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Opinions of Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Columnist: Mprah Jnr, Kwabena

Re: “Dr.” Spio Garbrah, Please Set the Records Straight

After reading the article headlined: “Dr.” Spio Garbrah, Please Set the Records Straight, which was published on on Thursday, February 12, 2009 I came to only one conclusion, that, many Ghanaian academics are very destructive. 

The article which questioned why Ekwow Spio-Garbrah, the Ghanaian Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Commonwealth Telecommunications Organization (CTO) calls himself by the title, “Dr.” was to say the least the most disgraceful thing done by Ghanaian academics in recent history. 

I am not too sure why some people have gone to school purposely to cause destruction and havoc to the society. Instead of using the education we have acquired to invent tools to aid our developmental agenda, we preoccupy ourselves with destroying the few progressive personalities in the history of this continent! 

Sometime, in the year 2005, there was huge controversy between Apostle Kwadwo Sarfo, a Ghanaian industrialist and some elements within the Ghanaian academia. In fact, the debate was so petty that I began to ask myself whether as a people, we were really serious at all. 

Apostle Sarfo’s crime was that he dared to question the aptitude of recent products of Ghanaian universities. So some members of the academia descended heavily on him. Some said he had never invented anything but was rather engaged in ‘reverse engineering.’ My opinion was that Apostle Sarfo has done very well. He has made limousines that actually work, he has made air conditioners, he has his own versions of liquid crystal display television sets and his work in the agricultural field is simply beyond comprehension. These are all relative to his poor educational background.    In fact, Apostle Sarfo does not boast of any formal education. He was not even able to complete his middle school education. But he stands very tall in his achievements. Even the accomplished Ghanaian Engineer, Robert Wood has never questioned Apostle Sarfo’s mind boggling innovations. 

Some time ago, some elements in the Ghanaian society even sought to get Komla Dumor, a famous Ghanaian broadcaster with the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) sacked. His crime, according to his detractors, stemmed from their perception that Komla was too critical of the past NPP government in Ghana. Well, they failed so badly in their mission because Komla was recently promoted at the BBC!    

At the time I was reading the terse but destructive article written by the two purported PhD holders, there was a very interesting debate taking place on the BBC. The BBC debate sought to establish whether science research had contributed anything meaningful to our continent.   From the contributions on the BBC programme, I simply told myself that we African intellectuals and academics should rather bow our heads in shame for failing the continent.   Education is part of the culture of a people. And as far as I am aware, culture becomes irrelevant if it refuses to be progressive. And to the extent that many of our academics have not discovered anything meaningful which has been able to transform the lives of our people for the better, I’d rather say that western education has been more destructive than progressive. 

I also wondered why some ‘professionals’ should form an association just to ‘strip’ Ekwow Spio-Garbrah of an honourary title he uses. As far as I am aware, academic degrees are not necessarily earned – they are largely awarded. And it therefore becomes the preserve of the recipient of such degrees to either use them or not! That is why many African leaders, such as Dr Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia, Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe of Nigeria, Dr Kwame Nkrumah, and many others did not earn academic degrees but chose to use their honorary degrees. So Spio-Garbrah is not committing any crime or fraud.  

Spio-Garbrah is not committing a crime simply by prefixing his name with “Dr.” After all, the authors of the text themselves admit that the subject of their unwarranted attack had the degree conferred on him at Middlebury College, which is the same university where Bill Clinton was also awarded an honorary doctorate a year later.!  

Before I digress too much, how effective have the chains of titles we have struggled over for all these years been in eradicating poliomyelitis or malaria? How have the many archaic PhDs helped in solving our backwardness? How effective have we utilized our PhDs in breaking new frontiers in developing new models for governance or business? 

This reminds me of a popular joke during my graduate studies programme that Ghanaian professors are only identified by their long gray beards and their old school mini-shirts. 

The attitude of the two writers also reminds me of an incidence at an academic board meeting at the University of Ghana. During that meeting, a female lecturer who did not have a PhD at the time proposed a review to a motion that had been tabled. In a typical bully tactic and with the usual “professor is a paragon of wisdom fashion”, the middle- aged lecturer was told by a professor to “shut up. “If PhD holders are talking, why should you also question their wisdom?” was the attitude.   Well, that female lecturer friend of mine has since acquired a PhD! And that is how bad the situation is with the Ghanaian academia.   Asamoah and Appiah, the most progressive people in the world, have not been reputed to have acquired the most university degrees. People with the most degrees have also not been scientifically proven to be the ones with the best intelligence quotients (IQs). In fact, Bill Gates, Chairman of Microsoft and chief software architect of same did not complete his Harvard University education. However, he is reputed to be one of the few persons with extremely high IQs, and if PhDs were the determinants of success in life, then Gates would have been a total write off. 

In history are also Larry Page and Sergey Brin, co-founders of the most popular search engine on the World Wide Web, Google! The two young brains, who are both barely 36 years old, founded Google in the dormitories of Stanford University when they hadn’t then completed their PhD dissertations!   I have had many running battles with some Ghanaian PhDs in recent times and I think that based on the article under reference, I can say without any doubt that many of our academics are simply retrogressive. 

