“Year of Ghana” conference probes nation’s democracy and economic development

 

From left in foreground, Ghanaian Ambassador Argyekum, President Papp, Vice Provost Barry Morris and Professor Ike Ukeje; At left in background, Dan Paracka and Sam Abaidoo, conference coordinators

Kennesaw State’s Ghanaian partnerships lead to rich conference dialogue and exchanges

 With a group of Kennesaw State University faculty and administrators only a couple of days back from a two-week faculty development seminar in Ghana, the university’s exploration of the West African nation continued as the “Year of Ghana” hosted a two-day international conference and business forum March 21-22.

 The forum featured an appearance by the Ghanaian ambassador to the U.S., Daniel Ohene Agyekum, who said he also represented recently elected Ghanaian President John Dramani Mahama, who replaced John Atta Mills following his death in July 2012.

 Kennesaw State President Daniel S. Papp greeted about 100 dignitaries, presenters, conferees, students and faculty attending the opening session. 

“It is an honor to host Ambassador Agyekum and visitors from our long-time partner institutions in Ghana,” said Papp, who also recently returned from visits to Accra and Cape Coast —his second visit to Ghana.

Despite unrest and rumors of improprieties in Ghana’s electoral processes, Ghana has experienced economic growth, Papp noted.  “The issue for Ghana is can it maintain its present trajectory?”

The conference was designed to explore that question with sessions devoted to the impact of Ghana’s oil resources, the role of corporate social responsibility by investors in the country, healthcare and literacy, democratic institutions and transitions of power, cultural transitions and the role of women.    

Ghana has one of the fastest growing economies on the African continent, driven in part by new revenue from vast oil reserves that were discovered there in 2007.  Oil production began in 2010 and now tops more than 80,000 barrels per day.  Ghana’s economy grew 14 percent in 2011 and is now up to 16 percent, according to George Ayittey, president of the Free Africa Foundation and the conference keynote speaker.

Ambassador Ageykum, who noted Ghana’s longitudinal and latitudinal location as the center of the globe, said Ghana has long considered itself a model of an independent country and “an inspiration for other countries struggling to be free.”

 Following the keynote address by Ayittey, who gave Ghana a “B+” for its democratic strength and economic development, the Ambassador reiterated Ghana’s commitment to constitutional democracy and institutions, as well as to its goal of being a leader for the sub region and the continent.

 Ayittey said Ghana’s economy is doing very well but “we’re not there yet.”  He noted the difference between economic growth and economic development.

 “You can have an economy grow without development,” he said.  “Economic growth is simply straightforward increases in the GDP.  But economic development means improvement in the standard of living for the average person.  … That means increases in per capita income, access to health care, clean water and education.  Economic development requires that the national pie grows, but the income must be distributed more equally.  You can’t have the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.  That’s not economic development.”

 Larry Gbevio-Lartey, retired coordinator for Ghana’s national security, said Ghana’s constitution makes it unique among African nations.  “There’s an entire chapter of the constitution devoted to constitutional rights — to educate citizens on what their rights are under this constitution.”  He said he would “sound a note of caution” about being overly critical of Ghana’s progress.

 Dan Paracka, director of education abroad at Kennesaw State and co-coordinator of the “Year of Ghana” with Sam Abaidoo, assistant professor of sociology, said the conference was a direct result of the strong partnerships Kennesaw State maintains with Ghanaian institutions.

  “We’re very grateful to our partners who hosted us at the University of Cape Coast and the University of Ghana in Accra.  Having this exchange with faculty members from Ghana who are participating in this conference demonstrates the value of these relationships.  We are grateful to our participants who have come from Ghana, as well as to our colleagues from other U.S. institutions and Kennesaw State faculty presenters.”

 -- Sabbaye McGriff