The Zeitgeist of a society is the German term for the spirit of the age, or of the time, and it is a collective dominant set of ideals that motivates people’s actions in a given era.
What is the zeitgeist of Ghana? Does Ghana even possess one? Can the current collective mental state of Ghana sustain an industrialization movement?
Your first and best guess is most likely mine too.
This is a country sunk so deep in the ideals of Bretton Wood Marshal Plan remnants to the extent that everyone speaks of “development” without having an iota of idea what it actually means. All that people want is to develop but no three people in the 27 million-man-state will come closer to agreeing on a similar definition for development – a typical developmental state-trapping syndrome.
Whatever development means, President Akufo-Addo is determined to see Ghana move away from being a predominantly agrarian economy. Correct me if I am wrong because that is what I understood from the whole plan. But that will not make him the man many envisage he will go down in history as. What will make him a trailblazer is not factories he will set up in all 216 districts of Ghana, but whether or not half of them can be sustained beyond the first decade. Then again will the plan succeed even if the zeitgeist was at par with European industrial ideals as he seeks to build?
I still have my doubts because a learned colleague, Amenuti Namer recently reminded us in an article with a brilliant piece that Africa’s lack of industrialization though it holds the best and largest deposits of the world’s resources, was not by chance; that there is a clear explanation to that, which he brilliantly outlined.
Even if we consider the dreadful factors Narmer outlined as not so important, often when a leader and his or her visions are out of touch with the zeitgeist of their time, failure lurks around the corner. It is also often possible that the leader is not a visionary but is also submerged in the same zeitgeist as the people, in which case the proclaimed vision may be pure fantasy.
Whichever way, sustaining an industrialisation moment definitely depends on the collective spirit of a country. Lest we be reminded of the famous “Special Presidential Initiative” under the senior brother of this administration, the Kuffour Administration, of which this president was foreign minister and attorney general, similar initiative, though not as all encompassing as this one is, promised factories like Pwalugu Tomato Factory, Ayensu Starch Factory and many other things, which may not be entirely dead but have not lived up to expectations. After that the Social Democrats-wanna-bes also came with their own disturbing visions, from Komenda Sugar to Military Boot Factory, nothing is really working.
Kwame Nkrumah faced this zeitgeist disparity and the challenges it brought. Arguably, sustenance of an industrialisation plan forced him to become an autocrat. With his contemporaries swimming in neocolonialisms, the gap between his thoughts and vision and that of the people whose living standard he wanted to uplift proved to be incongruent, a toxic mixture that forced him to force autocracy on them and silence his critiques.
So it is this simple. If Nana Akufo-Addo is not fantasizing and means business and the country’s zeitgeist is good enough to sustain the vision, then everything is fine. Or, he is truly a visionary, the country’s zeitgeist can’t keep up with his vision and he is forced ensure his party continues to win power by hook or crook so he can sustain his vision. This means his hands will be forced into doing something similar to what Nkrumah had to do. If it turns out he is not a visionary but was just reeling in a fantasy word in addition to the fact that the zeitgeist cannot sustain whatever he was dreaming, then Ghana faces another wave of enslavement through investor money. Because with this collective Zeitgeist in Ghana, investors will be forced to employ from outside, which creates a socio-economic stratification of foreign entities and personalities holding key positions and shipping their earnings and profits to their homelands with indigenes working the lowest brute labour base posts with minimum wage.
Soon, if another place gives cheaper labour than Ghana, they will pitch tent there and close Ghana operations leaving the minimum wage worker with nothing, and an employment creating initiative becomes unemployment-managing exercise. Dr. Nkrumah spoke about this. He wrote in “Ghana, The Way Out”:
“The balance of payments problem is being tackled in the classic capitalist way of creating unemployment and devaluation of the cedi. Unemployment suits capitalism. It is an excellent thing for the so-called private enterprise. It weakens the bargaining power of workers (who have only their labour to sell), and it makes sure of a steady pool of cheap labour.
The basic principle of capitalism and so-called private enterprise (which in Africa generally means foreign private enterprise) is that an industrial or commercial project shall depend for its initiation or continuance according to how much profit it makes for the individual or group of individuals, such as shareholders.
