Attempted Prophecies: An elephant, umbrella, and butterfly walked into a bar (By all means, avoid cynicism)  


By Yao Afra Yao


An Elephant, Umbrella, and Butterfly walked into a bar

But before they could say jack

The whole darn place was on fire…

On Cynicism

The temptation to be cynical is high. When your heart has been broken so many times, the temptation to be cynical is indeed always very high. In the immortal words of my friend, Kobla, “Me, I’m immune to heartbreak. I have been messed with so many times that I no longer even realise when I’m being toyed with.”

On the selection of a life partner, he tells me, “I’ll always advise people to just take it like that. Don’t be selective… Just find someone, and take them like that. There is nothing like real love!”

Kobla went on and on passionately debating against passion, romance, and all that jazz… Because I tried disagreeing with him, you see.

Oh yes, I fundamentally disagree with Kobla. I understand his premise, but disagree with his conclusion. And I don’t know which side of this controversial national debate you find yourself. But can we all, at least, agree on this unifying fact: that when one’s heart has been broken so many times, the temptation to be cynical is always so darn high!

Naturally, this brings us to the matter of the 7th and 27th of February, 2024. The month of love.

The Elephant in the Room

“We may be tired of hearing it, but there is no avoiding the fact that the COVID-19 pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine war, resulted in the greatest economic depression in the world since the 1930s, with most countries recording negative GDP growths…”

Just three pages into a 75-page speech titled ‘Ghana’s Next Chapter: Selfless Leadership and Bold Solutions for the Future’, Presidential aspirant, Dr. Bawumia, wastes no time addressing – or misaddressing? – the elephant in the room.

Indeed, so far, the pandemic together with that bloody war has gotten more mentions by the Ghanaian government than 9/11 ever got from Rudy Giuliani during his run for the American Presidency in 2008. The only difference is that the former attempts using their misfortunate event as an excuse for non-performance, while the latter uses his as proof of his ‘capabilities’.

But I must say, it was nice to know the Vice President has got his ears to the ground—at least. Because indeed, the people are tired of hearing that excuse. You open your mouth to complain small, there n)r… ‘Covid-19!’ Russia/Ukraine!’

But the question is, are the people justified in their ‘tiredness’? Is the Ghanaian justified expecting a better socio-economic climate in spite of these so-called twin forces?

To answer this question, we must not only be introspective, but circumspective too. We must not only look within ourselves, but the entire world around us also. We must look beyond our national borders. Because the ‘good’ thing is the pandemic didn’t happen to only us. [I use ‘good’ here loosely]. I mean, it’s called a pandemic for a reason.

So naturally, on this matter of looking beyond our borders, we head straight to the United States of America. Yes, we are going to go there. Because I sense that ever since that $1million was found lying around the home of one of our nation’s ministers by her housekeepers last year, the respect most of y’all have for the US currency—and the US nation as a whole—as an economic big gal has drastically reduced. I mean, this is ‘just’ $1 million we are talking about here…$1 million, the supposed ‘small’ loan that Trump received from his father when he was starting out as a young businessman—that same $1 million that has purportedly been transformed by this man into a 2.6 billion net worth? Choo! That same $1million?

You say, “And Yao Afra, look at these luxurious apartment complexes scattered around Airport Residential Area, some ranging between $200,000 and $300,000… Couldn’t Mrs. Dapaah’s housekeepers have bought between 3 to 5 of those last year? Pardon me, but isn’t it this same $1million that the USA, through its USAID agency, gave out as a grant to Zambian companies last year to help them develop clean energy solutions for cooking (and consequently promote a green economy)? That same $1million? Ah, but of course we have earned the right to compare ourselves with the great United States of America! The only difference is, they choose to give theirs out as grant, we choose to throw ours somewhere around our homes for our servant’s potential delight—still, all philanthropism be philanthropism.”

Fellow Ghanaians, I hear you.

And so, the United States of America it is.

The Devil You Just Met

It’s safe to say that more than 99.9% of us humans spread worldwide had never experienced a global pandemic before—not until Covid-19 happened. The last of such far-reaching pandemic was way back in 1918.

