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Opinions of Tuesday, 30 November 1999

Columnist: Baidoo, Dr. E. Kofi

The Missing Links Between Technology And Development In Ghana

Part 1: Introduction

In its fervent desire to develop, Ghana despite the rhetoric of revolution has pursued an open door policy, which has subordinated the ideas, creations and advice of its peoples to the so-called foreign experts.  Our leaders have become vocal about the problem of brain drain and its impact on development programs, and have to some extent, used brain drain as an excuse for importation of foreign experts.  However, within the country are large reservoirs of unrecognized or under-utilized indigenous talents.

If it is our desire to pursue a policy of growth with development, we should begin by learning from the lessons of development efforts in the industrialized countries.  Ghana must also undergo badly needed social transformation, and must develop confidence and instill self-discipline in its own people.  Our leaders must realize that technology development is a mandatory prerequisite to technology transfer.  Above all, it must be recognized that "no people can profit by or be helped under institutions, which are not the outcome of their own character."

There is a general belief that the solution to the problems of the development in Ghana and indeed in Africa, as a whole, can be found in the free and unfiltered importation of ideas, services and materials.  And in some cases, outright sale of our natural resources to these so-called foreign experts.  This opinion is predicated upon the fact that since our initial interaction with the colonial countries centuries ago, Ghanaians, either by free will, coercion, imposition of force, have gradually and systematically cultivated a taste for products from outside our boundaries.  This taste has not only become sharpened with passage of time; it has also reached an almost insatiable level since independence.  Our governments free market policies and the determination to satisfy this habit at all cost, continues to fuel overseas factories.  As a result, Ghana has become a dumping ground for all types of consumer goods without regard to the development of the local manufacturing sector.  In fact, the perpetuation of this situation at the expense of local manufacturers is the inability of government to make a very productive use of its indigenous human resources - the most important links between technology and development.

Technological over-gorging

For example, foreign ideas, products and expertise of all grades backed by the World Bank and donor capital have become the cornerstone of our "development" efforts.  To justify this approach, some of our decision-makers often remind us of our limitations, more especially, when they reflect on the multitude of possibilities of today"s technologies.  They fail to admit that the so-called Joint Program influences their decisions for Accelerated Growth and Poverty Reduction by the year 2000!  An economic condition imposed on Ghana by the IMF Ghana and the World Bank.  According to our leaders, we should hasten to accomplish in one or two decades what it took the industrialized world two or more centuries to achieve.  In pursuance of this goal, they have taken several quantum jumps in many of our national endeavors particularly, in the depletion of our mining deposits.  Although we fly our flags of national identity everywhere, we have persistently nurtured a dependent situation, which is entrenching "technology transfer" from abroad at the expense of technology development at home.  Consequently, like a patient on multiple medication, our people are beginning to show an inevitable, albeit negative reaction to our technological over-gorging.  And in the process, many of the programs already initiated or completed in the very recent past have become victims of technological misapplications, some of which may take generations to rehabilitate.

If Ghana is ever to correct its present over dependent situation on the industrialized world, it must first halt its unflinching search for a panacea to its unique problems, a search that continues to witness the global crises-crossing exercises of our leaders begging for foreign capitals at the expense of human resources development and meaningful utilization at home.  We need to develop confidence in our own abilities as well as in the abilities of our fellow citizens - the absence of this attribute in our attitude has become a major plague which continues to hamper our national development efforts.  In this context, it is appropriate to recall the words of a black American, Edward Blyden, who on his visit to Liberia in 1903 said, "No people can profit by or be helped under institutions which are not the outcome of their own character." (Stay tuned for Part 2)

Part 2: Manpower Development

Global interaction is here to stay, and Ghana and Africa can neither stop it, avoid it, nor control it.  As new nations emerge, advanced and more luxurious and faster jet aircraft as well as many other forms of global communication including satellite systems are bringing the new leaders and their peoples into greater contact and subsequent interaction with the lands and the people of the industrialized world.  In the last decades, c9ompeteitive efforts in space exploration have resulted in the launching of several and different types of space platforms and satellites.  The results obtained from these efforts have begun to contribute significantly to man"s knowledge of the resources of his planet, and have improved his capability to evaluate the extent, classification, quality and temporal and spatial change of these resources.

