From June 2-6, forty college students and recent graduates came together in Kumasi, Ghana for the Summer 2013 Liberty and Entrepreneurship Camp run by Africa Youth Peace Call. Throughout the week, students interacted with influential thinkers such as Jeffrey Tucker and Steve Horwitz through live video conferences on topics ranging from Bitcoin to free market environmentalism. Three Americans, including myself, an accountant and writer, and a self-made small business owner and plumber, also volunteered our time to travel to Ghana to facilitate the students’ learning.
The institutional problems preventing Ghana from achieving more fruitful economic progress quickly became clear at the camp. While the nation’s access to electricity has improved in recent years, the state-owned service is shared with the neighboring countries of Benin, Togo, and Nigeria rather than utilized by its own citizens. Almost every day, our program was interrupted by electricity outages that lasted up to eight hours, limiting access to much-needed cameras, computers, projectors, and lights. Meals had to be cooked over coals and bedtime came prematurely. Most frustrating, even though we had paid for a backup generator, it was used exclusively by the government official living in a fenced-off home on the state-owned property where the camp was held. Apparently, this was not an exception to the rule. One of the students told me that he has reliable access to electricity at home only because he lives near a politician.
However, quite used to these daily hardships, the Ghanaian students patiently waited while the problems were resolved. Many of them shared with me their own business dreams. One aspiring pastor, Akua, sells tea that she makes herself on campus to pay for her education. Another student, Albert, dreams of starting his own private community sheltered from the corrupt practices that permeate his country. Several of the attendees were experienced businessmen who served as role models to the students, such as Addai Bonsu Williams and Armstrong Kwadjo, who started a music school in Kumasi with only $25 and a secondhand keyboard by attracting students with free music lessons. Today, the New Orleans Music and Talent School offers piano, guitar, drums, trumpet, and saxophone lessons and the owners dream of taking their business to the United States. Other success stories came from camp alumni, including Kwame Obeng Agyemang, who provided the meals for the camp through his catering service. Another alumnus, Kwaku Adusai, had been a socialist until attending the Liberty and Entrepreneurship in 2008. Today, he is nicknamed Ghana’s Ron Paul after he ran for parliament on a free market platform. Still stirring up trouble, he sparked a heated debate amongst the students after his talk about religion and politics.
One of the most valuable activities of the week was when the students split into groups to interview local businessmen and women about the challenges facing their enterprises. The students took the project very seriously because as one young man informed me, there is a wide gap in communication between the successful and knowledgeable members of society and those with lower income and education levels. The project was a unique opportunity for them to seek advice from people not accustomed to answering many questions from its youth about business. One hotel manager spoke about the difficulties of having to cater to government officials who frequently eat and drink at the hotel on a whim, free of charge. Several street vendors told us about the serious theft issues they faced. Even though there was a police station just down the road, we were informed that the police refuse to intervene unless paid. The main issue students encountered was that the majority of businesses are unregistered black market operations with no legal standing or access to bank financing, formal markets, or exports. The strong informal economy remains in place because registering a business can cost four times the average annual income and registered businesses still deal with issues of extortion and bribery.
Students applied the information they acquired through these interviews while crafting their own business plans for the end-of-the-week competition. Final projects included a vegetable refrigeration service, a cell phone repair company, and an organization dedicated to spreading libertarian ideas. The students took great pride in their work. Due to their enthusiasm, they spent many additional hours expanding their ideas and hopefully in the coming years they will turn their projects into reality.
Throughout the week, I was blown away by the hospitality shown to me by the Ghanaian people. Everywhere I looked, strong bonds of civil society thrived. Unconditionally, Ghanaians will drop everything to help a friend because they have no one to rely on but each other. They demonstrated similar zeal for the ideas that mattered to them. Afrikanus Kofi Akosah, who runs the camps each year, continually sacrifices everything, including his health, to spread liberty to a younger generation. I encourage everyone to discover for themselves the enormous potential for freedom and growth in Ghana. In the words of George Kimble, “The darkest thing about Africa has always been our ignorance of it.”