It has been 61 years since Ghana become an independent country. If it were to be a person, Ghana as a public service worker is now 1 year into compulsory retirement and living on pension. As ever, much of the debate around today’s Independence Day celebration will be around how much monthly pension our pensioner Ghana is receiving. Underlying this is whether Ghana made any significant investments and savings while it was in active service. There are many things to be proud of as an Independent Ghana but there are also a lot more to be done…starting with a confident re-imagination of the society we want and taking a sustained approach to achieving this. In this regard, perhaps it is time to consider the central role tourism (international, but especially domestic tourism) can play in re-imagining the beauty and potential in our land.
In my recently published research article *in the International Development Planning Review journal (see first page below), I trace the evolution of tourism within national economic development planning since independence. Tourism has consistently been identified as a viable option for national development although successive governments have taken different approaches to the sector. In this overview paper, I take a historical approach in showing the changes in the thinking around tourism’s role in economic development starting from the 7-year Development Plan for National Reconstruction and Development, 1934/64 – 1969/70 through to the most recent Ghana Shared Growth and Development Agenda II, 2014-2017. I analyse how tourism came to be positioned as one of seven key economic pillars for transforming the national economy and identify some of the ongoing challenges facing the sector.
Not too long ago, I managed to get access to one of the first national socio-economic development plans developed in Ghana at the British Library in London. In this Second 5-year Development Plan of 1959-1964 tabled before Parliament by Kwame Nkrumah’s government, there was a full chapter dedicated to ‘The Tourist Industry’ (Chapter IV). In outlining the goal of the plan in his opening statement, the then President of the country stated that; “What is the basic objective of our Plan? It is simply this. We believe that it should show what we have to do – by our on hard work, by the use of natural resources, and by encouraging investment in Ghana – to give us a stand of living which will abolish disease, poverty, and illiteracy, give our people ample food and good housing, and let us advance confidently as a nation“ (pg. iii, emphasis mine). The development of tourism was seen as key to this vision. The drafters of the plan argued that;
“The possibilities for developing a tourist industry in Ghana are immense. The country has one of the best climates in West Africa. It is easily accessible, both by air and by sea, and is therefore a good stopping place for people ravelling to or from other parts of the West, Central and South Africa. Its scenery is varied, there are numerous historical monuments, and the traditions and ways of life of its people are a great attraction for visitors. Quite apart from external visitors to Ghana, it is important to provide tourist facilities for Ghanaian themselves. With the development of the country, and the spread of education, the number of Ghanaians able to take a vacation for a week or more is growing very rapidly, and Ghanaian tourists visiting different parts of the country will probably always exceed the number of visitors from abroad. Even if there were no external visitors it is desirable to encourage Ghanaians to travel around their country, and to provide facilities for them to do so” (Government of Ghana, Second 5-year Development Plan of 1959-1964; pg. 24-25)
As we celebrate 61 years of national independence, it is perhaps timely to revisit how tourism can help ignite and encourage the confident re-imagination of the society we want in Ghana, land of my birth.