As Ghana and African leaders strive to cope with these technological changes, our leaders would equally note that the health and housing conditions in the countries, the agricultural productivity, manufacturing and the literacy level of the majority of the people would require major efforts and unparalleled dedication.  But unfortunately, the leaders must also contend with Ghana"s educated elites whose goals and aspirations as well as foreign taste are totally different from those of the masses.  Attention must be paid to our farmers especially, those who have built their fortune on cash crop economy such as cocoa.  The foodcrops produced by these farmers would become inadequate; especially since their children have abandoned farming for urban salaried positions and the government has made farming less attractive.  The food situation would progressively deteriorate.  Since no viable alternative method has been devised to increase local food production.  Ghana would have to choose between food importation and mass starvation of its people.  Invariably a substantial portion of the nation"s financial resources would be committed to food.

Our current efforts in manpower recruitment and development are based on foreign aid and would yield sporadic or unsatisfactory results when it is time to pay back the donor loans.  Because development without sustainable economic base supported by local manufacturing and technology sectors do not fare well particularly in Africa.  If this should happen expatriates who are afraid of economic burst and all its ramifications would take their skills and expertise to other greener pastures.  These factors and many more usually lead to a rather rapid turnover of central planning and do not provide the right climate for long rang planning.  On the other hand, the development of indigenous manpower through overseas training has created a new breed of local elite who, in many ways, is aliens in their own country.

At the local level, training programs are generally carbon copies of overseas curricula, and are often geared towards meeting foreign standards.  We fail miserably as we attempt to change the system, as it happened with Ghana"s SSS fiasco.  The desire for change is always influenced by politics of the time.  In this regard, the annual influx of foreign external examiners who are unfamiliar with the local situation has become a permanent feature of the educational system at the university level in many former British and French colonies.  These examiners scarcely have opportunities to exchange ideas with the students whose papers they review.  Infact, the examiner hardly knows the trying circumstances under which those subjects were taught, including a host of local infrastructure failures or inadequacies.  As for the student, he is quite aware of the status, which his new internationally recognized degree would grant him in his paper-qualification-conscious society.  The teacher"s research efforts are aimed at overseas journals without much effort being directed at seeking solutions to the multitude of local problems.  In the meantime, however, the prevention of tropical diseases and reduction of infant mortality, the design and protection of agricultural land from erosive agents, the design and construction of new roads, and the task of feeding the growing population, continue to receive aid and attention from abroad with a variety of inputs from the selected few within the government. (Stay tuned for Part 3)

Part 3: Lessons of development in the industrialized countries

At this juncture, we might reflect on how the industrialized world began and attained its technological ascendancy.  The latter became a reality because of bold individual initiatives, inventions that met the needs of the times, daring adventures, and the love for power and fortune.  Support for some of these came from a variety of sources including the Church and the State.  Thus, the crusading zeal, and the development and transfer of navigation technology in Europe resulted in the domination of eventual colonization of Africa, North and South America and part of Asia.  In Russia, the pursuit of a modernization policy backed by self-discipline, rigorous training and social transformation enabled Peter the Great to successfully annex Saint Petersburg (formal known as Leningrad) in 1709 after its seizure from Sweden.  A similar social transformation effort in Japan coupled with the determined Japanization of western technology constitutes the backbone of Japanese economic and technological strength today.  In the United States, however, the development of the cotton industry in 1709, the pioneer work of the Wright brothers in aviation which revolutionized global travel and interaction, and the unique and similar efforts of Robert Goddard in rocketry, guided missiles and space exploration which became the cornerstone of United States space program, were all products of individual dedication, hard work, and perseverance.  Many more individuals with or without the benefit of college education have made and continue to make unique contributions that are of benefit to mankind.  Paramount in these efforts is elements of self-discipline, self-confidence and self-fulfillment.

Desirable Changes in Human Resources Utilization

Ghana can also make significant progress in all aspects of its development efforts.  But first, it must effectively reverse the on-going practices which automatically subordinate the advice, ideas, suggestions, inventions and creations of its indigenous people to those of foreigners, since the indigenous expert is more familiar with the local situation than his foreign counterpart.  To achieve this, it must draw the line between social customs and technology development.  It must appreciate the nature and influence of one over the other, and it must delineate the boundary between "age and authority" and "knowledge and competence".

Our inability or desire to make this differentiation is ominous, more especially since the rivalry between the two has permeated our civil service, government-owned corporations and even institutions of higher learning.

Accordingly, members of the older generation are very sensitive and often find it difficult to accept even positive criticism, most especially from younger individuals.  To them, such criticisms, even on the non-functionality of public system, constitute nothing short of effrontery on the part of the perpetrator(s).  Invariably, individuals with good intentions become silent, and society may never benefit from their innovative ideas.  Situations often arise where an individual may choose to be different: for example, he might want to seek knowledge in a particular subject area not only for the sake of knowledge, but also for the eventual benefit of his nation.  It is not uncommon, however, that such initiatives are often misunderstood; the individual"s effort is seen, as in most other instances, as being motivated by the desire for personal gains within the community.  Eventually, jealousy may creep in, and once the education/training is received, it may never find a productive outlet.

