– Notwithstanding the horrific soccer stadium disaster in which at least 165
people were killed in a police-incited stampede on May 9, the past week offered
signs of genuine hope in Ghana.
been privileged to witness a careful regrouping of the country’s former
revolutionary student/community movement, which is strengthening its political
base by addressing two key areas of economic and social strife: the legacy of
structural adjustment and water privatisation.
was the case recently in Bolivia, Ecuador and South Africa, Ghana’s capital city
and rural areas could witness rising protest in coming months. The combination
of neoliberal economic policies and the commodification of water could well
drive ordinary Ghanaians to the streets.
would be bad news for a vociferous US ideologue of neoliberalism, Thomas
Friedman of the New York Times, who visited Accra in late April and declared
that Africans want free markets, penetration by multinational corporations and
the Clinton Administration’s African Growth and Opportunity Act of 2000 (AGOA).
"While the protesters in Quebec were busy denouncing globalization in the name
of Africans and the world’s poor," wrote Friedman on April 24, "Africans
themselves will tell you that their problem with globalization is not that they
are getting too much of it, but too little."
Friedman cited just one Ghanaian, George Apenteng of the Institute for Economic
Affairs, which is funded by transnational corporations, including Kaiser
Aluminum and Unilever.
better informant would have been Charles Abugre, director of ISODEC, the
Integrated Social Development Centre, whose 68 staff do top-quality radical
analysis, publishing, development projects, community organising, Africa-wide
and international networking, and unrelenting advocacy.
is not having a positive effect in Ghana," says Abugre. "We see it merely as an
instrument for opening Ghana’s markets in the name of promoting US investments.
For Friedman to argue that AGOA will be the means by which we can penetrate the
US market is a delusion. The main effect of AGOA is to link aid to economic
reform, by which is meant the dismantling of state regulatory environment. There
are no benefits, and the costs include clear manifestations of deepening
structural adjustment and deregulation."
ISODEC and its allies in the African Trade and Development Network are
campaigning to roll back AGOA. Abugre calls for vigilance from US-based Africa
solidarity activists. "We are protesting AGOA in civil society groups across
Africa and are placing it on the agenda of the Organisation of African Unity and
UN Economic Commission for Africa. AGOA is simply another way of undermining
Africa’s ability to mobilise domestic resources for development, and of
enforcing an anti- developmental trade regime."
decades ago, Abugre and several of ISODEC’s other leaders were amongst those
responsible for giving Flight Lieutenant Jerry Rawlings a social power base of
enormous importance–to their great regret.
after taking control of the students’ June 4 Movement and gaining state power in
a December 1981 coup, Rawlings did a vicious political U-turn within months,
forcing the lead activists into exile, jailing thousands, and killing hundreds.
final straw was the young leftists’ defeat after a national debate in late 1982
over whether Ghana should turn to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a
structural adjustment loan programme. Though public opinion was clearly with the
student movement, conservative opportunists emerged and helped Rawlings turn
right, though he retained his nationalist demagoguery.
story of Ghana’s revolutionary moment and its squashing is well told by Zaya
Yeebo in his book, Ghana: The Struggle for Popular Power, published in 1991 by
New Beacon Books of London.)
During the 1980s-90s the IMF and World Bank ran roughshod over Ghana, helping
open the country’s doors to Western governments whose aid schemes nearly
invariably failed. US administrations became friendlier, capped by a visit from
Bill Clinton in 1998. Formal democracy was finally restored in 1992 (Rawlings
was then elected twice amidst a mediocre field and boycotts by opposition
parties due to blatant vote-rigging).
Amidst the chaos and underdevelopment, Ghana was officially considered amongst
Africa’s star neoliberal pupils, boasting an average of 4.4% economic growth a
year from the mid-1980s to 2000.
last December, after two decades in which the average annual income of the
country’s 18 million people never rose above $400, disgruntled voters replaced
the ruling National Democratic Congress with the New Patriotic Party, led by
gullible neoliberal in practice, Kufuor at least concedes the obvious when
pressed. On May 7, ISODEC hosted a conference on the effects of two decades of
World Bank policies. Kufuor sent a message with this frank admission: "After 20
long years of implementing structural adjustment programmes, our economy has
remained weak and vulnerable and not sufficiently transformed to sustain
accelerated growth and development. Poverty has become rather widespread,
unemployment very high, manufacturing and agriculture in decline and our
external and domestic debts much too heavy a burden to bear."
local World Bank resident representative, Peter Harrold, confessed that Kufuor
was right. Agreeing that the Bank had ignored Ghanaian social priorities, he
pledged more support to loan programmes specifically aimed at uplifting the
poor. Water system "restructuring" was one example, given the failure of Ghana’s
state company to provide affordable clean water to about 60% of urban residents.
few days later, on May 17, Harrold was lambasted in front of several hundred
more civil society delegates at an ISODEC public forum on water. In his defense,
Harrold bragged not only of coordinating a rural water investment scheme to
supply communal taps to villages under certain conditions. He also actively
promotes the leasing, over 10-25 years, of two large urban water systems to
supply several million residents. Five multinational corporations have already
bid for the contracts.
Replying to Harrold, development practitioner Danumin Subiniman–who coordinates
numerous rural northern Ghanaian water schemes paid for by a 1999 Bank
loan–complained that "full cost recovery, the demand driven approach and World
Bank conditionality of 5% upfront payment are fully enforced."
