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Opinions of Sunday, 19 February 2012

Columnist: Okoampa-Ahoofe, Kwame

National Service Déjà-vu

By Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D.

As one who performed my “A”-Level National Service at the Osu Presbyterian Secondary School between 1984 and 1985, before happily departing the Rawlings- and PNDC-blighted shores of Ghana, I can despondently attest, with incontestable credibility, that reading Mr. Obed Ofori-Bangdome’s report on the dismal lot of service personnel posted to state farms gave me jumbo goose-bumps (See “The Truth About National Service Farm Projects” Spyghana.com 2/14/12). It is almost as if the scheme, which was originally instituted by then-Col. I. K. Acheampong’s National Redemption Council (NRC) junta, in 1974, has been in a virtual state of stasis.
What is certain here, is the fact that Albert Einstein’s famous quote that “Insanity [is the process of] doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results” appears to have been specially composed for the Mills-led government of the National Democratic Congress (NDC). And to hear Service Executive Director Vincent Senam Kuagbenu inveigh against the fact that the overwhelming majority of our agricultural-college graduates want to have anything to do with just about everything save work in the discipline of their training is rather amusing. Rather amusing because rather than take the proverbial bull by the horn, by putting forth a comprehensive and a constructive strategic plan for attracting these highly trained graduates, it appears that Mr. Kuagbenu would rather have this sector of great economic potential envisaged in terms of the kind of sophomoric and primitive culture of hazing (or “homoing” ) routinely perpetrated against high school freshmen (and –women, for that matter) by their seniors in my day.
And so rather than judiciously liaise with the central government, in order to work out palatable logistics for sustaining the program in the long haul, Mr. Executive Director seems to prefer the cheap and pontifical approach by vacuously decrying the fact that an enterprise that has been unreservedly disdained since the British colonial era would, somehow, continue to drive away the best and brightest who have been trained for the job. An abstracted speech by the Service Director, for example, has Mr. Kuagbenu pontificating as follows: “We are told that agriculture fetches 35% of our GDP and employs over 50% of our people. Yet we are not able to produce [enough] to feed ourselves and export[,] even though we have favorable [arable?] lands and all the facilities. So why is this so? Every year[,] an average of a little over 2,000 [trainees] graduate from our faculties and colleges of agriculture and are deployed into the system. But not 1% of them get into real agricultural production[,] and we are all aware of the challenge [that] we face[,] with regards [sic] to the ages of our farming population. The last time that I checked[,] the average [ranged] around 51 to 60 years. But we are told that the success of every nation relies [depends?] on the youth and what we hold for the country….”
Indeed, we are not able to feed ourselves, let alone produce exportable surpluses because, to “hear” Mr. Ofori-Bangdome tell it, the Executive Director of the National Service Project appears to quixotically believe that making daily existence and working conditions reasonably comfortable for service personnel is the least bit among the things worth worrying about. And this is why he, apparently, would not go to bat for his boys and girls, as it were, in order to secure such occupational incentives as Wellington boots, raincoats and overalls for them. Rather, Mr. Kuagbenu prefers to tell his captive good-natured souls the kind of scatological inter-generational projective mythology that some of the senior bullies in my high school used to tell us “homos,” or junior students. “You homos are darn lucky to own a pair of Achimota sandals; in our time, even Charley Wotey (beach sandals) was a luxury.”
What fascinated me most about Mr. Ofori-Bangdome’s report was the part that dealt with the cynical visit by Mr. Johnson Asiedu-Nketiah, the general-secretary of the National Democratic Congress, to one of the Brong-Ahafo national service farms. Ever the propagandistic piranha, we are told that Mr. Asiedu-Nketiah collected a group of “illiterate” and “gullible” farm volunteers for an Animal Farm-like filmic documentary, which the “Bui Dam Woyome” intended to showcase in the run-up to Election 2012, as the centerpiece of the supposedly nonesuch economic development of the country by the Mills-Mahama government.
What is also fascinating about the report by Mr. Ofori-Bangdome, who also serves as the Brong-Ahafo regional president of NASPA, is the fact that the author is quick to point out, lest some casual readers overlook the same, that Mr. Asiedu-Nketiah personally handpicked these “illiterate” and poorly educated farm hands because their docility perfectly fits the primary NDC agenda of hoodwinking Ghanaians into mistaking dog meat for mutton.

*Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D., is Associate Professor of English, Journalism and Creative Writing at Nassau Community College of the State University of New York, Garden City. He is Director of The Sintim-Aboagye Center for Politics and Culture and author of “Ghanaian Politics Today” (Lulu.com, 2008). E-mail: okoampaahoofe@optimum.net.
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