Month: February 2016
The Endowments of African Faith
I have observed with some amusement, as the contest over religious freedoms and traditions rage on Ghanaian social media, that certain persons have tried, often futilely, to inject their own pet peeves into the whole affair. Some feverishly anti-God commentators have been taking pains to interject at every opportunity that all this cacophony is nothing more than a quarrel over ‘European impositions‘. They insist that we Africans have no connection whatsoever to Christianity, and that our devotions to such ‘foreign faiths’ are merely sad remnants of the colonisation of our mind. But are they right?
Strictly speaking they are not. If we are to treat the vast expanse of Africa as interconnected, without even bothering to go as extreme in our universalisation of African identity in the manner of, say, a Jonas Atingdui, we can still safely say that next to the Jews and Greeks, Africans were some of the earliest champions of the Christian faith.
It is intriguing that organised, ecclesiastical, Christianity actually arrived in England through the missionary work of St. Augustine, a Numidian African. And that long before there was any significant Christian authorities in Western Europe, Ethiopia (or Abyssinia) shared the honour with Armenia for organising the first state religions based on Christian dogma.
So, truth be told, Christianity has had very ancient associations with Africa. And in the case of Islam, it is important to bear in mind that those West African (or more pedantically, Western Sudanese) empires we all like to cite with pride, from Songhai to Mali, were heavily influenced by native enrichment of Islamic doctrine, and that it was in Africa that some of Islam’s deepest thinkers, like the amazing Ibn Battutta, cut their teeth.
Yet, one can still acknowledge that contemporary Africans have not done much to advance the Christianity in our midst towards profound scholarship or even great artistic pursuits. No Sistine chapel figurative motifs. Little in the way of original philosophy. And even the hymns favoured in our schools are often European.
So, as in many areas of our life, the tragedy is that we are not growing our endowment.
I think I now better understand why even the most gifted science fiction writers tend to be so poor at predicting how the future shall *look*.
Take Blade Runner. In the imagination of Ridley Scott, the world of 2019 has attained a level of artificial intelligence nearly indistinguishable from human cognition. These creations are called ‘replicants’, and are deployed for labour and guard duty in extraterrestrial colonies.
So alike are replicants and humans that a special assassination unit known as the ‘blade runners’ have been trained to accurately identify, hunt and kill those replicants who illegally try to infiltrate Earth from the off – world colonies. Except that it isn’t called ‘assassination’ or ‘execution’, but ‘retirement’.
Intriguing concept. Great visual landscapes. In the right mood, Ridley Scott is a genius.
But watch the film carefully and you will notice immediately that he exaggerated the scale of public works and the built environment by 2019. Flying cars are far from commonplace and perfect genetic prints of human eyes are a feat far from achievable with the current technology.
But it is in the incongruities that you find the best clues. For in the same world that you have flying cars, you also find that ceiling fans are commonplace and cigarettes remain old fashionedly fashionable.
Here is why: a misunderstanding of capitalism. Most futurists and science fiction writers, lacking as they usually do sufficient grounding in modern economics, underestimate the role of capitalism in driving the future, and thereby lose sight of the sheer power of consumerism, and how it drives the allocation of resources from the demand side.
Yes, in the world of 2019, humans will value better and more ubiquitous air-conditioning than giant, sky-overhanging, office and residential complexes adapted for aerovehicles. Corporations shall be more focussed and invested in making photo sharing apps and personal genomics kits than they would be in building the core infrastructure and political system capable of enabling the emergence of slave droids in faux humanoid shells toiling away in Martian mines on behalf of industrial visionaries.
It’s all capitalism, babe. Consumer driven capitalism.
Equidistance vs Equity
[This post was originally made in April last year at the height of the controversy over Ghana’s decision to petition the ITLOS regarding its maritime dispute with the Ivory Coast.]
Let me get this straight right from the start, the Ghanaian team pressing our rights in Hamburg is eminently qualified. But they are lawyers. They take their client’s brief. And when the client is a state, eminence should never be a barrier to citizens asking critical questions.
Now, it is important to note that only about half of the world’s maritime borders have been conclusively settled (thus the current situation between Ghana and Ivory Coast is far from being out of the norm). But of those that have been, 90% were settled through bilateral negotiations. NINETY PERCENT! There must be a good reason why.
