A Road Completed

Today, the first expressway since the 1960s was commissioned by the President. Most amazingly, this highway was 100% financed by America. Seriously?? The US still builds highways/roads in the developing world?? Isn’t road construction and all those grandiose infrastructure projects the exclusive domain of the Chinese? What’s going on??

So the highway is funded by the US Millennium Challenge Corporation –  a new development poster-child of the Bush administration aimed at addressing traditional problems plaguing foreign aid – including lack of accountability/corruption, political impasse and lack of donor/recipient coordination. The MCC essentially manages a bank account with money appropriated by Congress. All the heavy-duty lifting of development is done by the country – they have to empower an implementing authority to come up with projects to be completed within a specified time frame. They have to oversee all these projects from start to finish – including getting contractors. The whole point is that the US will not be meddling in the internal politics of Ghanaian government’s policy-making process, and Ghana will be held accountable to its own citizens if these projects are not completed. The goal of this new model is for the host country to assume the responsibility of crafting and executing priority development projects that suit its own needs. If they fail, they can’t go back to rich donors and complain that so and so imposed this on me!

The US’s role is really just vetting countries that would qualify for this special type of aid. Ghana was selected as one of 17 countries to receive MCC funding. The other African countries are Benin, Lesotho, Mali, Morocco and Mozambique. The selection criteria includes 17 categories spanning political freedom to economic liberalization to rule of law/transparency of regulatory system to domestic investments in education and public health. Now that Ghana has done well in its first MCC compact, they are on their way to receive a second one. This is the carrot/stick model of this new aid paradigm.

This 14km highway is the extension of a 17km Accra-Tema motorway – the only other long-distance highway in the country built in the 60s – immediately after Ghana gained independence. The first motorway only has four lanes and requires substantial repair. So this new highway is a shining star on the block like no other. Without coming to Ghana, you’ll have no idea how much this highway has benefited the people. This highway is part of West Africa’s only major east-west bound trunk road that goes from Nigeria to Senegal (some of this road to this day is still unpaved). Originally, there was this choke-point coming out of Accra to anywhere west and it took two hours to move 1 mile. In Ghana and most African countries, there are only 1mile of road for roughly 10,000-100,000 people with over 70% unpaved, compared to 1 mile of paved road for roughly 50 people in the US.

Now you see people waiving US flags, driving in cars with US flags on them, and the President has named this highway the George W Bush Highway.

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