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Ghana: Democracy, and now discipline too

Ghana is trying to prove it can combine democracy with economic stability. When military rule ended, inflation control and public finances fell apart. Since 1997 the situation has improved. Against this volatile background, banks have to adapt continually. Can Ghana graduate away from World Bank tutelage, and even be accepted into international capital markets? James Rutter reports.

Near Kotoka airport on the outskirts of Accra a building proudly named Millennium Heights is taking shape. It's just one of numerous construction projects under way in the Ghanaian capital, but its chosen name makes it a particularly apt symbol for Ghana's economic outlook. At present it is a rather precarious looking structure, the building's outlines blurred by a web of wooden scaffolding. Not until the builders' paraphernalia come down will people be able to see if Millennium Heights lives up to its name. The economy is subject to the same uncertainty.

The millennium year is set to be significant for Ghana. For the past 18 months, the economy has been moving towards respectability after five years of rampant inflation, sky-high interest rates and a plummeting currency.

"The last year has probably been the one that has thrown out the most positive signals," says Keli Gadzekpo, executive vice-chairman at Databank in Accra. "It may be the starting point for the regeneration of the reform programme. But the natural thing to say is that the jury's still out on whether such positive signals can be maintained."

The 1999 economic recovery programme, set in place to help secure a three-year loan from the IMF under Ghana's enhanced structural adjustment facility (ESAF), has promised real GDP growth of at least 6% and inflation below 5% by the end of 2000.

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