The government of Ghana resisted going to the IMF for months until its economic crisis degenerated to the point of imminent catastrophe. But once it did, one fine day in July 2022, it has pursued the program with the enthusiasm and zeal of a Pentecostal convert. And been well rewarded for it. In its latest assessment of the program which commenced in May 2023, the IMF was fulsome in praise, at least in IMF-speak.

Source: Tilapia (TV3)

As Ghana’s Finance Ministry gets ready to present its first post-review budget this week, many observers have been frustrated by IMF legalese, diplomatese and double-speak. They want it straight: is Ghana’s IMF program producing the economic wonders suggested by the government with the seeming endorsement of the IMF? This essay attempts to grapple with that question.

There is no doubting the fact that Ghana’s IMF ECF program has stanched the acute blood-flow seen at the height of the economic crisis. Inflation has fallen from 54% at the height of the crisis to 38% today. Currency depreciation has slowed from an annualised rate of more than 55% as at October 2022 to about 22% today. No one can dispute the sheer tenacity and relative skill with which the government, and in particular the Finance Minister, has managed to ram the IMF program through without the barest glint of a national consensus. Despite the absolute disregard for the opinions of civil society organisations, the political opposition, and even numerous dissenters within the ruling party, the government has successfully concluded a staff review of the first phase of the IMF program.

The IMF thus, definitely, has a point when it said in its press release at the end of the review that things have improved. The only question is whether the prospects are as bright and the improvements as solid as they and the government have sought to portray. The simple answer is “no”. The much-touted recovery is sluggish at best, and by some measures even illusory.

For example, a major indicator in any import-dependent economy is the inbound trade level. Central bank data for the first four months of 2023 suggests that imports of goods are lagging 2016 figures, with a possible fall in value by more than 6% relative to the 2016 figures. (Exports do not illuminate macroeconomic trends well in Ghana’s case because they are dominated by commodities whose pricing align with global, rather than local, cycles.) Correspondingly, the country’s main trading port, Tema Harbour, has seen a drop in container volumes exceeding 20% measured against the 2021 level. All the principal interest rates in the economy are at levels last seen two and half decades ago.

Compared to 2022, when the central bank’s Real Composite Index of Economic Activity (CIEA) showed positive growth every month until the last few months of the year, the CIEA in 2023 has recorded, albeit with a tapering trend, persistent negative growth since January of this year. Non-performing loans have risen from an average of ~14% in the last quarter of 2022, when the IMF program was essentially finalised, to roughly 21% today, putting ~$1.1 billion of banking assets at risk.

Some of the worst performing borrowers in the economy remain state-owned enterprises, which have exposed the government to $1.4 billion of potential liabilities not accounted for in the country’s ongoing debt salvage operation. A raft of so-called “public-private partnerships” (PPPs) sold as “commercially self-sustainable”, because the private sector was meant to underwrite commercial risk, have become a quasi-fiscal albatross around the neck of the state. The vaunted Ghana Card scheme (a civil identification project) is one such mess, with unbudgeted state liabilities since 2019 hitting $70 million by close of 2022.

The shakiness of the recovery owes much to the laxity in certain aspects of the ongoing ECF program. Much has been made of the success of the fiscal consolidation plan. But the praise is hardly critical. A great fiscal consolidation strategy must be closely complemented by tightening monetary conditions, at least in the medium-term. Yet, compared to 2022, over the period for which data is available, broad money supply in Ghana has increased by roughly 50%.

As empirical studies on dollarized economies, like Ghana’s, have shown, effective broad money supply expansion is one of the trends best correlated with persistent inflationary pressures. Not surprisingly, the pace of disinflation has been lacklustre with price falls in the producer segment reflecting more a collapse in B2B demand rather than any structural relief. Consumer-level prices thus remain stubbornly high.

Last year, this author wrote the following about the IMF program:

16. IMF will not fix systemic governance deficits

Repeating any treatment for the 17th time cannot be an occasion for celebration. An IMF program is merely an opportunity to attempt a reset of specific fiscal dials. It does not transform national governance culture wholesale on any level. The eventual transformation of Ghana’s economy to one of sustainable growth and widespread prosperity cannot be delegated to technical interventions by international organisations.

17. The fight is still on the homefront

It shall only come about as a product of the nation-building struggle. IMF will come and go. It is not a savior from poor economic leadership. But neither should it be treated as a convenient scapegoat for homebrewed failures. The fight for true economic liberation remains that of Ghanaian citizens alone.

In somewhat depressing fashion, the way the ECF program is being implemented appears to be vindicating the above sentiment much too readily. To fully appreciate this fact it helps to start at the beginning.

Despite Ghana’s initial aloof posture, the IMF was very keen to do a deal, having wooed the country relentlessly. So, in a somewhat expedited fashion, Ghana reached a staff-level agreement (an understanding to move forward, in principle) with the IMF in December 2022, having already begun to incorporate the key elements agreed with the IMF over the previous six months in informal and formal negotiations into the national budgeting framework and in its broader crisis-response strategy.

To get IMF Board approval of the in-principle agreement, Ghana had to undergo debt restructuring, during which the government did everything to pass on all the pain to the private sector whilst preserving most of its political flexibility.

Whilst the entire process was more chaotic and rockier than it should have been, the government did manage to do just enough to secure the coveted approval by May 2023 (after which it returned to the unfinished business of extracting more relief from beleaguered private creditors).

Along with the approval came a disbursement schedule for the $3 billion bailout package in the form presented below.

The government’s strategy of shifting most of the pain in the ECF program to the private sector, instead of more frontally grappling with the need to rein in its spending, dragged out the debt restructuring process well into October 2023. Fitch could thus only upgrade the country’s local debt ratings to one notch above restricted default in November 2023. The restricted default rating on foreign debt remains as the government is driving a very hard bargain with foreign creditors.

As shown in the table below, abstracted from an IMF working paper on the subject, Ghana’s path to international creditworthiness is bound to be more protracted than many other countries that have gone through a debt crisis over the years because of the tactical choices made by the government.

Government data, furthermore, shows that, notwithstanding the supposed fiscal consolidation effort, public sector wage growth continues, with the government on course to spend ~12% more than budgeted for 2023. Government operations costs have also seen no cuts whatsoever. The President continues to retain and pay over 100 Ministers and the Presidency’s personnel roster, long bloated by secondments from across the public sector, has not been revised throughout the crisis. It is useful to bear in mind that a committee of eminent experts tasked to look into constitutional matters has advised that the country will work fine with just 25 Ministers and can easily do away with a whole panoply of sinecures and redundant offices. Even more bizarrely, the government refuses to terminate white elephant projects like a so-called “National Cathedral”.

Yet, in the first review of the ECF program, the IMF has been fulsome in praise of Ghana’s performance under the program. How to explain this paradox? Simple really: sleight of hand.

Frontloading the domestic debt restructuring and freezing payments on servicing overseas financial obligations, particularly Eurobond servicing, which also naturally led to a decline in foreign-financed CAPEX, allowed government spending to come down just enough to lower the fiscal deficit just enough to meet the IMF program’s expectations.

Furthermore, when a government no longer services its obligations, including to corporate holders of domestic debt, it ripples across the rest of the system, tampering economic levels, and conserving scarce foreign exchange, with a resultant effect on inflation and the exchange rate.

Complementing the above strategy is a clever decision by the IMF to narrow down the review criteria to those areas highly responsive to these short-term stabilisation measures. The table below lists the said criteria. A perfunctory examination would show that merely by freezing government obligations to the private sector, the majority of the first review hurdles were already bound to be crossed.

Drawing partly on work done by Accra-based IFS on Ghana’s previous IMF ECF program (2015 to 2019), we can contrast the 2023 scorecard aced by the current government with the review criteria of the 2015 program presented in the tables below.

Some of the key scoring indicators removed from the recent review include wage bill management, domestic arrears management, and broad money dynamics. The very areas the government is underperforming in.

Even more fascinatingly, the IMF decided to scale down the ambition of the phase one review scope by not even touching on the structural reform agenda at all. In the 2015 program, on the other hand, structural targets, as listed in the table below, such as blocking waste in public spending, were important criteria in the review process and the source of some of the relatively harsher verdicts delivered by the IMF then. All this “marking scheme slimming down” stuff is very curious because Ghana’s economy is in a far worse shape today than was the case in 2015. The conventional wisdom, to use a simple analogy, is that the sicker the patient the greater the need for more monitoring indicators.

It is clear to even the casual observer that the IMF having learnt its lessons over the years and having thus become humble about how much its programs can actually engender lasting change has very shrewdly decided this time around to alter the marking scheme in order to prop up the government’s goal of manufacturing program momentum, at all cost. No more shall pesky civil society activists like this author find it easy showing how much the ECF program is falling short of its own reach.

In fact, unlike in 2015 when the first few months of the ECF program saw the government being subjected to diagnostic reviews, this time around, the plan is to complete the first governance diagnostic in 2024, nearly a year after formal commencement of the program.

That the marking scheme for the review was changed by the IMF to ensure that the Ghanaian government will pass with flying colours is but just one of the curious aspects of the ongoing ECF program. In some cases, critical evidence was simply ignored. For instance, in the area of social protection, Ghana’s LEAP program designed to support the most vulnerable in society came up for much praise by IMF reviewers. Yet, Ghana’s own Auditor General have been trenchant in their criticism, lamenting how, for instance, a cost threshold that should not have crossed 10% escalated past 22%.

Just as well that no structural reform issues were tackled. The two main sectors highlighted for special attention in this latest IMF bailout program – energy and cocoa – have degenerated considerably since the program started.

According to analysis by KPMG, the energy sector faces worse outcomes than initially assumed in the areas of distribution-level power sale collections, technical losses, OPEX failures, and generation-level losses. Combined, these problems could lead to cumulative accounting shortfalls of roughly $8.275 billion by the end of 2023 against a 2019 baseline.

According to Ghana’s Ministry of Energy, collection losses in energy sector sales for 2023 have worsened by a mindboggling 20 times compared to 2017 figures. The country’s state-owned gas producers continue to lose 80% of recoverable value on each unit of gas sold to a private generator called Genser. The main distribution utility, and the primary source of cash for the entire energy system, ECG, has wasted tens of millions of dollars on metering solutions that still leave more than a quarter of bills uncollected. Worse of all, none of these solutions were competitively procured. In fact, ECG is working assiduously to be exempted from all public sector procurement constraints so it can continue dishing out sweetheart contracts to favourite fuel and meter contractors.

In the cocoa sector, debt restructuring has not been able to redeem the state-owned marketing monopoly, Cocobod. For the first time in 30 years, it has struggled to close the annual syndication loan well ahead of the main buying season. In spite of the obvious certainty of funding challenges, the government chose to increase the farmgate price of cocoa ahead of securing the necessary financing for the buying season.

None of Cocobod’s worsening financial conditions are inexplicable. Massive waste and inefficiencies have in recent years become hallmarks of how it does business. As the data below from Ghana’s Auditor General shows, Cocobod can save ~65% of its CAPEX on large-scale infrastructure, like the vaunted cocoa roads, that is if a cocoa trader should even be investing in such projects, simply by using competitive procurement methods. It simply won’t.

None of these governance defects have been tackled with any seriousness so far as part of the IMF program because of the tactical decision to focus primarily on shifting the pain of adjustment to the private sector.

The shrewd way the IMF and the government are going about gaming the marking scheme for the government’s performance in the ECF program, notwithstanding, the strategy of deflecting all pain elsewhere may well backfire at some point.

