Central Banking And The Financial History Of Ghana

 Book Review By Charles Prempeh, PhD, University of Cambridge


Human beings are social beings, who interact with their fellows and the environment, out of which institutions are established to ostensibly support human flourishing. Any chronicling of an institution that defaces the human figures behind leaves a trail of intellectual gaps.


Ivor Agyeman-Duah’s book, Central Banking in Ghana and the Governors: Institutional Growth and Economic Development is very significant. It is published in three editions- Europe and US by Hawkes Design and Publishing, Digibooks in Ghana and Bookcraft in Ibadan, Nigeria and provides a menu of both local and trans-local intersections that have since the late 1950s impacted the history of Ghana. Written independently as an economic history, it is 553-page strong and thematised into four sections of 23 chapters.


Each chapter is logically constructed to aptly capture the role local actors and multilateral institutions, notably the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund played since the 1960s. Within such a context, the author engages in an intellectual history of 15 governors, whose ideas and policies have impacted the monetary space from 1957.


The first governor and his deputy were English and from the Bank of England and the second was a German professor of economics who left at the beginning of the Africanisation policy of Kwame Nkrumah. These are illustrated with old photos of Nkrumah’s inauguration of the Bank to the contemporary images of selected governors.  Informed by a great artistic dexterity, the photos about Ghana’s currencies index the socially constructed nature of money, which similarly gestures the need for the public’s attention to be invested in the symbolic virtues embedded in the embossed images.


Since the 1980s, economic analysis has largely been profiled as econometrics. Possibly, as part of the neoliberal regime that tends to privilege figures from the perspectives of both academia and public discourses, obfuscate the lived social realities of people who engage in the daily activities of buying and selling.


Agyeman-Duah’s book begins from where economics must begin – the issue of money but also how money is conceived, accepted and interpreted as a medium of transaction. Does money have any ontological worth? Or does it have acquired worth? Any understanding of this question, will help put economics in its socio-historic perspective, away from splitting hairs over who has adept in figures.


The author discussed how money has a long history of defining inter and intra-human relations and breaks the stronghold of the arid of “thingfication”and thoroughly discuss the political history of finance in Ghana. He takes a long gaze and tapestry of historical analysis that restores economics as a fundamentally social relationship. Taking the pre-colonial era as the beginning of his analysis, he stretches his human social relationships forward enough to and renders a scholarly service that restores the prophetic voice of Adam Smith “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own self-interest.”[1]


He brings out the various nuances of state-formation that help us to understand Ghana’s financial history not as a history of money exchanging hands, but as money assuming fetishist importance. So, whether a group of Asante nationalists protesting the issue of cocoa pricing or Nkrumah placing his images on Ghana’s currencies, the Central Bank of Ghana’s history should be read also as a social history. The history of Ghana’s financial sector is human beings acting to advance their own interests and sometimes the interest of an imagined state.


For instance, Agyeman-Duah looks at the appointment of the first Ghanaian governor, Halm who came to the position more because of his CPP connections and party funding but also because of his business skills.


Such biographical menu whether of Albert Adomakoh the first professional central banker who had been trained in England, were followed by others such as the economist and water-colour painter, JH Frimpong Ansah, Alex Ashiagbor, Amon Nikoi and other senior technocrats from prestigious universities in the United Kingdom. Agyeman-Duah implies that by their colonial education and association with the Bank of England, it was not surprising the acquired traditions of the BoG and particularly the influence of an institution like the London School of Economics.


Agyeman-Duah in trying to understand these governors from 1957- 1985 also came to the conclusion that their public Christian faith which allowed them to personally build chapels in their home-towns indicated in different ways the core of their boldness and speaking truth to power (Ashiagbor read the Psalms when in difficult times) which on some occasions cost them their positions.


Until the financial history of Ghana is written and read as intellectual history (luckily the way Agyeman-Duah has done), it would continue to suffer from binaries as fossilised and any analysis of Ghana’s economic morasses would mainstream us into “saints” against “sinners”, charging everyone with corruption apart from us.


This is amply clear in the first thirty years of the bank when the challenges and progress were different, and indeed should be from the last twenty-five years. You cannot get better evidence of this than from Chapter 15, The Governor Who Finally Came from the IMF– Paul Acquah through to Chapter 23, A Butterfly’s Chrysalis and Nervous Conditions of Ernest Addison as the author uses a metaphor of the butterfly and a reinvention by the Zimbabwean novelist, Tsitsi Dangarembga of Fanon’s Nervous Conditions to explain that tenure- the bank reforms and other globalising programmes such as digitalisation and finance.


A a good read of the history of economics, largely morphed into this book, will make all of us squirm when we understand its exploitative bent as “faceless figures in conversation.” The public sphere is contentious precisely because it is the domain of human’s quest for money and power. These two forces of public life diminish once they are shared. Money runs the economy, while power sustains it. They are decidedly sources of conflict and converging point for “selfs” and the forces of history to interact.


The history of Ghana’s Central Bank should be read contextually as a contest of humanly-informed ideas, located within the paradigms of national and transnational narratives that sought to regulate public governance and for which Ivor Agyeman-Duah’s book is a major contribution to financial history as an intellectual history.


*Prempeh is also a Research Fellow at the Centre for Cultural and African Studies, KNUST.