SYPALA which is spearheaded by IMANI launched its first ever seminar in 2007 at the Ashesi University Campus. It was in collaboration with Ashesi University, CATO Institute, European Enterprise Institute and the Staley Foundation. This program under the IMANI Summer University (IMSU) led a five day seminar which had over 60 carefully selected and illustrious participants from a range of Universities and professionals in Ghana, West Africa, the USA and the UK. Some of the Universities represented were the University of Ghana, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Institute of Professional Studies (now University of Professional Studies, Accra), Kumasi Polytechnic, London School of Journalism, among others. Some professionals from organizations such as the Free Africa Foundation, Center for Ethics and Technological Development and the Quorum Corporate Services also attended. The theme for the summit was “Inspiring African Transformation” signifying the beginning of a wave in which Africa would continuously transform herself for the betterment / prosperity of her citizens.
The speakers for the program were Dr. Robert Darko Osei, Dr. Yaw Adarkwah Antwi, Reverend Daniel Ogbammey Tetteh, Ms. June Arunga, Mr. Kofi Bentil, Mr. Franklin Cudjoe, Mr. Peter Jungen and Mr. Kojo Oppong-Nkrumah. The aim of this first seminar was to give birth to a generation of intellectually conscious future leaders who were willing to explore freedom and pursue goals for the benefit of all in society.
The first speaker, Dr. Robert Darko Osei spoke on the theme, Why Africa Should Forget Foreign Aid and in this expository on aid he discussed the various forms of aid countries were subject to ranging from physical cash to technical assistance. He discussed its impact in terms of whether a country was able to show clear and measurable results attributed from this aid and whether its significance could be seen in their economies and political systems. He also covered whether aid when given does indeed reach its proposed target. At the end of the session, it was clear that the willingness of a donor country to provide aid to another nation could lead to another set of problems such as mismanagement of resources, corruption, among others. Participants had some light shed on questions which arose such as:
- The correlation between Africa’s development and foreign aid
- Whether Africa can wean itself off aid dependency and
- Consequences of Africa’s over-dependence on foreign aid
Although there is no right answer or school of thought for these questions, a strong theme that clearly emanated through discussions was that, foreign aid may be more detrimental to Africa than we see as there is sufficient evidence of how the said aid is used by developed countries to bribe Africans into accepting the injustice posed by the former’s interference in world markets. There was hope that Africa may begin to turn her fortunes around for the better by reducing her dependence on foreign aid. The talk on foreign aid was especially important as annually about 1% of the US budget goes towards aid in Africa and allowed participants to be good judges and draw conclusions on the impact of whether this aid does help countries or falls in the hands of some corrupt officials who pocket these monies for their personal enrichment.
Dr. Osei, the well versed economist gave another talk on the topic, Is Trade a Fair or Free Concept which focused on development with an emphasis on trade. He cited Adam Smith and David Ricardo, the godfathers of economics and reiterated the essence of trade being linked to productivity and specialization because trade has the ability to help a country produce more and do so in more sophisticated ways when techniques such as comparative advantage are employed. In doing this, countries can exchange their surpluses with another country who has a shortfall in that commodity and vice-versa. However, from his lecture it was easy to determine that the trade we see in practice is not convergent with the above assumption as Africa seems to be losing out in the “trade game” although it’s been a key player for many centuries.
This is as a result of the barriers of trade such as indirect subsidies, tariffs, sanitary and “phytosanitary” tactics employed by the more developed countries under the guise of protecting their domestic industries and jobs and kicking imports from the developing countries out. Proponents of free markets continue to argue that the world as a whole will be the beneficiary should trade become freer. Developing countries especially, would be able to participate more on the global market and essentially reduce their dependence on handouts (foreign aid) Fair trade proponents also believe that the use of ‘directed measures’ will balance the relationship between developed and developing countries for instance by employing price controls on an international scale.
At the end of the session, participants were left with questions burning in their minds such as:
- Would developed countries be net losers if they allowed freer trade?
- Is the ‘second-best’ solution for developing countries some form of protection for their domestic industries?
