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Opinions of Sunday, 20 September 2009

Columnist: Adu-Gyamfi, Kwaku

Where Do our policymakers get their ideas

..... inspirations and aspirations and why are they sleeping behind the Wheel?

What or who influences their thinking and creative minds?

Not to be nitpicky, but shouldn’t our policymakers and community leaders be up in arms with Agribusiness companies from China and the western world than importing disease-induced GM food and chemically –saturated foods for the unsuspecting Ghanaian consumers? Where is the outcry and who is educating the public against the consumption of unhealthy food in the food chain?

National Threats:

Can our fragile National Health Insurance scheme be able to confront a rising tide of chronic diseases that are linked to unhealthy diet such the food we consume each day in the West? It is a fact; the chronic diseases we experience in the Western world are undoubtedly linked to poor diet that we consume wantonly. Ironically, it’s the same food our folks back home are enthusiastically embracing in Ghana. Our people do under the watchful eyes of our myopic policymakers.

Where were our policymakers and leaders when two-hundred thousand of Ghana’s JHS graduates who sat for the recent BECE were left to fend for themselves or “sentenced to a life of mediocrity?” Who are going to manage our yet to be drilled oil wells and its affiliate industries as the nation’s future work force is forced into a “class of dead minds?”

Few weeks ago, it was in the news that Service Commanders of the country’s security agencies were requested to identify emerging threats to the nation for the government to deal with expeditiously”. I beg your pardon? What is more of a threat to a nation than its two-hundred thousand young men and women---with all their God given talents left to rot because as a nation we failed to identify the needs of these children? Hel-lo !!

When are our leaders and policymakers going to search for ideas and solutions that will truly take Ghana to a middle income state?

Jim Rohn, an American leading motivational speaker once said: “If you can tell me the books you read and how many times you read, friends you hang around with and what they do for a living, how many hours you spend in front of a television and what you watch, I can pretty much tell you how your bank account looks.“ He goes on to say he can tell a person’s bank account by the size of one’s personal library and how one manages his time. He added, “People with small bank account tend to have big television sets and spend their time unprofitably.” In our case it will be the ownership of DVDs and the amount of time we spend on the cellphones and at funeral celebrations.

In a layman’s term, what Jim Rohn was trying to say is that we end up pretty much where we expect to be—what we think of the most is what we become. Therefore if we continue doing what we have been doing, we will continue to get exactly the same results. To get stimulated and stretched our minds we need to associate with people who can help us think of new ideas and new ways of doing things. How we think determines how we act and tackle issues. I wonder what our policymakers think when it comes to solving these cyclical problems.

My enquiring mind wants to know.

With no disrespect sir /madam, what are the titles of the last five books our leaders read this year or even you the reader? What kind of books and how many books do our politicians, policymakers, community leaders, chiefs, Assembly men and women and head of institutions read? Who wants to take me up on this one? And, if they don’t read where do they get their inspirations and aspirations other than what they get from churches and other religious institutions? How often do our policymakers, teachers, community- leaders and politicians try to be in solitude, mentally or physically? Do they go to bed wondering how best to improve the lives of the ordinary folks under their care or in their constituencies or communities? I wonder what kinds of books they read and how often and what influences their thinking. Finding answers to these and other questions will help us to understand why things are what they are in our part of the world. Finding answers to these questions will also help us to tone down on our expectations so that we do not get too disappointed.

This is not to question one’s leadership prowess and policymaking process. Neither am I trying to belittle our leaders’ competency and ability to do their job---yeah, right! I’m trying to put it very diplomatically and delicately. However, the unnatural decision -making process does not meet our expectations and future goals. The inability of some of our leaders in our communities and districts to solve our basic human problems has forced me to question their sources of ideas and inspirations. Their inability to be creative and think- outside- the- box makes me wonder as to what they do with their spare time and if they see the need to hone their “creative skills”.

Traditional Education is not enough:

This has nothing to do with traditional education because traditional academia only value things that can be quantified and measured. How can we quantify or measure one’s ability to understand or encourage others to live up to their expectations or potential? How do we measure one’s courage to tell the voters the truth they don’t want to hear? How do we measure one’s ability to seek out innovative ways to bring new methods to inspire people and see opportunities where others see obstacles?

