Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

It's Official - Cedi Is Devalued

Elizabeth Ohene

Two things which have been longstanding facts of life in Ghana for some time became officially accepted last week.

An official announcement said that the value of the cedi in foreign exchange transactions will be at the rate of 30 cedis to the dollar, thus making official what had been a de facto and de jure devaluation since April this year and has been described in international financial circles as the "steepest overnight devaluation in history".

The official government statement using words reminiscent of President Nixon's Press Secretary Ron Ziegler's statements during the Watergate days, said that the government's statement of April 26 on the exchange value of the cedi had "become inoperative."

Now, this was the same statement which had been touted by both the PNDC and its apologists in the United Kingdom as a novel, revolutionary and entirely original idea that future Third World dealers with the IMF might come to adopt.

It was claimed that Peoples National Defence Council (PNDC) had by some intellectual wizardry managed to come up with a new and, up till then, un dreamt of formula to defeat the traditional IMF demands and some commentators would have the world believe that for once, one African country had a government in power, so dedicated to their people, so in corruptible and so full of bright ideas that they have done the unimaginable and beaten the IMF at its own game.

It was said then that the PNDC had managed to get for Ghana the same loan that Limann was going to get but with much better terms for the country and without the humiliating demands that Limann had been about to agree to.

No, there had been no devaluation; yes there was a novel scheme of bonuses and surcharges. Now, all that, without even the courtesy of an apology to Ron Ziegler, "was inoperative." Period.

There is no accompanying statement about the almost 100 percent devaluation. Those who had been loud in their praise of "the new idea from Ghana" have been strangely quiet.

- Mr. Ato Austin remains a member of the regime without a word of explanation. It will be recalled that Mr.. Ato Austin was the Secretary of the youth wing of the PNP during the Limann regime and his claim to fame rests solely with a statement he issued warning the Limann administration against devaluing the cedi in 1981 when negotiations with the IMF had reached an advanced stage and the cedi was to be devalued by 45 per cent. It was this statement and his subsequent. sacking from the PNP which earned him the proper credentials to serve in the PNDC.

After a year of the same rhetoric, the tune suddenly changed and the IMF was not such a terrible organisation after all. "After all Ghana is a member and pays her dues (does she?) there is no reason why the country should not benefit from the facilities that the Fund offers". Obviously, it is only a crime if the country tries to avail herself of the same facilities under a constitutionally elected government.

Why does the PNDC not come out and be honest and admit that these are the same economic measures that as individuals and a group outside government, they were vociferous in condemning?

Why do they not admit that all the talk of novel formula, new idea, were all so much political humbug and that the fact was that the cedi has no value and has been so declared and accepted by them? Why don't they accept that as far as ideas go they have proved to be as sterile, if not more bankrupt than the people they overthrew?

Then the lines will be clearly defined; it will be accepted that they wanted political power, took it by force, are holding on to it by force, are in possession of no political formulae or economic answers that set them apart as a specially endowed group.

Instead of the Flight-Lieutenant "being at sea" (apologies to the Ghanaian Times) with the fishermen to find out their problems at first hand, or pounding 'fufu' at a chop-bar for the benefit of press photographers, ostensibly to demonstrate that he is a man of the people, why does he not try for one week to live on the prices that he has decreed.

This writer is realistic enough to accept that "all animals are equal but some are more equal". So would not suggest that Fit-Lt Rawlings tries living on 25 a day which is what he pays his beloved workers. He should try living on four times that amount 100 cedis a day, and buy one gallon of petrol at 35; he smokes 555 State Express brand cigarettes which are officially priced at ¢ 50 a packet. One kilo of meat, in case he should want to give some money to his wife for his household, is priced at ¢ 80.

But then, meat is not supposed to be on the menu of revolutionary Ghana. The meal that the Flight Lieutenant made famous and which endeared him to the hearts of countless Ghanaian workers "YOKE GARRI" it would be a person with the smallest stomach and the most depressed appetite who would be satisfied on 50 worth at current prices. He might then demonstrate how little things like soap washing and bath shirts, women's personal hygiene needs are solved in his household. Then and only then can he talk of running a people's government.

Since the PNDC came into power on a platform of incorruptibility and have been loud in denouncing "corrupt politicians", they might care to make public the type of salaries and allowances that members of the government are taking to enable them to live in present-day Ghana without starving.

Some members of this government, Secretaries of State, are sending their children to private schools in the United Kingdom; how are their fees being paid? Why have those children not been sent to Cuba where the children of PDC members, farmers and labourers have been sent?

The image of a Secretary of State in a People's government with children in private schools in capitalist Britain reinforces the proposition that the PNDC are the most cynical perpetrators of the power game ever to rule Ghana.

Or are they allowed to indulge in the vices of the previous rulers of Ghana for as long as "corrupt politicians" are routinely denounced by them?

See also It's Official: Hunger at the Top

talking drums 1983-10-24 Nkrumah's widow starves - Rawlings stabs press in the back