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Struggling to become even an 'emerging' market
Ghana recently completed an offering of $1 billion of 15-year bonds at 10.75% interest, with a World Bank guarantee of 40% of the issue.
That's a hefty price to pay.
I have a fondness for Ghana, going back to 1962 when I wrote my masters thesis on West Africa and had the privilege of staying at the Ghanaian Embassy in Washington on the day that the U.S. approved a loan that enabled Ghana to build its first hydroelectric project, the Volta River Dam. Ghana was among the first African nations to become independent of its colonial ruler, it had a young president who had gone to college in the U.S., and dreamers like me thought the nation had a great future. The dam, for example, would provide electricity for the capital city of Accra and for the aluminum smelter for the alumina that Ghana had plenty of. What a great step forward for a new country—from selling the raw material to, eventually, selling the finished goods.
That was 53 years ago, as I calculate it, and our hopes have not been realized. The reasons are many. I will not try to detail them here. Suffice it to say that after the passage of over 50 years, there is again some optimism about the future of Ghana, but that optimism wears thin.
How can a nation with a growth rate of about 7% (Ghana, lately, if the figures are right) get ahead by paying 10.75% (plus whatever it is paying the World Bank for its support) to fund itself? The use of proceeds section of the prospectus is, as I suppose is usual in such cases, vague. Proceeds will be used for “budgeted capital projects”, three words that sound right in the context but tell the reader nothing. There is nothing there to give a reader any confidence that the funds will be used wisely.
How, also, can it make sense for a developing nation to fund domestic projects in dollars when its currency has been depreciating significantly in recent years, as the Ghanaian currency has been doing, it has a seriously negative balance of payments, and its export products have been declining in price in the world’s markets? In all likelihood, Ghana will end up having to plunder other sources of income in order just to pay the interest.
Borrowings like these tend to make nations forever developing, never quite emerging.
Photo: Tulane Public Relations