The reason is simple: the rules for maritime boundary delimitation are compendious and quite arbitrary. In fact, fewer than 10% of maritime disputes are taken through the path that Ghana unilaterally chose in September 2014.
This is not to question the wisdom and knowledge of the Ghanaian legal team, but to ask if we were a bit overconfident.
Look at the two maps attached. Whether or not the whole or part of a bloc lies in Ghanaian or Ivorian waters may not be as straightforward as we’ve been told – it depends on the angle of the line.
Ghana is the party making what we passionately believe is the orthodox argument: we are saying that: simply stand at the land border and draw a perpendicular line downwards to get a MEDIAN line. We have referred to this as simply following conventional ‘equidistance principles’. We have always been indignant about the Ivorian claims, insisting that they have no case at all.
Yet, while it is true that most bilateral negotiations commence with the view that equidistance is a routine STARTING point for discussions, international tribunals have increasingly begun to cite another principle, the ‘equitable’ doctrine. It is now well established that the equidistance method is not privileged in anyway, but is rather one of several valid frameworks for ensuring just outcomes.
In fact, in a seminal 1990 work, the President of the ITLOS itself, the same tribunal our matter is now before, Dolliver Nelson, made it clear that the ‘equidistance’ dogma is not settled in international law, and that in many rulings the equidistance position is modified to address any circumstances that may breach equity should that principle be dogmatically followed.
And the international courts indeed have never shied away from modifying the equidistance position. Cases in point: Qatar vs Bahrain; 1982 – Tunisia and Libya; Libya vs Malta; Nicaragua vs Honduras; etc.
In fact, it is intriguing to note that the method being proposed by Ivory Coast (over the equidistance principle) is the same one used by the International Court in the case of Nicaragua vs Honduras. This is the ‘angle bisector’ method. In that case also, the argument adduced was that the geographical nature of the coast line makes an equidistance line inequitable.
Now take a careful look at how Cape Three Points juts into Ivory Coast. The question Ivory Coast has been trying to get the court to consider is whether the coastal border is the best reflection of the overall boundary between the two countries. Whatever the merits of that point, they go further then to argue that the overall lay of the coast is not straight enough to make the equidistance method the best approach to yielding equitable ‘distributional outcomes’. This means that the outcome of this case is not restricted to ‘winner takes all’. The Tribunal can also split the disputed area between the 2 parties, in any ratio that makes judicial sense to it.
I can see why most level-headed Ghanaians, many much better informed than I am, dismiss the Ivorians as seeking mere mischief. Sentimentally, I’m also in the camp that wants to go stand at Cape Three Points and hoot across the border. There could also be something in the allegations that French oil interests are behind all these machinations.
However, one can still take a hard look and come to other, cold, conclusions that whilst the Ivorians are annoying, they are not plucking these claims from the air.
Ghana, the US, UK and some other countries have always been part of an international alliance of countries that favour the equidistance principle. Ivory Coast, France and Spain have always been in the camp that favours the ‘equitable’ doctrine. So, these arguments are not just being manufactured on the go for this dispute. We are talking about longstanding and deeply held divisions between civil law and common law countries on the right principles for delimiting maritime borders (same division was evident in the Cameroon vs Nigeria case, in which equidistance prevailed).
And what is scary is that international judges don’t think that one approach Is necessarily superior. They look at ALL RELEVANT FACTORS. Thus, much depends on how much evidence one can muster to justify why an abstract line in the sea should be drawn one way or another.
I agree with those who say that we should blame the colonialists for this annoying fight, but that provides no relief, except to argue in favour of the notion that in the spirit of African comity, the two countries should open parallel bilateral negotiations, even as the special chamber of the Tribunal has itself said.
Ghana’s Debt Crisis
Ghana’s public debt has been galloping at a manic pace.
But is at HIPC-unsustainable levels or not? Seems like a simple enough question. One only needs to check back on the thresholds used to qualify countries for the HIPC initiative when it was in vogue in 2000, compare them to our current situation, and bingo: point made!
In that light, critics of the government point out to it that in 2006 Ghana’s public debt to GDP ratio was 26%, while today it is at 68% (a more than 250% jump).
The government’s supporters counter that this is still no where near the 110% ratio that in 2000 necessitated that we join the ignominious club.
