Join us on our faith journey as we follow Jesus to Ghana, West Africa!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Sub-Saharan African Economics

Charlie writes...

Today at Ashesi, Dr. Augustin Fosu, who is deputy director of the UN WIDER (World Institute for Development Economics Research) center in Finland, delivered a lecture on the topic of how Sub-Saharan African economies have fared during the credit crunch and ensuing bad times around the world. The story was actually rather encouraging.

Apparently, since the mid 1990's, the GDP (and to a lesser extend, GDP per capita) for Sub-Saharan countries have moved upward at a rate nearly equal to those of the Asian Tigers and BRIC countries. Even during the credit crunch and trade shocks following those events, their economies did not dip as deeply, and even seem to have been more resilient to the dip, recovering more rapidly than other countries. Ghana, in particular is really heating up, as a Ghanaian in the diaspora mentioned here, it has been reported the fasting growing economy in the world this year!

As an expert in econometrics and the data collected by the UN and World Bank, Dr. Fosu had published articles in refereed journals noting that this improvement seems to be coincident with a blossoming of democracy across the continent. If countries are able to navigate the change from autocracy to democracy without descending into chaos (which he admits has happened in several countries), they become more appealing to FDI (Foreign Direct Investment). In early, destitute conditions, external aid is vital, but many of the countries in SSA are now moving beyond such overwhelming reliance on outside help, and are growing well.

Also encouraging is the observation that finally, it seems like this rising tide is starting to float more boats. The reduction in abject poverty is becoming noticeable in many countries, including Ghana.

He cautioned that the distortions of the oil boom and gold price increases might not be managed well for the further support of the poor in Ghana, but was encouraged upon visiting here (he will be a visiting scholar at University of Ghana, Legon this year) to hear debates in parliament about the use of oil revenues. Transparency will likely be an important issue.

When asked about how such money should be spent, he admitted that the strict "savings only" approach used by Norway would not be appropriate in Ghana, as there were still major development challenges needing funding. As it seems everyone who visits Ashesi remarks, he highlighted an improved transportation network. The US Ambassador had mentioned he felt like "fufu" on his way up the mountain, and I have already reported on the bone-jarring trip the Ashesi staff endure twice a day.

Today, I noticed on the way out that the first sandy place which had been absolutely awful in the morning had been smoothed out and filled with more sand this evening. Why sand is used still escapes me, after tonight's rain/dew the place will likely be back to the prior condition. There is also some work being done on the crater pictured at the head of this post.

23 Be sure you know the condition of your flocks,
give careful attention to your herds;
24 for riches do not endure forever,
and a crown is not secure for all generations.
25 When the hay is removed and new growth appears
and the grass from the hills is gathered in,
26 the lambs will provide you with clothing,
and the goats with the price of a field.
27 You will have plenty of goats’ milk to feed your family
and to nourish your female servants.
from Proverbs 27 (NIV)

Thursday, August 18, 2011

A New Beginning - Ashesi University

Charlie writes...

This Monday was my first day at Ashesi University. After five years at Methodist University, I was ready for a change, and the Ashesi approach to private tertiary education in Ghana was and is compelling.

Ashesi, which means "Beginning" in the Akan language, was founded in 2005. Next week, students will be joining us on a brand new campus in Berekuso, atop a hill overlooking Accra. As you can see from the photos at the last link, the facilities are in a lush, somewhat cooler climate than the lower elevations. The first phase of construction has the library at the highest point, with three other wings containing faculty offices, administration, and classrooms. Adjoining the Founder's Quad is the dining area. The hostels (dorms) which will house 60 male and 240 female students, (out of this year's expected population of 500 students) are below that. The rest of the students will be renting space elsewhere and commuting.

WAEC (West Africa Exams Council) has delayed the testing and reporting of WASSCE (West Africa Senior Secondary School Certification Exams, the analog of SATs in the USA) results this year. Thus, Ashesi's admission decisions will be delayed and our first year students will not be coming to the campus until October 24.

I am glad to be in an office with a window out onto the central courtyard, with windows that open on two sides for ventilation. So far, I have not turned on the air conditioning, but all the rooms are so equipped. They were able to provision computer and email on my first day, impressive!

Alex Inkoom, the HR Manager had organized a two-day program to orient new staff. We heard from the founder, the dean of students, academic dean, facilities manager, librarian, nurse, as well as the career services and IT directors. We also saw a quick run-through of Ashesi's computerized LMS (Learning Management System), called FOCUS. It is based upon Moodle, which I had already used.

I was inspired by the founder's address, which outlined the mission and some of the strategic decisions that have been made recently. It was refreshing to hear that Ashesi will not copy the recent explosive growth in size of both public and other private university colleges. Knowing that a school of 500 to 2000 students is an entirely different place than one of 5000 or 10,000 is important. The impact on the students can be significant in a smaller school, as I have been reading in the book "Colleges That Change Lives" by Loren Pope. With any luck, the new campus will greatly increase the number of candidates applying for admission. Coupled with a limited population, this could mean a student body with fewer students from the lower half of their high schools.

This term I will be teaching Quantitative Methods. Fortunately, the content is rather similar to a combination of the statistics and Operations Research classes I have been teaching at MUCG. Also, I share an office with Andrew Nunekpeku, who has taught the class before, and who will be teaching the other section. Still, starting on Monday will be a challenge to my organizational skills.

Much of the staff is riding Ashesi's GET (Ghana Education Trust) Fund-supplied bus back and forth to work, which is a good thing since the road to Berekuso from Kwabenya looks like a minefield. Ken says the video looks like an amusement park ride! In one section, half the road has completely washed away. Mary Kay has been dropping me off at 6:40 a.m. and picking me up at 6:45 p.m. from the former campus, which will be the first stop for the bus until Ashesi establishes a smaller satellite office in Accra somewhere for admissions processing after the new year.

Thursday, the IP telephones were labeled and plugged in, and the network engineer was programming the main switch. He trained us on how to use the new phones this afternoon.

At lunch Thursday, a fourth-year student working on a research project with the dean asked me what brought me to Ghana. He was a bit surprised when I answered "God did," but was interested in hearing about The Jackson Journey.

Lamentations 3:22-23 Because of the LORD's great love, we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.