I have just received news that the Ghanaian banking sector has seen its worst financial results in recent times. Growth in revenues fell nearly 40% in 2015, whilst profit growth dropped nearly 45%. How the mighty has fallen!

Many are of course pointing fingers at the fiscal and monetary managers for hanging us to dry, which is of course understandable criticism. But beyond gnashing our teeth, we need to reckon with some deep truths as well.

The truth is that Ghanaians, like most Africans, have been bullied into submission by a reign of jargon that prevents them from seeing home BASIC truths, or what the Akans like to call, ‘efie nyansa’. The blatant fact is that ‘remote leadership’ is not possible. No one can manage something without having ‘skin in the game’, metaphorically speaking. That is why the Americans made the Federal Reserve a federation of banks, a guild of money changers, literally speaking. Much derided and much criticised, especially by our brothers on the left, yet the model has endured and created more financial power for the Americans than any power has ever seen in history.

But why look to the Americans, when we can look to our own history?

In 1835, the Asante watched in horror as the 800-year old currency, the cowrie, began to collapse in inflation. This was a trans-regional currency long before sterling and euro had acquired their later, multinational, prominence. Cowries were legal tender from the coasts to the southern reaches of the Sahara. But by the mid-19th Century, the currency was in free fall. The first two decades of the inflationary period was actually less dramatic than we have seen of currencies like the Cedi and Zimbabwean Dollar in our own time, which is itself saying a lot. The cumulative depreciation of the cowrie was about 73%. But in the following decade the loss of value spiraled to a cumulative 1500%.

Many factors account for the decline of the currency, the most pressing of which were international. The British had started to trade large volumes of the shells between their various colonial regions, and as political instability in certain colonies, due to poll tax rebellion and similar agitations, reduced demand elsewhere, excess shells poured into other places.

But the Asante knew that they did not fully control the rise and fall of currencies. Just as today, no nation fully controls the value of their currencies. But the Asante fiscal and monetary managers, the Batahene, were directly implicated in the rise and fall of the national wealth, and every penalty and incentive worked together to ensure that they never forgot that. So, they implemented a tri-monetary system involving gold dust for the coastal trade with the Europeans, cowries for the Northern trade with the Sahelians, and kola as a transactional medium that enabled hedging.

They further devised an elaborate conversion mechanism across the three currencies, whereby gold dust served as the chief reserve currency, since it also played the role of forex, the means by which firearms from Europe were secured for national defence, and iron bars obtained for light manufacturing (the importance of light manufacturing is itself revealed by the use of iron and brass prior to gold as the reserve currency).

One cannot emphasise enough that the fiscal and monetary authorities saw their actions directly translated into financial indices for the health of the economy in a very direct manner. Bankruptcy of national institutions could not be covered by ‘IMF English’. Taxes could not be raised arbitrarily. The mercantile system literally rode on the back of the skill of the fiscal and monetary authorities. So much so that by the mid-19th century, the skills required for effective currency trading could only be acquired after years of training in goldweights, hedges and trade-routing.

Even more intriguingly, customs outposts were increased to prevent any unsanctioned osmosis across the three currencies. This is how Asante managed to preserve the value of kola from crashing alongside cowries. In fact, the cowrie inflation actually therefore led to a boost of margins of more than 250% for Asante traders well until the collapse of Asante power in 1874, when the British started to dismantle the customs union Kumasi had imposed across the Sahel-forest belt.

Furthermore, the Asante implemented a policy of tight quality assurance for gold dust, considerably raising the penalty and costs for adulteration, and devising techniques for bullion management that are intriguing even by today’s standards. Had they failed, adulterated gold dust would have triggered an inflationary spiral capable of crashing the national exchequer. Clearly, this was efie nyansa at work. When there is no IMF jargon to hide behind, and leaders have their skin in the game, getting down to it is the only option.

No wonder the Asante could maintain that scale of import trade in firearms. In this era, the major gunmakers of Birmingham, the heart of the British armaments trade, and even further afield in the Belgian Liege, knew that the Gold Coast was the happening place. The likes of Webley & Scott, William Tranter, Samuel Galton, and George Kynoch were soon shipping 100,000 units of prized flintlocks, and could still not keep up with orders. The amount of pure gold dust needed to sustain such a trade was quite staggering. Dutch records talk about some vessels transporting 10,000 ounces (circa $12.5 million in today’s money) in single consignments.

The gun traders of Great Britain could of course not have known that the Asante was slowly developing a gunmaking culture of their own, and that their policy included blocking British guns from reaching the Sahel. They could not have known that the plan was to station gunsmiths in those regions in order to own the trade in arms once their supply chain could handle the requisite output at sufficient scale and quality.

Of course, the fall of Kumasi prevented this and similar industrial strategies from coming anywhere close to reality, but the key point is how integral a sound fiscal and monetary policy, which ensured adequate flow of forex without inflation, was to maintaining the economic expansionist ambition of a 19th century African power. And how an economic leadership ‘with skin in the game’ often excels in the development of such policies.

A conversation on Facebook compelled this polemic.

There are two phenomena that we shouldn’t confuse: Global Westernisation and Tribal Westernisation.

Global Westernisation primarily involves all the ideas that Europeans picked up from all over the world, and heavily optimised, and which for a while they became the most vigorous exponents, and in some cases still are.

These include the erection of the natural sciences on the back of mathematical thinking. They borrowed much of this from India.

The use of mechanised warfare to gain advantage on the battlefield. They borrowed much of this from China , and from Sumeria in their earlier, Roman and Greek, incarnations.

Mass publications and the commoditisation of the written word. They borrowed the core essence of this from China.

Exclusionary, organised, monotheisms (the idea of ‘heathenism’ or that “other people’s gods are unworthy of any divinity at all”). They borrowed a lot of this thinking from Ancient Near East.

Utility clothing (eg. trousers and clinging shirts). They borrowed the general idea from the Mongols and other Eurasian nomadic warriors.

Monogamism. They borrowed this from Ancient Near East. etc. etc.

It is somewhat simplistic to ascribe the execution of all these ideas to the West in a tribal, exclusive, manner. Particularly when the modern offshoots of some of these ideas are inevitable outcomes of principles that had gained their deepest expression elsewhere.

For example, much of what is today’s stock exchange derived from principles of Jewish finance that were much derided in the West. To therefore assign stock market capitalism to westernisation in a primordial sense without understanding its roots deprive people of the ability to study the ‘deep essences’ of the phenomenon and connect their current expression with other insights about humanity in general.

Most people forget that much of Nazism’s rise owed to the effort of nativist Europeans to purge from their midst what they saw as alien practices in Church Religion, Capitalism, political organisation and modern philosophy.

Sometimes I laugh when people refer to names like, ‘John’, ‘Peter’ and ‘James’ as ‘European names’. I wonder what Himmler would have thought of that.

There is of course also tribal westernisation. Habits and rituals that are thoroughly European in origin. The thing is that they are quite rarer nowadays than one might suppose, and often not the target of radical non-European activists. Much of cultural fascism, for instance, owes to a unique strain of exclusionism born in Europe in the 19th and 20th centuries, as also is the austere collectivist philosophies we have come to know by such names as, Marxism, Leninism and Stalinism.

My general attitude to these things is one of moderation. The world is much too complex to hold overly strong opinions about such stuff. It is unlikely that on any subject that one might latch onto with the fervour of a radical that one knows enough to pronounce with the degree of certainty that one often does.