Capitalists or private entrepreneurs always seek projects, which provide them with the greatest profit for the least investment in the shortest time. This is the principle on which they operate. It means that in Ghana they are only going to support or introduce such projects as will show them the maximum possible profits for the smallest effort in the shortest time, and in the most convenient place to fulfil these conditions.
They are not going to do something in Ghana if they can do it more cheaply and with greater profit somewhere else. Nor are they going to do it Ghana if it is in competition with some similar project they already have somewhere else.”
What Nkrumah said was about the qualified worker living within the same zeitgeist as his employer and can even protest because he knows his rights. So what about the one living with all kinds of colonialisms in a zeitgeist in disparity with that of the one he is employed with? That person is practically a slave.
As a microcosm of this phenomenon, here is an example. About 5 years after taking over the Ghana Telecom, Vodafone realised that beside the shortfall in qualified workforce in the tech sector in Ghana, serious issues exist in terms of work ethic. From lack of the needed discipline to work for a firm its seize to realising that graduating students were simply not equipped enough for real work world to the realisation that even the labour authorities did not understand proper work ethic. But Vodafone was not in the position to exploit this too much as a capitalist logic with suggest because their types of work is predominantly based on expertise and therefore they have more to lose if they keep an unqualified personnel to exploit, and telecom being infrastructure business they, the could not fold up so easily like a factory would. They needed work ethic and with the expected mind-set or zeitgeist as vodafone itself. As Dr. Nkrumah espoused, in another sector where work is overwhelmingly labor, an investor the seize of Vodafone will simply exploit the master-slave relation its recreates or set up base elsewhere where labour is cheaper.
Not in that position, Vodafone had to think outside the box. Employing only expatriates and leaving the manual labour for locals would be too expensive. So they hired a headhunting company to help them start a Diasporan workforce database. Their idea was to up the bar of local remuneration and create a pool of workforce of Ghanaian and other African Diasporans, most of whom are also desperate for opportunities at home in Ghana.
Another five years down the line, this database has become redundant running between Accra and London because even Diasporan Ghanaians complain about the work ethic climate of the country, which leads back to a zeitgeist issue. Most expatriates and diaspora returnees have no good stories to share about the performance of the local workforce each time you sit down to have a chat on this issue. It is not like the locals are not trying. They are giving it their best. But a collective systemic zeitgeist, even in its simplest form, isn’t there.
As local public office holders, career politicians and the entire leadership continue to miss the point and focus on petty thievery to buy pizza for girls the age of their daughter, the disparity in zeitgeist and what people do, continues to widen. The opposition side even worsens the mental state of leadership in this zeitgeist disparity. Not in government hence cannot superintend over the quagmire, the wana-be Social Democrats feel they might as well exploit the zeitgeist gap.
Knowing the people’s understanding of what a factory is may end up disturbing the plans, the opposition exploits it for all the bad reasons. They say the factories the government intend building will not be factories as long as they are not huge industrial buildings sitting on hectors of land built in steel and concrete with high chimneys releasing smoke in the skies on a 24 hour bases with armed security men at their entrances. The opposition says setting up plants within the localities next to local produces and processing them to find markets, something that my research proves is one of the ways that can give the plan a chance of surviving a decade, isn’t good enough. One radio opposition interviewee said, “the president should say he is setting up cottage industry and not factories”, as if this matters.
Both sides seem confused. The opposition SocDem wana-be is exploiting the mental state of the ordinary Ghanaian who thinks only a serious toxic waste vomiting huge industrial chimney can be called a factory, while the governing party isn’t thinking it properly through – it is sucked in the populist aspect of its plan.
Meanwhile the Ghanaian can’t keep time. He turns to go back home when on his way to work, it starts raining. He expects that when the Black Stars are playing in a different time zone on a weekday at 11 A.M., he will not show up at work. Maybe his local line manager himself isn’t going to show up at work that day to supervise him and their Indian or Malaysian expatriate boss must understand that. Then come things like the ordinary Ghanaian’s insatiable thirst for foreign goods and his equation of inferiority with what comes from his backyard.
