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Opinions of Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Columnist: Arthur, Patrick Kobina

Mr. Next President of Ghana Give Science & Tech a BIGGER Chance!

*What became of the promise of 1.5 % GDP for Science?*

In 2008, I can clearly recall, during the presidential debate where the then candidate Atta Mills promised to devote 1.5 % of Ghana’s gross domestic product to fund science. This would have been an excellent development in Ghana, but the insistence of the moderator of the presidential debate, Prof. Ivan Addae-Mensah does not seem to have been a strong reminder enough. It has actually taken the present government three years to finally organize a national science congress, not to mention the zero funding provided for scientific research beyond the existing basal rate. Mr. Next President of Ghana, this country happens to be the only country we have, and making a determined and conscious effort at development is in our own interest.

All we are saying is give science and technology a real chance to change Ghana’s fortune and future. We have exported raw materials long enough; we have engaged in buying-and-selling for far too long and imported everything into the country all the days of our nation’s life. Moreover, we are still not making real progress. Therefore, we need the incoming president of Ghana to step back and take a long hard look at the developmental agenda of this country and realize that the big piece of the master plan that is still missing is science and technology. Most of us are not interested in which side of the political divide is in power, we care only about the supreme interest and life of the nation out of which we also have our lives.

*The word “Science and Technology” is not even in the development policy statements: *

It was exciting to learn that Nana Akufo Addo, the 2012 presidential candidate for the NPP was delivering a lecture titled “BUILDING A SOCIETY OF ASPIRATIONS AND OPPORTUNITIES IN GHANA – THE PATH TO PROSPERITY”. These grand policy statements are an indication of what the next president may have in store for this country when in office. However, a close up analysis of the 36-page document I downloaded from www.myjoyonline.com produced a disappointing result. One that clearly indicates, our country’s real chance at development may be at best far in the future, or will be illusive for a longtime. The analysis of the occurrence of certain keywords is as follows:

Document is 36 pages and 10,671 words long.

**Science = 0*

**Innovation = 0*

**Technology = 2*

**Research = 3*

**Ideas = 4*

**University = 2*

Health = 6

Skills = 9

Economy = 50

Education = 42

Development = 34

The issue is that, there should not be any discussion of Ghana’s development agenda without the mention of science and technology. If the word count for “science and tech” is so low or even non-existent in the grand policy statements, I am certain it will not feature at all in the budget statements. The idea of infusing science and technology into the fiber of the Ghanaian culture must be proclaimed at every national meeting and then matched with real actions. The continuous emphasis on superficial economic policy plans to the neglect of specific action items on science and technology, which is needed to construct the framework that undergirds any developmental process, is detrimental to Ghana’s future. As Ghanaians, we need to make sure that our leaders understand development and progress in the true sense of the process. We need to do more of science research, innovation and development to define and build enterprises that will be the drivers of our development efforts.

*Look at the six killer apps for the Western Industrialization (by Niall Ferguson*)*:*

ü *Power of Science and Technology*

ü *Power of Modern Medicine*

ü *Strong Work Ethic*

ü *Competition*

ü *Property ownership*

ü *Consumption*

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*Vital Scientific Discoveries and the Extension of Life Expectancy:*

The discoveries of antibiotics used extensively to treat infectious disease revolutionized medicine and saved the lives of many people during the World War 2. The development of an effective vaccine for polio and many other childhood killer diseases has lead to dramatic reduction of infant mortality and increased life expectancy in many poor African countries. However, these excellent developments were wholly achieved by Western countries and institutions with little or no participation of the beneficial African countries. Interestingly, these essential vaccines come to us as heavily subsidized.

There are many other diseases in African countries that are referred to as “neglected tropical diseases”, e.g. Buruli ulcer. There are currently no effective diagnostics and treatment for these diseases because the sufferers are mostly poor people living in rural areas. This is where national science policy needs to make the difference in confronting such difficult situations that are retarding our development. The western countries cannot do it for us anymore, we must deal with it ourselves and yes we have the resources but for the lack of effective leadership.

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*The Need for a New Composite Ghanaian Culture:*

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It is time to introduce new materials into the cultural fabric of this country; the result of what we have now is high burden of disease, poverty and deprivation. It is time to introduce new ideas to create the new composite culture that is high in the understanding and skills of science and technology. We have educated the young in Ghana that, their culture is only about drumming and dancing, this is all we did during our time in the cultural studies class. Whenever there is an event in Ghana the musical interlude in christened “cultural display”, as if life is all about dancing and drumming. This does not pertain anywhere in the world, the Ghanaian culture needs to change into a composite one that is embedded with the concepts of science and technology and move beyond the mere rhetoric.

If culture is defined as “the way a group of people live”, then it stands to reason that ‘how we treat diseases is culture, extending life expectancy is culture, industrial and technological innovativeness is culture and scientific breakthroughs is culture too. So are strong work ethic, empathy (I am because you are – NOT each one for himself), powerful vision, dedication to accomplish the impossible, creativity and improved lifestyle. We as a people do not owe our lives to our traditions and past practices and norms; the human spirit craves light and happiness and cannot wait. Many Ghanaians have joined other cultures and released their creative powers, a clear demonstration that the potential is there but cultural framework is holding us captive. This is why we need a leader who gets it when it comes to the importance of science and technology for development.

*Science and Technology Centered Development Agenda for Ghana:*

There is the need to change the focus of all science and technology programs in Ghana’s universities and polytechnics from merely academic programs and departments into direct enterprise generating units. Each faculty should be hired to be a part of a specific team with a clear mandate to develop a specific project, higher education should be through such systems and the problem of graduate employment will reduce. Where is the Starch Factory under the president’s special initiative? Moreover, why are most MASS-Transit buses broken down? We need to back these national projects with strong institutions with mandate to supply technical and scientific advancement.

Staff of research institutes should be mostly made of graduate students who contribute to projects as part of their training, research suffers when most of the members of staff are permanent. Permanent staffing inhibits initiative and innovation since people quickly settle into tasks they are comfortable with, besides their salaries would be paid at the end of the month. Ghana is endowed with *many intelligent young people*, what is lacking is leadership that will assemble them into indomitable and productive teams to attack projects with a strong sense of purpose and urgency.

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*STEMS is good for Development and STEMS is good for Ghana:*

South Korea along with many of the Asian countries has steadily invested in *s*cience, *t*echnology, *e*ngineering, *m*athematics and *s*tatistics (STEMS) and the result is clear. We need leadership to tap into the huge Ghanaian Diaspora of STEMS professionals to help Ghana and Africa leapfrog the early transitional difficulties. These people will provide a strategic mechanism for re-engineering the Ghanaian culture that is so impervious to the acquisition of the understanding and skills of science and technology. Nigeria recently sent another satellite (NigeriaSat-2 and NigeriaSat-X) into orbit, the wonderful thing is a joint team of UK and Nigerian engineers constructed the satellite. This is the great way of building local capacity and inspiring the young generation to aspire and place their talents in new and emerging fields. Ghana missed a great opportunity with the FPSO construction in Singapore; it would have been great if a number of Ghanaian engineers had been attached to the project.

---------------------------- Patrick Kobina Arthur (PhD),

parthur14@gmail.com

http://pakar1-corner.blogspot.com/