August 13, 2020
If you are looking for an exciting debate on how culture impacts economic development, particularly within the African context, spend some time in Dr. Stephen Armah’s Economic Development class. For Dr. Armah, Head of Business Department at Ashesi, the role of culture as a critical determinant for economic success cannot be over-emphasized. And in his new book, Nurturing Sustainable Prosperity in West Africa; Examples from Ghana, he highlights various aspects of Ghanaian culture and their impact on the country’s success.
“Traveling across the continent, I realized that Africans are strongly connected to their culture,” he shared. “No matter how exposed they may be to foreign cultures, most indigenous Africans revert to their roots if proposed ‘new ways’ are not effective. It is essential to study people’s culture to be able to manipulate it to our benefit. Writing this book came from a need to understand the culture of Ghanaians and try to use it as an ally for our development.”
Growing up in Ghana in the late 80s, Dr. Armah lived through some of Ghana’s critical developmental stages or lack thereof, both political and economical. Observing the decline of several state-controlled institutions, including universities, he decided to move to the United States for university.
While this move exposed him to some of the world’s leading universities and progressive systems, he stayed connected to Ghana, and promptly move back after his doctorate, to teach Economics at Ashesi. It was at this point, he noticed a peculiar gap. “Moving to the United States to study Economics after growing up in Ghana, I realized most of the Economic theories in my textbooks applied to the Western world,” he shared. “Many of the assumptions made about developing countries like Ghana ignore the local people’s human element and cultural perspectives.”
Using Ghana as a case study, he explores the argument in his book, sharing that local cultures and traditions play a role in shaping a country’s economic institutions. He also discusses some cultural practices and their connection to cronyism and corruption. “It all comes back to mindset,” he shares. “What do you value as a society? For instance, in the typical Ghanaian society, if you are a woman and are not married at a certain age, you are undervalued. Another example is how many families invest significant resources into events like funerals. These practices take away from the capital that people need to invest. Certain mindsets blind you from achieving potentials, and these values will prevent us from sustainable development.”
Through the book, Dr. Armah hopes readers will find answers to questions on how to stabilize the economy and turn Ghana into a state that can offer first-rate social services. “We as a country are in the process of changing things for the better so I advise that people are not discouraged on transforming this continent or Ghana,” he shares. “Professor Stephen Addai did it, Patrick Awuah did it, but these are just a few. Next, I’m looking to discover many others like them, and share their stories on how they won the support of their communities to adapt to positive change.”