The Controversial Economist, George
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
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
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
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
He felt pride for the first time and his life was never the
"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
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."
"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
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
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
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
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
"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
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