It has become fashionable to describe capitalism as a brute force that drives the lust for profit through all our fine sensibilities like a pig on heat during holy mass.

Yet, contemplate the Ghanaian ‘public transport’ sector which is actually made up predominantly of privately owned vehicles, whose drivers have constituted themselves into a ‘union’ not to bargain up their wages but to interact with the public authorities on matters of pricing and standards.

And, yet, this is not a cartel per se (not that we have any real awareness of anti-trust matters in Ghana) but a moderating influence on price inflation in the transport sector.

That is how come it costs $10 to ride a bus more comfortable than a US greyhound on a 300km journey in Ghana. And this is the high end. Over the last 5 years, the price growth has barely crossed 50%. Over the same period, buffet prices at any of Accra’s 4-star hotels have almost tripled.

To ride a bus over a similar distance, say from New York to Boston, will cost you about 10 times that amount. And this will not be at the high end of the market.

I acknowledge that more evolved public-private transport partnerships in Africa, like Kenya’s saccos, do succeed in capturing more value for capitalists. But the more intriguing point is how Ghana’s system delivers value for consumers.

Relying on an interesting blend of cooperation and competition, Ghana’s private transport owners continue to pool risks and resources to boost comfort and safety in the long-distance segment (yes, road accidents in this segment is down) without corresponding investments in regulation and passenger terminal infrastructure from the state.

Capitalism adapts to the ethos of the system.

Now, if we accept, even if only hypothetically, that Democracy is a game played largely by elites among themselves, and that it is targeted at the Masses only reluctantly, because there is a need for a neutral arbiter, a role played by the Masses for little pay (ever seen a multi-millionaire referee in the English premium league?), then we have the option to either replace democracy or to accept it for what it is.

I haven’t seen many truly superior alternatives to democracy in practice, outside the playing fields of game theory, so I reckon we are going to have to keep it for a long while. If we are indeed going to keep it, despite its nature, then it is obvious that we must look critically at the DYSFUNCTION of the elite.

One of the obvious signs of difference between the formation and grooming of the elites in Africa, on the one hand, and their counterparts in Asia, Europe and America, on the other hand, is the absence of institutions, groups, and individuals with the entrepreneurial acumen to coordinate and prime elites for their roles in the game of democracy on a sustainable basis. Such priming focuses primarily on self-awareness, negotiation, optimisation, group censure, delayed gratification, and other grammars of behavior and social operation.

Even before they became wealthy, Europe, Asia and America were awash with all manner of guilds and societies. Today, they have their Aspens, WEFs, Councils for Foreign Relations, Salzburgs, Central Party Schools, MITIs, and hosts upon hosts of institutions and coordinators whose primary focus is on building intra-elite harmony to keep the game of democracy (or its predecessors) from degenerating into a chaotic, progressively unproductive, farce. That way, they have legitimized systems of social and political organisation that have proved both resilient and materially capable of sustaining the Game over significant stretches of time despite the turbulent shifts in societal attitudes around them.

We on the other hand have continued to deceive ourselves with the ‘bio-mimicry’ of ‘mass institutions’ such as trade unions, political parties, religious congregations, sporting fan clubs, etc. Yet, in no society have these ‘mass institutions’ succeeded without COUNTER-ELITES to ride their vanguard. Counter-elites are also elites. More precisely they are parts of the elite organised and coordinated with an aim to subvert other elites.

But make no mistake about it, in the end, Elites prevail, either as a stable, self-optimising, force, or as a marauding, destabilizing, poorly coordinated, infectious swarm.

We have deluded ourselves long enough, but it is time to face the cold, brutal, fact.

Democracy has never really been about the ‘MASSES’. Never has been, never is, and never shall be. Period.

Democracy is the game of competition within the elite whereby the neutral arbiters – the so-called ‘Masses’ – are called upon merely to become independent referees, because they have far less at stake.

In that light, the health of a democracy is measured by HOW LESS dysfunctional the elite becomes as a function of time, and in comparison with elites in other societies with which the community in question has contact (i.e. the bigger game going on among nations).

And that dysfunction, in the case of Ghana for instance, is the result of a lack of sufficient self-awareness among the elite of their ROLE in the game, and hence their inability to produce consistent rules that keep the game from descending into total chaos.

Where I differ with the profound minds of Kwame Kyei-baffour and H Kwasi Prempeh is their view that the elite, in the specific case of Ghana or some African states, can be ‘healed’ to become less dysfunctional by focusing on the ‘values’ of their individual members, with the ultimate goal of making democracy a truly Masses game.

Ain’t ever happening.

