When he was running for the presidential candidature of the New Patriotic Party 2008, Kwame Addo Kufuor promised much support for local automaker, Apostle Kwadwo Safo. As fate would have it, Dr Addo Kufuor failed to become the NPP Presidential Candidate, couldn’t possibly become President and we can’t now verify the fulfillment of his promise. Dr Ekwow Spio-Garbrah, while he was Minister of Trade and Industry, promised to order some of the pick-ups built by Apostle Safo for public use.
That was on December 28, 2014 at the 34th Annual Technical Exhibition by Kristo Asafo – to be specific. Didn’t the past regime promise to award the building of trailers for tractors that were being imported, in or about 2013, to Apostle Safo and his Kantanka auto plant?
Two of these references portray how committed our leaders are to promoting local ingenuity and enterprise. Some of the aluminum roofing sheets and cooking utensils manufactured here compare more than favourably with their foreign counterparts; we still prefer imported ones. Most people agree Ghanaian chocolates are better than the imported; few Ghanaians eat chocolates anyway, and majority of the few would go for the imported ironically. There are a lot of fresher, healthier, richer and more palatable local rice on the Ghanaian market; we spend over $500 million each year, importing rice, much of which has been stocked for up to five years.
Let us face it; in some of the instances, the imported alternative is of superior quality. Discarded, second-hand auto parts shipped from Europe tend to be more durable than brand-new ones from China. The Chinese shock absorbers etc., are better than the Igbo and Ghana-made options. But, certainly, it is not in all cases that the imported type is better or much better. Our plantains, cocoyam, yams and tens of other foodstuff are ten times better than the indomie noodles, which take some 17 hours to digest, but which our youth have all become so much fond of.
Protect local industries
Even where the foreign competitor has comparative advantage or better quality; it is politically and economically wise to still positively discriminate in favour of ours. Olusegun Mathew Okikiola Aremu Obasanjo moved to protect the Nigerian poultry industry and damned the consequences. Shouldn’t we act to protect local industries, even if there could be retaliations from some countries? Are the creation of local jobs, strategic reasons and national pride not far more important than the fleeting advantage of relatively cheaper prices? I think I remember the story of one of the leading Japanese automakers emerging from such a low beginning as the artwork of a basic school pupil. Today, that car ranks among the best and most selling. State support. State protection. Consuming what comes from within as a sense of nationalism. The Israelis are noted for turning over every small or big money they generate seven or more times in their communities before allowing it to slip out. We literally fly out the little foreign exchange we get through frivolous expenditure on all manner of goods, including second-hand underpants and toothpicks!
We don’t produce what we consume; we don’t consume what we produce: how can we even talk about regional and sub-regional economic integration? Even the Nigerian films we used to view have been dumped for South American telenovellas. Coincidentally, Nigeria doesn’t buy Ghana salt for domestic consumption and crude oil processing; but, imports billions of dollars worth from a South American state: Brazil. Those of us who lived through – or read about – Kutu Acheampong’s Operation Feed Yourself and Operation Feed Your Industries still bear some nostalgia of the early 1970s, even if both policies started flopping after the initial huge successes. Kutu sought to teach us to grow what we eat, and eat what we grow. He sought to teach us to grow what our industries need; and, feed our industries with what we grow.
That is why Ghana Today has yielded not to the temptation to jump into the fray of “…now that the pigs are enjoying, they say some Ghanaians are more Ghanaian than others…” That is why Ghana Today opted to discuss this disappointing story of K’si Shoe Factory in Limbo that made the front-page lead of the state-owned Daily Graphic. What is the story?
Shoe factory in limbo
Well, the refusal of state security agencies to patronise boots and shoes produced by the Defence Industries Holding Company (DIHOC) Footwear Division is negatively affecting the operations of the company, according to last Tuesday’s edition of the Graphic. What is the gist of the story? The Ghana Armed Forces (GAF) owns this revived shoe factory jointly with a Czech Republic-based company called Knights a.s. 2) The self-same GAF, which partly owns the factory, bought boots DIHOC had made for the Ghana Navy but has defaulted payment. Financial indiscipline. The same GAF that found the need to acquire a shoe making factory has quickly stopped buying from the factory and is now importing the same footwear from China and India.
