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The Controversial Economist, George Ayittey
A Small Quarter Bought Him Big Responsibility

A quarter can buy you a sugar-packed gumball with the turn of a knob but it brought Economist George Ayittey the sweetest thing he could ever imagine -- self confidence.

A Ghana native, Ayittey never imagined he would be living in America. He is author of five books concentrating on the development of Africa and is praised by reform leaders in Ghana.

Despite his role as President of the Free Africa Foundation and high standing as a well known economist, Ayittey takes no credit for his success and said that he has always gone where fate takes him.

"If I have achieved any prominence it is not because I set out to seek it but I have been driven by passion and more appropriately anger at the deteriorating conditions in Africa." Ayittey said.

Whether fate or chance formed his being, Ayittey's irrepressible irreverence was the catalyst that fed his passion and brought him to the United States.

He is a controversial and outspoken crusader for Africa, evoking strong reactions from supporters and enemies alike.

Born in Ghana in 1945, Ayittey was third eldest of 10 children in a low-income middle class family. His father was an accountant and his mother was a matron to secondary school but his parents divorced when he was three-years-old and his mother raised him along with three other siblings.

School was never taken seriously by Ayittey. He admits he was a rascal who practiced truancy often and threw rocks at his stepmother. In elementary school he found himself in the same class as his younger sister of two years and ranked 32nd in a class of 36.

Class took place outside under a tree with a chalk board nailed to it. A day at school was cancelled by rain so 10-year-old Ayittey had a plan.

"I would climb the tree with a small bucket of water and sprinkle the teacher's desk," Ayittey said with laughter. "She would say, 'Oh too bad it's raining. Class over.' But then one day she noticed it was only raining around her desk and she looked up and there I was with the incriminating evidence."

A severe cane whacking to the back was Ayittey's punishment. He never made it rain in Africa again.

One night his step-uncle came to his television-free-home and told him and his older brother he would teach them how to spell hippopotamus and Mississippi. The first person who could spell the words correctly the next night would get a quarter. He remembers grumbling while his uncle tried to teach him.

The next night, Ayittey's older brother failed to spell the words correctly and Ayittey decided to try.

'"I struggled and managed to spell those two words and he did give me a quarter," Ayittey smiled. "I was very, very proud!"
He felt pride for the first time and his life was never the same.
"Everything changed! All of the sudden I believed in myself," he said with a smile. "I started to do well in school. From 32nd place I came all the way to 2nd place of my class. I did so well they jumped me ahead and took me to the next class."

He went to secondary school and the University of Ghana on scholarships
Universities from Britain, Canada and the United States offered him full-ride scholarships in 1969. Britain was too crowded according to Ayittey and the United States was violent with the civil rights movement. He decided to go to Canada and graduated with a Ph.D. in Economics and a 4.0 GPA at the University of Manitoba.
"I finished secondary school and college all on scholarships," Ayittey explained. "Which means I finished it all because I could spell hippopotamus and Mississippi and I got a quarter."

He returned home to work on his Ph.D. dissertation in 1972. Ghana was ruled by the military regime of Colonel I.K.Acheampong. For making critical radio commentaries on its economic policies, the military regime raided Ayittey's home and hauled him to the Ghana military barracks for questioning. Ayittey left Ghana immediately in fear for his life. He returned to Canada with his thesis stating that an impending crisis in Africa is due to political corruption and political oppression by African leaders and not Western countries and colonialism. To his dismay, he was ordered by his thesis advisors to change his thesis. After nine months of arguing, he agreed to adhere to their wishes.

"They told me I was not politically correct. So I decided to go to the U.S. where they have freedom of speech." Ayittey explained. "I thought I could put all of the things I took out of my thesis and publish them." But U.S. publishers disagreed with Ayittey. He was shocked to see that no one would publish his thesis. Americans are reluctant to criticize black African leaders for fear of being charged with racism, according to Ayittey.

"But I am a black African; I know what it's like there. I know there are dictators there and I know they cause a lot of African's problems. But these white people were telling me that it wasn't the dictators fault but that of the West." Ayittey explained.