Ghana is due for an inflow of a second tranche of $600 million from the ECF. However, per the agreement with the IMF, the release is conditional on the country’s Paris Club creditors and China issuing a letter of Intent or a draft MOU confirming that agreement has been reached in principle to restructure the country’s bilateral debts. However, some confusion has broken out among countries who want the coverage period of the debts eligible for restructuring to end in 2020, on one hand, and those who insist that it must stretch to end-2022, on the other.

Ghana and the IMF, of course, want the maximum coverage possible in order to extract the deepest possible debt-relief, all the better for allowing the government to postpone harder austerity decisions. They have enlisted the United States into their corner. The US is more than happy to deploy its immense geopolitical capital in support of these causes because it has quietly wrung out important concessions from Ghana over the course of this whole IMF bailout imbroglio, such as the installation of an Advisor in Accra with broad, unpublicised, influence over sovereign financial planning.

The end-2022 cut-off date for debt coverage would, however, also ensnare major export credit facilities advanced by some European countries. And it will impact regional development finance banks like Afreximbank, who advanced a large loan to Ghana within the proposed debt relief period under very opaque circumstances. Afreximbank must have been shaken by this development given its already somewhat precarious international credit rating (BBB, compared to, say, the Islamic Development Bank’s AAA).

The Ghanaian government, with the backing of the IMF, may pat itself on the back for its shrewd burden-shifting, but the export credit agencies and DFIs taking the hit are part of deep financial networks. The government may find that it gets much harder securing new facilities in the near future. Even though freeing up fiscal capacity by restructuring old debts might appear, on first sight, as a clever way of saving borrowing room for vote-attracting projects ahead of next year’s ultracompetitive general elections, there is a massive downside: alienating prospective creditors. Already, Afreximbank has been stalling on arranging financing for planned railway investments.

If the point of the scorecard-gaming is to speed up Ghana’s return to international creditworthiness, then it is clearly in conflict with the burden-shifting, faux-austerity, strategy. And both strategies are, undoubtedly, in tension with Ghana’s true national interest of a durable, reform-backed, recovery.

In 2018, global technology giant, Google, opened its first Artificial Intelligence (AI) research center in Africa. The lucky host country? Ghana. A country whose new leadership was ratcheting up long proclaimed hopes of making the country: “the gateway to Africa”.

Image Source:
Regina Jere (New African Magazine)

The tech giant’s decision to choose Ghana as the home of its AI hub in Africa came on the back of a much-publicized trip by the country’s Vice President to Silicon Valley, and was naturally seen as one of the fruits of highly successful economic diplomacy moves by the new government.

Three years later, Twitter also decided to choose Ghana for its “Africa HQ”.

Though Ghana has had some false starts in its perennial quest to position itself as the continent’s tech hub, the Hope City affair being merely one example, these high-profile seeming endorsements clearly signaled a step-change in the level of seriousness.

Linking intimately with the “Ghana Beyond Aid” agenda (the country’s now seemingly aborted plan to “graduate” from international development aid) and the “Digitalisation agenda” championed by the Vice President, the “hub” strategy was placed in pole position at the top of the country’s engagement with the World Bank, as the extract below from the Bank’s country diagnostic shows.

In other essays, this author has expressed his reservations about how the digitalisation vision has been executed so far. In this brief note, the aim is to quickly, and at a very high level, update readers on the hub strategy specifically using the Google AI experience as a micro case study. The analysis shall be based primarily on public disclosures made by Google’s executives working on the project.

The Google AI center in Accra has so far focused on, or engaged around, six main areas of exploration:

  • Spatial analysis, with a focus on the built environment,
  • Hydrological modeling,
  • Insect pest swarm modeling,
  • Maternal and reproductive health
  • Speech disabilities, and
  • Primary school reading skills

It is fair to assume that a key reason why an African country, or any country for that matter, would aim to attract global technology companies to invest in their country, especially as part of a “regional hub” strategy, is the building of an ecosystem for nurturing capabilities that can, in turn, be harnessed to solve national challenges, and better exploit available opportunities. A secondary objective is to turn the country into a platform for solving regional problems and exporting solutions to neighbouring countries.

A sound question then arises as to whether Ghana has been able to align its national policy priorities with those of Google in the four years since the latter set up shop in the country.

From what can be seen so far that work is still very much outstanding, as should be evident by examining five top Google focus areas in Ghana a bit more closely.


Ghana’s biggest priority in the geospatial space right now is bolstering its digital address system for development purposes. The government is keen to locate people where they stay and work for purposes of service delivery, national security, financial services KYC and, obviously, civil identification.

So much so that it sets up a “digital addressing system” – GhanaPostGPS – that has so far, according to the government, seen 7.5 million individual physical structures geo-tagged. So far, there have been about 1.4 million downloads across the various app stores, suggesting active installations of less than one million.

Most independent analysts who have studied the system describe it as an unmitigated failure, or at best a serious disappointment. Enterprise plug-ins are still unavailable 6 years after launch and virtually no e-commerce or digital service integrating it into their operations. It is at this point completely unclear what problem exactly GhanaPostGPS is solving, vindicating all the earlier scepticism about the approach.

The good thing is that the government itself, albeit belatedly, recognises the lacklustre results and has made overtures to Google for some kind of tight integration.

One would therefore think that with a Google AI Center in the country working on geo-spatial stuff, this would be one of the prime areas for collaboration. Alas, no. Google’s work in Ghana in this context has strictly focused on improving its Open Buildings dataset.

The primary goal of the entire effort is to make it easier for software systems to scan satellite imagery and quickly scope out buildings and their layout. Whilst this is important work (some researchers, for example, are using the data to project urban growth in Africa), it is very early-stage basic research that requires considerable investment in applied development for any sort of socioeconomic impact. Unfortunately, there has been no uptake so far for the outputs among any of Ghana’s main planning agencies, and, obviously, no derivative civil or business services.

Hydrological Modelling

The most topical issue, outside the rough and tumble of political life, in Ghana these past few weeks has been the disastrous way in which a raft of agencies in Ghana handled the “controlled spillage” of water from the country’s biggest hydroelectric dam. Despite claimed simulation successes, the exercise ended up displacing thousands from their homes and livelihoods.

Source: Google Research

Just as the horrors of the Akosombo spillage start to abate, another perennial “controlled spillage” mess, the Kompienga and Bagre Dam overflow, is reported to be imminent.

Regular flooding in Ghana’s capital, Accra, is the stuff of legends.  

It doesn’t take genius to link the need for better forecasting, spatial planning, and effective simulations in Ghana’s flooding management context to Google’s work on its Flood Hub.

Yet, this author’s detailed analysis of various outputs from Google’s “floodcasting” work so far has revealed an insignificant footprint of Ghanaian involvement, engagement, and results. Only broad weather pattern information in Flood Hub touches Ghana, the same kind of information obtainable from other weather data sources.

Insect Pest Swarm Modelling

Google’s work in this area focuses heavily on predicting locust outbreaks, a kind of pest invasion in which billions of the insects converge and descend upon a geographical area to wreak vegetational havoc.

Source: Sebastian Kettley (Daily Express)

Locust invasions are highly blamed for food security challenges in East Africa and elsewhere. In West Africa, on the other hand, the last time locust plagues were a major link in food systems collapse was in the 1940s.

In Ghana, the insect pests of the greatest economic significance are mirids that attack cocoa farms, as any researcher in the space would tell you. Yet, farmers’ knowledge about these pernicious insects are heavily constrained by weak extension services.

AI systems that integrate weather and climate, geospatial, and agronomic data for integrated pest management continue to grow in importance, though clearly not in Ghana. It is rather curious then to see no cross-fertilisation so far between the work being undertaken at the Google AI Center and the various strands of efforts underway to contain the collapsing yields being witnessed in Ghana’s cash crop sector due to insect pests and other infestations.

Maternal Health

Google says it is keen to advance the use of AI in ultrasound technologies to improve maternal and reproductive care in Africa. Some of that work is being done from Accra.

Image Source: Heather Donahoe

In Ghana, the biggest cause of maternal deaths used to be post-partum hemorrhage (excessive bleeding during childbirth) but a growing number of experts say that hypertension-related issues have taken over. Leading clinical excellence organisations in the world have fingered pre-eclampsia as the leading culprit.

Serious work is today going on around the world to apply AI and other digital technologies to the complex prediction and management of pre-eclampsia and other hypertensive disorders. As the proportion of childbirth deaths associated with hypertension-related deaths in Ghana inch towards 40%, one can be forgiven for expecting a raft of technology-enabled interventions.

It is intriguing that none of Google’s AI-for-health work, some of which is apparently supported by engineers based in Ghana, interfaces with actual maternal mortality programs in the country’s health system. Unlike the case in Kenya, where Google is active in getting ultrasound applications into care delivery settings.

Pupils’ Reading Skills

Google says some of the work feeding into its new Read Along app owes to contributions by personnel based in Accra. Read Along literally aims to reinvent the age-old format of parents and teachers teaching children to read through learning companionship (and the occasional bedtime story).

In India, Google works closely with states like Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh to incorporate Read Along into curricular instruction. Unfortunately, there is no such deep engagement in Ghana. Which is sad considering how more than 90% in testing cohorts of primary school children have been recorded scoring zero on national reading comprehension benchmark tests.

Building a Real Tech Ecosystem that can harness the global-class resources takes work

From the quick scan above of Google’s AI work in Ghana, the pattern is obvious. From a corporate standpoint, Google sees the Ghana location as just one node in a global network for early-stage solution seeking (evident in the fact that nearly 5 months after the inaugural Head left to found a startup, Google is yet to name a substantive replacement).

Google does not have immediate responsibility for infusing new capabilities into the Ghanaian ecosystem. That is the duty and burden of the Ghanaian policy community, which has so far failed to build the necessary linkages across the country’s R&D labs, like Google’s; Ghana’s teeming startup community; and the policy think tanks in order to better connect national priorities with the technological resources emerging in the country.

This author was not surprised to see a lack of growth in numbers of Ghanaian engineers engaged in cutting-edge research at the Google AI center. The publishing output from the Center reviewed often had few Ghanaian co-authors (a rough count suggesting less than 10% in certain corpuses).

Global/multinational tech companies have a clear role to play in augmenting national innovation ecosystems. But they cannot invent a policy medium when none exists.

When leaders only extract PR benefits from the early fruits of “regional hub” strategies but fail in their commitment to drive results, we see episodes like the unfolding Twitter debacle.  A year after the Twitter facility was shut down in Accra, following the company’s takeover, former employees have still not been paid their severance. Sadly, the country’s labour regulatory institutions appear impotent to intervene.

Ghana does have what it takes to become a regional tech hub, but it will take more than just hope, enthusiasm, and a knack for PR.

Tomorrow, the man tipped to win the primaries of Ghana’s ruling party and succeed the country’s sitting President as the ruling party’s candidate in the 2024 elections shall NOT be coronated.

The Man of the Moment.
Source: Kojo Emmanuel (Pulse)

Coronation-like landslides matter

His non-coronation is a source of great anguish for party bosses who have done everything to make the ascendancy of the Vice President to the “flagbearer” position resemble a sweeping endorsement from all corners of Ghana’s oldest political party. Since the return to democracy in 1992, no candidate has won the presidential elections without a landslide victory during their party’s primaries.

