The Cautionary Tale of Ghana’s Economy for Africa

In Accra, the capital of Ghana, sits a deserted construction site that serves as both a symbol of the country’s ambitions and its difficulties. It is here that the National Cathedral of Ghana is to be constructed, envisioned as a national landmark and a religious center to rival Westminster Abbey and Abu Dhabi’s Grand Mosque. The multi-million dollar project, proposed in 2017, was meant to be completed to mark the country’s 60th year of independence from British rule. Once finished, the cathedral is set to be a 5,000-seat place of worship for formal events, such as state funerals and presidential inaugurations.

However, six years on from President Nana Akufo-Addo’s vision for the project, Ghana’s economic woes have stalled progress. Ghana’s government has long been considered a success story in African development, with a relatively well-run democratic government that provides decent levels of public service and a high GDP per head. But overspending on infrastructure -such as railways, roads, ports, and airports- that has failed to generate enough income to pay back debts has become a growing problem for the country. As of December 2022, the country had just agreed on a $3 billion bailout from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) after defaulting on its debts, which is a fate that could soon befall 19 other African countries, warns the IMF.

Despite the uncertain outlook, President Akufo-Addo remains committed to building the National Cathedral, pledging $8,500 of his own funds towards the project. The building plans have now exceeded the original budget four times over, as construction stalls. Many citizens of Ghana question the president’s priorities and have taken to protesting over the high cost of living. Africans in the diaspora seeking a connection with their ancestral land regard Ghana as a must-visit destination due to its rich culture and pulsating nightlife, which attract young people from Europe, the UK, and the US.

Unfortunately, Ghana’s inflation is becoming unbearable for most of its citizens, with significant price increases in basic commodities such as tomatoes and garri. Ghana’s economic situation changed after the dual external shocks of COVID-19 and the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, which sent global food and energy prices soaring. But, despite this, analysts claim that the government overspent on infrastructure, and the country’s debt-to-GDP ratio has risen to over 100%, causing debt servicing to consume 70% of government revenue.

While the National Cathedral project aims to bring national cohesion and become a tourist hub to eventually pay for itself upon completion, it has become an emblem of Ghana’s economic crisis and a reminder of all that has gone wrong in the country in recent times. Ghana’s government faces increasing criticism for their overspending in election years and the rising cost of living for ordinary Ghanaians. While the International Monetary Fund is offering bailouts for the countries in debt, it is a challenge for African governments to balance developmental goals with fiscal restraint.

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