Poverty Eradication in Ghana: An Unfinished Business

Ernest Armah


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.


If the Misery of our poor be caused not by the laws of nature, but by our institutions, great is our sin - Charles Darwin, 1836

If the Misery of our poor be caused not by the laws of nature, but by our institutions, great is our sin
– Charles Darwin, 1836


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.

Source: Ghana Millennium Development Goals 2015 Report

Source: Ghana Millennium Development Goals 2015 Report


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.

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Re: Over 300,000 Day Students to benefit from free SHS policy

Prince Armah, PhD.


The Ghana Education Service (GES) has revealed that only about 60 percent of students who write the Basic Education Certificate Examination (BECE) make it into Senior High Schools (SHS). Beyond that, figures from WAEC suggest that over 1.6 million students have failed the BECE over the past decade. So where are those who the system ‘failed?’ In addressing this problem of access to secondary education, the Government has introduced a progressively Free SHS Policy starting this 2015/2016 academic year. According to the Government, “the need to make SHS progressively free was to help vulnerable groups by removing financial barriers and improving access to SHS and addressing inequalities in opportunities to transition from JHS to SHS” (Daily Graphic, 28/08/2014).

As I have mentioned in earlier publications, the solution to access to secondary education does not lie in paying fees of day students or boarders as the government proposes. Instead of paying the fees of 313,000 senior high school (SHS) day students under the so-called progressively free SHS policy, invest the earmarked budget of GHC 42.7million in the provision of the teaching and learning resources/items that goes into the price build of school fees.
The schools are charging parents levies that the state ought to bear. By this approach you will address inequity issues that the current policy imposes in respect of providing support for only day students. If more parents decide in 2016/2017 academic year to withdraw their children from the boarding houses to qualify for this intervention, what happens? How would the government fund that?

In the medium to long term, the government (the current or any future one) should endeavour to scrap the BECE in favour of a 6- years secondary education (S1-S6).

At the end of S3, students choose which subjects they wish to specialise from S4-S6. At this point, they could write WEAC accredited exams to guide student placement. In other words, merge JHS and SHS as the objective of the JHS concept has even failed. All we need to do is to look for a cluster of JHS around a particular SHS and merge them under one management and administration, which could improve efficiency in the education service delivery.
Free SHS is not the panacea to an improved access to and quality of secondary education. Having read the government’s Secondary Education Improvement Programme (SEIP) policy document, I remain convinced that the underlying problems of secondary education are not being addressed properly and our nemesis is far from over.

It is the life and health of our future as a nation state we talking about here!


Dr. Prince Armah is the founder and Executive Director of VIAM Africa.

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