For instance, the Opposition Leader, himself a former President and Vice President, garnered nearly 99% in the Opposition NDC’s primaries six months ago. The sitting President, in keeping with the same trend, scored nearly 95% in the 2014 primaries that blazed his way to the presidency.

On those occasions when a presidential candidate has won by less than 85% in their own party’s primaries (like in 2002 and 2006 during the NDC primaries; or in 2007 and 2010 during the NPP primaries), their chance of winning the subsequent national elections has been almost nil (the 2000 elections being a notable exception). It would seem from the record that carrying a party to a successful showing in Ghanaian general elections requires a candidate to mobilise a resounding and sweeping endorsement, a coronation, in essence.

The Magic Rise

The current Veep has had a charmed life in his political career. Plucked from relative obscurity, like other Veeps before him, from the technocratic halls of the Bank of Ghana to join the NPP presidential ticket a few months to the 2008 general election, he had everything to prove. Since then, the 60 year-old politician has earned his stripes by transforming himself into the ruling NPP’s most ardent champion of the party’s signature, slogan-heavy, political PR style.

His impeccable academic credentials and northern ethnic and Islamic religious heritage in a party dominated by Southern, mainly Akan, Christians combined to endow his rise with a certain kind of exotic fairy-tale flourish. His profile rose in the party so dramatically that at one point a coronation seemed inevitable as party bigshots lined up behind the narrative of his inevitability. And then Ghana’s economic down-spiral began, eventually landing in a catastrophic heap requiring an emergency IMF bailout and national insolvency.  

The same credentials in economics that had catapulted the Veep in the eyes of the party’s elite gatekeepers during the party’s spell in opposition, and made him the most effective lampooner of the ruling government’s economic policies, have today also become his undoing. His lack of deep grounding in the ruling party is suddenly an issue again. The grassroots of the party are suddenly being asked by his rivals whether they get what all the fuss is about that Oxford economics degree and those majestic lectures that have defined his rise. Many, it would seem, are suddenly unsure about the grand narrative of the Veep’s specialness.

A Maverick party-pooper

Which is probably why the Veep’s most effective rival in the primaries is a maverick businessman and veteran ruling party parliamentarian who boasts of employing 7000 people despite never having bothered to complete his undergraduate degree in a suburban New York university.

The said rival’s shoot from the hip politics and eccentric campaign style of criticizing the record of the government even though this is an internal election has rattled party bosses who have been at pains to deny his accusations of their favoritism towards the Veep, whilst still needing to give as strong a hint as possible that failure to elect the first Muslim and Northerner as the NPP’s presidential candidate will seal the charge against the Party of being biased towards the predominantly Akan Christian South.

The Primacy of Identity Politics

All said and done, there will be no coronation tomorrow, Saturday, the 4th of November, 2023. The Veep is expected to cross the line in a comfortable lead but considerably below the threshold that super-successful candidates have scored in internal primaries ahead of victory at the national polls. What does this mean for his chances in the 2024 general election?

If the 2024 elections were to be fought primarily on policy performance, then, coupled with the less than complete mobilization of the ruling party’s base, as manifested by his expected result in tomorrow’s primaries, the opposition NDC would have won in a heartbeat. But like elections all over the world, policy is rarely the sole defining factor, and the issue of identity politics looms large.

If the Veep wins the primaries as predicted, the NPP’s historical strength in the southern and middle-belt Akan areas mean that he will have far more latitude in pressing identity-related issues in the Muslim majority areas and the geographical North of the country than the Opposition’s candidate, who is a Christian from the North. The reason is simply that the NDC has a somewhat fraught relationship with voters in the Akan heartland, urging serious circumspection about how they approach campaigning in the North and the Muslim-dominated “Zongos” for fear of alienating the highly populous Akan regions.

Because ethnic alliances and allegiances in Ghana usually radiate through the political parties to envelop the candidates, rather than the other way round (very different from the case in Kenya and Nigeria in that sense), the Veep is unlikely to lose many Akan and Christian voters regardless of the intensity of his campaign team’s overtures to the Islamic and Northern constituencies, which frees them to be more creative and adventurous.

The Opposition’s only hope of countering this new dynamic is to come up with their own dynamic to unsettle the Akan heartland of the ruling party. In a recent tweet, I consolidated one possible approach around the idea of an “Akan heartland vote-puller” being selected as the running mate to the Opposition Leader. Upon reflection, it is clear that more than that would be required in terms of effective messaging, and campaign machinery all-round, targeted at the fraying seams of the Akan meta-identity. Recall that the ruling party won the presidential race three years ago with a 500,000 vote margin, a significant gap that the Opposition must close before they can cross the line.

One controversial point is that the “Akan Heartland” refers less to all the Akan regions and more to those parts of the Akan-dominated geography with predictable voting patterns. Highly urbanized coastal towns like Cape Coast or Mankessim tend to swing with the national mood and are thus less susceptible to the kind of strategy discussed above.

It is true that the Opposition is extremely confident of winning the next elections. Their conviction comes from the belief that the Veep embodies a number of serious electoral risks. Some say that a sizeable number of evangelical Christians in the swing voters’ category might balk at voting for a Muslim (Ghana has never had a publicly-confessed Muslim as President). Others say that the Veep is so deeply entangled with the policy chaos of recent years that he will be ready fodder for scathing satirists when the campaign season start.

The religious question, as already hinted, can go either way. What the Veep loses from the evangelical community, he may gain from the devout Islamic community.

The policy charges are stronger. The Veep sold himself as an economic guru responsible for architecting a wholesale transformation of the country. The self-evident reality is that the country has declared bankruptcy and large portions of private wealth have been wiped away in the most intense economic crisis since 1983. Then there is a nascent IMF austerity program. As he himself wrote in 1998, IMF programs tend to create losers and winners, generating electoral consequences.

True, in recent years, the Veep has also positioned himself as a digital champion, and some allege that as the economy has tanked, this “tilt” has now become a hard pivot.

For most people, the digitalisation results are sound but modest. For hardcore policy people, like some of those who regularly read these pages, however, there is actually a lot to fault about the Veep’s handling of the so-called digitalisation agenda. Let us look at a few of the most prominent digitalisation flagships.

Digital Addressing

Ghana has spent millions of dollars on a pre-existing digital application reskinned into a national geotagging platform by the private app developer.

This is despite the said system merely drawing on open-source mapping solutions available at no cost from the primary geolocation platforms. It took years for the Veep and his team to realise this. Instead of a serious fix, he hastily announced to the country three years ago that Google has agreed to “upload” Ghana’s mapping system into its platform, when such a move would be completely pointless as Google already offers the Plus Codes system that duplicates the full set of functions ineffectively performed by Ghana’s quaint customisation. Needless to say, nothing of that sort happened. A little more genuine consultation with the Ghanaian tech community would have saved the country money and ensured that resources go towards more value-adding geolocation integration into service delivery instead of replicating pre-existing geotagging systems. As it is now, all the digital platforms serving Ghana simply use Google or other international digital geolocation tools, and not the national system.

National ID

The principle that national identification can be a critical foundation for public service delivery is not new. The World Bank’s ID4D initiative launched in 2014 builds on policy awareness dating back decades, with various European governments introducing national IDs in 1938 and thereafter before civil rights concerns led to a slowdown in their momentum. The Ivorien national ID Card scheme, for instance, has been running continuously since 2001.

It is undeniable that the Veep’s sponsorship of the Ghana Card project has led to the fastest and deepest enrolment of Ghanaians since efforts to roll out a National ID began in 2003. More Ghanaians than ever before now have a secure form of ID that is compatible with other digital services.

But a great deal of the good that could have been done by this system has been forgone due to the extreme profiteering approach adopted. The system as it currently exists is primarily a cash-cow for its enterprising private sector “partners”, who are not merely contractors but effective controllers and owners of the underpinning technology infrastructure.

Matters came to a head when the country was effectively subject to blackmail during the latest mass voters’ registration. The private contractors demanded millions of dollars before the country could commit to provide enough cards to first-time voters. In the end, plans to rely solely on the Ghana Card had to be abandoned. At the end of the exercise, it was noted that over 60% of young voters registering for the first time did not have a Ghana Card. High expense has prevented sufficient coverage despite the program costing over 40 times the cost per capita of India’s much praised model.

In a similar vein, promises to tightly integrate government services have failed to be realized because every such integration requires participating state agencies to pay millions of dollars to the private contractors for basic database linking.

Rather than focus on providing a low-cost KYC mechanism over the internet to boost the digital economy, the private vendors driving the Ghana Card are focused on selling hardware terminals for card validation to financial institutions, scuttling the government’s open banking promises. The dramatic resistance of the Ministry of Communications to a similar attempt to foist these terminals on telecom agents led to a bizarre situation where the Ghana Card was the sole document for SIM card registration yet telecom operators could not validate the cards in real-time. The country was bewildered to read letters from the National Identification Authority discrediting the approach of the Ministry and insisting on selling these devices and services.

Perhaps, the height of confusion was reached when a misguided effort to bypass the Ghanaian passport and embed the country’s core e-passport mechanism into the Ghana Card resulted in comical clashes with the world body at the helm of affairs, ICAO. In the end, promises to get all of ECOWAS to submit to Ghana’s model for e-Passport functionality failed as, obviously, most countries prefer to conform to ICAO’s pace and strategy. This is what happens when an initiative held up as a public good is in fact motivated primarily by private profit.

And a raft of others

In his digital champion heydays, not a day went by without the Veep launching one “transformative” digital project or the other. A careful assay of the outcomes of most of these projects lead to very sobering conclusions.

Since MASLOC, one of the government’s small business lending programs, was digitalized in 2020 to great fanfare as part of the Veep-led digitalization agenda, ostensibly to eliminate inefficiencies and graft, Ghana’s Auditor General has published scathing reports showing a degeneration in performance, including rising default rates, across activities such as its PINCO, poultry, and tricycle-acquisition projects.

In 2019, the Veep launched a national e-procurement system to fix bid-rigging and other procurement abuse only for the country to be thrust into procurement scandal after scandal, from the cathedral affair to the current Bank of Ghana mess. At one point, even the head of the procurement control agency was entangled in a bizarre “tenders for sale” scandal leading to his indictment. It goes without saying that the e-procurement system launched to great fanfare by the Veep has had no impact whatsoever across most procurement entities even in the central government.


In short, the hard pivot from economic transformation to digitalisation-for-transformation by the Veep has not shielded him and the ruling party from the looming confrontation with the government’s policy record in the 2024 elections.

And yet, to reiterate my earlier analysis, neither policy performance nor the failed coronation is definitive in assessing the chances of the Veep should he win tomorrow’s internal contest as predicted. His mould-breaking ascent has introduced certain uncertainties into the settled electoral calculus of Ghana that should give pause to those in the Opposition’s electoral strategy team celebrating the imminent collapse of the government at the 2024 polls. Their celebration may well be premature.

As of this moment, the 2024 chessboard is only getting set, and one-half of it is cast in the shadow of a man readying his fugu for a date with destiny.

A Governor on the ropes

Rattled by unprecedented demonstrations against his tenure by Ghana’s political opposition, the governor of the Bank of Ghana described the protestors as “hooligans”.

The choice of language is uncharacteristic of Ghana’s suave and urbane leading central banker. When he was first appointed, few would have guessed that his term would see such a spectacle. Rarely, anywhere in the world, are central banks the usual target for mass protestors. And this governor in particular came to office enjoying massive elite confidence.