What is apparent in these cases is the unsung but rigidly enforced requirement that individuals in the society should be conformists.  Conformity may, however, stifle initiatives, forbid experimentation and discourage creativity; it also may breed stagnation, which may subsequently lead to mental and professional decay.  People subjected to this type of experience often add to society"s growing list of parasitic consumers.

However, culture and technology can cross-fertilize and show improved results in the process.  Japan, more than any other country followed this path.  There, the techniques and knowledge borrowed from other lands underwent appropriate organic growth: the fruits of this effort were subsequently employed to foster and develop technologically progressive communities within Japan"s own peculiar social, economic, geographical and cultural environments.

In the past few years, much attention has been focused on the subject of brain drain from Ghana to the industrialized countries.  Usually, the handsome employment remuneration in the industrialized wold has been cited as the key element in the decision of Third World citizens to remain in or migrate to the industrialized countries.  But, what is often most overlooked is the fact that an indigenous citizen of Ghana or of any country is a member of the human race: his aspirations in life are not different from those of his counterparts anywhere else.  And like most human beings, he wants and needs peace of mind, he yearns for opportunities to develop and improve upon his skills, to think, invent, create, perform, motivate and be motivated.  Simply stated, he wants and needs to function if he is ever to be a productive member of the society.  But a variety of trying circumstances, both from within and from without, often renders this goal unattainable.  The most serious aspect of brain drain, however, is the multitude of qualified and capable individuals who are now idle in their own countries.  In several instances, their talents remain unrecognized and therefore unutilized, unchallenged and hence under-utilized, or misdirected and therefore misapplied.  Many of these have become, using the words of Christ, "prophets without honor in their own land".

Nevertheless, it is no secret that there is an abundance of Ghana"s highly qualified professional talents outside, the so-called Ghanaians in Diaspora.  What is still unclear, however, is how to initiate a process that would encourage these individuals to bring their skills to bear on the development of their homeland.  Irrespective of any such measures that may eventually evolve, these individuals would need to demonstrate some degree of perseverance and dedication if their efforts are to have the desired impacts on their return to their own country.

It has been said "the quality and the character of man"s perceptions as well as his subsequent responses are determined in part by limitations imposed by or opportunities available in his environment."  If he were to manifest any real growth and reach his higher potentials, his creativity would need nourishment from his environment.

If Ghana is genuine in its desire to mobilize its human resources at home and abroad, and motivate and inspire them for the good of the nation, it would need to put these ideas into practice, and use same as a combative weapon against brain drain.  In pursuance of its goal, it should be remembered that life offers few pleasures more invigorating than the successful exercise of our faculties.  Once in action, it unleashes energies for additional work.
As Ghana strives to carve a respectable place for itself in this age, it is difficult to understand how it would accomplish its development objectives without meaningful contributions from its own people.  Its one-way relationship with the colonial masters in the pre-independence era has given way, through global interaction, to an open-door policy.  Consequently, its territories are today strewed with a series of equipment that do not work, roads that continue to break up, telephone lines that are always dead, electrical power systems that give irregular or no power, and water mains that usually remain dry.  Like their long gone counterparts in other parts of the world, many Ghanaian inventors are living in penury and frustration as their ideas collect new layers of dust from year to year, and it may amount to heresy if one claims to have invented any product or developed any new idea when indeed, one is not associated with any ivory tower.  Infact, many of the problems that beleaguer the African countries may have been experienced and solved in another part of the same country or in a neighbouring country.  But there is a general belief or practice that an African expert or institution cannot or should not look up to another one for solutions to a problem that may have international ramification.  The general belief is that centers of expertise are only found in Europe and North America.  Thus in Ghana, where there are over three degree granting national universities, some with science and engineering faculties, the government still depends on foreign experts in development projects, such as road construction, mining, transportation and even computer technology.  Yes, they are good if they come from anywhere else other than Ghana! (Stay tuned for Part 4)

Part 4: A Search For New Direction

Not only have we come to accept the superiority of anything foreign or unnatural to us, but we have also discarded the time-honoured values of our society.  We have literally broken the shackles of colonialism but we still find ourselves tied in the very essence of it.  It is a situation Dr. Nkrumah referred to as "neo-colonialism".  Our on-going acceptance of "technology-transfer" as being equivalent to "technology transfer calls for the importation of ideas, materials and man-power from abroad, the technology transfer concentrates on their local evolution with inputs from abroad where necessary.  Local research and development are the cornerstone of this evolution.

