardships such a group of people are subjected to on a daily basis.

Unfair trade practices - are the tariffs imposed on African countries different than those imposed on other countries?
I am not a great expert in that area. From my research, trade between African countries and the rest of the world is based on World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules.

African countries are not able to play in a level playing field in various areas of trade with the developed countries though. When it comes to the area of farming, many Africans are peasant farmers. How can they compete with farmers in places like the US and EU, who, besides having access to machinery and technical know-how also profit from generous subsidies of their respective countries?

In the fictitious meeting with Chancellor Merkel, Douglas, the spokesman for the delegation from the village cited the trade arrangement involving

Ghana’s main export crop, cocoa. To quote him directly: “whereas the country could benefit most if the raw cocoa were to be processed in the country itself and turned into the finished products such as chocolates, cocoa buttercreams, bread spread and other products before exporting into Germany and elsewhere, for some reason our trading partners prefer buying the raw beans than the finished products.”

That is the issue that has to be addressed if the developed world wants to help lift Africa out of poverty.

What is prohibiting Ghana and other African countries from extracting the natural resources; gold, oil, etc.?
The countries involved usually lack the capital, technical know, machinery etc. to extract the resources themselves.

They have to partner with multinational companies. Obviously, such companies come there for profit.

It is imperative for those negotiating on behalf of their respective countries to be not only patriotic but also smart and hard negotiators bent on achieving the outmost for their countries.

Unfortunately, that is not usually the case. Coming with huge capital, the foreign investors have the tendency to bribe their way through. So eventually such contracts favour the large multinationals. In the end the resources are extracted to the ultimate advantage of the foreign investors.

Ghana for example is rich in mineral resources. It was not for nothing that the country used to be called the Gold Coast. Mining for gold has been going on for several years.

Beside gold, the country is rich in other minerals including manganese, bauxite, diamond and other gemstones.

The country has of late also been exporting substantial amounts of oil and gas

Yet the common man and woman on the street, as exemplified by the three characters in the book, are not seeing any benefit for the resources. Based on interacting with them on my visits and also through mobile phone calls, their already pitiful plights continue to worsen with the days

In contrast, the ruling elite, parliamentarians both from the ruling government and the opposition, government ministers etc. are doing fine, yes living luxuries lives.

2 comments:

  1. Very objective and sincere analysis of the issues in not only Ghana but in Africa as a whole. Until the citizens become patriotic, selfless and avoid greediness, very little will be achieved from these agitations.
    Our brother has revealed all the facts and serious-minded people who are in positions of influence should commit themselves to effecting changes while not being selfish.

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    Replies
    1. Forgot to write my name. Kwasi Yeboah-Awudzi.

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