For nearly a decade, until he decamped to the African Development Bank (AfDB) in 2011, he helmed the research function for the Bank for the Bank of Ghana. In this role, he was highly supportive of Ghana’s small but committed think tank and research-oriented activist community. When our community mobilised against what we saw as lazy banking, the governor, in his then research-lead capacity at the central bank, was a source of analytical influence.

Changing Habits

Then he got into the apex role and everything changed. He began to push poorly conceived policies such as forcing massive recapitalisation requirements across the banking industry when the real challenges were poor capital adequacy owing from years of failure to deal with toxic assets and poor corporate governance. Protests, warnings, and laments went unheeded. He stopped listening to the independent policy community, treating their views with contempt. Many specialised banks catering to niche segments of the economy were forced to close down for no sensible reason. Despite the brutal weeding out of small and specialised banks, capital adequacy continues to be a problem for a quarter of Ghana’s banks. And the fruits of the failed recapitalisation program are still shedding their seeds.

Legacy Unravelling

Meanwhile, the one bold action that could have defined his legacy, the closure of insolvent banks that previous governments did not have the stomach for, has had its aftermath badly mismanaged.

Whilst, elsewhere, publicly funded bank bailouts and takeovers have yielded nice profits for the State, a thoroughly lackluster recovery and liquidation process in Ghana has saddled the taxpayer with billions of dollars of liabilities with no prospect of getting most of the money back. The US government, for instance, has earned more than $30 billion on its bailout investments due to effective recovery management.

After mooting costs in excess of $3.5 billion three years ago, following massive failures in the recovery & liquidation program (with a lower than 10% rate recorded in one category, for example), the Bank of Ghana stopped accounting to the public altogether.

One should therefore not make the mistake of assuming that the $5.45 billion loss that has triggered these unprecedented protests for the removal of the governor came in a vacuum. The disaffection has been brewing for a while. Judging from the history of missteps outlined above, one should also be inclined to take the central bank’s loud protests of innocence with a massive sack of salt.

Here is the case for the prosecution.

First, let’s get this out of the way: a central bank can indeed make losses, and many routinely do. As far back as 1993, the IMF’s Alfredo Leone did a fine paper cataloguing the possible sources and ramifications of central banking losses.

What has caused a ruckus in Ghana is thus not the mere fact of lossmaking, but rather the scale of it, the causes, and the surrounding sleaze.

Sheer scale of the Loss

The Bank of Ghana’s declared losses for 2022 are on the order of 8% of Ghana’s entire GDP. As the array of charts below from the OECD (Ono & Pina, 2023) shows, the size of the loss in Ghana’s case is truly phenomenal.

Bank of Ghana lied blatantly about peer comparisons

What is worse, the Ghanaian central bank, to further absolve itself of all blame, proceeded to publish a table attempting to underplay how bad its losses were in comparison with peers elsewhere. It comically inflated the losses of the Dutch central bank from 1% of GDP to 11% in order to mask its own unprecedented challenges.

But comparing to GDP does not do full justice to the stupendous scope of the mess. When compared to the total equity of the Bank of Ghana (BoG) in the previous year , the resulting ratio is nearly 1200%. This is eye-popping from a historical point of view. For instance, a chronicle of historically significant central bank loss incidents by economists John Dalton and Claudia Dziobek (2005) from the 1990s produces a comparative average of just 35% (compared with BoG’s 1200%, that is).

The causes according to the Bank of Ghana

The BoG has listed four main causes for the loss:

  • A 50% haircut on its holding of government debt
  • Exchange rate losses
  • Increases in operational expenses
  • Interest expense on monetary policy operations

Of these four reasons, only the last can be adduced to support the BoG’s innocence, but it accounts for only 6% of the losses. The three other causes stem from underlying problems for which the BoG cannot in anyway escape blame.

Impact of the Debt Restructuring Program

A truly independent central bank would not have been left holding the can in the way that the BoG was exposed during Ghana’s disorganised domestic debt restructuring process (DDEP/DDR).

As the IMF itself has warned, central banks should shield their credibility when participating in domestic debt restructurings.

Every serious central bank is thus careful not to allow itself to be used for political convenience by the fiscal authorities (the central government) when they spend their way into a ditch.

In Greece, during that country’s 2012 debt restructuring episode, the central bank cleverly demanded that important state assets be pledged onto their books in order both to maintain balance sheet integrity and to keep the politicians honest.

In Barbados, a central bank recapitalisation plan was built right into the domestic debt restructuring program.

That is why during the heady days of the Greek debt crisis in 2012, the country’s central bank actually turned a profit (see detailed extract from the relevant annual report).

In short, the BoG, by being too cosy with the politicians, by lacking a serious negotiating spine, by failing to show tough love to the fiscal administrators, and by sheer cluelessness, has seriously damaged its reputation by destroying its balance sheet.

Why the massive debt holdings in the first place?

And how come the BoG was holding so much government paper in the first place? It claims that this was because prudent investors didn’t want to buy government debt beyond a certain limit, yet the government was determined to live above its means, so the BoG had to step in, like a daft dealer with a soft spot for a junkie.

Hence, in 2022, the year in which the loss was recorded, BoG alone was responsible for more than 40% of all banking sector lending to the government. Or, at least, for the outstanding stock of the sector’s debt to government.

But this is not telling the full story. Between September and December ending of the same year, the BoG doubled its holdings, according to interviews given by its Head of Research. Let that sink in: in the course of just three months, BoG printed or conjured nearly 40 billion Ghana Cedis (GHS) or ~$4 billion to protect the government from the need to kick its habit of overspending.

Compare this situation with that of one of Ghana’s closest peers, Kenya, where the central bank held just 2% of government debt (versus 46%+ held by the private banking sector).

The loose quasi-fiscal behaviour is part of a pattern

Perhaps, Ghanaians would have been less infuriated had the BoG’s crimes been limited to these technical and wonkish infractions. But imagine their alarm when it then also emerged that the central bank has been engaged in dodgy procurement and reckless overspending on itself; and was, in addition, dishing out lavish packages to its Board of Directors.

The $250 million Headquarters project

A cynic once said that, “how you do anything is how you do everything”. Those inclined to cut BoG some slack for the losses stemming from its reckless lending to the central government have to face the shambolic project management that has seen costs of its new headquarters balloon by nearly 300% at design stage.

Documents from the procurement regulatory authorities show that even before construction could take off, approved estimates shot up from ~$80 million to more than ~$200 million. Now that the construction rate is at roughly 40%, total cost projection is between $250 million and $300 million. In fact, cost and time overrun models suggest that cost variations worsen during actual construction, so the total cost may well hit $500 million.

These cost overruns are far above the medians recorded in Ghana and the region by experts, as shown below.

Cost & Time Overrun modelling in Ghana. Source: Bentil et al (2017)
Average rates of cost overruns in selected countries.
Source: Albtush et al (2021)

The 300% to 500% cost overrun numbers emanating from the BoG’s headquarters project (compared to median rates of 75% in Ghana) illustrate a general pattern of disregard for prudent financial management.

This is on top of the fact that the BoG has revised designs to remove the high-value features such as the state-of-the-art data center, currency processing system, and integrated security management system.

In its defence, the BoG has provided benchmarking data from the Africa Property & Construction Cost Guide.

But its computations are highly misleading because it has used the average costing for “prestige office high rise” for the entire project scope when, in actual fact, 60% of the gross project area is covered by other elements such as a multi-storey car park.

Properly weighting the different components of the project yields a per meter square cost for the project that deviates from the benchmarking guidance by nearly 70%.

On top of all this, the BoG chose to use restrictive tendering on national security grounds when none of the qualified vendors has any special national security clearances that set it apart from any of the 100 or so contractors in Ghana that would have qualified to place bids in a truly transparent and merit-driven process.

A Pattern of Procurement Abuse

The BoG’s spending inefficiencies are revealed through a record of poor and sleazy procurement decisions.

The BoG has invested, and continues to invest, in a raft of ventures, ranging from hospitality facilities to medical installations. In many of these cases, the procurement practice is far from transparent, and rarely is it ever above board.

For example, a number of contracts for multimillion dollar hotel facilities have been awarded without competitive tender.

In one particularly egregious instance, a contract already awarded to a company called, Maripoma, was stripped off and awarded without competitive tender to a favourite, DeSimone, which has also benefitted from non-competitive invitations to bid and actual contracts in the Bog headquarters and national cathedral episodes, respectively.

The national security arguments ring completely hollow not just because the corporate favourites that win these awards have no special national security clearances over and above those that are denied the opportunity, but also because we see a shift in favourite contractors whenever new governors come to office. Furthermore, contractors excluded from bidding on national security grounds by one public agency often undertake work of similar scope awarded by other agencies, sometimes even under the same dubious national security pretences.

Lastly, and perhaps worse of all, the Bank of Ghana routinely buy ordinary items, like Toyota vehicles, to the tune of millions of dollars from run of the mill vendors like Autodream and Gemotech using the same restrictive tendering and single sourcing approaches.

What is sad is that it wasn’t always like this. Under some previous administrations, the BoG regularly resorted to competitive tender for most of its procurement needs.

Board largesse

Perhaps, one reason why the management of the Bank of Ghana hasn’t been reined in despite all the profusive abuse of procurement standards, lavish overspending, and reckless quasi-fiscal behavior, is the shrewd distribution of lavish treats to the BoG’s board members.

For example, consider that the entire annual cost to Barbados for maintaining its central bank board is $60,000.

In Ghana, the equivalent spending is close to $800,000. The cost of upkeep of the BoG’s board is more than 300% higher than that of the Central Bank of Kenya’s.

“Board capture” through treats and perks is a well known tool used by some corporate management for suppressing true oversight and fiduciary controls.

The Sum of it all

It should be evident from all the above that the reasons given by the Bank of Ghana to absolve itself of all blame in the current controversy are hollow. The stiff-necked refusal to accept the need for serious policy and corporate governance reforms at this very sensitive institution, whilst reminiscent of the general posture of the current political administration, does not become such a critical institution.

If the governor does not change the approach to engaging with critics and the public, show signs of genuine listening, and commit to a transformative program to rebuild trust, his term is likely to go down in history as the worst Ghana has ever seen. Which would be a real shame, given the hopes he inspired when he was first appointed.

Global elite opinion has settled on the view that the large technology corporations owning and running the large digital platforms have to be reined in before the reach and depth of their power get out of hand.

Regulatory agencies in various guises and with different mandates – competition, welfare, preventive, security, etc. – have been tasked with the undertaking to tame the tech giants and their overbearing platforms.

In this short essay, we examine one way in which the nature of digital platforms has transformed fundamentally, through a phenomenon we have termed, hyperintegration, and how the shape-shifting effects of this transformation confuse and distract even highly informed observers, and undermine most of the interventions of regulators.

Hyperintegration refers to a process in which emphasis on the source of digital power has shifted from software code and design, or “algorithms” (moment 1), to data (moment 2) and, presently, to “integrations” (moment 3). The term “integrations” represents the logics dictating the fluid connections among data sources and algorithm stores, regardless of their nominal creators, owners and controllers.

We home in on one particular company, Microsoft, which has mastered the art of shape-shifting to an unmatched degree, and thereby amassed far more power than its often more spotlighted rivals, even whilst evading serious scrutiny because its world-dominating platform is mostly “underground” and undercover.

(Read the full essay here.)