Again, this is not because locals are lazy or incompetent as most hirers and experts in Human Resources think. It is simply because the zeitgeist of the local workforce is different from what a firm requires to stay competitive in a capitalist environment and neither school system or leadership is capable of teaching that.
You might be asking yourself so what can be done. Well, if it turns out the president is a visionary; here are a few things required. A certain level of mechanised thinking is needed in the entire country, placing the law above all, enforcing the law instead of appealing to people’s conscience, stop depending on philanthropic organisations or benevolence of leaders, control people instead of trusting them, know when to pray and when to work, understand a certain level of required minimum standard of quality, put clearly measurable indicators and checks and balances in place, allow constructive criticism, separate religion and state affairs, and most importantly, check the leaders and punish them for their crimes as everyone else. This sounds like something that can only be achieved over generations. But without them, his plans have no chance of working beyond 5 years, and the president himself recently started alluding to a few of these issues. At his Labour Day address, he spoke about Ghanaian lateness to work and practicing region or playing with mobile phones at work.
Another trouble is that this start the president himself is caught us in this. After winning elections, one of his first projects was building “a multi-faith national prayer Centre”, with taxpayer funds championed by Christians in multiple religions country. Voluntary open religious speeches and the fact that he ignored public outcry to cede the organization of annual Muslim Hajj pilgrimage to Muslims themselves to run. On top of that, he appointed a religious affairs minister whose office recently hinted at organizing pilgrimage for Christians to Israel. The mixture seems toxic. It’s like the president is trying to shoot himself in the knee.
Sitting in the car of a friend and listening to radio, an MP was gave an exclusive interview, commending him for installing Christian morning devotion in all schools in his constituency. When I argued it was a wrong move that as a lawmaker, he was fighting a wrong fight and should not be commended, my friend got angry and emotional. This country, with this mental geist far from able to sustain industrialisation aside many other challenges, many in leadership positions continue to pour kerosene into blazing flames by constantly putting square pegs in rounds holes The issue complicate further.
One needs to understand that the source of all this is psychological. It’s a trauma that time after time, only very few amongst black people are able to overcome and chat the right course. The last leader to succeed in that is Nkrumah. The trauma is in fact causative to the collective zeitgeist disparity. This has caused a downward trend from outside destructions to self-destruction that has gone on for so long that a large percentage of the population derives their income from the destruction. People become inclined and ready to defend the pattern of destruction because any effort to introduce a new idea, no master how good it is, becomes a threat to their livelihood. Such societies need generations to be turned around, not by just providing them jobs.
Maybe we don’t have to industrialise to attain middle-income status. No one stops to think in that direction. This is an out-side-the box thinking twenty-first century where people have used simple measures such as hosting world sporting events. Arguably, Seoul 88 Olympics was South Korea’s break. Ghana wants to take the traditional industrialisation route to a middle-income status. The President’s idea in itself is not a bad one. But how many people in Ghana have the needed work ethic and the actual mentality to view a workplace with the entrenched collective systemic thinking needed to motivate an employee to work correctly knowing that his daily bread is tied directly to the activities he is discharging?
The only way this can be done is if blended with African way of life to avoid the inherent factors Narmer alluded to in his article. And is what the opposition is ridiculing.
One thing we need to understand is if the Ghanaian needs to wake up and go to work, he or she will, and in time. But without the collective zeitgeist in which at least half the country can reason, the factories will either collapse or foreign capital investors take over and ship profits out and all Ghanaians will enjoy will be to stay employed till another country offer the investors cheaper labour and other conditions.
The toxic mixture of the unparalleled expectations of Ghanaians, the nations’ stuck zeitgeist, the president’s ambitions (or maybe fantasies) and the opposition playing a permanent role as devils advocate borne out of confusion, points to a problematic future of this project. If such an idea will succeed, the nation has to be turned into a compact mind-set changing boot camp with laws and policies and their checks and balance mechanism, understanding of work output and its bearings on one’s own life, clear and measurable indicators, and those not in favour a project knowing the lines between self interest and common interest. Do you see this happening?