Your Excellency, Former President of the Republic, John Mahama,
Honorable Minister of Finance Ken Ofori-Atta,
University of Ghana Vice Chancellor Professor Nana Aba Appiah Amfo,
Mrs. Matilda Amissah-Arthur and family,
Distinguished guests, friends, and colleagues,
It is my honor to be here today to speak in remembrance of Kwesi Bekoe Amissah-Arthur, or as we fondly know him, Paa Kwesi.
He and I had the chance to work together on several occasions, and we shared a firm belief in Ghana’s ability to transform and to live up to its potential as Africa’s greatest democracy.
He was for as long as I knew him committed to making policy decisions based on strong evidence, but always keeping in mind the need to put citizens first and to understand how big-picture policy impacts people living at all four corners of our beloved country.
It is always an honor and a privilege for me to be here. I got my start in the Department of Economics, so I have my education at Legon to thank for a wonderful career. I also have Legon to thank for something even better—I was a student here when I met the most important person in my life, my dear wife Philomena. I came for an education, but I left with so much more than that.
This is actually the third time that I’ve had the honor of making a speech at Legon. The first was in September 2000, when I delivered the University of Ghana Alumni Lecture at the Great Hall. I spoke on Ghana’s history of economic development and reform, and I noted that we as Ghanaians possess special values of tolerance and respect that have allowed us to avoid the conflicts and strife that have affected other African countries. But I also cautioned that our tolerance should not extend to political systems, policies, or institutions that need to serve our people better.
The second time I spoke was 15 years later, in 2015, also at the Great Hall, where I had the honor to serve as the keynote speaker at the inaugural E.N. Omaboe Memorial Lecture. On that occasion, I spoke on how to strengthen our democracy for a stronger economy and stronger future. I called it “positive politics for Ghana.”
On both occasions, I spoke of the urgency of addressing the problems that were holding us back as a nation. And on both occasions, I said the same thing: “the Black Star cannot wane.”
In between those two Great Hall lectures, I also spoke at the opening session of the Ghana Economic Forum at Senchi, which was chaired by the man we are honoring here today. One of my most vivid memories of Paa Kwesi was when we worked together at Senchi, almost ten years ago, for such a crucial event.
At that time, Ghana was facing several serious economic challenges. Fiscal deficits were high. Rising public debt, energy subsidies, and a high public sector wage bill were threatening macroeconomic stability. Inflation and interest rates had jumped into double digits.
Together with Paa Kwesi and other political and development elites in Senchi, we spent three days on substantive discussions about what the future of our country should be.
We came out of Senchi with a consensus, but only among a privileged few, without enough buy-in from all political parties. So the conversations and the agreements we made ended up as a footnote in history rather than a long-term strategy.
The situation we face today may be even worse.
Between 2000 and 2020, Ghana experienced 13 years of rapid growth, including six years of very rapid growth. But growth alone is not enough to sustain long-term development. Countries must transform their economies.
Despite that strong growth rate, Ghana’s economy has suffered from falling productivity in the manufacturing sector and high vulnerability to global markets and commodity price shocks. Its development has been marred by debt and energy crises, large trade and fiscal imbalances, and a lack of consistent long-term planning.
As a result, Ghana is not transforming. At the African Center for Economic Transformation, we developed the African Transformation Index to track country progress in this regard. An updated index will be released this summer. And it will show that Ghana’s economic transformation is in decline, below the African average in all the areas used to measure success, such as diversification of products and exports, technology, and labor productivity.
As we know, Ghana just made another agreement with the IMF. But the stakes are higher. Political polarization is worse. Civic disengagement is higher. Ghana must not only solve its economic problems to enable transformation it must also safeguard its democratic traditions and institutions.
Another election is on the horizon, and the next administration will lead Ghana into the second quarter of this century.
Those next 25 years are absolutely critical to Ghana’s ability to secure its future. Another consensus is needed, but this time, it needs to be a true national consensus—broader, with more stakeholder input and buy-in, especially among the youth, women, and civic associations.
In past lectures, I spoke on these issues in hypotheticals. Today, I do not have to do that. Today, I am able speak in more certain terms—specifically, about a new initiative that I and many other concerned citizens are spearheading.
It is called the Compact for Ghana’s Political and Economic Transformation. And through it, we are working right now to build the true national consensus that is so urgently needed.
The Ghana Compact aims to frame the future we want for Ghana by 2050. It is a platform for setting a shared vision for our nation that will tackle our greatest challenges. It is intended to put Ghana on a more secure path forward by bringing a better balance to our democratic process and more voices into our policy discussions.
Our core belief with the Compact is this: for Ghana to truly deliver on its ambitions and achieve its greatest potential, we need to build a social contract between our citizens and our government— no matter who is in charge—to set a long-term vision for economic transformation that delivers dividends for our people.
