There has been some talk over the months about branding Ghana for many reasons, of which possible economic and political gains from a new image of Ghana rate very high. There is great wisdom in doing that. In my last column I talked about how South Africa has literally branded the country-a Nelson Mandela country with the obvious advantages of having the iconic figure as the reference point or image of South Africa. Branding is a concept from the business world, something marketing and advertising executives do so well to the advantage of their clients and so for once it is commendable that politicians are borrowing from the business world. But they should not stop there for the business world has a lot to teach politicians. It is high time African politicians began to run their countries like businesses run their operations.
Let us start with something as basic as recruiting staff to run the business of government. Government is serious business in this complex knowledge world and so staffing government agencies, appointing Ministers of State, Ambassadors, Board Directors etc, should not be the usual job-for-the boys and girls’ affair, putting square pegs in round holes, or round pegs in square holes.
Both small and big companies in recruiting staff, look for the best qualified to fill available posts and additionally put in place schemes to develop the human capacity of personnel. And in anticipation of new challenges and trends good companies recruit staff and train them.
With the challenges Ghana is bound to face with the discovery of large oil and gas deposits, there is going to be the need for oil-savvy people. A business concern facing this challenge would by now be sponsoring hundreds of Ghanaians to study every aspect of the oil industry from production to negotiation.
Anybody looking for a clue to China’s emergence as an economic superpower should go to the 70s and 80s and see how waves of young Chinese students were sponsored to study in American and European Universities so that they would learn the ways of the West for today’s geopolitics.
Management is all about leadership and vision and so whilst the business world looks for men and women of leadership and vision, the African political world operates a patronage system where it is the most loyal and not necessarily the most efficient who are rewarded with positions.
Politicians may be the same everywhere but just consider the nature of political appointments by American Presidents, most recently by Barack Obama. Recognition of political leanings may be a factor but that is underpinned by consideration of solid academic and professional qualifications for efficiency and results.
Another page the political world can borrow from business is an eye for cost saving operations. In order to stay in business and make some profit, businesses take every measure to ensure that they have good value for their investment and discourage any practices that eat into profit margins.
My experience as an envoy for Ghana in Cote d’Ivoire and Sierra Leone brought me wise to the fact there is so much waste in the system. Instead of replacing old vehicles with new ones periodically, vehicles as old as 15 years are maintained at very high costs to the detriment of the Ghanaian taxpayer.
No business worth its name in this age of Internet would spend so much on telephone calls. And so imagine just a day in the calendar of the year when no government official, home and abroad is allowed to use office telephone or government-paid mobile lines for either local or international call. That singular freeze on calls can build quite a good number of clinics in rural Ghana.
And here just pause and consider the high number of USD 90,000 four-wheel petrol/diesel consuming vehicles government buys every year and services for free and the associated opportunity cost.
In the business world luxury and comfort are not in the vocabulary of struggling and even affluent companies and where they find usage they are calculated to add to profits.
We could cite more examples but the message here is that as we learn from the business world to brand our countries as attractive or good products so must we borrow more chapters from the book of business.