Explaining the Rapid Social Development in Ghana

Ghana, in West Africa, has seen positive economic growth for several decades now, on a par with many of its peers (similar countries by virtue of their development stats):

However, it has been more successful that other countries in translating that economic growth into social development, as measured by the decline in stunting and the increase in primary education enrolment:

This is all according to a recent (June 2020) Report by the World Bank: Building Human Capital: Lessons from Country Experiences – Ghana.

The report takes an in-depth look at the government policies of Ghana and concludes that the positive social development has been the result of a multi-pronged policy initiatives all working together in the longer term, including:

  1. Setting up a National Health Insurance Scheme – ensuring everyone has access to basic healthcare. This was funded by primarily by increasing tax on selected goods and services and on formal sector workers.
  2. FCUBE – Free Compulsory Universal Education
  3. School feeding programmes
  4. WASH programmes – to address poor access to water and sanitation – this was largely funded by aid from the International Community.
  5. Adult education programmes – particularly useful in educating adults about health care issues and preventing stunting.

Of particular note here is that the Ghanian government put a special tax (I think it was 2.5%) on oil extraction, specifically to fund health and education.

Also noted is the good governance in Ghana – government is stable so they’ve had continuous investment in health and education for decades now.

Analysis – what does this tell us about theories of development?

Really it tells us that governments are important – if you think about the UK – we have a (relatively) high tax and high-cost free health and education system, which help us develop ‘human capital’ – and that is what Ghana seems to have focused on at the national level.

This case study suggests that MORE government works best for social development, not less – development in Ghana has happened through taxing the oil industry and paying for state social services – taxation, public services and more regulation resulting, in this case, in MORE positive development – a great case study against the neoliberal theory of development.

Analysis – how generalisable is this case study to other countries?

This kind of development may only apply to countries who are free of conflict and have a stable, minimally corrupt government – that way, if resources such as oil are discovered, they can be taxed and the income used for health and education.

There are plenty of low to middle income countries (Ghana’s ‘peer’ countries as outlined in the World Bank report) which could learn from Ghana – so this is maybe a good low-middle income development case study.

However, as Paul Collier and the authors of ‘Failed States’ have demonstrated, many countries stuck at the bottom of the development ladder are not in a position to put in place such policies, so this case study is no help to them.

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