On 14th August, 2023, this author received an interesting message from the Fourth Estate, a brilliant project by the Media Foundation for West Africa aimed at enhancing the capacity of journalists in Ghana to undertake socially impactful investigative journalism. At inception, the Fourth Estate was helmed by an award-winning journalist currently on a Nieman Fellowship at Harvard.

Quite apart from the fact that the Fourth Estate is a media organisation one usually takes seriously, many of the causes taken up by activist think tanks like ACEP and IMANI, with which this author is affiliated, often begin as inquiries by journalists seeking research support or as leaks by unhappy insiders unable to go public for fear of retribution.

On this occasion, however, Fourth Estate wasn’t really looking for research support. They just wanted a quote. They had been investigating a tax exemption package granted a hotel project under Ghana’s 1 District 1 Factory (1D1F) policy, and were sure of their grounds but needed someone in the policy space to underscore a point or two in the classic mode of quality journalism.

This author thus faithfully recited the conventional wisdom against the practice of government officials and state institutions taking policies enacted with very noble objectives and bastardising them to suit narrow, parochial, interests. Why should a hotel be granted tax exemptions through a policy meant to industrialise a country? And a very high-end hotel in one of the poshest enclaves in Accra – the Airport Residential Area – saturated with high-end hotels at that?

Incoherent policy execution with wasteful implications is of course a pet subject of this author as any frequent reader of this blog knows. High-end hotels as a special case of this phenomenon pops up every now and then, like bad jokes in a dry tale. Not too long ago, there was a bit of confusion when it came out that the Ghana Infrastructure Investment Fund (GIIF) had pumped millions into a luxury hotel and apartment complex – under the Pullman brand – in the same Airport Residential Area and that the project had stalled with little prospect of recovery of funds within the expected timeframe.

Once again, why on Earth would a country with massive infrastructure deficits in essential areas like water treatment, affordable power provision, arterial road networks etc. spend funds from one of its modest Sovereign Wealth Funds on luxury hotels? Matters would have been left at lamenting policy incoherence with the usual dark undertones of cronyism had the Fourth Estate inquiry not carried an interesting twist: the journalists weren’t even sure that the beneficiary of the 1D1F-based tax exemption, 4-Mac Limited, existed. They couldn’t find any details in Ghana’s corporate register on the entity, nor of any entity bearing the name of the hotel it is building, Le Meridien. For a company deemed worthy of ~$3.919 million (nearly 50 million GHS) in tax exemptions, that felt very odd.

When the first part of the Fourth Estate’s piece came out, the “shady identity” angle was so intriguing that this author considered digging into the affair but, alas, a full plate did not allow. In the second part, however, there was a reference to his suggestion of the possibility of the name used in the Parliamentary proceedings being a “trading” rather than the legal incorporated name, a point disputed by another analyst. So, it was time to dig.

The digging continues, but the mound of dirt piling up is not pretty. First, to clear the issue of the non-existence of the entity. As suspected, it does exist. Just that the Parliamentary records misspelt the name with an extraneous hyphen guaranteeing the kind of results the Fourth Estate got.

4-Mac is actually just “4 Mac”. It is fully owned by a certain Jeffery Amponsah. The only other Director is a Vida Amankwah. Mr. Amponsah has worked closely on the hotel project with one Prince Damptey, the sole shareholder of a kind of general purpose consultancy called, Pridam Investments. Pridam also has only two Directors, Mr. Damptey and Ms. Yvonne Koufie. Messrs Damptey and Amponsah appear to be the driving minds behind the Le Meridien Hotel project, the beneficiary of the sweetheart ~$4 million tax exemption granted by the ever-beneficent Parliament of Ghana.

Le Meridien’s entry into the posher rosters of high-end hotels in Ghana has been celebrated for a while now. Originally billed to open in 2021, the 160-room hotel is now two years over schedule, with substantial works still remaining, and more delays expected. It has become part of a raft of premium hotel properties, representing more than 2000 rooms in capacity, clustered around the same vicinity of Accra. The Hilton. The Protea. The Pullman. The Southern Sun etc. All heavily delayed.

That there is an oversupply of high-end hotels in Accra already, and an even worse oversupply in the pipeline, is reflected in falling revenue per room numbers across the hotel industry in Accra by more than 50% in recent years even as everyone complain about high prices and underwhelming services.

Clearly, what is needed is additional capacity in more medium-range facilities to improve the country’s attractiveness to a wider range of tourists and to exert true competitive pressure on prices in order to boost volumes. Doing that would in turn lift occupancy rates and thus shave off any adverse impact from competition on revenues. Ghana’s own strategic tourism plan sees things this way. And, yet, here is the government breezily dispensing additional incentives for the building of high-end hotels. And a pliant Parliament rubberstamping each such request brought before it. But back to 4 Mac/4-Mac.

The founder and owner of 4 Mac – the entity at the center of the Fourth Estate investigation – is not one of the famous entrepreneurs hogging the limelight on tabloid pages in Ghana. But he is a wizened operator, a crawler in the dark underbelly of public sector contracting in Ghana. In addition to 4 Mac, he also owns Byes and Ways. Both 4 Mac and Byes and Ways are based in Ghana’s second city of Kumasi, away from the prying eyes and wagging tongues of Accra. Both entities are regularly in conflict with Ghana’s Auditor General.

In 2016, the Auditor General insisted that it could not find evidence by way of documentation, like waybills and invoices, to support liabilities purportedly owed to 4 Mac to the tune of 21.7 million GHS (local Ghanaian currency units) in connection with a 50.24 million GHS (~$13 million then) contract and was therefore rejecting them. The management of the Ministry of Energy, which had issued the said contract for 4 Mac to supply electricity poles, insisted that, notwithstanding the lack of documentation, the liabilities were not only valid but were actually 10 million GHS higher.

In the same year, state auditors flagged a purported debt of ~822,000 GHS arising from what Byes & Ways, the sister company of 4 Mac, was said to be representing as exchange rate losses due to the time gap between contracting and execution. Except that the ~8.3 million GHS contract for wooden poles had been a Cedi (local currency) contract so any talk of forex losses was pure artifice. Having been caught out so glaringly, the Ministry’s mandarins backed down.

In 2018, things came to a head when state auditors once again flagged a 28.4 million GHS debt attributed to Byes & Ways by the Energy Ministry. The auditors had, after some sleuthing, discovered that about 90% of the supposedly outstanding amount was actually effected in December 2016 and, thus, the Energy Ministry’s demand for funds from the Finance Ministry in June 2017 to clear the said debt was pure contrivance. The issue having blown over into the press, the owner of Byes & Ways/4 Mac made a ballistic entry to deny his company’s awareness of these claims being made on its behalf. With the posture of a martyr astride a cross, he demanded a judicial inquest. Needless to say, the matter died a quiet death.

Another fascinating episode involving the 4 Mac crew is the intriguing exchange of 1.1 acres of highly valuable land in the plush Roman Ridge area belonging to the Ghana Library Authority for 1.068 acres of land of far lower pedigree in the Oyarifa area belonging to Byes & Ways. Crude estimates of the difference in value placed the loss to the state in the region of more than 2 million dollars. After much huffing and puffing, that matter also lost steam.

All the above points to a worrisome intertwining of narrow private commercial interests and public sector contracting characterising deals involving the 4 Mac – Byes & Ways twin-entity.

Admittedly, seeing a long list of controversies around public money linked to a company that has been granted an incongruous benefit by Parliament at the expense of the state would bias even the most objective reviewer, but we were determined to examine the tax exemptions granted 4 Mac on their merits.

Unfortunately, it is hard. The justifications provided by the Parliamentary Committee for the ~$4 million were just plain ridiculous. Their sheer incongruity makes it impossible, however much one tries, to grant the decision any merit at all. For the reader’s benefit, the entire text is reproduced below.

In short, Parliament has decided to grant a massive tax exemption because the hotel is a “strategic investment”. But why? What makes it strategic? Absolutely nothing was said to validate the claim, except some half-hearted comments about employment generation in another part of the record of proceedings. By the job creation measure, literally every kiosk, okro farm, washing bay and petrol station set up anywhere in Ghana is a “strategic investment” on some defensible scale.

Of the list of 1297 items to be imported by 4 Mac in financial year 2022/2023, for which duty and taxes have been waived by Parliament, our analysis suggest that more than 70% probably shouldn’t be imported by any entity truly desiring to strategically create jobs in Ghana. They include pantry mops, fly killers, kitchen cabinets, glass doors, wall shelves, hand basins, sinks, Mosaic tiles, porcelain wares, etc. etc.

Think about it. The Parliament of Ghana grants tax waivers of ~$4 million to a company under the country’s flagship industrialisation policy (1D1F) so that they can import sliding aluminum doors, handrails, tiles, wallpaper and specialty flooring.

Not to forget toilet-roll holders and soap dispensers!

What is even more bizarre about the entire spectacle is the timing. The request for tax waiver was presented to Parliament in July 2022. Throughout the period it was traversing the bureaucracy there, the country was in the throes of a debilitating balance of payments crisis partly occasioned by the scarcity of dollars. The government, furthermore, was in tough negotiations with the IMF, during which, for the umpteenth time, tax exemptions and other anti-revenue practices were under discussion. Yet, here was the national Parliament, at the instigation of the Ministry of Finance, granting tax waivers so that an aspiring hotelier could import “back of house shower enclosures” with scarce dollars without paying duty.

Meanwhile, the government was promising things like the below to the IMF.

What is the point, seriously, of all this report-publishing and tap-dancing around the issue in successive IMF programs if no one really intends to stop abusing the use of tax waiver provisions to enrich favoured business people?

This is what the IMF said on June 30th, 2015, when its team visited Ghana to review the country’s previous program:

The team notes, however, that more needs to be done to further enhance tax administration and eliminate tax exemptions to improve the revenue performance over the medium term.

This is what it said on 10th February 2017 during another mission:

The new government’s intentions to reduce tax exemptions, improve tax compliance and review the widespread earmarking of revenues should help in this regard.

This is what it said on 19th July 2021:

Measures that could be implemented relatively quickly include rationalizing VAT and import duty exemptions


In the meantime, the authorities could proceed to remove non-standard statutory VAT and import duty exemptions, particularly those that disproportionately benefit higher income groups

The reader would no doubt have guessed that this is a song that has been played from the remotest antiquity. Here is the IMF again on 14th April 1999:

Revenue is projected to rise to almost 19 percent of GDP, driven by the curtailment of tax exemptions and improvements in administration, including the introduction of the VAT and the taxpayer identification system.

The reader must be getting the picture by now. But even assuming that politicians in Accra never really take these commitments seriously, it is still valid to ask if the IMF itself does.

Well, there is something even more pernicious at work. The government has indeed been removing tax exemptions. Just not from favoured business people. For ordinary entrepreneurs and other business actors, however, the IMF commitments are indeed relied upon to deny tax incentives critical to their ability to grow, all the better to create room for favourites and cronies to benefit.

For example, the Ghanaian Chamber of Agribusiness blame the refusal of the authorities to grant tax-based incentives for critical imported inputs and machinery for declining productivity in the agroprocessing arena, notwithstanding agroprocessing being a clear 1 District 1 Factory priority.

Farm mechanisation inputs and industrial juicing equipment are stuck at the ports even as rich wannabe hoteliers get millions of dollars in tax exemptions to cart in their precious porcelain massage beds from Milano.

Such genius moves! Such impeccable style!

