Coronavirus: Will Ghana turn pandemic into a blessing?

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The post COVID-19 era is going to be interesting and challenging for economies around the world. Like the aftermath of the 9/11 bombings in the United States, the world economy will not be the same when the wave of novel coronavirus passes. Jobs will be lost. Some businesses will go into extinction. Those that will survive will see their processes altered. Cultures will change. New laws and regulations will be promulgated. In Ghana, unfortunately, not much is expected to change. It will be business as usual.

 

Historically, pandemics, wars and disasters have left their footprints in society by changing how we live. Most societies have made giant economic progress after wars and disasters. Germany after World War II grew exponentially and opened up the country more to diversity. South Korea started developing after the Korean War that effectively split the country between north and south. Singapore resolved to develop after it was kicked out of the Federation of Malaysia. Rwanda, too, made great strides after the 1994 genocide. The 1989 Hillsborough Stadium disaster changed the sports culture in Britain, and helped make stadiums a safer and more welcoming environment for fans of all ages, genders and backgrounds. So, how countries respond to adversity determines how disasters and pandemics will be turned into a blessing in disguise or a curse.

 

In Ghana, one wishes the disruption brought about by the coronavirus pandemic will force the country to rethink its economic structure, improve research and health systems, data collection and social welfare system, among others. Alas, not much will change.

 

Over the years, the country has faced so many disasters that should have changed its systems and infrastructure for the better. These incidents have however passed as events with little effect on bettering lives and improving systems.

 

It was the expectation that the 1983 drought and famine in Ghana would help the country take concrete steps to reduce its reliance on rain-fed agriculture and be self-sufficient in food production.  But 37 years on, the country is still grappling with feeding its population and is battling a significant incidence of malnourishment among children.                                  Again, it was the expectation that the June 3 fire and flood disaster would have helped the country streamline its sanitation and spatial plans but nothing has changed since. We thought the May 9 stadium disaster would have changed the administration, security, stadia infrastructure, and culture of football, but no. The unfortunate death of our late president J. E. A Mills, Veep Amissah-Arthur and PV Obeng should have also helped us to strengthen our emergency response system and healthcare systems, but we have learnt little from these sad incidences.

 

Throughout the years, the best and only way Ghana has responded to misfortunes is to publicly proclaim ‘Never again’. ‘Never again’ has become a cliche with nothing concrete to back it up. And that is how the country, sadly, will respond again after the coronavirus has passed. Never again!

 

Never before in the country’s history has our health, economic and infrastructure systems been stretched to their limit. Coronavirus is doing that.

 

Ghana’s economy is expected to grow by 2.6% – the lowest in more than a decade – and that is even a very optimistic projection by the Bank of Ghana. The Travel and Tourism industry is in free-fall, the hospitality and educational sectors are struggling to cope. The health system is being tested and utilities sectors are being pounded. Maritime, Trade and manufacturing sectors are comatose. The entire Ghanaian economy is in meltdown.

 

The Ghana Hotels Association has called for stimulus packages; the Ghana Association of Private schools is also calling for help to be able to meet overhead costs; trade and business associations are also on their knees begging for support.

 

So yes, the economy now needs the life-support of government’s largesse and stimulus to keep it alive. But the morning-after effect of COVID-19 will require the country to reexamine and reevaluate its reliance on far-flung supply chains, and rethink how much the country wants to rely on other economies for the provision of essential commodities.

 

Over the years, there has been declining growth in the manufacturing and industrial sectors of the economy due to overdependence on imported products and high cost of doing business. Huge imports have thus had significant impacts on agriculture, employment and industries.

 

The response of policymakers to complaints of over-dependence on foreign goods has been to paper over the problems and implement policies that are either hit and miss or largely misguided.

 

The onset of coronavirus has thus stripped bare our ineptitude toward addressing huge economic concerns, and has glaringly revealed the frailties and vulnerabilities of our economic system. Now inadequate supplies of food and essential items has led to demand-pull inflation as flights and industries around the world, particularly in China, went into lockdown and brought production to a halt.

 

Even in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, our inability to provide targetted subsidies and safety nets for the vulnerable population and those really in need has revealed the cracks in our national identification and data collection systems. These shortcomings prove that our policymakers have themselves been a disaster to our very survival, as they are now being haunted by their failure to support industries and the agricultural sector.

 

Nonetheless, the coronavirus pandemic has again provided a chance for us to right the wrong and change for the better our economic structure, health and social welfare systems. The dependence on imports and taste for foreign goods will do no one any good. The post COVID-19 era should be a time to commit more to the growth of local industries, support research institutions, boost agriculture, create sustainable jobs and strengthen data collection and social welfare systems.

 

The world economic order is not going to play out the same again, and the interest of indigenous businesses must be at the core of our development strategy. This means that the country’s policymakers must put the national interest first and support local businesses to thrive, and insist that key resources and equipment that are essential to the sustenance and maintenance of life in times of crisis are produced locally. This will also require that support to our scientific and industrial research institutions is deepened.

 

Before the novel coronavirus outbreak, there were signs that nationalism was gaining roots in the global economy – hence, the pandemic is going to accelerate the desire to localise major operations, and Ghana must not be left behind in the new world that is being born.

 

There should be nothing like ‘if’ and ‘when’ conditions in domesticating the production of critical industrial, pharmaceutical and medical products. Anything short of helping indigenous businesses to grow will mean that, once again, a misfortune such as the coronavirus will pass and the country will be back to ground zero – and the rhetoric of Ghana beyond aid will be that of just a mirage and cliché, just as we have made useless the meaning of the phrase ‘Never again’.

 

That is why the novel coronavirus has to mean more than a pandemic that ravaged the country’s economic growth and took away lives and livelihoods of people. It must be a catalyst to change and reform the structure of our economy; increase funding to scientific research; and improve data collection, health and social welfare systems.

It should spark conversation about working conditions and incomes, particularly inequality driven by low wages and precarious employment.

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