"these cost too much," insists Subiniman, and are responsible for numerous rural
system failures. A deadly epidemic of Guinea worm, a debilitating waterborn
parasite, has broken out.
is water quality testing provided in poor areas, says Subiniman. And because the
Bank and state insist on full cost-recovery from poor people, "huge sums of
their income are being spent on capital and maintenance."
forum also unveiled that the Bank and state’s full cost-recovery strategy
assumes water can be stripped of "public goods" (or what economists term merit
goods, or externalities). Reduced to the status of commodity, water should be
bought and sold in the marketplace.
according to the 1999 Bank water loan documentation cosigned by Harrold, "It is
assumed that the health benefits known to users are captured in their
willingness to pay for good quality water."
Abugre objects that the Bank’s "willingness to pay" surveys are ludicrous.
Instead, in a context of terribly low levels of "ability to pay," in rural areas
that basically survive without cash incomes, the benefits that flow from disease
abatement, gender equity and economic spin-offs justify much greater water
moreover, says Abugre, "Water is a human right. Without it, there can be no
life. We cannot let it become a mere commodity."
Harrold may have failed the rural poor with his dogmatic refusal to subsidise
operating and maintenance expenses. But his contribution to the privatisation
debate is more complex.
year, Harrold derailed the first attempt to lease Accra’s water system because
of bribery–allegedly worth $5 million, and implicating Rawlings’ wife–by an
Enron subsidiary. Other multinational water companies had complained about the
bribe and non-competitive bid, and this incident gave Harrold a chance to
reverse the Bank’s local image for being soft on corruption.
Bank remains desperate to claim an anglofone West African privatisation success
story, and so Harrold is making the urban water leases a precondition for
Ghana’s access to debt relief via the Highly Indebted Poor Countries Initiative.
progressive Washington groups, led by Rob Weissman of Essential Action and Sara
Grusky of Globalization Challenge Initiative are trying to make water-
privatisation conditionality illegal, following on their success last year in a
congressional campaign to stop imposition of user fees via Bank health/education
the ISODEC forum, I was joined by three South African comrades who pointed out
the many drawbacks to privatising water, and the need for a
public-people-partnership alternative. Soweto activist Trevor Ngwane told the
story of the community/labour Anti- Privatisation Forum in Johannesburg, while
Lance Veotte and Victor Mhlongo of the SA Municipal Workers Union reported on
struggles to make South Africa’s decrepid, bureaucratic state water apparatus
finally accountable to low-income people (see
fact, remarked a commentator from the floor, the appalling conditions that Accra
water consumers face directly reflect class power and segregation. Virtually all
upper- income people have no problem accessing clean tap water and water-borne
sewerage in Accra’s bourgeois neighbourhoods; virtually all low-income people
have irregular or nonformal access to water. Ghana’s neoliberal state works for
the rich, not for the poor.
now clever Mr Harrold intervenes, with a devious way of capitalising on
resentment against the Ghana Water Company, so as to promote privatisation. The
Bank has played a triple trick on Ghanaian society since Rawlings came to power:
running down the state, so that privatisation appears as the only alternative to
public service failure;
exacerbating class inequality in society, so it is logical to argue that the
existing system is biased toward the rich (and hence claim that privatisation
will actually benefit the poor); and
compelling the state to raise water tariffs (prices) sharply before
privatisation so that the chosen multinational corporation would be spared
Harrold could therefore claim to the ISODEC forum that only a private supplier
can extend the system to the poor and fix the leaks system responsible for half
of Accra’s water never being charged for.
triple gambit was first used to promote water privatisation in the Bank’s main
pilot project, Buenos Aires, as two of my academic colleagues in the Municipal
Services Project have just shown in a recent study (http://www.queensu.ca/msp).
then, is where internationalism is evolving from solidarity into concrete
alliances with Ghana’s poor and working people. There are increasingly similar
institutional enemies in the hydro-class struggles: the Bank and multinational
water companies (best critiques at
Accra, Harrold immediately ran into difficulty when a secret document revealed
that "cherry-picking"–i.e., avoiding poor areas–will be built into the leases
that will govern the city’s water.
Bank and Ghanaian government’s "Information Memorandum"–tellingly labeled on
page i, "strictly confidential"– was prepared by Stone and Webster Consultants
of Washington, DC. "Rather than expansion" of the water supply to low- income
urban communities, the privatisers are instructed by the document not to
"displace" the existing super-exploitative private-sector watertankers who have
monopolised supply to low-income communities.
with this evidence, the community groups at the forum constituted a "Ghana
National Coalition Against the Privatization of Water" to "ensure that the
ownership, control and management of water services remain in public hands."
deepening of the movement is what we failed to do twenty years ago,"
acknowledged veteran activist Rudolf Amenga-Etego of ISODEC. "Our naivety and
overconfidence as young student activists led us to believe that if we could
catalyse a left-wing coup, we could march into power and reconstruct society
from above. But as you see from the state of our country, it ended in disaster."
smiled. "Now we know that building this movement against structural adjustment
and water commodification from the bottom up is the only way to succeed. It may
take a few more years but we won’t be deterred from this path."
(Patrick Bond, based at Wits University and the Alternative Information and
Development Centre in Johannesburg, is at