Critics riposte that the effects of rebasing need to be taken into account, as well as the massive expansion of new sectors such as petroleum and telecommunications, which if properly factored into the mix should prove that things are more dangerous now than in 2000.
But all this is missing the point really.
The HIPC formula rests more solidly on two other ratios than it does on debt-to-GDP.
These are: debt-to-exports and debt – to – government revenues, since these ratios are considered more critical to servicing the debt burden than the more popularly used debt-to-GDP one.
If you look at our current official debt of about $20 billion and compare it to our falling exports of $13 billion, you get a percentage ratio of 154%. Comparing our debt to government revenues, totalling about $8 billion as per the last budget, on the other hand, yields a percentage ratio of 250%.
The original HIPC thresholds for these ratios were “between 200% to 250%”.
This means simply that on one critical ratio (debt-to-exports) at least we wouldn’t have qualified for HIPC if we were applying today. But on the basis of another, equally critical, ratio (debt-to-revenues) we would have.
You might say this is an ambiguous result, but what is more bizarre is that by official reckoning public debt is falling in current dollar terms. By end 2013, total public debt was in excess of $22 billion. By every other measure, apart from official statistics that is, we should be seeing an increase in the debt both in current and constant prices. Yet we are being told that in nominal terms we’re not.
So, as they say, the devil is in the detail.
Of the Tension Between Eminence & Accomplishment
A quick scan through history to re-examine some of the most memorable feats of human endeavour reveal an interesting trend. The most epic moments of disruption and creativity are typically shared by “small groups of people”. And the most formidable groups tend to be made up predominantly young persons entrusted with great responsibility by a system in upheaval or transition. A few, by no means representative, examples:
1. Average age of the Beatles when they released Sergeant Pepper (universally acclaimed as their best work) – 25
2. Average age of the scientists who built the first atomic bomb in history as part of the Manhattan Project – 27
3. Average age of founders of top five social media networks – 28
4. Average age of CEOs of tech companies worth a $1 billion or more – 34
5. The average age of the Bolshevik veterans when they launched the movement that became the Russian revolution – 24 (Lenin himself though was 26 though).
It is history that judges such groups of people and the record of their impact as exceptional. When the choice is taken out of history’s hands and left with privileged committees, we observe the reverse in action.
1. Average Age of an Oscar Winner is 44 years (average age of members of the Academy itself is 63).
2. Average Age of a Nobel Laureate is 59 years (average age of members of the Norweigian committee that awards the Nobel Peace Prize is 61).
3. Average age of members of the Mormon Church’s governing committee – 80.
Apart from showing that history tends to judge effort differently from elite gatekeepers, there is probably some merit also in pointing out that a sense of disruption sometimes induce a higher propensity for risk, thus instilling a climate that appears to favour youthful exuberance and radicalism. Left to cold, rational, calculation, elites err on the side of caution. Elites everywhere, in fact.
In that regard, the issue is probably one of social attitude (youthful-radical or conservative-ageist), rather than numerical age per se, I think. More deeper still, it is a question of whether Elites have any genuine anxiety of displacement in certain societies more than others (because when lacking an incentive, they cling to comfortable notions of merit).
Which is why, the average age of Ghana’s liberators deviates from the norm above. The average age of Big Six members was 41, for instance. And that of the Founders of the African National Congress also hovered in the mid-forties.
In Africa, it can be argued that settled elites tend to be comfortable in their ideological primacy even in moments of great upheaval.
The Great Myth of Balance
But if there is a maxim today worthy of the ‘universal truth’ status, it surely must be the widely celebrated notion of ‘work-life balance’.
We are supposed to ‘do what we love’ and to prevent the burdens of the workplace from intruding into our ‘personal lives’. To leave work behind and not to carry it ‘home’. To nurture relationships that are meaningful and deep, which by definition must be external to our daily labours, and uncontaminated by the economic forces that rule our professional lives.
People complain of being ‘burnt out’, and workaholics are looked upon with a mixture of disdain and pity, consigned to statistics of psychiatric health and psychological well-being.
Is this some form of modern conceit? After all, in those cultures where written records make it easy to trace the origin of names, we find that ‘what one did for a living’, ‘one’s place in life’ and ‘one’s purpose for living’ were often conflated and deliberately blurred. Hence such names as ‘Hunter’, ‘Baker’, ‘Falconer’, ‘Brewer/Brew’ etc.