Needless to say, in the fateful year of 2020, our imaginations and expectations as a people ran wild. How was the global economy going to fare through it all, and in fact, after it all? Many experts worldwide projected a global recession on par or exceeding the Great Depression of 1932—or at least, the Great Recession of 2008.

And in fact, it was one of such projections that the Vice President made reference to in paragraph 7 of his address. Quoting a blog post by the Managing Director of the IMF, Ms. Kristalina Georgieva, he read: “This is a crisis like no other…Pandemics don’t respect borders, neither do the economic shocks they cause. The outlook is dire. We expect global economic activity to decline on a scale we have not seen since the Great Depression.” And this, I must note, was written by the great lady in April 2020—at the very height of the pandemic.

By referencing the Great Depression, which lasted over a period of more than 10 years, she wasn’t necessarily implying or projecting the impact of the pandemic to have a similar longevity—it was more of a reference to the immediate intensity of the impact of the pandemic. One knows this to be true because in her address to G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors just a month prior, she noted: “First, the outlook for global growth: for 2020 is negative—a recession at least as bad as during the global financial crisis [Great Depression] or worse. But we expect recovery in 2021.

To get there, it is paramount to prioritise containment and strengthen health systems—everywhere. The economic impact is and will be severe, but the faster the virus stops, the quicker and stronger the recovery will be.” Indeed, like many experts, she was projecting that the adverse economic impact of the pandemic was set to last so long as the pandemic persisted. And that as soon as the pandemic ceased, economies should expect a quick bounce-back. But what is it that our Akan brothers and sisters say, ‘nsateaa nyinaa nnye pe’—’all fingers are not the same.’

Ladies and gentlemen, this brings us to the matter of the shape of the pandemic…

The Shape of Our Reality

Imagine your life as a graph, with the horizontal axis as the years that go by, and the vertical, the growth you experience over the years. But then as these years do go by, you experience a pandemic at a particular juncture. In this metaphoric picture, your life’s trajectory may take one of many forms… The recovery you enjoy post-economic crash may, among others, be in the shape of a V, U, an L, or even a W, etc. But let’s focus on the first three here.

So, let’s just say you own a shoe shop. In the year 2020, the pandemic occurred and put a stall to business because:

  1. There was a lockdown, hence your shop couldn’t be opened for customers;
  2. Even if you had a strong online presence, who needed shoes during those trying times anyway? Where were these people going to? Especially people faced with life and death in such vivid terms as they were—what did they need your shoes for?

But what happened as soon as the lockdown was lifted, with the pandemic no longer declared a public health emergency? As soon as economic activities were allowed to re-commence, how was sales? Did they very quickly revert to their pre-pandemic state—or better, did they exceed it? And even if they did, how was the economic health of the entire nation around you? What was the inflation rate and the general cost of living? Did they also revert to their pre-pandemic state, exceed it, or did they remain in their deteriorated states—or worse, did they plunge down even further?

Among others, the empirical answers to these questions end up forming the shape of your economic reality and, particularly, that of your nation’s as a whole. Should economic activity bounce back to its pre-pandemic state, then in this metaphoric graph, the projection you are forming is a V, isn’t it? Yes, a V recovery—i.e., things went down, below the bar that was your normal lives, but right after the pandemic, things sprang right back up.

Alternatively, if economic activities, after going down during the pandemic, have and are taking a longer time bouncing back up… Things are taking a long time reverting to normal, but are reverting nonetheless, and they also are, in fact, showing signs of a sustained upward trajectory, then you are looking at a U-shaped economic recovery. It is not as good as the V—but far better than an L.

An L-shaped economic recovery is just horrible! Here, after hardship, one finds themselves not on a bounce-back, but on a sustained trajectory of ‘badness’. In this situation, things get worse—and stay worse.

Needless to say that on a scale of V to L, one must endeavour always to stay as far away from an L as possible. L is for losers; great people stay on the V scale.


So then, by making reference to a possible economic recovery in the year 2021, what Kristalina Georgieva (MD of IMF) was, in 2020, doing was looking beyond the very apt fear and panic that had gripped the world, and seeing the pandemic for what it really was—one which could, upon its eradication, see a V-shaped economic recovery. At least, for sound economies.