[This short essay is a preliminary response to a report issued yesterday by a Ghanaian parliamentary committee in connection with a joint IMANI – ACEP investigation of a sweetheart gas deal between Ghana’s national oil company, GNPC, and a private company called, Genser.]

As everyone now knows, Ghana is in the throes of full-blown national bankruptcy. Unable to pay its debts, the government has reached out to the IMF for a bailout program. Central to that program is an effort to dial down the rate at which the country is accumulating losses in its energy sector due to waste, mismanagement and cronyism. The World Bank, which is playing tag team with the IMF on the salvation plan, also has energy sector waste and inefficiencies in its sights. Analysts believe that energy sector liabilities are on course to eventually hit $12.5 billion, more than four times the size of the ongoing IMF bailout. One group within the value chain, independent power producers (IPPs), are already owed nearly $2.3 billion.

When analysts at IMANI and ACEP saw evidence that a private sector operator called, Genser, had secured a deal to obtain gas at a price less than 40% of what the seller, Ghana’s national oil company GNPC, itself says it costs to obtain the commodity, they naturally decided to dig into the legal agreement since it is of such wasteful stuff that the bigger mess has been created. It was later discovered that another agreement had been signed that will bring total discounts to nearly 75% of the commodity value. After a thorough review of the evidence, and extensive interactions with their sources, IMANI and ACEP analysts published a series of essays criticising the arrangements and demanding urgent redress.

A few months following the publication of the IMANI-ACEP concerns, the select committee in Parliament responsible for the mining and energy sectors decided to hold hearings on the matter.

First to be called on 27th September 2022 was the GNPC. Subsequently, on 18th October 2022, a representative of IMANI and ACEP appeared before the committee. It was apparent from the outset that the ruling party’s representatives on the committee had made up their mind on the issues. For example, they spent an hour quarreling with the representative over the meaning of the “sweetheart” term used in the two organisations’ description of the gas deal. Then the rest of the time interjecting and openly attacking the position of the representative, the very witness they themselves had invited to ostensibly get to the bottom of the issue.

In hindsight, IMANI and ACEP should not have participated in these prejudicial proceedings at all. The committee sittings lacked even the most rudimentary elements of due process. There were no clear terms of reference. No proper concept note had been prepared in advance to outline the areas of contention and expected outcomes. No briefings were circulated to witnesses ahead of time to pinpoint matters of emphasis and thus to aid preparation. At any rate, rather than the typical question and answer format of a serious parliamentary enquiry, the exchanges mostly ruling party representatives on the committee chastising the IMANI-ACEP representative for the organisations’ views and he, in turn, holding his ground. Nothing by way of serious effort to elicit insights.

Many months after the committee sittings, word reached the two Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) that the chairperson of the committee was doing everything possible to ram through a version of the report cobbled together solely to whitewash the Genser gas sweetheart deal, and was facing resistance from minority/opposition members of the committee. Unable to obtain consensus, he finally decided yesterday, the 16th of August 2023, to release the report anyway, with a half-hearted concession to the fact of it not being a product of committee consensus.

The report itself turned out to be a rather sad excuse of technical writing. The ranking member of the select committee immediately disassociated himself from the document in its entirety, lamenting the “factual inaccuracies“, “baseless assumptions” and facile conclusions on the central “value for money” issue.

Before delving into the embarrassing details, the reader is reminded of the primary basis of the original concerns raised about the GNPC-Genser sweetheart gas deal: the overpowering musk of regulatory and state capture, the suspicions of insider dealings, and the strong sense of collusion against the interests of Ghana by those who should hold fealty to Ghana’s cause. Now, to the committee “report”.

The 16-page document starts with the customary recapping of the events leading to the committee’s decision to intervene. It then lists the organisations invited to provide evidence and the scanty set of documents relied upon. As if in a hurry to get to its preconceived conclusions, the report then rushes through the evidence, often devoting just two or three sentences to the testimony given by the invited organisations, completely ignoring the vast majority of the highly technical materials and deliberations submitted by the few key expert witnesses it deigned to call. Below, the reader is invited to consider the recounting done of the hours of careful breakdown analysis presented by two important state-owned organisations, Ghana Gas and the Volta River Authority (VRA).

Extract from page 4 of the committee’s report on the GNPC-Genser gas deal

With breathless enthusiasm, the report’s drafters then settled on the highlight of their show: the “findings of fact”, except that this section is actually riddled with confusing premises and inferences as well as a partial reporting of arguments between different members of the committee. Everything but actual facts.

In fact, apart from the two organisations at the center of the impugned deal – Genser and GNPC – no testimony produced during the entire deliberations backed any of these “findings of facts”, much less the hasty conclusions of the committee. Both VRA and Ghana Gas essentially vindicated the positions canvassed by IMANI and ACEP. The invited regulators, namely the Public Utilities Regulatory Commission (PURC), refused to be drawn into the fray by suggesting that the deal between the state-owned GNPC and Genser occured outside their purview, in the “deregulated market”, whilst the Energy Commission was either not invited or refused to appear. The Energy Ministry, on its part, denied all knowledge of the commercial details of the transaction.

Extracts from pages 5 & 6 of the committee report

In order not to bore the reader, we will focus on the whitewashing attempts and expose the hollowness of the committee’s work in that regard since these elements most affect the public interest.

At the heart of the IMANI-ACEP case is the simple fact of gas being underpriced by a state-owned producer, GNPC, to the benefit of a favoured private operator, thereby generating losses to the detriment of Ghana, a country saddled today with crippling energy sector debts. As has been explained several times, the GNPC itself has represented to regulators that it cost it on average $6.5+ to obtain a unit of gas.

Extract from GNPC presentation to the PURC on 20th April 2022

It does not matter that some sources are cheaper than others. In commercial analysis, its weighted average cost should guide how it prices the product for onward sales. Observe carefully that the weighted average cost indicated is for the commodity itself, and that costs for logistics/transportation, such as gas pipelines are presented differently. The raw cost of the gas is what is referred to as the “commodity cost”.

Given this fact, why would GNPC agree to sell the gas to Genser for $2.79 per unit, and commit to a further downward revision to $1.72 per unit in the near future? This was at the core of the IMANI-ACEP complaint.

After its pretend-analysis, the committee concluded that this is not an issue because GNPC is also benefiting from Genser by using Genser’s pipelines. No attempt is made to explain how come Ghana Gas was able to secure much higher prices from Genser just before the switch to GNPC without any significant general shifts in market pricing. Why did the so-called pipeline services not matter in the prior arrangement with Ghana Gas?

Comparing Ghana Gas vs GNPC pricing over relevant crossover periods

To get to the bottom of this trickery, one must unpack the justification produced by Genser and endorsed by the committee.

Extract from page 8 of the committee report

In simple terms, the gas ought to cost Genser $6.08, however, Genser has provided a pipeline for the use of GNPC and charged $3.29 for it. Thus the net effect on each unit of transaction is a discounted final price of $2.79 per unit of gas bought. There are a million and one reasons why this explanation makes no sense, quite apart from the total lack of interest on the part of the committee to take and review testimony of pipeline ratemaking methodologies, value for money, and gas trading best practice.

First, the netback is tied to each unit of gas sold to Genser itself not necessarily to volumes of gas belonging to GNPC that transits through the Genser pipelines, potentially for sale to third parties. There is absolutely no evidence before the committee of GNPC using the pipeline to transmit any gas to any customers other than Genser on which it may have made money by charging those customers the transport tariffs that would have otherwise gone to Genser were it not for this strange barter trade.

Second, the $3.29 cited comprises costs for transiting gas through both trunk and branch pipelines. What is crazy about this arrangement is that Genser’s pipeline complex has been designed to enable Genser deliver gas it has bought from GNPC to its own customers. They are effectively Genser’s distribution network. Whatever investments Genser has made into those pipelines are amply recouped from transport margins embedded in the final power prices Genser obtains from its predominantly goldmining customers. What exactly is the business of GNPC subsidising the pipelines Genser has built to enable it operate its business model?

Third, building on the previous point, GNPC’s responsibility as a bulk seller is to deliver gas to Genser at a transmission terminal, or, as they say in the parlance, a metering and regulation station. The pipelines leading to that terminal would be GNPC’s responsibility. Indeed, GNPC utilises public owned infrastructure to deliver gas from their ultimate source to this point of contact with Genser’s pipelines. The transportation costs of that phase are not accounted for anywhere in the model being championed by the committee. The logic being forced on the nation is that after taking delivery of the gas and transporting it through its own pipelines to locations of its own choosing, Genser must now be compensated for the trouble. This is akin to a trader from Techiman asking for a 60% discount on goods brought from Tema port and on sale in Kumasi because, in her view, she needs to offset the cost of the vehicle transporting the goods to Techiman.

Fourth, the committee, in its haste, in its total disregard for fact-based technical analysis, and in its burning desire to “save Genser and damn the CSOs”, decided to rely entirely on hypothetical data and scenarios of what GNPC stands to gain if it utilises the so-called reserve capacity in Genser’s pipelines.

Extract from page 11 of the committee report

Note that all this is hypothetical stuff. The committee cannot evade the basic question: on what basis was the $3.29 pipeline tariff (which has been used to discount the acknowledged real price of $6.08 per unit of gas) computed, and by what process was it determined to be fair when as presently configured the Genser pipelines simply represent the downstream distribution network of company based on current customer locations? How much do other gas wholesalers with pipelines charge for pipeline transportation? And why wasn’t real market data used to benchmark the $3.29 figure? Has GNPC ever transported volumes of gas sufficient in value to offset the tens of millions of dollars of discounts obtained by Genser since 2020?

As analysts have already argued, Ghana Gas has the largest pipeline network in Ghana, and its average transportation tariffs on pipelines with a greater combined length than Genser’s fall below the PURC regulated threshold of $1.288.

Thus, even if one were to grant the preposterous contention that Genser needs to be compensated for using its own distribution pipelines to transport gas to its own customer sites to generate power, there is no reason why the net back charge shouldn’t be, say, $0.919, as Ghana Gas prices transmission on some of its major routes, rather than the $3.29 preferred by the committee.

The argument that GNPC has been saved cost because it is not delivering the gas to plant gate using its own infrastructure is, also, wholly bogus since should that have been the case, GNPC would simply have added the transport margin to the price it charges Genser, bringing the cost to nearer $7.1 rather than $6.08.

Fifth, any kind of barter arrangement based on the notion that Genser is a general pipeline transporter capable of delivering third-party gas on behalf of GNPC so that it can offset the resultant charges against the commodity gas delivered to it (whether or not the volumes of gas delivered to it exactly matches those delivered to third-parties) would be based on a patent illegality as Genser does not have the requisite licenses to operate as a general transmission utility. It has been tolerated on the basis of using its own distribution network to service gold mines in the unregulated power sector. The committee, and in particular its chairperson, should not become an enabler of illegal conduct in Ghana’s already fraught energy sector.

To the extent that the position taken by the committee in its ill-timed, ill-judged, and ill-considered report does not have Ghana’s interest at heart, activists will not relent in continuing to cite the GNPC-Genser case as one of the reasons they are highly sceptical of the ongoing IMF/World bank – driven effort to reform Ghana’s energy sector. And, indeed, why they remain sceptical of the viability of the overall undertaking to save Ghana from the bowels of bankruptcy.

It follows clearly from all the preceding analysis that the risk of the GNPC-Genser deal leading to $1.5 billion in accumulated losses is now more elevated than ever due to the ill-advised findings of the select committee’s report. One cannot sugarcoat such an alarming prospect. The only word fitting for the occasion is: unpatriotic. May those whom the cap fit wear it.

