Ghana is to go through radical transformation that would bring a lot of high paying jobs, the only serious independent presidential candidate in the upcoming elections has promised. Kwesi Amoafo-Yeboah, a successful entrepreneur hopes to occupy the number one position of West Africa’s peaceful nation after its December 7 polls.
He hosted AfricaNews at his Labone residence, a location within the capital Accra, where upper class people generally reside. He spoke about how he is going to tackle the major issue of unemployment to solving conflicts on the continent should he become AU or ECOWAS chairman. Excerpts of the interview follow:
Tell us about yourself
“I was born in 1953 in Bebiani in the Western region of Ghana. Most part of my school life was spent in Kumasi the capital city of the Ashanti region. I went to Kumasi Academy and after my A’levels I went to the San Francisco State University. I graduated in 1975 with a Degree in Electrical Engineering. I worked at a couple of places then decided to try my hands on entrepreneurship. I began the Western Union Money Transfer Service to Ghana, Nigeria, Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Zambia. I am now in the telecommunication sector and as Chairman for i-tel limited – distributor for MTN. I am married with two daughters.”
That’s an impressive background. Why are you now moving into a game described as a “dirty game?”
“Well, it is the same “dirty game” that produces our leaders. If we continue to call it a “dirty game” then it is only dirty people that would go in there and that is not healthy for us. I believe all Africans are politicians. For me I see it as natural that I have reached the stage where the constitution recognizes me as a potential leader in terms of age and qualifications. So if I see things going wrong and I see that I can contribute to make things better then I have to make it my civic duty to get in there and contribute. So I am not veering off at all but I see it as a natural progression.”
What makes you different from these old faces Ghanaians have known for decades?
“I am glad you called them old and that is what makes the difference. The ideas that they are all putting forward are all old ideas that would not work. They seem to belong to the same path. They are just struggling for power and fighting among themselves. Nobody wants to tackle the hard work – what we need to do to change people’s lives. There are good people within government but one of the main reasons why we are not moving forward is fighting among each other. What I bring as an independent candidate is the fact that I can bring all people from different political parties together.”
What is your policy on unemployment?
“If we solve the issue of unemployment everything else would follow. We are supposed to be consumers and we do not consume very well because we do not even have the money. I don’t believe in a government setting up industries because we have tried it before and failed – Ghana Airways and Ghana Telecommunication. I believe in resourcing the private sector to flourish so it can provide jobs for the jobless. A lot of times young people even come to me with beautiful proposals and I realize that the only thing that they lack is money. We need to make sure that if someone has a business plan that we think would work and we can convince others to invest in it and we make sure that those investing are protected they would be willing to invest. That would lead to more employment, generate profit, pay taxes back to the government and the government can have money to do everything else that it wants to do. My government would make sure that there is always capital available for people who wants to go into business to access. I would implement what I call Transferable Tax Credit to anybody who wants to invest his money. Whether it is a foreign direct investment or local capital I will treat all the same. I’ll protect the downside of people who see any potential in a business plan by giving them tax credit. If within three years the investment goes bad you get something that would cushion you. That way there is a no lose situation for people and we must make it attractive for people because we are competing with the rest of the world.”
What about the growing number of street children and hawking?
“As our economy grows and expands and people begin to make more money, these problems would solve themselves. I am saying this because the persons selling on the streets, most of them do not make more than GHC50 (US$55) a month. Now if we get to the point where the economy has expanded and now it is not attractive for the person to stay on the street making GHC50 a month s/he would move off the street. Now we cannot drive them away because that is their livelihood. This concept doesn’t happen in “advanced countries” so obviously there is some tourist value to it. People sometimes come over just to have a look at it. There are certain things you cannot legislate against because that is their livelihood. If you push them off they are going into begging and robbing you and I so let us focus on creating more opportunities and they would leave the low paying jobs.”
For how long would it take the government to create such high paying jobs?
“It is not something that would happen overnight. But it would happen. If we start getting high paying jobs the enterprises that are into low paying jobs would increase their wages to retain and attract more people. This would bring about more productivity and rise in income. As income rises there would be more consumption and there would be economic growth.”
What would be the relationship between government and the private sector?”
“A very strong relationship. The government needs to provide the environment for business to flourish and prosper. It would then live up to its obligation of paying taxes back to the government. There has to be an engagement between the two all the time. That is what I plan to do.”
How are Ghanaians receiving your message?
“Initially, I thought that only people in the urban areas and cities were the only ones going to understand the concept of an independent candidate. But as we travel through the rural areas we realized that they understand the message and my concept of bringing people from all the political parties together to form a government. You cannot take Ghanaians for granted because they understand what they think should happen.
But Ghanaians don’t vote on issues but on personalities or parties?
“It is not true. People are listening to what I say. Every time we meet the people I plant my people among the crowd and they report back to me what the people think about me. Some are negative and others are positive. Most often the people are in love with my message but they say they would have wished they have known me longer. But that is natural because if you want to entrust your destiny into somebody you would want to know him better. That is my challenge but at the same time an opportunity for me to get out there and educate the people. Even if I don’t win, what I want to accomplish is to get Ghanaians to understand that this power of the thumb comes once in four years and that it is not enough to just give it to a political party. You have to send a clear message to the political leadership what are important to you. So win or lose I am contributing to the future and the advancement of Ghanaians.”
What motivates you?
“I don’t feel intimidated at all. You have to know me to really understand what drives me – when somebody I really respect tells me that ‘I have confidence in you and you can do it’ that challenges me to climb the tallest mountain or somebody challenges my ability to do something. I feel like I am being challenged. People think I am another joker who is not going anywhere but here I am and still in the game. I will stay here until December 8 or 9 when the votes are counted. Even if I get one vote; that would be one person telling me that what I am saying is what s/he wants to hear.”
As an independent how would you form a government because Ghana’s Constitution requires that a government should appoint majority of his ministers from Parliament?
“It is easy and it is the best situation Ghana can ever have. It helps me to form an all inclusive government because I would be choosing the best from Parliament regardless of what political party they belong to. It helps check mediocrity.”
What is your view about the presidential palace? People argue that money could have been used for a state-of-the-art hospital.
Have you observed any good thing about the NPP government?
“When somebody does something good you should be able to let them know and the same way you point out something bad to them. I don’t believe in finger pointing and the blame game. For me Rawlings’ government did well and president Kufuor’s government has done well. We are not at our destination yet but on the path. The National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) is a laudable initiative. The school feeding and the capitation grant are other programmes doing well.”
Should you win Ghana’s election and also become AU chairman, what would be your approach in solving conflicts?
“A lot of the times conflicts happen because the pie is too small and one person wants to take it all. In societies where most people have decent shelter, food to eat and decent medical care you don’t hear of conflicts. I would push for an economic development agenda so that we can raise our people’s income and provide opportunity for as many people as possible. Secondly, there has to be equity in a lot of areas because when people feel cheated they rebel. So the solution to some of our problems is not that simple but we can use simple approaches to tackle them.”
“I want to let Ghanaians understand that the single most important thing we must look out for in this election is peace. If at the end we are divided through conflict then we don’t have a Ghana and regardless of who claim to have won there would be no united people. Secondly, if you vote because you think that is a party you have always voted for then you are wasting your vote. You should make sure that you use this power of the thumb once in every four years to send a clear message to the political leadership that there are certain things that are important to you – jobs, proper healthcare, good education and roads. Voting for me would bring a radical departure from the present.