In a situation like this, where the devil in question was a global pandemic, the economic blow suffered by nations was understandably very intense—more intense than that which was felt by the USA and much of the rest of the West and the world during the infamous housing crisis of 2008.  But upon the eradication of the root problem, the recovery in the case of the pandemic had the potential of being much swifter than that of the Great Recession—and definitely, the Great Depression.

For example… And mind you, I know that this example will alienate many of us, but let’s power through… For example, childbirth. Specifically, the difference between a vaginal conception and a Caesarean section. We’re informed by many women warriors that the immediate pain the former spawns is much, much more intense than the latter, but recovery, also much more rapid than the latter.

But then again, what is it that we say? ‘Nsateaa nyinaa nnye pe’.

The V in USA

Just take a look at a country like the USA…. During its pre-pandemic era (in the year 2019 specifically), it was recording a GDP of $21.4 trillion (with a growth rate of 2.3%), an unemployment rate of 3.7%, and an impressive inflation rate of 1.8%.

In the year 2020 (at the height of the pandemic), GDP recorded declined slightly to $21.06 trillion (representing a negative growth rate of -2.8%), with unemployment rate rising to an all-time high of 8.05%. But inflation rate further decreased to 1.23% that same year.

The following year (2021)—still a pandemic year—GDP saw a pickup, recording $23.3 trillion—representing an impressive growth rate of 5.9%. Unemployment rate reduced to 5.4%, but inflation jumped to 4.7%.

In 2022, GDP increased to $25.7 trillion, representing a growth rate of 2.06%. Unemployment rate reduced to 3.6%, with inflation rate increasing to an all-time high of 8%.

In the year 2023, GDP of the country rose again to $27.36 trillion, with a growth rate of 3.2%. Unemployment rate still stood at 3.6%, with inflation dropping to 3.4%. It’s 2024, and inflation is standing at 3.1%, with the Powell-led Federal Reserve on a focused mission of getting the rate to a much desired 2% at least.

But all in all, comparing the year immediately preceding the pandemic (i.e., 2019) to post-pandemic (i.e., 2023), what we see is an increase in the nation’s GDP growth rate (from 2.3% to 3.2%), a decrease in unemployment rate (from 3.7% to 3.6%), but an unfortunate increase in inflation rate (1.8% to 3.1%). Needless to say, within a span of these three pandemic-stained years, a V-shaped recovery is being scored by the United States of America. [And we’ll revisit this—affirmations, rebuttals, et. al, in a later article.]

But enough of this blatant display of ambition, let’s come back home—to Africa. Let’s compare ourselves to our own mates… Where should we even start from? Who do we do these comparisons with? And please, let’s resist that oft-employed political tool of comparing ourselves, not with the good, but the bad and the absolute worst. For once, let us endeavour to use as yardsticks, those doing good instead. Agreed? Good!

So now, how do we settle on these nations and by what indicators should we do these comparisons? I mean you have some African countries performing well (as we speak) on their inflation rates—countries like Botswana, Tanzania, Mauritania, and even Niger, Mali, Uganda etc. (All recording single-digit figures).

And when it comes to the rate of unemployment, we have top performers like Niger, Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Tanzania, Senegal, and even Burundi, Benin, Mali, etc. On GDP growth rate, you find nations like Senegal, Libya, Rwanda, Côte d’Ivoire, Tanzania, Uganda, Ethiopia, etc., as top performers.

But you might say that many of the names mentioned are the so-called ‘small boys’… And that this is all well and good, but countries like Rwanda, Botswana, and Senegal, for instance, have GDPs of $11 billion, $17.6 billion, and $27.6 billion respectively—compared to Ghana’s $77.6 billion. But this, at the end of the day, can mean nothing, no? I mean, India’s GDP is larger than Britain’s. But that does not make the former a better economy than the latter, does it?

We’ve not got all day, so let’s just go with Tanzania—because the country is a top performer across all three cited indicators.

Don’t Choose Your Size

So here is the East African nation of Tanzania—a country finding itself among Africa’s top ten highest GDP list along with our nation Ghana… And as mentioned, it is also a top performer in all these three economic indicators—inflation rate, unemployment rate, and GDP growth rate. Pre-covid era, specifically in the year 2019, the nation’s inflation rate stood at 3.46%. In 2020, this rose to 4.35%. Post-covid era (2023) this reduced to 4.04%. And as of January 2024, it has reduced even further to 3%—lower than the nation’s pre-Covid figure!