"But these Westerners thought I was criticizing the African leaders according to Western standards. No, I have been criticizing them by traditional African standards. We had checks and balances in our traditional system of government and we can remove bad chiefs."

According to the World Press , in 1981 Ft/Lt. Jerry Rawlings seized power in a military coup and set in motion the longest and most brutal military regime in Ghana, the Provisional National Defense Council (PNDC). In 1992 he organized rigged elections and continued ruling with a disputed mandate. The National Democratic Congress government he formed, many Ghanaians say, was the most corrupt government the country had known.

Ayittey wrote scathing critiques about Rawlings' political and human rights record and published them in Ghana and the United States including newspapers, NPR radio and television networks including CNN.

His passion led him to organizing opposition in the U.S. to Ghana's government. For twenty years he went back and forth between the U.S. and Ghana. He was critical Rawlings' Regime in the media and began to receive threats.

Rawlings' military followed him throughout Africa. He received several threatening phone calls in the United States and Ghana and his hotel room was raided in Zimbabwe.

While traveling in Senegal he was taken by the military from the airport and imprisoned for two days.

"They could have killed me." Ayittey said. Rawlings' intimidation only inspired Ayittey to write more.

"When I'm angry I write," Ayittey explained. "I am driven by anger."

He wrote five books about Africa's leaders betraying the people by taking away freedom and oppressing and exploiting the people of Africa and he has four manuscripts waiting to be published.

In the mid-1990s he founded reformist groups in Ghana and the U.S. to push for democratic reform in Ghana. Ayittey warned citizens that Rawlings' Regime will prevail if the opposition does not band together. With the help of various political parties in Ghana and the media informing citizens, he along with ten others roped the opposition parties into an alliance to defeat Rawlings' Regime despite those who believed it to be impossible.

"With less than two months to Election 2000, it is not likely that the six opposition parties lined up against the NDC can come together to fight, so if Professor Ayittey's positon has merit, they lose yet again this December." Reported Ghana Web.

After 20 years of dissent and forming an opposition, John Agyekum Kufour was elected into power as President of Ghana in 2000.

President Kufuor offered Ayittey any position in Ghana's government that he desired but he declined.

"I didn't wage that struggle for my own personal benefit. We had freed Ghana." Ayittey said "And we did that without firing a single shot."

Back in the United States he was not so lucky.

American University Economic professors viewed him as politically incorrect because he was criticizing black African leaders and some of them thought he was blaming the victim.

"I could understand why they felt that way because of racism in America," Ayittey explained. "But the situation in Africa is different. They (professors) were not distinguishing between the black African leaders and the black African people. The leaders have been the problem; not the people."

On February 28, 1999 a Molotov cocktail was tossed through the window of Roper Hall's Conference room of the ground floor, adjacent to Ayittey's office at 3 a.m.
AU Weekly reported that the office of Ayittey was coated in thick soot, his computer partially melted, and his extensive library of books and papers on Africa scorched and sodden. The heavy damage occurred because Ayittey left his door open when he ran out to get help after discovering the fire.

The intent of the fire attack is unknown but investigators told Ayittey he could be the target because his office was close to the fire, he regularly spends late nights in Roper Hall and it would have been too expensive of a prank for students.

Today criticisms of his thesis have died down because most of his predictions about corrupt African governments have come true according to Ayittey.

He predicted by May of 1999 Chad's government will collapse and the governments of the Ivory Coast, Togo and Zimbabwe will follow at a conference in Portugal in 1999.

A few months later Chad did collapse. The Ivory Coast was taken over by a coup in December of 1999 leading to civil wars. In February of 2000 Zimbabwe's government fell and Togo followed in 2003. Ayittey claims he predicted the collapses because their regimes were practicing “the politics of exclusion” Or “political apartheid.”

Ayittey no longer receives threats and believes he has a strong following who want to better Africa. His predictions coming true are what have saved his life.

"Subsequent events simply vindicated my position." Ayittey said.


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