We all know the issues. Every time government changes, our policies and programs change. Our constitution was written too long ago to work for today’s challenges. Women still face barriers to equal rights and equal participation. Our businesses are not as competitive as they could be. Our youth need the skills, training, and opportunities to succeed. And of course our fiscal health is weak.
So what will the Ghana Compact do that is different than all that’s come before? A lot. It is more than an idea. It is more than a framework. It is call to action.
The Compact is bringing ordinary citizens into the discourse and discussions so that the initiative is informed first and foremost by the people of Ghana, from the ground up, not the top down. It is engaging youth on the issues that will define their lives. It is building consensus among a wide and varied group of stakeholders, from industry associations and trade unions, to civil society and the leadership of parliament.
In this way, the Compact is not just another diagnosis. When finished, it will propose concrete solutions:
to address the historic constraints and challenges to our fiscal health;
to safeguard our democracy amid increasing political polarization, distrust, and disengagement;
and to put Ghana on a successful pathway to economic transformation and sustainable, inclusive growth.
At the African Center for Economic Transformation, we are working closely with a network of most of the major think tanks and policy institutes to supply this initiative with an empirical foundation. More than a half dozen research papers have been produced so far. And we have more citizen dialogues and engagements planned, as well as a national mobilization campaign.
Now, in light of all this, I want to take a moment and reiterate the theme for today’s conference: Economic Policymaking in Ghana: Lessons Learned and the Way Forward. The Ghana Compact is, in my view, a truly workable blueprint for applying past lessons toward a better future. But of course, it all comes down to crafting and implementing smart, informed economic policies that enable transformation.
So, before I conclude, allow me to make one very important point right now: we know what it takes to transform. Other countries have done it, most notably in Asia, where Korea, Malaysia and others offer examples to follow. But we also have some good examples on our own continent of countries that have started a transformation journey, such as Mauritius and South Africa.
ACET has studied this extensively, and we have a good idea of what works and what does not.
In Africa, we know that all countries—no matter their unique circumstance—must diversify production and exports, improve their competitiveness in global markets, boost productivity, especially labor productivity, upgrade technology across industries, and improve human well-being through higher wages and better jobs. These are fundamental components of successful transformation strategies, and they must be central to economic policymaking in African countries.
Ladies and gentlemen, I don’t have to tell you that there are no shortcuts to the solutions we seek. But we do not need shortcuts. We need commitment. We need action.
For too long, Ghana has suffered from a surplus of politics and a deficit of ideas. It is time to change that. The stakes are too high. The Ghana Compact does not provide all the answers, but it does provide a way forward.
When I spoke at Senchi, I said that we are not just any nation. I believe this still today. I always will.
We are a nation of unparalleled history and culture, with respect for one another and an unwavering belief in democracy. We have natural and human resources that can propel us into the future. We have an engaged and innovative youth population ready to tackle the challenges of the 21st century.
We cannot squander this gift that we have. As I said earlier, the Black Star cannot wane.
As some of you may know, I recently wrote a book, Know the Beginning Well, which traces five decades of African development. The title is based on my favorite African proverb: “If you know the beginning well, the end shall not trouble you.”
It is in that spirit that I have approached the Ghana Compact. The next election will help set us on a course for the next quarter century. But we must learn from the past to ensure a better future for our children, and for our grandchildren.
I am often asked what still motivates me, or why I keep pushing. They are the answer.
Paa Kwesi’s children, his son Kwesi and his daughter Araba, helped organize this event and they are with us here today. Two of my daughters, Nana and Mame, and three of my grandchildren—Kofi, Mena, and Kare—are also here today.
So as I look around this room, I can see the future, right in front of me. I am humbled and honored to speak in front of you.
My granddaughter Mena lives in Accra. She is child growing up in Ghana, just as I was. When I envision a better future, I do it through her eyes. What kind of opportunities will be available to her? Will her well-being be better than it is today?
She will see an economy that is diversified, stable, and providing its citizens with higher and steadily rising levels of real income.
… an economy that is generating more productive jobs and a workforce that is better equipped to excel, with equal opportunities for women and men alike.
… an economy that is no longer based on traditional agriculture, raw materials extraction, and low-value services but on innovation, modern industries, and high-value service.
… an economy supported by higher—and more efficient—levels of national investment and propelled by sound fiscal strategies.
If Mena saw all these things, then she would see a country that is becoming more sustainable and a society becoming more inclusive. She would see a country better equipped to deploy policies that would reach the poor and vulnerable. She would see a country with increased life spans, reduced income gaps, and less poverty.
So in that context, allow me to close by reading from the last paragraph of my book:
I do not know if Mena will see the Ghana I have envisioned my whole life, but I hope she does. And I believe she will. My journey is nearing its conclusion. Her journey—and a better one for Ghana and Africa—is just beginning.
I know Paa Kwesi shared the same hope and vision of Ghana. I look forward to discussing these issues further today.