Storytelling is a powerful tool. We have inspiring stories to tell the world – about how we crushed the six childhood killer diseases, how we kept Ebola away, and gave more girls access to education. These narratives have the potential to erase Western stereotypes and revive the faith of Ghanaians in the country. But we also have to take a step back to reexamine the transformation happening to our story. Because there is a troubling remnant – widening poverty.
The milestones we made in the attainment of the millennium development goals can result in complacency which can trigger inertia and neutralize genuine commitment to the fight against deep, rooted poverty. Notable social protection schemes to tackle poverty in the fourth republic include the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS), School Feeding Programme, Livelihood Empowerment against Poverty, capitation grants, Ghana Youth Employment and Entrepreneurial Development, microfinance schemes and emergency management schemes.
Before the 2015 deadline, Ghana eradicated extreme poverty by half in 2006 when the population of the extremely poor dropped from 36.5 percent in 1991 to 18.2 percent. This is insufficient to overshadow the harsh realities of 7.5m Ghanaians who live on GHS 3 daily. And worse still, the 2m Ghanaians still trapped in extreme poverty. Even if we imagine the lives of the poor by virtue of monetary deprivation alone, we will miss out on other crucial aspects of their deprivation.
According to the Centre for Policy Analysis (CEPA), poverty can take the form of the following states of deprivation:
• Material deprivation – lack of income, resources and assets
• Physical weakness – malnutrition, sickness, disability, lack of strength
• Isolation – illiteracy, lack of access to education and resources, peripheral locations, marginalization and discrimination
• Vulnerability – to contingencies which increase poverty (eg. War, climactic changes, seasonal fluctuations, disability)
• Powerlessness – the inability to avoid poverty or change the situation
The ramifications of material deprivation is clear. Poor parents cannot afford fees of their wards. Poor farmers cannot attract loans to acquire sophisticated farm implements to increase yield. Powerlessness coupled with vulnerability to all manner of risks conflates into a state of helplessness. Eventually, these people have to fall on government for the desired leg up. But then they end up becoming the needed capital for white elephant projects. And often benefit less from programs which seek to ameliorate their plight and offer the necessary springboard to a better life. Despite several poverty mitigation measures, poverty still remains a sweeping phenomenon in the three Northern regions where the incidence of poverty is quite acute.
But it might be argued that the poor are also to blame. They are scattered under Ghana’s informal sector which comprises 85 percent of the country’s workforce. This sector is invisible to the government and difficult to tax. The downside of this invisibility is forfeiture of social protection benefits. So should it remain like this?
Of course not. Though not captured in the formal, government-led social protection schemes, these poor people rely on a certain form of protection largely traditional such as family and church safety nets. The Ministry of Children, Gender and Social Protection has to take steps to collaborate with theses informal groups at the grassroot level especially in the rural communities and build the capacity of staff at these places to coordinate programs. This is essential for data gathering and proper targeting purposes.
Also what is the connection between the various social protection programs? In a paper to research the linkages between social protection and children’s care in Ghana , the Center for Social Policy observed that “non-biological children in particular are likely to be disadvantaged in comparison to their biological peers and household members. Although LEAP is not a cause for the creation of such inequities, the additional resources made available within the household can reinstate and compound existing differential treatments”.
The poor shall always be with us. But the poverty in our part of the world is an insult to the intellect of our leadership and suggests institutional paralysis or perhaps indifference. The sustainable development goals prioritizes poverty elimination in all its forms. This is clearly a global effort we can take advantage of to boost and intensify the fight against poverty in the country. In so doing, we should be more conscious about bringing dignity and better living standards to the millions of Ghanaians in abject deprivation than meeting indicators that will make us look good in the eyes of the international community.
Ernest Armah is the Programmes Manager of VIAM Africa.