Our sages say, “If the king refuses to fight, his subjects flee from the war front.” If the GAF is importing, is it surprising that the Police, Fire, Prisons and Immigration Services that were also targeted to buy from DIHOC are similarly dodging the national call? 3) DIHOC has had to stockpile its shoes and boots because nobody is buying them. The shoemaker is wallowing in debts and it has been forced to shed 60 per cent of its labour force, in a country where elections are won or lost on the campaign to create jobs.
Sandals for school pupils
Unless my memory is playing tricks on me, President John Dramani Mahama – while he went on a familiarisation tour of DIHOC in May of 2014 – promised to make the Kumasi shoe factory manufacture sandals for free supply to all public basic school pupils at the expense of government. The usual lip-service to local businesses, like the ones thrown to Apostle Safo. “A lot of investment has gone into the company since it was resuscitated in 2012, following a joint venture partnership between Knights a.s., acting through its subsidiary, Knights Ghana Limited, and DIHOC, owned by the GAF,” the Graphic quotes the Chairman of the Board of Directors, Karl Laryea, as saying. And, he would add to the lamentation: “Here is the case that the GAF, our own partners, are importing from other countries. They buy from other companies and pay them but when it comes to DIHOC, the case is entirely different.”
Save 1-D, 1-F now!
I sense a disaster of unimaginable proportions, if we keep going that tangent. The Akufo-Addo regime could struggle to build 216 or more factories across the country with taxpayers’ money and loans to be paid by generations unborn; only for the same Ghanaians to snub the factory products for even inferior ones from China, south-east Asia, Europe and America. I’m not kidding: there are antecedents: matches, glass items, vehicle tyres, cotton, garments etc., manufactured by our import-substitution industries in the First Republic were mocked at and despised by our own people. The coup d’état of February 1966 was hailed by some because architects, very early, announced that they were going to import milk, sardines, tinapa, bournvita, ovaltine, lux and other consumables on the pretext that our own were inferior and the local industries were unprofitable. Three hundred fifty state enterprises: almost every single one of them sold out to Indians, Lebanese, and Syrians who turned them into depots and retail stores; or, to Ghanaians and Nigerians who are now using them as church auditoriums.
As far as this column called Ghana Today is concerned, the distress call sounded by the DIHOC factory in limbo is a major wake-up call and a make-or-break test for Alan John Kwadwo Kyeremanten’s Trade and Industry Ministry. Alan, if you are able to save and sustain DIHOC, Komenda Sugar Factory, Ayensu Starch, and the very few that remain with state shares; that is only when you can justify the confidence reposed in your One-District, One-Factory proposal. Our sages again: Ebi da w’anum a, na wo to bi a, [ben. (It is only when you have a lump of food in your mouth munching on that you can endure the trouble of roasting other foodstuffs.
Get it right!
The way to go about it is to find and sustain the market for goods – not only from the Kumasi shoe factory – but, for most other manufactures and agric products.
B) The Akufo-Addo regime and successive ones had better got it straight: unfulfilled promises of ready markets, tax reliefs and other incentives are as worthless as unfulfilled campaign promises.
C) The Ghana Armed Forces, which have earned some respectability under the Fourth Republic for remaining in the barracks among other reasons, should not begin to surprise us unpleasantly. They and the services should buy from the DIHOC Factory and pay up as promptly as possible.
D) The idea of supplying school sandals, canvass, shoes, even wallets and other leather products from state and quasi-state firms should be upheld and implemented faithfully. Catering for over 500,000 pupils with imported rice is as good as repatriating your scanty revenue to pay farmers in Thailand and China. Drop that!
E) Just as those who want to go to equity must go with clean hands; those producing goods and services in Ghana must up their game; to wit, improve the quality of their goods, services and marketing strategies. The competition at the global village has no mercy even for the cripple; how much more the knock-knee?
…with A. C. Ohene