Recent demonstrations in Ghana show that
there is no future for Africans under structural adjustment. John Pender of Africa Direct
'You may as well kill me now'
'Kume preko' was the banner under which around 100 000 people demonstrated through the
streets of Ghana's capital city Accra in May this year. A new tax that increased prices by
17.5 per cent was introduced under severe pressure from the International Monetary Fund
and the World Bank to raise revenue as part of Ghana's structural adjustment programme.
'Kume preko' meaning 'You may as well kill me now' sums up the 12 years of intensifying
impoverishment under structural adjustment,
Every year since 1983 has been one of biting austerity - the consequence of the standard
structural adjustment prescriptions like public spending cuts and devaluation. These
'adjustments' are designed to open up the economy for foreign investment.
Ghanaians are still waiting for the miracle of the market to occur, in the meantime every
aspect of survival has become infused with the insidious World Bank philosophy of
privatisation. In Ghana you now pay for everything - clean water, primary education, basic
health provision. One placard on the protest read, 'A meal a day is a dream in Ghana'.
The primary impulse for structural adjustment was to insulate the economies of the West
from the destabilising consequences of the debt crisis of the early 1980s. In particular
when Mexico declared a moratorium on debt repayments in 1982 the whole Western banking
system seemed to be at risk. Through the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund,
Western governments moved to ensure that debt repayments to the West became the top
priority for Third World governments. Today weak Third World economies have no
independence and there is a significant net transfer of wealth from the majority of Third
World countries to their Western 'creditors'.
The West has also used debt as a lever to exert tighter control over the Third World. For
example, under what the IMF calls 'enhanced surveillance', specific targets are set for
Ghana's economic policy. The World Bank's confidential Country Assistance Strategy for
1996-98 reportedly specifies that alongside significantly increasing tax revenue, 'a
significant downsizing of the current [civil] service must be an integral aspect' of the
Ghanaian government's economic programme.
Third World debt is explicitly used as a means of coercion and control. Despite the fact
that the World Bank goes through the motions of drawing up specific 'assistance
strategies' for each indebted country, each strategy is the same as the next:
privatisation, reduction of public sector wages and welfare payments. Loans come with
stringent conditions attached. Ghana lost $300m in promised loans and grants in 1994
because it delayed privatising commercial banks and state cotton enterprises. There are
similar threats for 1995. As Kwesi Botchwey, longstanding Ghanaian finance minister until
May this year, recently told Africa Report: 'You are supposed to undertake a
certain policy; you don't do it for reasons that are often explainable; because you don't
do it, resources are denied and the economy gets destabilised. It's a vicious circle.' A
resident IMF representative sat across from Botchwey's office monitoring the
implementation of structural adjustment.
Structural adjustment was supposed to lead to the emergence of 'African tigers' to match
the tiger economies of east Asia. But in fact during the period of structural adjustment
sub-Saharan Africa has become further marginalised from the world economy.
The only sector of Ghana's industry to have taken off under structural adjustment reforms
is gold mining. In what has been termed Ghana's 'second gold rush' production has risen
from 287 000 oz in 1986 to an anticipated 1.6m oz in 1995. Gold overtook cocoa as Ghana's
leading export in 1994. Yet the dynamism of this sector is unlikely to have much impact on
either the lives of ordinary Ghanaians or the capacity of the economy to reduce its
vulnerability to the fluctuations of the world market. Strongly encouraged by the
International Finance Corporation - the investment arm of the World Bank - control of gold
production has shifted dramatically from the Ghanaian government to British, American and
Also any revenues received by the government are now, under structural adjustment
obligations, more likely to be used to balance the national accounts or pay off foreign
debtors than benefit ordinary people.
'You may as well kill me now' is a fitting slogan. The World Bank's most optimistic
projection is that it will take 50 years for the average Ghanaian living in poverty to
break out of it. But the World Bank's assessments are notoriously optimistic. While its
own assessments indicate that between 31 and 40 per cent of Ghanaians live in poverty,
more objective analysts have challenged the definition of poverty used by the World Bank.