And yet, it is curiously in Marxism, that most post-industrially modern of creeds, that we find the most sustained assault on the notion that ‘work’ can be separated from ‘life’. As Erich Fromm extracts from a summary of Marx’s work: “History is….nothing but the self-creation of man through the process of his work and his production.”
The ideals expressed in such maxims as: “dignity in labour”, and “essence through human production” etc. lies within the very bedrock of all the materialist philosophies that accept human centricity in their conception of the world. Labour maketh the man.
There are of course perversions, such as the Nazi taunt that “work makes free”. But the fundamental principle penetrates very deep into any logic that seeks to separate man from the other species.
Which is why even in the supernatural creeds, such as the great Monotheisms, we learn that God worked for six days and on the seventh day, ‘rested’. The proportion is very clear: work is pre-eminent. Man, made in the image of deities, must also respect this proportion, and must mark the Sabbath not in the glorification of ‘rest’, but to give full meaning to WORK. In fact, in the Christian tradition, the Christ appears to condone the extension of labour into the Sabbath itself, strenuously refusing to chastise the Apostles that performed a harvest of grain on the holy day of rest, in defiance of the teachers of the Law.
And when you extend the idea of labour into the broader concepts of ‘vocation’ and ‘duty’, one finds in the Christian eschatology that the Angels and other divine essences ‘worship forever’ before the throne of the Monotheistic Deity. Worship being their vocation, their “life’s work”, they are called upon to do it without ceasing, to work incessantly.
Perhaps, then, a case can be made for ‘fusing work into life’, in much the same way that family law in contemporary times appear to have done for ‘stay at home moms’ and in its reinterpretation of domestic chores. Nowadays, child-rearing, home-tending, and civic duty, have all benefited from such ‘reinterpretation’, notwithstanding the capitalist surge in the production of so-called ‘labour-saving’ devices and advanced democracy’s apathy-inducing side-effects.
Witness therefore not only the transformation of the home into a theater of labour-negotiation, but also, even more intriguingly, the emergence of full-time politicians and civic activists, some of whom now find sufficient means to live off entirely on what were once considered ‘mere passions’.
Which leads to the heart of my concern: the perverse, in my view, morality that the operation of passion works solely in one direction: you must turn into a vocation that which you love already. It seems manifest by the record of contemporary lives that, very often, the key to peace of mind is to COME TO LOVE THAT WHICH YOU MUST DO. That which is your duty and vocation. For your means of livelihood must become your “life’s work”.
To my mind, by no means the sharpest that has contended with this subject, falling in love with your duty is a performance. It requires skill. Skill that must be acquired, through daily practice and perseverance. But, above all, it requires a mind-shift. And that mindshift is the centralisation of work in one’s life. Work must define the being.
The artificial distinctions that have been erected by barefaced gurus have now come to a head in the religious vocations. Some people worry that other people earnestly work themselves into ‘religious ministry’ without a ‘calling’, wrongly construing the labour that attends the organisation of a religious mission as non-labour, and thus suffering unnecessary indignation when they discover that such activity is as much labour as any other form of work, to be harnessed by all who will to work.
That there are pastors and Imams, undercover journalists and spies, who hate their jobs as much as the next janitor or whitecollar clerk is a notion unthinkable to those burdened with these delusions. To them, work is burdensome and a calling is sweet. I hate to break it to these timorous souls: here is the truth: all work is work, and there is no such thing as a distinction between vocations that are based on a calling and labour predominantly motivated, via cultural referents, by wage and service.
Understanding the preceding should open one’s eye to the harsh reality of the human condition: we must PRODUCE OUR ENVIRONMENT, and this production is the day to day NATURE OF OUR VERY BEING. From the time we wake up till we drop, we are engaged in a constant pushback to re-orient our environment. The returns we get are calibrated by the success of this endeavour, and where those returns are ‘wages’ it simply means that the struggle we are engaged with has been codified enough to be widely performed, and through the various efficiencies of aggregation to generate wealth, and thus transform the environment at a much greater scale.
One may retreat from this types of aggregation. But one cannot escape the incessant throbbing of work in search of some elusive notion of happiness, unbound from the pressure of the environment, which is one’s unending duty to produce. This is a grand delusion. Work stares into your soul, revealing your true worth.
