ACCRA, Ghana — Dr. Salome Peprah decided to leave Ghana three years ago after having to treat hundreds of malnourished patients at the nation's most advanced hospital without so much as a blood pressure gauge, a sterilized needle or a bottle of aspirin.
"All you had were your brains and your hands," she said. "I wanted to stay, but I couldn't do much because I didn't have enough to eat myself."
Peprah and thousands of Ghanaian professionals left at a time when Accra's acclaimed university had been closed by a military government; inflation was raging at 150%; store shelves were bare, even of bread, soap and matches; electric power was out every other day; cars were junked for lack of spare parts.
Many Are Coming Back
But now Peprah's family and many others who left in the dark days of 1983 are coming back to Ghana, lured by one of the most surprising flip-flops on the continent: The left-wing military regime has embraced the economic remedies of Western capitalism.
So far, it seems to be working. Ghana has become the prize student of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, even without giving up its shrill, anti-imperialist rhetoric. Cocoa production is up, the markets of Accra are overflowing with everything from luggage to mascara and the proud people of Ghana are talking with hope again about the future.
"People have got this revival spirit," said Mark-Anthony Mansour, a 30-year-old Ghanaian businessman who went to Canada in 1982 and came back this year. "We realize that with a little help from the outside, and a little help from the inside, we will get there."
The change "is so obvious," said Peprah, who is 30 and the mother of three children. "We have things to work with now. And I have hope that within a few years, things are going to be very good."
Foreign Projects Abound
The Japanese are building roads just outside of Accra, the West Germans are building bridges, Denmark is laying phone cables and Canada is providing forestry equipment. So many countries are trying to spend so much money on so many projects for Ghana that the government cannot process the paper work fast enough.
World powers that pledged to pump $528 million into Ghana this year have increased the figure to $605 million. Japan promised $51 million in aid this year--and is delivering $83 million. Canada's $23 million has swelled to $30 million. France raised its ante from $14 million to $20 million, West Germany from $18 million to $21 million, the Netherlands from $7 million to $16 million.
Only the United States has cut its assistance, to $16 million from $23 million. Ghana's criticism of the United States in the United Nations and elsewhere has increased since the arrest last year of eight people accused of spying for the CIA.
The IMF and World Bank, needing a success story in Africa, have turned Ghana into a showcase for their brand of economic recovery through austerity. World Bank officials hope Ghana will become a model for other ailing countries, breaking ground as it did 30 years ago when it became the first European colony in black Africa to win its independence.
"It's exciting to be here now," said the administrator of a Western assistance program. "The Ghanaians are open to solutions and willing to try things."
It wasn't always so. Soon after independence, in 1957, Ghana began an inglorious downhill slide. Its first president, Kwame Nkrumah, drained the treasury and was ousted by his own soldiers in 1966. The following years were marked by widespread corruption, four successful coups and a dozen coup attempts.
Economy Hit Low in 1983
By 1983, the country's economy had hit bottom. The local currency was worth a fraction of its official rate. A severe drought shut down food production. Government price controls, enforced by bulldozers that smashed offenders' shops, succeeded only in clearing store shelves.
What happened with cocoa, Ghana's most important foreign exchange earner, illustrates just how far the country had fallen.
In the late 1970s, Ghana was producing more than 400,000 tons of cocoa a year, the largest crop in the world, and the Cocoa Marketing Board had fewer than 20,000 employees. Cocoa production dropped to 160,000 tons in 1983, the marketing board swelled to 105,000 employees and farmers received less than 20% of the selling price of their crops.
Many farmers were smuggling cocoa into neighboring Togo and Ivory Coast. Others simply stopped tending their cocoa trees.
Even the world's lenders, accustomed to pouring money into the most risky loans on the globe, were not willing to take a chance on Ghana. So the country went in search of help from the East Europeans, whom Ghana's leaders considered their ideological brethren.
Turned to West for Help
Finding no help there, Ghana turned to the West. In exchange for International Monetary Fund assistance, Ghana agreed to do everything that the Western experts recommended, from devaluing its currency to cutting the government payroll.