At present, most subsidiaries of multi-national corporations concentrate any effort in research and development in their parent"s country of origin.  However, the desire to perpetuate technology transfer without development has been successfully challenged in a number of countries, particularly in India, thanks to the 1950 legislative initiative of the Indian government.  At that time, the government ruled that foreign companies could not be allowed to simply assemble vehicles in India.  This effort resulted in the establishment by Indians, of Tata Engineering and Locomotive Company (TELCO) of India.  Since 1954, when it associated with Daimler-Benz of the Federal Republic of Germany, TELCO has grown into the largest private research organization in the country.  Through the process of learning, research and development, TELCO has been producing Tata trucks - which is capable of enduring overloading, poor roads, chronic neglect and lack of regular maintenance.

A combination of factors made the achievement of TELCO possible.  First was the Indian government initiative in ensuring that the nation, instead of being a dumping ground for finished products (as it is currently happening in Ghana) which could be successfully manufactured locally, utilizes its abundant skilled human resources to meet its needs, and thereby conserve scarce resources.  Thereafter, TELCO initiated a large mandatory engineering and apprentice training program for its Indian employees with the counterpart foreign partners.  And through its research and development effort and its employee motivation program, TELCO is now designing and producing trucks with local capabilities and with the local market in mind.

Since most of African countries face similar problems, meeting local needs with local talents was uppermost in the minds of the delegates of the 138 member countries of the United Nations Development Programme including Ghana as they adopted a "plan to action" in Argentina in September, 1978.  The plan, born out of the desire for joint research in the Third World, suggested that Member States should "encourage existing national research and training centers to broaden their scope of activities to include programs and projects which are of interest to several countries at a sub-regional, regional and inter-regional level".  The plan also focused on the need for the Third World countries to combine research efforts and share results "both with one another and with other Third World countries by means of agreements on scientific and technological co-operation, strengthening national design, national laboratories, research centers and scientific and other institutions".  If these ideals were put into practice following the conclusion of the 1979 UNCSTD in Vienna, Ghana would have taken one of the essential steps in bridging the gap between its own development and technology.  Unfortunately, these ideas were abandoned during Ghana"s military adventurism in the 1980"s.
(Stay tuned for part 5- the conclusion)

Part 5: Conclusion

Finally, what is well known, but rarely practiced or encouraged, is that its peoples can solve most of the basic problems of Africa.  The repetitive failure of our water, electricity, telephones and transportation systems, just to name a few, may not necessarily be due to the harshness of our environment.  Part of the problem is linked with what technology experts at UNESCO refer to as the difficulties of creating a technologically minded society in Africa.  It is not enough to create such a community "only at the higher levels of specialization, but also at the lower levels of comprehension, where standards and excellence of technical handling are essential for the development of a genuine indigenous capacity which can respond to the needs of opportunities presented to it.  Without the development of this basic ability, the transfer of technology alone will remain unfruitful in the long run and tend to separate the communities involved".  But our elitist attitude manifested in part by our "pontifical aloofness from the woes of the common people" amongst us, and by our longing to be waited upon at home, at our place of work and in the market place by servants of every grade would need to change if we are going to accomplish this goal.  These attitudes have held in a form of bondage, a reservoir of men and women, who can be productive in many aspects of our rural economy.  We need to break loose our elitist shackle to make things happen in Ghana.

If Africa truly desires to simultaneously grow as well as develop, it should genuinely seek and find its own solutions to its many fundamental problems.  To begin with, it should reform its social structure so that it can productively blend with scientific and technological developments.  It should spare no effort to promote, encourage and enforce personal and social discipline among its peoples.  Its decision-makers should learn to be graciously receptive and not automatically allergic to simple constructive criticisms.  They should also differentiate between desirable model objectives and genuine national aspirations.  Ghana should develop confidence in its own peoples.  It should also initiate actions that will result in the optimal utilization of indigenous talents in national development efforts.  It should establish its own standards and be tolerant of the genuine mistakes or omissions of its citizens.  These are among the traits of a dynamic society, the type Ghana aspires to be. 

In pursuance of these objectives, Ghana must first direct its attention to technology development at home.  This is a mandatory prerequisite to technology transfer from abroad for subsequent local adaptation.  Above all, Ghana should be conscious of the fact that the goal of a nation is the collective aspiration of its people; a nation that aspires to be master of its own destiny must place a premium on the talents, abilities and the creative capabilities of its citizens. Without these the so-called Vision 2020 becomes yet another empty promise.