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Opinions of Wednesday, 20 March 2002

Columnist: Agyeman, Akwasi

Ghana: 45 years later...

As the debate raged in Ogyakrom on the Supreme Court ruling on the FTC ruling and the absence of the president during the Independence Day celebration, I lay awake in bed. My mind raced back to my early years when my dream was to be a lawyer – a dream that fizzled when I was told how lawyers were buried! But what was keeping me awake was larger than a missed personal dream. I found myself asking, "Where has the 45 years gone for our country?" "What have we done with our country?" and "What do we want to do with our country in the years ahead?" How far have we wandered from our original path if there was any path? What have we learned that should have pointed us in a different direction?

As we continue to goose step onward as a nation, enduring life as a form of the living dead, it is time for reflecting on our responsibilities and obligations to our country. As we look into the faces of our formerly all-powerful mothers and fathers and see in their eyes for the first time the terrifying specter of defeat, we see, in effect, our own future.

As countries discuss the exciting prospects of gene cell therapy and technologies to make inter-planetary space travel and the discovery of extraterrestrials a reality, here was our “so-called” political leaders discussing the constitutionality of a computerized court system and the absence of our president to take a 6th march salute! Oh Ama Ghana – As if the earlier forty-four 6th March parade presidential salutes took us out of the doldrums! Evidence strongly suggests we are increasingly moving toward the characteristics of the fortress world – a society of "haves and have nots" and the poverty of the vast majority of our people who live below poverty level today cannot be remedied overnight. However as a society, we need to accept the fact that our present circumstances demand radical changes - notwithstanding the fears of our rulers to make the positive changes we fought for. We must eliminate the idea of survival of the fittest as a rationalization for our lack of a social conscience. Most importantly, we must accept that it is na?ve to assume that the "invisible hand" of God is the answer to every question. The difference between lifestyles of the rich and famous and everyone else is increasingly becoming scandalous and with it an increased sense of injustice leading to an increased justification for acts of violence. As conditions worsen, the resentment and bitterness of those living on the outskirts of prosperity grows. Increasingly those lacking the means to sustain not just a reasonable standard of living, but to sustain life at all, will try anything to get a chance at a better life- armed robbery, drug smuggling, violence and prostitution.

Yet I would never underestimate our potential to accomplish even the most seemingly impossible. We are a people with limitless potential but things are never going to change until we make CHANGE our most important issue. The fact is the future is too important to be left to our political leaders alone to decide for us and too uncertain to leave to the economists at the IMF. The future cannot be predicted. It must be created. Created from below, based upon our own conscience, our own set of values, our own sense of right and wrong, and the legacy we want to leave. To be achievable and sustainable it must be a vision that is so compelling that no man could bear to give it up and return to colonialism.

But we continue to be overwhelmed by the complexity of the problems we have created and paralyzed by the seemingly intractable path of destruction we are on. As a nation, we have failed to deliver on the promises we made 45 years ago. Yet the change we desire is not going to be easy. After a year of “positive change”, the change junkies have realized that change is frightening, painful and inconvenient. But we need not and cannot give up! We tend to lose our sense of purpose when even a simple change rattles the foundation that serves to anchor our everyday world. But that is the bitter pill we need to swallow for our ailment.

Government needs to take a proactive approach to legislating rules and constraints and the ethical base required to achieve a country where everyone has the opportunity "to live as well as everyone else," where our resources are not ravaged by a few to the detriment of not just other people living now but future generations as well.

This moral commitment has to extend beyond just rhetoric’s. The whole idea of solely voluntary efforts by even the most well intended businesses to solve the massive social economic and environmental problems we face is too incredible to even warrant a serious argument. Government must not only sound the battle cry but also be involved in the battle proper. This battle must be waged in every sector. In the economic front, the “golden age of business” must be moved into second gear. We need policies that will make our local industries (if any) competitive. The recent US steel tariffs should be an eye opener to us that we need to protect our own. If the “father” of capitalism is doing it, what stops us the “embryos”.

The idea of the private sector fund should be fast- tracked (supreme court willing). Maybe we could kick start this along the lines of the existing educational fund. Setting aside a percentage (.5%) of the VAT revenues to an investment fund to be administered as a strategic investment wing of the government should be one sure way of injecting blood into several malnourished firms. If this is done it will be time to gradually withdraw SSNIT’s role as a strategic investor and protect the contributions of our overworked and underpaid fathers.

Our educational policies should be jolted. We need to do a better job of rewarding good teachers on an ongoing basis through better incentives. Our curriculum should be changed and teachers oriented towards not just teaching the facts but how to think. Like Socrates who had a student named Plato, who had a student, named Aristotle, who had a student, named Alexander the Great. The continuous assessment concept should be stressed – with homework given everyday to each student and such homework forming a substantial part of the final grades. That way no teacher will need to be chasing students during prep time to go and learn and it will help keep students busy and move them away from social vices. Why after 45 years do we still import cycles from Korea when we have KNUST? Government’s private sector fund can enhance the academia/industry discourse.

On health- we need to immediately change the cash and carry system. Emphasis should be placed on community primary health centers in areas like Kofi Wayo’s Nima and in the deprived rural communities.

The ministries of agriculture and local government should work in close tandem to promote community farms. It is an eyesore to drive through a constituency like Birim North with vast months of land lying idle only to get to the next town to see young able-bodied men playing draught. The shareholding structure of such farms should ensure that the community’s interest is aligned with its success.

We all need better information to raise the public conscience and the media (which lives by the rule "if it bleeds, it leads") needs to accept more responsibility for fairness in reporting, for avoiding the sensationalism that has turned most of us into cynics when it comes to societal problems. We should want more and we should expect more from everyone – from the media; from businesses; from our educational institutions; from our elected officials; and, even from our children who have more to lose or to gain than anyone in this debate.

As a nation, we have failed to live up to the responsibility that goes with greatness and the great gift of wealth and opportunity we have inherited. But it's not too late.

And there has never been a time in history when we have more choices, more opportunities to put people before things, others before ourselves, and needs before abundance. The responsibility starts with and ends with each of us as individuals.

Mahatma Ghandi once said, "Be the change you want to see in the world." And there's never been a time in our nations history when it mattered more. An American economist, Lester Thurow, once said, "A competitive world has two possibilities for you. You can lose. Or, if you want to win, you can change." I firmly believe that the "good times will roll" in our country if we are willing to face the future with fresh ideas and treat CHANGE like a great opportunity.

In unison lets sound the battle cry….yen ara ye asaase ni !!!


Akwasi Agyeman,
A.B. Freeman School of Business
New Orleans, LA
USA