The Common Man (and Woman) Makes a Big Difference in Ghana

Apparently, the Ghanaian government is in need of an additional GHc1.8 billion to support its budget for the year. This was only reported in the past week by the country’s finance minister, Seth Terkper. And, it’s a bit of a devastating blow given the economic support received in the past couple of years. (It’s probably also a blow for Mahama’s government and presidential campaign – though there may be time to sweep that under the carpet before November.)

There’s a reason that the government only has so much to spend, however. Very few of the country’s retail transactions can be taxed. Approximately 96 percent fall under the informal sector according to research gathered for Deloitte’s African Powers of Retailing 2015. Yes, only four percent of retail can be taxed, no matter how many are sporting clothing from global companies with Ghanaian shop fronts. Sure, the middle class is growing, but Ghana spent its oil profits before they actually arrived.

What that means, though, is that the fate of the Ghanaian economy remains in the hands of the people. That doesn’t mean it’s easy. Too many families send their children away to work as fishermen in the hopes that they’ll have a better life. Indeed, many children in the rural areas of the country have no inclination to remain in school as it doesn’t appear to offer any rewards. (And every four years, the campaign promises sound a great deal more enticing than university studies.)

The idea that money can be made elsewhere doesn’t diminish over time or with education. There are plenty of economic migrants that leave in search of money they can bring back to their families. Some make it; they head to Europe or the United States and put in several years’ worth of work before the call back to Africa sounds. Others leave without ever returning, save for treasured visits to family when enough time from work can be saved – and when there’s a little money left after sending remittances home.

And then there are Ghanaian migrants that hope to make their fortune abroad only to find there isn’t work to be found. Returnees from Libya found families that needed the money more than their sons. They were welcomed with the difficult prospect of having fallen behind friends on their path to building a better life. Fighting or no fighting, the message is clear – come back with something we can use… or don’t come back. That’s tough for Ghanaians missing their communities and many opportunities too.

But, there are success stories rolling off the presses of local and international media sources. Just consider the work of Kwadwo Safo. You may know him as the founder of Kantanka. You may also know him as the founder of the Christ Reformed Church. Or, perhaps you know him as the father of Kwadwo Safo Jr., the 30-year-old CEO of the car business. You know, Ghana’s only car manufacturer.

It’s funny when you look at it like that. The government can barely work a budget while those on the ground are still ticking, still turning over business, and still making dreams come true. You may have to stand back and look at it with a smile; this is Africa, after all.

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