Michael Porter, a famous thinker on 20th Century business strategy, has argued that economic outcomes in the pursuit of social change are becoming the new norm for business.

Whilst waiting for capitalism to reinvent itself and more social value to be created and shared alongside each output of economic production, today’s socially biased organisations must survive and hold the fort.

Around the world, donations are falling, from Malaysia to Hungary; the “capacity crunch” is biting; talent is decamping, with a whopping 45% of employees in the US and 51% of UK third sector fundraisers looking to jump ship; and missions are drifting.

It is called the “starvation cycle”, a phenomenon whereby many non-profits, charities, NGOs, social enterprises and other social organisations are denied core resources to build capacity, and are thus also denied a path to sustainability. Even in rich, progressive, societies like New Zealand, the result is a decline in survival rate by 45% in the past 6 years.

The root cause of most of these challenges is constrained capacity. The Innovation Network, a best practices research body, conducted a series of studies into the capacity of non-profits and other social organisations to manage program evaluation between 2010 and 2016. The findings revealed very worrying resource constraints.

For instance, only 8% of organisations can afford dedicated evaluation staff, down from 25% in 2012. Yet, for their funders and other major stakeholders, impact evaluation is the most critical yardstick for trust-building and an absolute necessity to sustain a supporting relationship. But when 84% of nonprofits spend less than the recommended levels on evaluation (up from 76% in 2010), corner-cutting is inevitable.

The inability of social organisations to retain the right staff and invest in the systems needed for critical functions like evaluation feed into severe fundraising limitations, which perpetuate persistent funding shortfalls. For example, 87% of nonprofits surveyed by the Innovation Network do not benefit from pay-for-performance opportunities, with 43% lacking the capacity altogether. 79% of respondent organisations say lack of personnel time is the biggest barrier.

Meanwhile, competition for grants and other flexible funding is intensifying at a serious pace. According to the Society for Non-profits, only 7.5% of grant applications succeed.

At first glance, capacity crunch and personnel time constraints of this nature seem perfectly made for digital intervention. A whole software industry has been built on the productivity needs of business. Social organisations, it would seem, only need to reach. Unfortunately, only 16% of such organisations can be classified as “digitally mature”. A Hewlett Foundation “field scanning” report on social organisations’ capacity issues reinforced this fact by placing at the very top of its list of critical gaps: “Technology access, digital security, and overcoming the digital divide.”

The spectacular rise of ChatGPT in the public consciousness in the last few months heralds a new era of digital technology. One where the significant barriers of classical technology adoption have been substantially lowered, paving the way for social organisations to transcend many of their current limitations.

That ChatGPT promises to democratise access to Artificial Intelligence (AI), the most productivity-focused segment of the digital spectrum is an added bonanza. Imagine the prospect of evaluation reports, fundraising pitches, annual statement drafts and complex project financial analysis all generated in a few minutes by non-specialist interns. Imagine the impact on non-profit capacity.

Even more intriguingly, ChatGPT may offer capabilities for actual service delivery, not just for internal organisational development. For example, a recent McKinsey report by the global consultancy claimed that “[t]hrough an analysis of about 160 AI social impact use cases,” they have “identified and characterized ten domains where adding AI to the solution mix could have large-scale social impact. These range across all 17 of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and could potentially help hundreds of millions of people worldwide.”

Consider the case, for instance, of Liberia, which has just 300 doctors at home for a population of 5.3 million (up from 25 at home in 2000 when the population was ~3 million). There are two psychiatristssix ophthalmologistseleven pediatricians, and zero – yes a grand zero – urologists. Imagine the good that an organisation like Last Mile Health can do if an AI system could equip its community health workers to perform at near specialist-level. It is at this point that it gets a bit more complicated.

The idea of getting an AI system to perform specialist-level tasks, hopefully at lower cost and with greater productivity, is an old pursuit, most prominently in a branch of AI called “expert systems”. The government of Japan, for instance, tried for two decades (from 1982 onwards) to take expert systems mainstream by dramatically improving their interface with ordinary humans to thoroughly lacklustre effect. Their use has been confined to enterprise ever since.

However, in 1992, a Management Information Systems expert called Sean Eom surveyed enterprise deployments of expert systems and found strong concentration in operations optimisation and finance, the same areas of emphasis presented above for social organisations today.

Results of Sean Eom’s Survey (1992)

Today, the original expert systems model is no longer very fashionable. Competing branches of AI like machine learning and natural language processing (NLP) have all but taken over. ChatGPT belongs to the NLP branch of AI, in particular a domain known as “large language models” (LLMs), which is fast catching up with machine learning as the dominant form of AI-based productivity enhancement.

The positioning of Expert Systems vs the NLP Bloom that led to LLMs, Transformers and eventually ChatGPT.
Source: Chethan Kumar (2018)  

Many of the most promising AI toolkits for addressing the capacity crunch of social organisations, and by implication the starvation cycle, are LLM-based, and the signs suggest that this trend will intensify because of ChatGPT’s cultural influence. It is thus critical for social organisation leaders to understand the limitations of the LLM-paradigm and develop their early-stage AI strategies cognisant of those limitations. Below we outline a simple high-level rubric to help leaders think through their organisational situation.

Do you have an “Expert Network”?

In a recent essay, I emphasised the point that LLMs and similar big data-driven systems are about statistical averages. They take snapshots of internet-scale caches of data and then make safe bets as to the most likely answer to a query. The best experts are, however, top-notch for the very reason that they generate insights that are often skewed against the average. They exhibit positive bias.

A social organisation must thus identify the most critical knowledge domains underlying their expertise and unique contributions to society, and adopt a low-cost means to curate a wide enough digital network of experts whose work touches on those domains. Web-crawlers and other simple data miners can be used to track the bets, predictions, assessments and scenarios regularly generated by this network.

Leaders should, however, bear in mind that this is not about an “advisory council” and there is no need for a formal relationship to exist with these experts at this stage.

Are you training “Knowledge Analysts”?

All LLMs are prompt-dependent. For ChatGPT or similar systems to generate the right sequence of answers and then piece them together, someone skilled in conversing with bots is required. A good knowledge analyst enjoys the “insight loop” game where learning grows by subtle shifts in repeated articulations.

For example, a detailed review of ChatGPT’s recent performance on a Wharton MBA test emphasised the critical importance of “hints” from a human expert in refining the bot’s responses. Because these are uncharted waters, organisations must experiment to find the right personnel fits and alignments.

Do you have a “Knowledge Base”?

Systems like ChatGPT are all about presentation. They are trying to write like an averagely educated human. Their trainers scour the open internet and other easily accessible databases to assemble large samples of human writing to drive this meta-mimicry effort.

For LLMs to become truly useful, besides spouting plain vanilla generics (with the occasional giant blooper), they will need access to more specialised sources of data with built-in reinforcement loops to emphasise what matters most.

In a 2019 working paper, I broke down the generic structure of modern computing into “data”, “algorithms” and “integrations”, and explained why integrations are the real driver of value.

Integrating into all manner of random data troves will however eventually constrain automation efficiency due to vastly different rules of access.

Social organisations can address this issue by formalising the stock of data they and their partners carry, specifying rules of access, and enabling secure integration to create trusted knowledge bases on which open-source LLM algorithms can train to deliver bespoke content for services. By so doing, they address the ancient “knowledge bottleneck” problem in expert systems – mimicking platforms like ChatGPT.

Are you open to Architectural Redesign?

Effective use of LLM-type AI does require the organisation to increase its knowledge-centricity, its overall vigilance about where unique insights, real expertise and learning loops are embedded into its processes.

Doing this effectively may see generalist knowledge analysts acquire greater importance than some hallowed specialists, even threatening certain hierarchies essential to the integrity of the organisation.

Such power shifts and socio-political imperatives require serious strategic commitment from the most senior management.

Are you conscious of the emerging Service Provision Network?

The current approach to building LLM training sets is to take data from anywhere and mash it without regard for intellectual property rights. Already, several Big Data-AI companies like Stable Diffusion are facing lawsuits for trying to externalize their costs. And ChatGPT has been excoriated for using sweatshops in Africa.

Going back to the Data-Algorithm-Integrations (DAI) framework introduced earlier, leaders need to pay attention not to source systems without careful disaggregation of those three nodes.

Emerging AI platforms targeting the social sector like come into organisational premises with pre-set models based on which they generate outputs like reports. Apart from the embarrassment of potential plagiarism, IP infringement is possible. The DAI framework favours the approach being taken by platforms like Levity which provide more tools for organisations to develop their own proprietary knowledgebases.

Creating knowledge-pools with likeminded organisations around the world under trusted licensing frameworks and implementing IP risk screening layers should consume far less resources than would have been the case just a few years ago. This is due to the fast-dropping costs of Integration-as-a-Service platforms that now enable large organisational networks to integrate data resources and even workflows that generate data.

The data privacy, cybersecurity, and infrastructure concerns arising in these contexts are also often taken care of by these systems out of the box though organisations should always engage the vendors at every step of deployment.

Final Word

Whilst LLM-based, expert system mimicking, platforms like ChatGPT are still in their infancy, they offer strong hints of how AI will transform organisations. Due to strong capacity constraints, social organisations have not taken full advantage of the current digital boom. They have a duty to their tens of millions of beneficiaries not to let the coming AI bonanza pass them by.                    

In February 1967, Ghana hosted an International Trade Fair on new grounds near the sea in the historic coastal town of La (also known as “Labadi”).

The purpose-built facility was a gleaming sprawl of stalls, exhibition stands, majestic emporiums, and lush tree-lined avenues.

Image Source: Richardson & Stanek (2019)/Original by Jacek Chyrosz (1967)

Over a three week period, the magnificent African Pavilion became the center of gravity in an affair that had drawn 2000 commercial and industrial exhibitors from 33 countries to this breezy corner of Accra.

The international Ghanaian-Polish design team responsible for the Trade Fair’s design spared no effort in imbuing the structures with architectural significance. Trade Fair was to serve as a pulsing artery connecting the redevelopment of old coastal towns like Labadi with the modernisation of the capital’s waterfront and the broader urbanography of commerce and industry in what was even then a serious contest between planning, on one hand, and overpopulation and poverty, on the other hand.

None of those strategic objectives have been met in nearly 60 years. In today’s policy language, they are recognisable in some contemporary projects such as the following: Accra Marine Drive, the Accra Urban Transport Project, Airport City Phase 2, and, of course, the Ghana Trade Fair Redevelopment Project.

Sadly, every one of these projects is plagued with confusion, rampant insider dealing, perennial delay, and disconnection from its original urban-transformation and light-industrial objectives. But in this short piece, we intend to only talk about the Ghana Trade Fair Center (“Trade Fair”) redevelopment affairs.

From the plans based on which Trade Fair was constructed by the Ghana National Construction Company over a five-year period, it is clear that the Osagyefo (Kwame Nkrumah) government saw the project as strongly linked to Ghana’s export promotion goals and Pan-African trade hub/gateway ambitions.

Aerial Plan of the Ghana Trade Fair Center
Source: Stanek (2015)

Long before the now famous AfCFTA would be birthed, the blueprint for the eventual fair that opened in 1967 underscored the need to highlight both “made in Ghana” products and trade across African countries in equal measure. In a kind of early version of today’s “single African market” dream.

