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Igniting the Flame of Freedom: A Young Ghanaian’s Journey to Political Enlightenment

Written by Nathaniel Dwamena, President, YAFO Institute, Ghana

The political landscape in Africa is often characterized by a political duopoly, and Ghana is no exception. This often creates an environment that dismisses constructive viewpoints, as most people’s opinions on political, developmental, and socio-economic issues are influenced by their political affiliations. One is typically aligned with one side of the political duopoly or the other. What struck me most was the younger generation’s unwavering adherence to the existing political norms, regardless of their educational background. Witnessing this ignited a profound desire within me to inspire a change of heart and promote freedom of thought.

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Ghana’s political identity is deeply entrenched in political affiliations that exploit cultural differences. The two dominant political parties in Ghana, the National Democratic Congress and the New Patriotic Party, control and alternate the majority of elected offices and shape the political narrative. Surprisingly, the polarized climate of the national political landscape is also evident in the niches of student political activities. For example, the election of the Student Representative Council leader sparked conversations not only about student development but also about whether any of the candidates were favored by the political duopoly

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At the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST), my passion for liberty and open discourse flourished. As a resident of the University Hall, known as Katanga, I often found myself in the midst of heated debates with my peers over various national issues that directly impacted students. It was during one of these spirited discussions that a fellow student, impressed by my dedication to freedom, handed me a pendrive filled with PDF books. This small device turned out to be a treasure trove of knowledge, introducing me to a global community dedicated to the principles of free-market capitalism

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The transformation began with a single pamphlet on liberty from the pendrive, which piqued my curiosity and led me to complete the Students for Liberty Local Coordinator Program. The program was enlightening, aligning my thoughts with the principles of capitalism and helping me distinguish it from the cronyism prevalent in our society. This distinction was crucial, especially in a country where the government is expected to provide all, and success in business often requires political connections.

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Echoing the words of Prof. George Ayittey, ‘Africa is poor because she is not free.’ The afflictions of living under Banana or Coconut Republics, contending with vampire elites, state plunder, corruption, and poor governance, stifle development, breed poverty, and restrict civil liberties. Now awakened to these realities, I have embraced the ethos of the cheetah generation. Inspired by this new perspective, I stepped into a leadership role within the KNUST Students’ Parliament, championing student activism. My efforts were recognized when I was awarded the titles of Most Hardworking and Exemplary Leader for the 10th and 11th Parliament in 2017 and 2018, respectively.

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My passion for liberty has only grown as I’ve faced and overcome challenges. I began sharing liberty-focused books with aspiring leaders and initiated online book discussions among students. These activities led to the formation of a dedicated team that launched initiatives for change. Our impact was so profound that an Op-Ed I wrote, critiquing the Bus Service as a limitation to students’ economic freedom, resulted in a summons to the Dean’s Office for a caution. Yet, this did not deter my zeal for promoting freedom through our activities.

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Our focus then shifted to promoting a culture of idea-based debates during student elections, challenging the norm of polarized and party-affiliated voting patterns that had seeped into student politics. Our efforts sparked a wave of interest among university students, leading to invitations to host debates at other universities across Ghana. Over time, we expanded our activities to include capacity-building conferences that ignited entrepreneurial spirit among students.

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We also dedicated ourselves to providing platforms for civil discourse on the challenges within Ghanaian society that hinder the growth and development of enterprises. These discussions led to a keen interest in public policy research and advocacy. One of our major national policy advocacy successes was within the vehicle insurance sector, promoting insurance products that catered to drivers’ needs and raising awareness about the insurance claim processes. This initiative, known as ‘Driver Mo,’ aimed to alleviate the administrative bottlenecks that prevented over 80% of insurance subscribers from accessing their claims.

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Our past efforts culminated in the establishment of the YAFO Institute, an independent public policy research organization—or think tank—dedicated to promoting libertarian ideas and free enterprise research through public policy debate and advocacy for a free and prosperous society in Ghana. Our mission is to educate and connect students, young professionals, and entrepreneurs with global opportunities through free enterprise research and innovative public policy advocacy for a prosperous society. Every action we take serves as a catalyst, driving our communities toward greater freedom and prosperity.

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I am privileged to lead a bold team at the YAFO Institute, at the forefront of the fight for freedom and undertaking policy actions for change in Ghana. Our goal is to ensure that people are free to arrange their lives, liberty, and prosperity as they see fit. Our efforts in free enterprise research and advocacy have contributed to reducing the Electronic Transaction Levy (E-Levy) from 1.7% to 1%, and advancing opportunities in decentralized technology for youths. Most recently, our advocacy also influenced the withdrawal of the Import Restriction Bill for 22 staple foods.

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My leadership abilities at the free-market think tank in Ghana have been honed through a series of trainings that present immense potential to refine our strategic approaches and enhance our impact. Being part of Liberty International’s Project Arizona class of 2024 is an extraordinary opportunity that promises to broaden my horizons. It offers a chance to learn from seasoned think tank leaders and to be exposed to diverse, effective advocacy strategies for advancing free market ideas in Ghana.

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The journey towards freedom is fraught with challenges, yet I remain undeterred. I draw inspiration from Brad Lips, CEO of the Atlas Network, who said, ‘Our loyalty should be toward the ideas and institutions necessary to sustain freedom over the long term.’ As the leader of YAFO Institute, I am committed to this cause, laboring tirelessly to uphold and defend the principles of liberty in a politically polarized environment like Ghana’s.

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