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As countries around the world are being urged to “build back better” from the global pandemic, one African country is embarking on an exciting modernisation journey, embracing digitisation and automation to improve the lives of its citizens and appeal to foreign investors.

Ghana unveiled its recipe for success at the UN, where it was re-elected as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council earlier this month. Ghana’s vice-president, Mahamudu Bawumia, delivered an address on combating the pressing matter of urban warfare and outlined a four-pronged approach to ensuring citizens get the best possible protection from the ravages of urban conflict.

In addition to calling for increased collaboration between states and better contingency planning to fight terror groups such as Boko Haram in West Africa and Isis in the Middle East, he called on governments to use the power of automation and digitisation to improve citizens’ lives and enable them to resist being attracted to supporting such groups. Bawumia told the UN he and Ghanaian president Nana Akufo-Addo had both identified modernisation as the best way of improving rural opportunities and making urban areas safer.

Bawumia’s speech was met with widespread approval, leading to further discussions on this subject as well as other areas of concern, including Covid-19 vaccinations in Africa with the likes of the UN secretary-general António Guterres and US secretary of state Antony Blinken.

It is not just matters of international security that are on Bawumia’s agenda. Rather, Ghana’s government is currently embarking on a host of measures aiming to further grow its economy sustainably, modernise all avenues of society, and recover from the pandemic in a fruitful manner.

Ghana’s embracing of digitisation as spearheaded by the vice-president is fast making it Africa’s modernisation role model. The cornerstone of the programme, the Ghana Card, has now been rolled out to more than 85% of Ghana’s adult population and has been received extremely positively. As the vice-president explained, the reason behind such an ID card is simple: “It is possible to be born in Ghana, live a full life, die, and be buried, and there would be no trace of you on any documentation that you ever lived and died in this country.”

The digitisation drive aims tocreate, maintain, provide and promote the use of national ID cards to advance economic, political, and social activities in the country,” according to Prof Kenneth Agyemang Attuafuah, executive secretary of Ghana’s National Identification System.

The Ghana card encapsulates what the current administration is trying to achieve in the country, and has been lauded as a success story not just in West Africa but throughout the continent. Democratising access to essential documents such as driving licenses and passports will leave no Ghanaian behind in our technology-orientated world. The card will also help reduce corruption while promoting access to essential documentation, thus streamlining the economy.

According to Ghana Association of Banks CEO John Awuah:We are very much in support of the Ghana Card programme because of the enhanced features which will help the banks in their loan recovery efforts.”

Early success of the card is already clear, with Transparency International, a Germany-based organisation founded by former members of the World Bank, praising Ghana’s rollout to-date in its 2021 Corruption Perception Index report. “Evidence from the ongoing digitisation projects of the government suggests that automated processes within relevant public institutions have reduced human contacts and also have the potential to help reduce corruption”, the report into Ghana concluded.  

Bawumia, who has also worked at the World Bank, has encouraged institutions in the public sector to incorporate digital technology into their operations. He points out that the digitisation of the National Service Scheme has already saved Ghana millions: “Imagine how much would be saved if 10 institutions, or the entire public sector, infused digitisation in their operations, especially in the verification of workers before the payment of compensation.”

He said the facial recognition technology and identity card checks had already blocked more than 14,000 potential fraudsters from enrolling in the scheme. These early wins have encouraged Ghana to spread the technology into other sectors, and is now training information & communication technology personnel at 24 different locations across the country.

Combined with additional efforts by the government aiming to maximise the country’s technological potential, Ghana looks set to be West Africa’s best foreign investment hub. Indeed, Rand Merchant Bank’s Where to Invest 2021 report ranked Ghana as West Africa’s top investment destination due to the ongoing government initiatives.

Ghana continued to attract a large sum of foreign direct investment during the pandemic, with the figure never dropping below $3bn. This number has skyrocketed since the early 2000s, where the country saw less than $150m of foreign investment. With ongoing government initiatives like the digitisation programme, such exponential growth will likely be repeated post-pandemic.   

Despite Africa entering its first recession in 20 years Ghana has emerged from the worst of the pandemic relatively unscathed, with the World Bank noting the country’s per-capita GDP return to pre-pandemic levels in 2021. Moreover, Ghana is forecast to return to annual growth levels of over 6% by early next year.

There is little in Ghana’s way in terms of economic growth, and with the worst of the pandemic now behind who’s to say it will not again be the world’s fastest-growing economy like it was in 2019?  This growth can be attributed to initiatives such as the digitisation drive, which continues to enable Ghana’s economic resurgence at a rapid speed, especially when considering other economic developments such as the African Continental Free Trade Area coming into full effect with Ghana as the secretariat.

The future appears bright for Ghana. A leading voice on issues of international concern and with the digitisation agenda spearheaded by Bawumia set to benefit all Ghanaians, the prospects for the country’s post-Covid-19 turnaround are looking better than ever.  

• Burdin is a former BBC Africa bureau chief with 35 years’ experience as a senior editorial leader in the BBC’s international news operations. He works with several charities focusing on improving educational opportunities across Africa, including the Tutu Foundation UK, the UK-SA Trust and Education Sub Saharan Africa.

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