Frontpage of the Daily Graphic edition of 11th February, 1976

The Trade Fair center in the years after its launch served the purpose of showcasing innovations in production, especially of manufactures, across the country that would otherwise not have come to the limelight. Small businesses, maverick inventors, industrial startups in suburbia, and cooperatives in the hinterland were particularly keen to secure stands during fairs to catch the eyes of potential customers and investors. But they were equally keen to attract press attention and, directly or indirectly, the focus of officialdom. In the first decade or so, Trade Fair management would produce meticulous catalogs listing the exhibitors and their contact details to facilitate such discoveries.

Image Source: Penn Museum

For example, Ghanaian scientist, Narh Naatey, was one of the early researchers who honed in on the issue of malaria parasites developing resistance to chloroquine. So, he invented a herbal formula called Nasra tablets to circumvent the parasite’s learning behaviour. But how to commercialise and distribute? In 1988, he showed up at the Trade Fair exhibition of that year and displayed his wares. The Ministry of Science & Technology saw his display and committed resources to develop and promote the product. Difficulties navigating the bureaucracy of the Health Ministry ultimately prevented this early product from becoming Ghana’s own Coartem well before Coartem was invented in 1992. But at least Dr. Naatey got a fighting chance because the Trade Fair brought him into contact with supporters. Such was its influence.

As with all state-owned/run facilities in Ghana, the facilities of the Trade Fair soon started to suffer neglect. Poor maintenance practices crept in steadily, and some of its world-class architecture began to fade. Nevertheless, the emphasis on export-promotion, foreign investment (FDI) into local manufacturing, and light industry (especially by small businesses) never wavered, as one can easily glean from a centerspread in the Daily Graphic edition of 13th February, 1976.

In those days, the Trade Fair and its periodic exhibitions were clearly seen as a major fulcrum around which small businesses could accrete visibility, support, and growth. And through business growth, the country’s industrial ambitions, FDI attraction hopes and export promotion plans would all, hopefully, come together coherently and cohesively.

As the country’s economy went through the ups and downs of the 70s and 80s, Trade Fair’s maintenance issues continued to mount. Successive governments tried to hold things together, but by the early 90s, it was clear that something drastic needed to be done. The decision was taken to redesign the business model by transforming the Trade Fair grounds into a permanent hub for business promotion, thus ending the overreliance on the annual fairs and occasional large exhibitions (such as the quadrennial ECOWAS fair). Businesses were invited to do more at and with the Trade Fair, as the ad below in 1992 shows.

Thus began the practice of more and more businesses situating various facilities permanently on the Trade Fair grounds. Some small businesses obtained favourable locations in easy reach of Accra’s bustling center to produce and sell their various wares. Trade associations acquired offices there. Rent became a major source of non-state income for the operators of the Trade Fair, now reincorporated as a limited liability company and placed on a path to full commercial sustainability.

Management issues, however, continued to dog the Trade Fair. Political appointments at the helm, as it always does, blunted competitive edge and encouraged poor planning and execution. After a particularly disastrous ECOWAS Fair in 1999, the Chief Executive was suspended and committees set up to probe general management failures. But little by way of radical change occurred. Trade Fair continued to fall short of the lofty heights set by the original vision.

Nevertheless, despite the struggle to fulfil its bigger vision, Trade Fair still strove to advance the goal of showcasing entrepreneurial efforts towards local industrialisation. In 2006, for instance, a major focus of the international fair held that year was on promoting joint ventures to strengthen the ability of local companies to harness Ghana’s natural endowments.

By 2015, weak management had ensured that the new business model had been so poorly executed that resources were simply not available to properly maintain the facilities. Pictures started to circulate in the press of rotting buildings and leaking roofs. The hub of the 1967 African Pavilion (nicknamed “the round pavilion”), an architectural jewel of great historical significance, was slowly decaying.

Round Pavilion in 2016
Image Source: Nii Smiley Byte
Round Pavilion in its original glory.
Source: Rymaszewski (1967)

The government was jolted into action. A comprehensive plan for redevelopment that had been in the works for eons was expedited to completion. A competitive tendering process then followed, overseen by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC). The Reroy Group emerged as the winners, and efforts began to develop a roadmap and strategy for implementation. Before any of this could come to fruition, the government of the day lost power in the 2016 general elections.

The new government, as is the custom, sacked all the senior officials (about three-dozen in one go). It then installed an optometrist at the helm of the company. And appointed a shipping cargo millionaire as Chair of the Board. The new Chief Executive wasn’t exactly known for previous work turning around complex industrial and commercial real estate facilities, but she had something far more important going for her: she had been an executive of the ruling party in one of the party’s overseas branches in Georgia, United States.

Efforts began to systematically dismantle every single block in the Trade Fair edifice. The new masterplan for redevelopment was promptly ditched. Adjaye Associates, being the flavour of the month in Ghana, was called in. Large multimillion dollar projects were being parceled and dished to the firm on a silver platter, and Trade Fair joined the list. As is customary, even the pretense of a competitive bid was unnecessary. Architects who had won fair design bids in connection with the project protested, and were routinely ignored. But this was only the beginning.

In an act of extraordinary brazenness, the new Trade Fair leadership sent bulldozers onto the grounds and literally stripped it of most of its historic architecture. The Round Pavillion? Desecrated. The famous Adegbite cubes? What is that? Pulverised. The Chyrosz-Rymaszewski umbrella cones? Please, get real! Violated. It is as if Attila the Hun had arrived in Rome purposely to erase every megastructure of note in the Eternal City. In one short series of overnight raids, Ghana’s only piece of significant industrial-architecture heritage was severely brutalised.

A scene of the Trade Fair in 1967
Source: Stanek (2015)

This alarming spectacle of cultural annihilation triggered nothing by way of serious protest among the Ghanaian elites. Apart from protesting the loss of contracts to regime favourite, Adjaye Associates, the architectural profession stayed eerily quiet. It is quite likely that the entire episode would have gone unreported had the new Trade Fair management not also proceeded to wipe out the small business operators who had been attracted to the grounds since the 1990s to contribute their quota to Ghana’s industrialisation dreams. The likes of Colour Planet, a printing press, had their equipment damaged beyond repair when the bulldozers brought down their factories.

Demolished light industrial facilities at the Trade Fair.
Image Source: Daily Mail (2020)

It is really hard to fathom how this near-vandalism could have emanated from whatever new masterplan Adjaye Associates had put together. How can a world-class architectural design studio come up with a redevelopment plan that fails to fully preserve vital historic architecture and make accommodation for pre-existing viable economic activity? It is possible to understand how political authorities in a country like Ghana would occasionally oversee a planning process so shoddy that standard heritage preservation and economic rights considerations are tossed aside, but it is much harder to envisage how their conduct might be enabled by world-class architects.

Anyway, in one fell swoop, the new management of Ghana’s Trade Fair expired the last traces of the original vision of the site. The celebrated Ghanaian-Slavic architecture is mostly gone. The network of small businesses providing jobs and maintaining some industrial vitality in that crucial urban enclave has been dissipated. What was created in their place?

Characteristic of Adjaye-inspired mega-projects in Ghana, what we have now are grand and fantabulous futuristic landscapes on paper. Something that looks like a compact version of the hanging gardens of Babylon, complete with snazzy youtube videos has been making the rounds.

New Masterplan of the Trade Fair
Source: Ghana Trade Fair Company limited

Three years after stripping the historic trade fair of its vitality, the government’s policy has been a whirlwind of confusion. This month, it hosted an investor conference to attract partners. Virtually no serious international financiers showed up. A group of politicians and their assigns gathered to repeat the same tales of coming grandeur and the spectacular rise of a “trade gateway to Africa” from the denuded plains.

What these visionaries didn’t do was update the nation on how much of the $1 billion that was supposed to be unlocked for primary site development on more than 30% of the land has come in. After the fanfare and flourish following the agreement with “Stellar Holding” of Singapore, nothing has been heard since.

Nor did they disclose why all manner of random high net worth individuals are being fixed with patches of prime real estate for the usual combo of condos, retail complexes, and entertainment centers.

The long promised convention center to transform the site into an events tourism hub has found no takers. No investor has seriously committed to developing the exhibition pavilions. And site development and utilities are now five years behind schedule. It is true that some potential future tenants, like Africa Datacenters Corporation, have promised to cite their facilities in the new enclave, but that is, obviously, entirely dependent on the site redevelopment happening.

For now, all we have on the site is rubble:

Trade Fair grounds today (15th July 2023)

Weedy patches of low grass:

Trade Fair grounds today (15th July 2023)

And abandoned heaps of construction sand:

Trade Fair Grounds today (15th July 2023)

Three years after gutting and stripping a site of great historic importance, Trade Fair management has not even bothered to restore the pavement network:

Trade Fair Grounds today (15th July 2023)

All the livelihoods and rich heritage lost would, perhaps, have been justifiable sacrifices if the new management and their political bosses were, in fact, working hard to restore the original vision of turning the enclave into a true hub for export promotion, industrialisation, and FDI attraction, with small businesses at the heart of a galaxy of enabling policies.

Instead, what do we have here? Speculative real estate deals to cover yet another portion of old Accra with an unproductive and elite ego-stroking concrete jungle. Just so that a few people can grow vulgarly rich at the expense of the rest of the country.

If there is a better example of the ailment afflicting modern Ghana, let’s hear it; we are all ears.

In the decade since the UK’s cheerleaders unceremoniously dropped the “Cool Britannia” tagline, the country, ever adaptable, has been steadily reinventing itself as a global green economy powerhouse.

In setting out to decarbonise all UK sectors by 2050, the government has never shied away from its global leadership aspirations.

So, imagine the angst when the government’s own advisory panel returned a sobering verdict suggesting lost ground in recent years. Newspaper headlines blazed neon: Britain has lost global leadership. The news was even considered momentous enough for international newswires to include it in their summary bulletins.

Except of course, as with all these brand-heavy, long-range, policy things, the UK’s global green leadership standing was never that straightforward. And claims of Britain “losing” said standing go back nearly a decade.

Meanwhile, the geopolitical competition about who can outgreen whom fastest and smartest also turns the spotlight on global laggards and whether deliberate lagging could itself be wielded by some countries as a counter-strategy.

The European Union has responded to that fear by introducing a policy to tax the carbon content (in its so-called “CBAM” policy) of imports in a move obviously designed to penalise producers in countries with less ambitious carbon-cutting and greening plans. Unsurprisingly, activists in the Global South have been observing these proceedings with extreme suspicion, whilst some specialists, divided though experts are on the CBAM, warn of adverse fiscal impact. Some even hint darkly of a new era of eco-imperialism, though there are also some on the political left that have embraced the CBAM in principle.

In light of the above geopolitical intrigues, I explore in this brief essay the journey the UK has been on so far and chart its successes and failures at a very high level. I discuss how decarbonisation of the electricity subsector has been so much smoother compared with the case in the transport and heating subsectors. Finally, I investigate, in preliminary fashion, potential “discontinuities” that might alter the transitional trajectory defined by the country’s policies.

As a country that has made decarbonisation a central feature of its global soft power diplomacy, its experience offers many interesting insights into the limits of political commitment in the presence of techno-economic hurdles.

Policymakers in countries at different stages of their green transition shift, and notwithstanding current political commitment levels, may still learn a thing or two from keeping tabs on what jurisdictions perceived to be on the cutting-edge have been running into on the decarbonisation frontiers.