Ekwow Spio-Garbrah has achieved a lot for himself and Ghana. This is not the time for some fake names to hide under a tenuous organization to pull him down. Do the writers know that Ekwow Spio-Garbrah’s classmates at Achimota School consider him a child prodigy for having passed his Common Entrance to enter Achimota School at the age of nine, completing his O-Level exams at the age of 14, and even topping his A-Level Class at the age of 16? Do they know that he graduated from the University of Ghana topping his class at the age of 19, and declined University scholarships to study for a PhD in English Literature and also a PhD in Communications? Do they know—as many Ghanaian journalists such as Kofi Coomson of Chronicle fame know-- that Dr. P.A.V. Ansah, then Director of the School of Journalism at the University of Ghana told the whole world that Spio-Garbrah was the best student he ever had, after Spio-Garbrah topped his graduate class in Journalism and Communications? What about the fact that Spio-Garbrah’s record in obtaining a Distinction in his Master’s Degree at Ohio University has been cited by American professors who taught him then to other Ghanaians enrolling at that University to this day. Do “Drs”Asamoah and Appiah know that Spio-Garbrah was actually admitted in 1979 to two full Fellowships to undertake studies towards PhDs at Syracuse University in New York and Temple University in Philadelphia, but he declined because he also had received simultaneously a very exciting job offer from Hill and Knowlton, New York, then the world’s largest public affairs firm in the world—the first African to be so employed in that 1000+ professional firm?  

Actually, some schoolmates of Spio-Garbrah have advised me to invite Messrs Appiah and Asamoah to consult with any number of quite prominent Achimota School classmates of Spio-Garbrah if they want some assurances regarding his academic ability—as the two ‘doctors’ point out that Spio’s official CV does not include any academic qualifications.  Some of these classmates of Spio, I understand, include Ambassador D.K Osei, until recently the Secretary to President Kufuor; Ambassador Thomas Kwesi Quartey, currently Ambassador to Ethiopia; Hon. Isaac Osei, formerly Ghana’s High Commissioner to the U.K., subsequently CEO, Cocobod and now an MP in Ghana; Mr. Edmund Akufo-Addo, brother of the NPP’s presidential candidate for the 2008 elections (Nana Akufo-Addo) or Mr. Kojo Botsio Jnr, son of the Minister of same name under Kwame Nkrumah.

The authors displayed a lot of recklessness in their piece. The person who was subject of their vain attack is actually called Ekwow Spio-Garbrah. And the two PhDs could not even get his name correctly!

I have some education for the authors. A honourary degree (honoris causa – Latin) is an academic degree for which a university or other degree-awarding institution has waived the usual requirements (such as matriculation, residence, study and the passing of taught subjects). The degree itself is typically a doctorate or less commonly, a master’s degree, and may be awarded to someone who has no prior connection with the institution in question. Usually, the degree is conferred as a way of honouring a distinguished visitor's contributions to a specific field, or to society in general. The university often derives benefits by association with the person in question. Although I admit that recipients of honourary doctorates do not usually (sic) use the title ‘Doctor,’ there have been notable exceptions. The recipient therefore has the choice of whether or not to use such a title.

Apart from the fact that the two ‘PhDs’ could not spell Ekwow Spio-Garbrah correctly, they also got the Latin spelling for honorary doctor very wrong. In line one of paragraph one, they wrote “…view that when you get an honorary Degree (honoris caus) you don’t use...” The spelling is honoris causa and not honoris caus as the two authors wrote! These points might look like trivia but I think that every competent academic who seeks to question the intellect and honesty of his peer should have been more meticulous than Kwame Appiah and Kwaku Asamoah did with their contemptible piece! 

One of the authors also gave himself away so easily in the comments column of When I asked him to put his PhD dissertation topic up for me to see, this was what he gave: “Quantifying the Impact of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) and Food and Mouth Disease (FMD) on the Japanese Beef Industry.”  

If I want to edit the dissertation topic above, I am sure the university which ‘awarded’ him the PhD would simply withdraw it. But the co-author, Kwame Appiah who responded to my query should know that there is nothing such as ‘Food and Mouth Disease’ but that there’s a “Foot and Mouth Disease”.   I decided to Google his topic and from all indications, the author ‘might’ not even be real after all. After a very comprehensive search, I realized that there is no author of such a topic. The key authors on the topic are J. Pritchett, H. Chang, T. Josling, D. Thilmany and K. Johnson.  

Well, it could be true that the writers used aliases. It could also be true that indeed one of them actually worked on that dissertation but that the work was never published on the Internet and the work was actually left to gather dust at the library of a certain monastery. 

If they used aliases, I can only call them cowards and if the title of the work the person sent me has not been published on the web, then I suggest he should move away from the Stone Age and get his work published. 

Whichever way, let’s stop expending our energies on destroying our own. I am aware Spio-Garbrah is a politician and his opponents might want to damage his career or diminish his achievements. But this is certainly not the way to do so. And indeed, as some attempt to deny him the recognition he deserves the more they make him a household name. “What some intend for evil HE will turn to good.” 

Spio-Garbrah calls himself “Ekwow” and asks all and sundry, even people much younger than him, to call him as such. He has earned the titles of Ambassador, His Excellency, Honourable and Doctor, but has never taken anybody to court for mentioning his name without a prefix. Let’s use our intellect to help rid our continent of hunger and disease and stop pulling progressive people down just because of petty jealousy!

By Kwabena Mprah Jr.