Saturday, 22 February

A piece of my mind: Ghana - The long road to nowhere

Feature Article
road to nowhere

Today I’m going to say some things that some people may find unpleasant. I'm going to ask some hard questions that some would wish I hadn't posed. I shall do so anyway. When I'm done, feel free to bash me if you like, or praise me if you will. Share with me whether or not you think I am right, and whether or not you feel we shall ever "arrive" as a country unless we totally reconstruct our national thinking - and - our leadership. 

I'm getting somewhat philosophical this morning, but do indulge me for just few minutes, will you?

Let me start with this question: where are we going as a people? Do you know? Can you tell me? A ship or an aeroplane slashes through the sea or zooms through the air - but with the guidance of longitudes and latitudes and a plan: a chart with a specific harbour, airport or airstrip in mind. If Ghana were to be a ship or aeroplane, my question to you reading this is where are we going? My answer? Only heaven knows!

America has the American dream - whatever that means now. The point is, they have a dream! What is our dream? The Chinese, now having the world's second largest economy, were in the technological backwater in the 1990s but today, out of every 10 things we use, especially here in Africa, two, three, or even four of them are manufactured in the world's production and manufacturing nerve centre: China!

Maybe you've not heard this yet so listen up: computers are essential to business operations around the world. We all know that. But are you aware that China manufactures over 90 per cent of the computers we use? Cell phones, which, in addition to being convenient, function as an essential tool in countries lacking traditional telecommunications infrastructure are now commonplace. Guess what? China makes seven out of every 10 of them. China produces 12 and a half billion pairs of shoes every year -- enough for every man, woman, and child in the world to have two. We had a shoe manufacturing plant under Kwame Nkrumah. What happened to it? I'll tell you. Visionless leadership killed it! Nearly half of the world's ships, the backbone of global trade, are made in China. I'm sure you get my drift so let me proceed.

China has also produced Jack Yun Ma, Asia's second richest man, who, at 55, is now hanging his boots as chairman of Alibaba group holding Ltd. Jack Ma co-founded Alibaba in 1999 when he was only 35. 20 years later, he is what he is: a global financial behemoth and a symbol of tenacity and grit.

But how can we forget that Jack Ma used to teach English for a living? Can you, as a teacher in Ghana today, even contemplate building an empire that would make you rake in some $41 billion at age 55? Here in Ghana you will work yourself even into the grave; and even after that, if there is work, you will do it in the afterlife to pay for our rising debt.

The question is: small as we may be as a country yet blessed with the big resources we have, including our huge natural resource for a country of our land size, can we not dream big dreams like the Chinese are dreaming? The Chinese have planned a global coup: to have 450 members of their population being billionaires and millions more being millionaires in the next few years and decades. Mind you right now, there are 705 billionaires in the united states and 285 in china.

That's a plan! What does that tell you, considering China's fortunes in the 1980s and 1990s and China's development now? One thing: positive change is possible. The point, though, is that positive change doesn't just happen. There must be a plan. My question, then, from the logical end of things is: where is our plan? I recently discoursed with the head of the national development planning commission, Professor Stephen Adei. After all the talk, one thing was clear: we do not have a real and effective roadmap for this country and we are not willing to invest in the right talents to execute even the wishy-washy ones we have concocted in the cauldron of mediocrity and party-centric politics in the past.

There is only one plan that is effective and efficient in Ghana and it has been so especially since the years after Nkrumah: to enrich selfish politicians; to cut corners and make gains through dubious means; to abandon projects of erstwhile administrations; to seek leadership, not because we mean to serve but because we mean to serve ourselves; and to commit eventual suicide by hanging ourselves with the rope of greed, mediocrity, laziness, ethnocentrism, needless political mudslinging and, for lack of a better word, sheer stupidity! I am sorry if you feel aggrieved but yes, we are stupid as a people! It is only a country of buffoons that will sit on the resources we have and still be poor.

