close

PICKING (ON) WINNERS

I’ve heard many people say that Ghana should follow the example of the Asian countries where their governments picked a number of companies in selected strategic industries and actively supported them as growth poles to lift their economies.

In South Korea they’re called the Taebols — industrial giants like Hyundai, Samsung, and LG which have today become global industrial brands. “Picking winners” is what the concept has come to be called.
In my TV interview on Sunday with the CPP Presidential candidate Dr. Paa Kwesi Nduom, he spoke passionately about the idea. He owns a chain of hotels, and I suppose tourism is one of those sectors in which Ghana could do very well. And so his company and other such diligent enterprises might be selected under such a policy.
Dr. Kwesi Botchwey also recommended it earlier this week at a lecture at the University of Ghana, as long as the selection processes were transparent and fair.
I like the idea of backing Ghanaian businesspeople. But, you know, we tried it in this country before in the 70s under Kutu Acheampong. There was Kowus Motors, a local car dealership which was on the verge of building a car assembly plant. The company was targeted and came to ruin after the 1979 coup.
There was Tata Brewery, founded by a cloth-wearing Kwahu businessman who started life from scratch, saving one penny at a time. His life’s work was snatched from him, nationalized and renamed Achimota Brewery Company. His Tata Beer became ABC. Today, it belongs to GGBL, subsidiary of Diageo, the multinational owners of Guinness.
There was B.A. Mensah’s International Tobacco (ITG), a Ghanaian-owned company established to give British American Tobacco’s PTC some competition. But ITG was confiscated after the December 31st coup and nationalized. Later it was sold to … British American Tobacco!!
There was Yaw Boakye. He established Boakye Mattress so we would stop importing Vono from Europe. After the coups of 1979 and 1981 he came to ruin. He also built a private hospital, state of the art for its time. It was taken from him. Nationalized. That’s the Police Hospital today!
There was Akenteng Appiah-Menkah. He set up the Apino body care brand hoping to compete with the multinational Lever Brothers. Jerry Rawlings warned Ghanaians not to patronize Apino products. Because Appiah Menka was his political opponent. Apino collapsed.
Kwabena Darko set up a poultry farm with the view to feed the sub-region. The “revolutionary” leader didn’t like him and so told Ghanaians publicly to buy their chicken from elsewhere. And so we did.
You see, our problem is that some people just don’t like winners. And so instead of nurturing them once they were in a position of power, they deliberately marked them for disembowelment in an epileptic orgy of mindless destruction.
Perhaps in their warped world in which life is lived upside down, they hoped that making losers out of “winners” would make winners out of, if you’ll pardon the expression, “losers.” They thought their actions would help create social equity and bridge economic gaps.
But you cannot enrich the poor by impoverishing the rich, or lift the wage earner by sending the wage payer to his knees. The employee isn’t helped if you kill the employer. Such a philosophy – fed primarily by envy and anger and suckled by greed — will not endure.
And that’s why we still import chicken. And what was ours is now others’.

If we want to pick winners today, then we must first recognize that we were wrong in hunting down yesterday’s winners.

Kwaku Sakyi-Addo

The author Kwaku Sakyi-Addo

Leave a Response