Unemployment rate in 2019 stood at 2.4%. In 2020, it rose to 2.8%; then further still to 2.9% in 2021. By the end of 2022, it had fallen to 2.6%, nearing its pre-pandemic levels. The country’s GDP growth rate in 2019 was 5.8%. This fell to 2% in 2020. By the end of 2023, this had sprung back up to 5%—a mere 0.8% shy of its pre-pandemic rate. In fact, according to the AfDB, the country ranks among the top 20 projected fastest growing economies worldwide—with a forecasted GDP growth of 6% by the end of this year (2024).

For our own country Ghana on the other hand, GDP growth rate recorded in 2019 was an impressive 6.5%. In 2020, it shrunk to a heart-wrenching 0.5%. The following year, it rose to a very promising 5.1%, but contracted again to 3.1% in 2022. By the third quarter of 2023, it was hovering around a meagre 2%.

Now, to unemployment… In 2019, our quantum of unemployed population stood at 3.5%. In 2020, it rose to 3.8%; then again to 3.9% in 2021. It reduced to 3.8% in 2022; but then rose back up to 3.9% by the end of 2023—slightly higher than its pre-pandemic figure.

Inflation rate, on the other hand, stood at 7.14% in 2019. In 2020, this rose to 9.9%. By the end of 2022, the figure was around a mind-blowing 31.3%! In 2023, this went on a further mind blowing spree, rising to 42.2%! From 7.14% in 2019 to 42.2% in 2023!

Needless to say, our recovery hasn’t been as exponential or consistent as one would expect from a promising economy—especially when looked at from a comparative lens.

But, admittedly, on this matter of comparisons, there is always a catch when one uses one’s contemporaries as yardstick. One always risks doing oneself a disservice. Because here is Tanzania performing marvellously on its GDP growth, inflation rate, and job creation, yet having, glaringly, a long way to go in securing for its citizenry, complete human and economic freedoms. Just like Ghana and much of the rest of the African continent, the nation has a long way to go in eradicating poverty among its populace.

This, perhaps, is all the more reason why we cannot afford to be short-sighted when employing a comparative stance in our perception of our socioeconomic performance as a nation. We, if serious about attaining true political, sociological, and economical liberation and advancement, must endeavour always to be ambitious in our comparisons—we must not only look beyond our national borders, but beyond our continental borders too to find worthier benchmarks.

On Cynicism: No Cynicism

It is undeniable, citizens of nations—even the greatest of them—are oftentimes quite easily, cynics. Oftentimes with good reason. Life tends to get difficult for the man and woman on the ground—even when graphs are showing promising upticks. For instance, here we are citing USA’s ‘post-pandemic and Russia/Ukraine War’ economic recovery as laudable examples, when its President, Biden is polling as low as 37% in approval ratings.

Faced with generations of politicians who promise or over-promise and woefully under-deliver, it is so easy for the people to assume this tone of cynicism—and even, one may dare say, ungratefulness when it comes to their political leaders.

But let’s not be quick to conclude. Because our inherent cynicism aside, we, the people, aren’t blind. Of course, we remember the pandemic… Of course, we remember the Russia/Ukraine war… Of course, we, the people, knew to expect a stormy weather. We knew these were no ordinary times. We expected some hitches here and there in our economic lives. What we didn’t expect, however, was this intensity, this sharp fall and rocky recovery.

Like a parent of an A-student, we knew to expect a subpar performance from our ward when we heard this year’s WASSCE students were severely marked down. But what we didn’t expect was to find our otherwise A-student son/daughter ranked among the F-students when the results came out. Even more, we didn’t expect his/her climb back up to the top to be this slow. We expected a quick recovery—from the ‘F’ to an ‘A’… Or a ‘B’ at least when they resat the exam the following year. Not from an ‘F’ to an ‘E’.

Is this too much to ask?