There is something banal about colonial evil.
Take the memoirs of your typical imperialist of his time in the colonies, and there is likely to be enough there of the casual routine of stonemasonry, condiments, quinine tonic, petty linguistic discoveries, and annoying detail about minor fauna to leave every cell in your brain dry with boredom.
But it is in these banalities that the real nature of the enterprise, as overwhelmingly economic, comes best to the fore.
I have always been quite intrigued about the old gold mining industries of Ghana (then Gold Coast). However, the best records of the metal’s production history do not come from official transactions in the colony but from the travelogues of various explorers, often in side remarks about certain native practices.
I have usually treated the subject as a rebuke to our ridiculous ‘modern’ policy on ‘illegal mining’. I mean our ancestors have been digging pits all over the place for centuries to mine the precious stuff, based on ancient techniques and concession management principles, and yet we think we can sit in Accra, incant on some piece of paper, proclaim it law, and voila, change all that!
What has been particularly significant for me though is how much gold we were able to produce without mercury. To the extent that the grand Iberian empire was already aware of these shores as a source of gold in the late 14th century (by the way, Don Diego D’Axambuja was NOT the first European explorer to come here.) According to some records, the Elmina Port was at some point the single richest source for the imperial mints of the Iberian Princes. And yet, deep into the 19th Century our ancestral miners still did not use mercury.
With the introduction of mercury, artisanal mining was transformed steadily into the environmental nightmare it is today. But was it simply the virgin nature of the reserves that made considerable small scale mining possible without mercury, or were there some clever techniques that are now lost due to poor documentation and the general distaste for technical knowledge and its preservation by succeeding generations of native elites?
As you might have guessed, modernisation of technique was hardly the number one interest of the colonialist (that will come with industrial capitalism at a later time). But they were concerned about productivity all the same.
Alternative history is often junk. But it is still mind-boggling to consider that only the insipid bureaucracy of London prevented the realisation of a serious policy to import very large numbers of slaves into the Gold Coast from China and East Africa to mine the deposit belts due to concerns about the sparse populations in the region and presumably their lack of complete submission to low-wage exploitation.
We could easily have had the legacies of large scale domestic industrial slavery to contend with following independence.

The reason why I find policy so intriguing is the way it forces us to become multidisciplinary and transdisciplinary (think across different subject matter) in order to understand even what looks like the simplest of things. But I also like how with a little more delving into, even the ‘simplest’ of stuff turn out to be not all that simple. In many ways, this explains why most politicians tend not to leave any discernible impacts on their sectors. Their temperament are much too unsubtle for the delicate task of policy formulation.

Let me illustrate. Is Ghana a net importer or net exporter of petroleum?

If you took the raw numbers from the Energy Commission, you will see 65000 barrels of imported fuel. The NPA will give you a long list of petroleum products measured in liters or metric tonnes and leave you to convert. That will give you roughly 75,000 barrels. It appears as if the Energy Commission figures are mostly for diesel and premium, but let’s leave this aside. Figures reported by the Petroleum Commission suggest exports of 100,000 barrels of oil per day, roughly.

Since the NPA is reporting for finished products, you need to convert the figures to their equivalent for crude oil to be able to compare with exports (since we export virtually all our oil in crude form). The problem is that it is not all that straightforward to convert a barrel of premium to crude oil, since a barrel of crude oil contain other products, some of which (like naphthalene) we consume very little in Ghana. But after the delicate work of balancing proportion against proportion, you come to a figure somewhat similar to the 100,000 barrels of petroleum we export.

At this stage, I am comfortable leaving the offset as a zero-sum. That is to say we export as much as we import (or ‘we are neutral’). But no sooner has one concluded on that position than the likes of Theo Acheampong will show up and insist that because we do not really own all the crude oil we export we should still peg the net balance at negative. But to accommodate that view would mean looking to confirm if all the fuel we import is paid for by Ghanaians (for example, some fuel is transhipped to our nothern neighbours, whilst some go to foreign airlines that use Ghana as a fueling hub etc.)

So, you see, it may not be all that simple. Now, the question is whether a Minister can be responsible for setting policy and yet be disinterested in the manner in which such policy is developed. After all, the role of the Civil Service is to implement and not to make policy. So, if political leaders are not expected to be policy enthusiasts, then who exactly should manage the intricasies of policy formulation? Maybe in that singular question is all that is frustrating about our politics.

Over the last five years, the turnover of Ghana’s financial industry has grown from $1.6 Billion to $3.5 Billion, and thus from 5% of the economy to 8% of the economy (in GDP terms).

Comparatively, this is higher than the US financial industry’s 7.3% contribution to US economic output, but less than the 12% recorded in the UK. But both the US and the UK have highly globalised financial sectors so these countries may not be the most appropriate benchmarks.

Curiously though total financial industry assets in Ghana constitute less than 40% of GDP, compared to the equivalent of 300% of GDP in South Africa, where the sector’s contribution to economic output is about 10% (together with insurance and real estate, the total carves up a share of about 24% of GDP). Same phenomenon is seen in the UK where total banking assets amount to considerably more than 350%.

Which brings me to my main point. The average total banking assets as a percentage of GDP for so-called middle-income sub-Saharan African countries is 99%. In Kenya, a country that is actually sub-par in this area, for example, it is 65%. Financial services’ share of GDP in Kenya is 9.2%, admittedly higher than Ghana’s, but then total financial industry assets are almost twice that of the Ghana, which is the trend among most relatively sophisticated economies even in our own region.

Unless someone has a deeper explanation, the only way to account for this super-high efficiency in converting assets to income as witnessed in Ghana is PONZIFICATION, which must have led to outsized interest income throughout the system.

No, I am *not* being reckless.