Don't forget, for example, that Ghana is now Africa's largest producer of gold. Yet what do we have to show for it? How high have the standards of life risen for those in our major gold-producing communities? We are the second largest producer of cocoa beans in the world - yet how do our cocoa farmers live? How much more have we achieved because of this blessing of cocoa which we have turned into a curse? We have oil - maybe the oil is in our brains now because it is affecting our thinking and stifling our innovation. Simply put, we are bereft of the right thinking, the right leadership, the right attitudes and the right mentality. We are all washed up right now and until we do something about it in a world that is so keenly competitive and getting ever more competitive by the minute, we may return, not to individual slavery this time, but to collective and national slavery someday because the gap between the rest of the world and us will be so big that we would simply never be able to catch up!

We once had a dream like we recall from that wonderfully rousing speech by Martin Luther King Junior: a dream to be the best we could and to conquer the world. Maybe these two quotes by Nkrumah can summarise that dream and how far we have drifted from our original blueprint as a country.

1. “Countrymen, the task ahead is great indeed and heavy is the responsibility; and yet it is a noble and glorious challenge – a challenge which calls for the courage to dream, the courage to believe, the courage to dare, the courage to do, the courage to envision, the courage to fight, the courage to work, the courage to achieve – to achieve the highest excellencies and the fullest greatness of man. Dare we ask for more in life?” 

Nkrumah also says:

2. “Africa is a paradox which illustrates and highlights neo-colonialism. Her earth is rich, yet the products that come from above and below the soil continue to enrich, not Africans predominantly, but groups and individuals who operate to Africa’s impoverishment.” 

Wherever Nkrumah mentioned Africa, fit in Ghana and see whether what he said is not our stark reality today. We have failed, fellow citizens! Completely and abysmally! You see, professor Chinua Achebe of blessed memory, in his book "The trouble with Nigeria," speaks of how decades ago Nigerian leaders touted the fact that Nigeria had oil and vast natural resources and in the next few decades would be this and that while, in other western and emerging Asian countries, they were more modest and spoke of modest gains. Yet here lies the difference like we see currently here in Ghana: the leaders of those countries, while saying little and showing of less, worked a lot more. In this Part of the world, especially here in Ghana, our leaders are all big talk, “abrofos3m a enhia” - a lot of nonsensical rhetoric with precious little to show in terms of real work. Can you not see this, people? When shall we wake up from our slumber? When everything is already gone, destroyed, ruined? Up to when shall we fold our arms and look on while our leaders enrich themselves while ordinary citizens languish in want and penury? Until all our resources are dissipated?

You see, some members of the older generation may not care because they may figure they have already lived their lives and are now knocking on deaths door. But we cannot afford to do so as young, vibrant, creative and energetic Ghanaians. You know why? Our entire future lies ahead of us and we, owing to the poor showing of our current crop of leaders, have the mantle falling on us to change the course our country has taken or forever Hold our peace in poverty and a lack of national fulfillment.

Youth of today, we are the leaders of tomorrow and we must rise up for our generation and for posterity. Our leaders of today, from what I see, are clueless and will not, owing to the incessant negative or, should I say, reverse ageism that is so pervasive here in Africa where every older person thinks he or she necessarily knows more or is better for a position than a younger person simply by virtue of the age trump card - being older. I shudder for our country, because for two decades now I have critically followed our developmental evolution and the sad truth is this: we have not evolved. We are like a butterfly that never moves from the stage of being an egg to even think of becoming a caterpillar, much less a pupa or the ultimate, a full-grown butterfly.

But though I am frustrated as a young person in a Ghana where many young lives and talents are being wasted, I still dream. I have a dream that someday, Ghana will be better. I have hope that our country can return to being the black star of Africa. The fulfillment of that dream begins with you and with me - with a transformation in thinking and purposeful action. Like we say in football, it is never over until it is over. Let us think and let us work. Let us eschew greed so mother Ghana can succeed and we all can live above the demon of unmitigated need. The ball is in your court now. Do you or do you not agree with me?

My name is Benjamin Akakpo. You can hate me or love me, but that will not change me. I am a citizen, and this is a piece of my mind - raw and unedited.






Source: Akakpo/Host of Executive Breakfast Show (EBS) on Class91.3FM