No. Far from it. Because what such expectations do is go to show what our opinions of our selves are—what we believe our potentials to be. Having the prerequisite resources and socio-political climate, our perception and expectations of ourselves as a nation are understandably high. Say what you want; give all the excuses you want; cite all the other African countries you can, the fact remains that Ghana has absolutely no business festering in mediocrity (and below-mediocrity) for this long.

[Before we conclude, let me just say that this expectation and perception of self—justified or unjustified—they do make the comparison with the USA even more telling. That paragraph right up there sounds like something the Americans would say of themselves.]


You know what, an Elephant, Umbrella, and Butterfly did walk into a bar. But before either of them could say jack, the whole darn place was on fire. From bar to bar, each place they went, up in flames—immediately or eventually.

Whenever something like this happens, the temptation to think one is cursed is high.

Yes, indeed. And I was thinking about this the other day… From pre to immediately post-independence era, each time it has seemed that our time has come to flourish as a nation, an event—manmade or God-made—comes in to disrupt the course of our trajectory. [And perhaps we will go through those instances in the weeks to come]. So yes, the temptation to suspect that we, as a nation (and continent), are cursed is so high.

But then it occurred to me: these stormy seas, they’ve not been particularly peculiar to our country or continent for that matter, have they? Because nations all across the world, and even the developed world, they all have had their own fair share of these periodic fires. Fire upon fire—series of events that bring up this same suspicion of curse. God-made and manmade eventualities that come in to threaten to distort the course of their national progressions. Although in the case of most of these developed nations, whenever these events are manmade, they often are the man that made them. But that’s beside the point…

What I am trying to say is that hardships are just as inevitable to nations’ lives as they are to individuals’ lives. And when these incidents happen, do we just crumble? By answering ‘yes’, we seem to have forgotten about the good old skilled sailor


Fellow Ghanaians, what good is a sailor without stormy seas? What good is a sailor if they crumble easily on stormy waters? In fact, that’s what separates the great sailor from the bad one, is it not? That’s what true leadership is, no? That distinct ability to keep it together—to run a tight ship—even on the stormiest of seas; during those times when all threaten to fall apart… That’s true leadership.

Because guess what, these hard times—coming in all shapes and forms—they are indeed inevitable.  And that’s why it becomes poignant this the Vice President said when he was in opposition—a statement he would resist having repeated against him now that he’s in office and is seeking an even higher office—but indeed, “If the fundamentals are weak, the exchange rate will expose you.” The entire economy—in fact—will expose you. No truer statement has been made by a Ghanaian leader in a long while.

It’s absolutely true, isn’t it? That which we’ve had as a nation for the longest time has been weak fundamentals—across the board, hasn’t it? From under the shade of the Umbrella, to on the back of the Elephant, and even atop the wings of the Butterfly (having had a ride on those wings under differing circumstances)—that which we, as a nation, have had to suffer through has been utterly weak fundamentals. Weak, leaky foundations. So, we crumble very easily under shocks—external and internal alike. While brilliant nations skilfully navigate crises—most often transforming threats into opportunities…We just crumble.


Indeed, when your heart has been broken so many times, the temptation to be cynical is always very high. The tendency to grow numb and inured to it all is very high. It comes to a point where one succeeds in convincing themselves that this is all a leader is good for—this one-step-forward-one-step-backwards shenanigans, this is the best leaders can ever offer, and that is how nationhood ought to be. But that’s woefully inaccurate, isn’t it?

All these lovers—leaders out here trying to woo us—they sure can do much better than this seesaw of a romance they have subjected us to for all these years, can they not?

All you politicians out here trying to woo us the Ghanaian people… All you, able to stand on your feet for hours and hours, reading through 70-plus-paged letters, you sure are better lovers than you are giving off, aren’t you? So yes, we refuse to do as my friend Kobla advised. We refuse to ‘take you just like that’.  Because there sure is something like real love—real leadership. We’ve seen others do it.


[By the way, this lover analogy is a way better one than the trotro-driver-cum-mate analogy re-enforced by the Vice president during his speech. These trotro drivers, with their cheerleaders (mates), recklessly, insufferably driving around the nation as though they own every darn street, they sure did not need this additional chip on their shoulders, did they?

Also, I heard you trying to stifle a laugh when I started comparing Ghana to an A-student.]

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