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Feature Article of Friday, 14 September 2012

Columnist: Owusu, Stephen Atta

Intellectuals and Scientists in Ghana are Unpatriotic

, Less Productive and Selfish

An intellectual appeals to, or uses, the intellect rather than emotion or instinct according to Webster dictionary. Intellectuals must have the power of understanding and the capacity for higher forms of knowledge or thought, characterised by intelligence and mental capacity. Wikipedia also states that the focus of the intellectual generally refers to learning, erudition, information and critical thinking. The distinctive quality of the intellectual person is the mental skills he or she demonstrates, and not simply intelligence but focuses on thinking about the abstract, philosophical and esoteric aspects of human inquiry and the value of his thinking. It is worthy to note that even though an intellectual need not be actively involved in scholarship, he or she may have an academic background and will, typically, have an association with a profession. In Ghana, however, people think anybody who has a higher university degree is an intellectual. An intellectual does not necessarily have to be a PhD or a Master's degree holder.

Intellectuals in Ghana have, so far, not given full support to inventors who only have basic education but have exhibited massive skills and talent. Apostle Kwadwo Sarfo of Kristo Asafo Church comes immediately to mind as a gifted inventor who cannot boast of any degrees. Invited guests and the general public marvelled at his dexterity and technological prowess at an exhibition where the Apostle displayed what he has manufactured. These include vehicles like saloon cars, (two types looked like land cruisers), armoured car with rockets, incubators, brick-laying machine that makes a thousand blocks in minutes, a solar powered generator and robots.

There are many degree holding intellectuals in Ghana who do not come anywhere near the prowess of Apostle Sarfo. The various engineering societies could offer research and technical support towards improving the efforts of Apostle Sarfo. This is where jealousy, short-sightedness and selfishness of our intellectuals come in. Is it because Apostle Sarfo is not a degree holder and therefore unworthy of their support?

What our intellectuals must know is that, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs started their empires from the garage without even finishing university. Why is it that we cannot also have such people in Ghana or even encourage and support the few we have in Ghana? Today Chinese people can easily copy any advanced engineering product made from the West and they are now gradually building up their own intellectual property base. Why is it that we cannot also start along those lines? There are Ghanaians doing some wonderful things too like Bright Simons who has invented a way in which even poor consumers can easily check the authenticity of patent medicines - a procedure which is being copied in other countries. But such people are too few. How can we increase the number of such people? We still don't have anything up to the standard of the widely popular m-pesa mobile money transfer system that started in Kenya.

The educational system in Ghana produces degree holders whose major ambition is to get a white collar job. With the introduction of the JHS/SHS system, education has fallen so low that many graduates cannot even express themselves well in English. Beside this, not many of them are productive as compared to Nigerian intellectuals. We used to laugh at the way Nigerians speak English, but for so many years now Nigeria has produced more practical and productive intellectuals than Ghana. Nigeria has more writers than Ghana. Most of the books we use in our schools and universities are written by Nigerians. We produce engineers, many of whom sit in offices and append their signatures to letters. It is true that a lot of the work of engineers is done in the office designing new products, systems, etc. However, the impact of the designs by Ghanaian engineers has not been felt in the country's development. One of the major fall-outs of the educational system was the way Junior High School (JHS) has been detached from the Senior High School (SHS). The JHS has been joined to the primary schools. The teachers at JHS are less qualified. Most of them are pupil-teachers.

There is a good example of the disconnection between the production of engineers in our country and the solution to a practical engineering problem. It is in the area of the production of PVC pipes. There is a costly problem in the manufacturing process which our engineers have never been able to find answers to. To produce PVC pipes, the manufacturers use raw materials known as high density polyethylene (HDPE). These materials are heated until they melt. They are then poured into moulds to get the required shape and size needed. A problem which the intellectual manufacturer has never had an answer or solution to, is when there is power cut during production. The raw materials in the machine which are melted remain in the machine. When they get cold, they turn into a solid form. The operators have no option but to open the machine and remove the solid materials. They are either thrown away as waste or recycled. Any of these alternatives is a heavy loss to the company. It is strange that no solution has been found by these intellectuals who are engaged in the production of PVC pipes.

A degree is a degree for Ghanaians who love degrees - the letters a person has before or after his name. They don't care what the person did to get the degree. Our society likes degrees too much even if they are hollow degrees. Most of these intellectuals, some of them medical officers, engineers of all kinds, actuarial scientists and many others all struggle to occupy positions in parliament and in the ministries principally due to pecuniary motives.

A Ghanaian computer memory specialist who worked at Nokia, Finland, was able to design a keyboard that had all the Ghanaian language alphabets and symbols on it, just as the Chinese, Japanese, Finns and others use keyboards that have their alphabets on it. The keyboard that had Ghanaian languages on it was certified and accepted by Microsoft. What was left was for the Ministry of Education in Ghana to accept it so that any new computers coming to Ghana would be accompanied by these keyboards.

The young inventor took a keyboard and the certificate from Microsoft and flew to Ghana. It took him a week before he could get an appointment with the Minister. He told the Minister about the keyboard and the Microsoft certificate of approval. He demonstrated the keyboard and how it worked, to the amazement of the staff of the Ministry. At his office, the Minister told him that he, the Minister, would need to show the keyboard to the President and the other Ministries. He told him that the certificates and the approval letters to Microsoft will cost him €28,000. Since he could not afford that amount which, for all intents and purposes, was a bribe, the keyboard was not accepted by the Minister. The Minister, a graduate from University of Ghana, has proved himself a selfish, unpatriotic and corrupt intellectual.

Let us compare the efforts and disappointment of the Ghanaian keyboard inventor to the Pakistani Master's degree holder in Nuclear physics. He was appointed by the Atomic Energy Commission of the European country where he studied. One day when everybody had left, he remained to tidy up the place. He opened one of the computers and while surfing, he saw, to his amazement, a step by step method of how atomic bombs were produced. He took his time and copied all the information related to the production of atomic bomb. He packed bag and baggage and left for his home country, Pakistan. He presented the information to the authorities concerned. He became a hero and very much adored. No bribes were demanded from him. Within some few years, Pakistan had developed her first Atomic bomb!!!

There are many who left Ghana to pursue further education abroad. Many have achieved professional and doctorate degrees and are occupying prominent positions abroad. I interviewed thirty Ghanaian intellectuals in U.K., Germany, and Finland who occupied strategic and prominent positions in various companies. Twenty percent said they were comfortable where they were and they affirmed they will never return to work in Ghana. Thirty percent were not sure whether they will return or not and that time would tell. Fifty percent were genuinely eager to return provided the country is ready to accept the ideas they bring.

If those in authority are ready to remove the clothes of short-sightedness, selfishness and jealousy from them and put on admirable clothes of patriotism, innovation and acceptable cooperation, many Ghanaian intellectuals will be ever willing to come home and share the ideas and knowledge they have acquired while studying and working abroad.

Many Ghanaians begin their education from home before going abroad to continue. The government must have a clear and radical policy towards attracting the Ghanaian intellectuals home such as the Chinese and the Indonesians are doing. If we want Ghana to develop like the Asian countries, steps must be taken to attract them home. It is a pity no government has shown interest in tapping the rich knowledge of Ghanaian intellectuals abroad.

Written by: Stephen Atta Owusu Author: Dark Faces At Crossroads Email: stephen.owusu@email.com.

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