Even the best-paid Ghanaians struggle to survive. As one Unicef survey concluded 'no
household can survive on one minimum wage and virtually none maintains even moderately
acceptable living standards on any public or most private sector salaries'. A 1985 survey
of the Accra suburb Nima-Maamobi showed that spending eight times the minimum wage,
households would still meet less than 30 per cent of World Bank estimates of the cost of
an acceptable diet. Malnutrition is common even in urban areas, along with overcrowding,
squalor and lack of access to basic services. Recent reports indicate that hospitals in
Accra are now turning away people who cannot make a downpayment.
Ghanaians protest that, instead of going through the formalities of structural adjustment,
'You may as well kill me now'. But there is a consensus in the West that adjustment is
necessary. Oxfam is one of the most radical non-governmental organisations working in
Africa. The Oxfam Poverty Report's assessment of structural adjustment opens with a
quote from Kwafi Akoor, finance minister, Ghana: 'There is only one thing worse than
structural adjustment; and that is not adjusting.' (June 1995) In fact, there is no
Ghanaian finance minister called Kwafi Akoor. Oxfam was obviously too eager to preface its
own case for adjustment with the legitimacy of an African voice to pay attention to mere
Despite having been critics of the World Bank in the past, Oxfam says today that the idea
that failure to adjust hurts is 'uncontroversial' (p78) and that adjustment is
'unavoidable' (p76). It argues that there are 'no ready-made, painless solutions' (p73)
before coming up with its own 'Alternative Framework for Structural Adjustment' (p103).
Behind Oxfam's conversion to structural adjustment is the widespread belief that there is
no alternative to the free market. At the same time, most of the non-governmental
organisations have accepted that the problems faced by African societies are a consequence
of their own political structures, instead of being a result of their relation to Western
Criticism of structural adjustment has been reduced to the level of policy advice to the
World Bank. In many ways the whole of Oxfam's Poverty Report is an open letter to
the World Bank making the case for more intensive intervention. Oxfam argues that the Bank
should adopt an expansionary approach to the economy, but it does so without much
conviction. However, you certainly get the impression Oxfam thinks it can influence the
World Bank in other ways. It complains to the World Bank that public sector reform in
Zimbabwe has been 'spectacularly' slow and that subsidies to the steel industry and other
parastatal concerns have not fallen. It points to the 'misallocation' of resources in
Africa - meaning that the money has been spent on urban hospitals and higher education.
Once adjustment is accepted, the only area for debate is about how to mitigate the social
costs of adjustment. Oxfam says the World Bank 'has made genuine efforts to persuade
governments of the need to protect social expenditures' and that 'to its credit, the World
Bank has attempted to establish agreements with governments'. However it complains that
'non-compliance has been tolerated in a manner which would be inconceivable were it
repeated in relation, to say, money supply or credit control'. But this is a confused
argument. How can Third World governments protect social expenditures at the same time as
reducing spending? These absurd demands are a transparent attempt to vilify Third World
governments while taking on the mantle of protector of the poor. The one thing that Oxfam
and the World Bank are in complete unanimity upon is that these countries cannot be
allowed to determine their own policies.
The support of non-governmental agencies is welcomed by the Bank. In the mid-1980s an
average of 15 per cent of World Bank projects involved NGOs in design and implementation.
In 1990 and 1991 it was 57 per cent. Almost one third of World Bank projects involving
NGOs are ostensibly delivery of services to ease the effects of structural adjustment. The
World Bank has set aside $30m for 1996 to encourage participation in every World Bank
project and programme.
Today, the former critics of adjustment are more likely to be involved in its
implementation than in opposing it. The only way to check this trajectory is to start by
challenging the assumptions of the reconciliation with adjustment.
The Africa Direct campaign has launched the Challenging Adjustment project which has
started with a focus on Ghana. Through a network of people based both in West Africa and
Britain we are building up a picture of the consequences of adjustment. By exposing the
truth about Africa's marginalisation and the mechanisms of Western influence within Africa
we are attempting to formulate a real alternative to adjustment - one that puts Africans
in the driving seat. If you think you can contribute we want to hear from you. Contact
John Pender by e-mail: email@example.com, or c/o the Campaign Against Militarism:
CAM, BM CAM, London WC1N 3XX; phone (0171) 278 9908; fax (0171) 278 9844
Reproduced from Living Marxism issue 83, October 1995