Participants left the session with a more pronounced awareness on the mutual advantages of free trade to trade partners and an enhanced ability to scrutinize the claims of the Fair Trade agenda. To show how different varied concepts could all be drawn into the seminar and ensuring that participants were given a broad base of knowledge and understanding, Mr. Kofi Bentil spoke also on Entrepreneurship & the Spirit of Creative Destruction with insights not being only philosophical but also being downright practical. Mr. Bentil guided participants through a maze of ideas which led to the breathtaking vision of “revolutionary” capitalism once drawn by the renowned economist, Schumpeter. Schumpeter had believed that the traditional systems of economic transformation such as the theories of Adam Smith and John Maynard Keynes to be flawed and incomplete.
He believed that a paradigm shift had to occur during economic transformation as well as a shift away from what preceded it. And this is evident with the new entrepreneurial wave we see sweeping across Asia. For instance, China in recent years has been achieving a trade surplus much greater than the total output a nation like Ghana makes. In addition, a large proportion of economic production is shifting away from the West to Asia making China the world’s largest holder of foreign currency.
This seminar explored the notion of what paradigm shift had to occur on our home continent to ensure that local industries and business models that have long served business elites in Ghana from asset-backed financing to intensive poultry rearing from being bulldozed, especially as novel forms of securities trading and private equity trusts make their debut on the Accra financial markets and coastal farmers switch to organic and horticultural farming in droves. It also sought to provide some discernment as to how the African continent will fare in this latest episode of tectonic change.
Mr. Franklin Cudjoe also gave a lecture on Multinational Corporations & Poverty Reduction. Most a time, multinationals are tainted in a negative light on their operations with assumptions that they exist merely to exploit the countries in which they find themselves in. What isn’t known is that they are one of the main instruments for investing in certain social compacts to benefit the poor. They perform these acts as their Corporate Social Responsibility in which they are the forerunners and use these activities as a means of civil engagement between the business operators and the wider population. These businesses also serve as a means of employment for the citizens of these countries.
Mr. Cudjoe also argued that the whirlwinds of globalization and the new demands of consumers in both the developed and developing world make MNCs crucial to the effort of enhancing institutional capacity of developing countries and the ability of economic actors to respond to the new level of institutional effectiveness. In conclusion, he reiterated that MNC participation in developing economies was crucial because, firstly, the reduction of poverty depends on the growth of business, especially small domestic businesses.
Also, for a local business to flourish it must have access to the world markets, credit facilities and technology and all these are facilitated by MNCs. Prudent governments are those that are able to make policies that can woo the private sector to spend as much as possible on infrastructure in order to protect their own treasuries.
Mr. Peter Jungen also drew upon his longstanding experience in the highest echelons of the German industry surveying the power globalization is lending to entrepreneurial developments across the world, sometimes regardless of local constraints. He observed that never before in recorded history, has poverty been decreased as fast as in our times. For the first time since the industrial revolution, inequality has fallen. The world has become a better place due to globalization and a fast-spreading culture of entrepreneurship.
He highlighted the merits of globalization and the need for globalization as it was the best channel for developing countries to participate in the world markets and to make their own living through their participation. Globalization is the best means for integrating the diverse nations of the world. On the global market, winners have been those who opened themselves up to globalization while those who lost out were those who closed themselves up from globalization.
The seminar ended with a talk from Mr. Kojo Oppong-Nkrumah on How to be Your Own Boss taking participants on a journey though the landscapes of self-reliance, personal development and professional growth, drawing heavily on his own experiences a young entrepreneur and one of Ghana’s foremost electronic journalists. He made mention of being open to change and daring to set out on a path than that which is often explored. He honed in on the themes of self reliance, self motivation, risk management and above all be willing to grab opportunities when they present themselves.
The sessions were not merely in the lecture form but there were also group discussions giving participants a chance to engage with the speaker and material in a more personal manner. There was also film sessions bordering around some of the themes explored in lectures. Although this was SYPALA’s first of such conferences which indeed has now become a household name, it was undoubtedly an important turning point in the lives of the youth who are definitely imparted with some lifelong lessons just from attending.