The escape which you seek is the escape from the *MYTH of Work-Life Balance* into the universal truth of Work-Life Fusion.
How an African Government Manages its Hottest Commodity
Try and work your mind around this.
1. The Government of Ghana (acting through its Ministry of Finance parastatal, Cocobod) goes to the international market and promises dealers of cocoa that it will produce x number of tons of the crop the following year. They forward-sell 70% of this quantity to the dealers at an agreed price.
2. The government then goes to a number of local and international banks and borrow between $1 billion and $2 billion to fund the buying of cocoa from various farmers across the country.
3. The government buys on average 35% of the cocoa grown by the farmers directly through its own subsidiary.
4. The government has licensed several private companies to also buy the remaining 65% of the cocoa from the farmers.
5. On the strength of bank guarantees issued by local banks, the Government distributes some of the dollars it borrowed (in cedi equivalent) to these private companies (let’s call them LBCs from now on) to go and buy cocoa from the farmers in Cedis.
6. The LBCs may sometimes have to borrow ahead of the disbursement because the government money can delay. So the same banks that have issued them the guarantees also lend them part of the required amount in anticipation of the inflow from government.
7. The LBCs take the money from the government or their banks, in various sequences, and go and buy the cocoa.
8. The LBCs bring the cocoa to district offices where there are graded and sealed. Delays here can upset financial plans.
9. Once graded and sealed, the LBCs transport the cocoa to one of three ports and hand it over to the government (acting through its CMC).
10. Due to poor scheduling, the dealers (offtakers), having experienced erratic delays in the course of the process, also take their time before paying for the cocoa. Hence, tons of the crop can languish at the ports for months. In fact, these days, the government consistently fails to deliver the quantity it promised forward-buyers, and the wariness means that the government struggles to sell cocoa not sold forward. Which partly accounts for our reducing share of world cocoa supply year after year, especially in the last three years.
11. LBCs wait to be paid for delivering the cocoa at a profit margin that some analysts believe is already below 10%.
12. By the time LBCs are paid however, inflation means that they are often staring at actual losses.
13. Cocobod now expects its credit facility to be paid, and starts threatening the banks that issued the guarantees.
14. With this lungulungu system, would it surprise you to learn that Cocobod now has hundreds of millions of dollars stuck in the system? Money that it can’t squeeze out of the banking system without causing panic?
15. Question is: what do you get when you add these millions to the plenty money also owed Cocobod by the local processors who take about 25% of all the cocoa produced, and who have so far not been able to clear the debt?
16. Is Cocobod racking up more than half a billion dollars of debt that it is seeking to offload unto the government to add to the fast mounting national debt? Has that contributed in anyway to the fall in price paid to farmers relative to the ICE price?
17. To what extent has inefficiency and mismanagement of logistics, finance, process control, and other functions contributed to this state of affairs?
18. What is Cocobod hiding?
And, if I may ask, why do the Akans of Ghana still insist on calling the governments of this fascinating corner of West Africa, “Aban”?
I ask because the origin of the word dates from our earliest encounters with the colonising Europeans when they managed, or at least influenced, our affairs from behind the barricaded walls of stone forts and castles on the coast. “Aban”, loosely translated, means “stone bastion”.
In fact, when the early nineteenth century King of the Asante, Osei Bonsu, returned to his imperial forest metropolis in the middle belt of the then Gold Coast from his military expedition to the coast, he erected his own “Aban” in the center of Kumasi, and for a while this appeared to offer an alternative vision of Aban. Osei Bonsu installed Arabic Scholars from the northern kingdoms of Dagbon and Gonja in the halls of his citadel and proceeded to make it a center of intellectual inquiry (Bowdich described it as a ‘Palace of Culture’). Until it was burnt down by the British for offering insolent competition.
Thereafter, only one vision of Aban remained: a cold, distant, impenetrable, aloof, fortress of stone with its back to the sea (all the better to cart away the treasures of the land), and from which mighty men superintended over the affairs of tamed, overtaxed, subdued natives. Yet, half a century and one decade after the imperialists departed, we still hold on to the precious, oppressive, metaphor of, “Aban”.
What is in a name? Sometimes, everything.