This is the bane of Ghana’s development: The lack of Strategic Thinking. If we want to be serious about our aspirations to become a developed nation, then we need to determine the road map that will take us there. South Korea had the same per capita income as Ghana at the time of independence and was as poor with little or no developed infrastructure. This was barely half a century ago. However, they made a decision to invest and develop their human resources in order to have a competitive edge. That’s partly how Samsung came about. And so the day we make the decision to think strategically, we will have begun the process of defining our future. How do we see ourselves as a country and what is our competitive advantage?
Michael Porter of Harvard Business School comes to mind. Regarding the concept of the competitive advantage of nations, he said “National prosperity is created, not inherited.” On “strategic thinking” Peter Walsh of Harvard noted that “Strategic thinking goes beyond looking at what is—it involves imagining what could be. It’s a fresh point of view on a market, a unique take on the future, or a capacity to imagine new answers to old problems.” Hear John Maxwell: “Strategic thinking is the bridge that links where you are to where you want to be”. Henry Mintzberg also wrote that strategic thinking is more about synthesis (i.e., “connecting the dots”) rather than strategic planning (i.e., “finding the dots”).
Take China for example. Its leaders asked themselves how they could use their numbers to produce competitively for the world market. Now, they are a model for all developing nations. In less than a generation, China has moved more than 600 million of its people to middle income class and created billionaires. The Communist party set out to leverage knowledge whether from the country’s rich history or from the developed western world. In Ghana too, if we set our minds to it, we will find answers for our problems.
Ghana’s policy frameworks are predominantly reactive. Pose the question and nobody can really tell you how they see Ghana in the next 10 years. The truth is that they don’t know. Trouble is, if you don’t think about tomorrow, you have nothing to look forward to and work towards. How do we harness the best brains and the human talents of our country to look into the future to bring the required change? This is when visionary leadership becomes critical. The value of assembling a group of knowledgeable and experienced people via a bi-partisan approach to distill knowledge for the development of the country cannot be overstated.
There is too much poverty in Ghana and the situation is getting worse. How can we lift our people out of this? What do we need to do for Ghanaians to believe they can also make it in Ghana? How many Ghanaians have been able to establish major businesses in Nigeria or India or China? (Dangote is coming to town with his cement)
We need to take our development sector by sector and focus on doing things with a strategic approach. When the US government gives Ghanaians scholarships to study in the US, it is a strategic thinking decision. It’s not for nothing. They know that the more people from Ghana study in the US, the more likely they are to establish relationships and have friends in Ghana over the years. Take Ebola. When the US military first came across it in the Congo many years ago, they took away blood samples from infected individuals for investigation in their laboratories. Their military budget has since included an element for finding a cure. Is it any wonder that when it reared its ugly head this time around, they were ready with a cure? They planned ahead. That is strategic thinking and that’s what we need to do. Plan well ahead and execute well.
What is our interest from a Ghana standpoint? Ghana needs to do an assessment of where it is today and ask itself where it wants to be in future. Then the question to ask is how do you do it? It is not enough to always aspire for this and that but not have a plan of how to do it. The challenge is in the “how.” What realistic milestones do we want to achieve for our people? For example how do we create jobs for the youth? How do we ensure that every child gets the best education? How do we become like a little Europe or Singapore where transportation, health services and housing work? People need to know that they will actually make progress if they work hard. That’s what it’s like abroad. Here, no matter how hard you work, you are not secure.
In Japan, China, and South Korea, big businesses run by families have grown to be world class companies. What happened to their Ghanaian counterparts? Yes some may have failed because they were not planned well from a business perspective. But what about from a country perspective? What we need is strategic thinking – where are we and where do we want to be tomorrow?
Morroco is another example of strategic thinking. Learning from Japan and China, it has today become one of the largest car parts makers in the world, positioning itself as a competitive original equipment manufacturer (OEM) for major world car manufacturers. They made strategic choices and decided which industries to enter; and this is even when they didn’t have the raw materials. They wanted jobs, technology transfer and also exports and they have it. We also have to think strategically. We need new markets. We can’t keep selling our cocoa to the same old buyers in Europe. What about the countries in Asia, the Middle East and in Australia?We also need to add value to the cocoa bean before exporting it thereby creating more job opportunities and increasing our earnings. We have been talking about this for decades!
Kenya is one of the largest exporters of flowers to Europe. Japan is now “begging” Kenya to grow them roses. This is now a billion dollar industry. And what’s needed is water and other inputs. And we have the Afram plains and Accra plains – and what are we doing? We must develop them into major food and flower production areas for Ghana and beyond.
The only successful agriculture we have all these years is cocoa. And even there, the lack of strategic thinking has not enabled us gain maximum value. We get cocoa money in dollars and yet we don’t pay the farmers in dollars. Why should they continue to grow cocoa and be poor? Moreover, we have not improved the methodology of cocoa production relying on the oldprimitive methods which are highly labor intensive. Can’t we use modern technology to produce the necessary tools and equipment that could facilitate the harvesting and drying of cocoa?
People, strategic thinking is what will allow us to isolate issues, determine our strengths and weaknesses so we can work to harness our strengths for development. Strategic thinking and execution appear to be too much hard work. I daresay there is a prevailing intellectual laziness that holds us back. We prefer “quick money” by sticking to what we know and have done all these years. Nobody wants to do anything that will fundamentally change the country. I suspect that a lack of visionary leadership is what impedes our ability to think strategically.
Agriculture really is what we have and only cocoa is developed to an international level. And even here, we earn less than 2 billion dollars a year. The Government receives the money, gives cocoa farmers a bit of it and then pays the international banks who financed the purchases. Could we not have financed cocoa purchases locally and saved the interest charges if we had put our minds to it all these years? Should the government continue to monopolize the purchase of cocoa by setting the price instead of allowing the market place to do so?
In a period of rapid economic change globally, our nation’s strategy should be a move away from basic ‘strategic planning’ and “manifestos” to more of ‘strategic thinking’ in order to survive a crazy competitive environment where a nation’s lack of strategic thinking can only result in continuous poverty for the bulk of its people.
Strategic thinking should become a key competency for our leaders and managers. It must be at the centre of what we want to become. The problem is if we don’t know where we are going today, then we could end up anywhere. How can we connect the dots?