How could traditional education alone help one to recognize that every change cracks open the door for opportunity? Or accept full responsibility for his results, rather than expect to be compensated for time alone? How can we encourage others to see the future with optimism, hope, boldness, enthusiasm, and the confidence that can come only from having faith in what may not yet be reality?

How can we measure one’s ability to go against the conventional wisdom, just by showing an academic degree? The traditional education can not do all that. So we need other sources of ideas and inspiration through mental or physical confinement and training.

Being able to have time to confer with oneself helps one to learn a simple technique to see things in a new way and stretches one’s thinking. It helps one to approach the usual in an unusual way, which can ultimately lead to new solutions.

There’s a need for one to spend time with oneself.

Could it be that our leaders don’t easily come up with earth-shaking ideas because they don’t create the right ecology where ideas can be germinated? Could it be that they are afraid to be “alone.” Many of our leaders and policymakers fail to tap their creative leadership power because they confer with everybody and everything else but themselves. Yes, we all know a few individuals who fit into this mode. You know one, don’t you? He’s the fellow who goes to great lengths not to be alone. He feels a compelling need to talk with others every waking moment. He also has an unusual appetite for a huge diet of small talk and gossip.

But, for us to solve our emerging problems our leaders and policymakers and ordinary folks need to have time out to confer with them in order to come up with uplifting ideas and solutions. It will unleash their creativity because what they would encounter each day without distractions and interruptions may present opportunities for a solution that would be the seed for an idea.

If water shortage is a problem in our communities what are our solutions? If our children are failing academically, what are our solutions? If our towns lack after-schools programs for our kids what are our solutions?

Managed Solitude is a tool

Being in a managed solitude is a leadership tool that every great leader needs to use in order to map out his or her vision and implementing goals. Check the lives of the world’s great religious, social and political leaders. Both past and present great leaders spent a great amount of time alone—in a managed solitude; voluntarily or coercively.

In managed mental solitude moments our subconscious minds tap our memory bank, which in turn feeds our conscious minds. Great thinkers use solitude to put the pieces of a problem together, to work out solutions, to plan, and, in the “super-thinking”.

You can see this characteristics running through great leaders from Moses to Buddha, Martin Luther King Jr to Mahatma Gandhi. Same can be said of Mohammed, Mandela and Kwame Nkrumah. They spent time in jail or in some form of physical or mental confinement. Lech Walesa, former President of Poland and Solidarity leader was imprisoned before he became a President. In fact ordinary writers and artists like the late Fela Kuti and Bob Marley were once in self-induced mental or physical confinement in order to hone their mental skills. As a result, these people developed unique skills from “solitude confinement.” They used these skills in every endeavor they undertook.

The people who change history are not the people who do safe things, take the easy route, follow the status quo, say what everyone else says or try to make everyone happy. They are also not afraid to be “alone.” Do you remember Gandhi, Mandela, Martin Luther Kings Jr and even Jesus? They were all on the “edge,” they could not have lived in the middle of the storm without developing mental solitude.

When I say “solitude confinement” I mean being mentally or physically alone—without TV, cellphones, friends and anything that will take away your thinking process. By being solitude means to take a week off and confer with your real self. You may do so by spending an hour in the park, turn off the television, cellphone and computer—carve out time for mental restoration. Does that mean one has to be imprisoned or isolated to have impact on the society and history?

Absolutely not. No one claims that being locked up and tortured is the best experience for becoming a great leader or someone who can make a difference in the lives of others. But, it’s believed that being in managed seclusion is highly relevant to building leadership skills and strong mental faculties because it challenges the individual to be creative. Those who share in “I-can’t-stand- being –alone” syndrome shun independent thoughts and only clouds their visions. Decisions and mental observations made alone in managed solitude have an uncanny way of being right most of the time.

Leaders need “quiet places” to generate creative ideas. The spaces between minutes one spends allow solutions and ideas to incubate and grow. That is why great geniuses sometimes accomplish more when they are alone.

Being in a managed confinement mentally or physically allows people to confer with themselves. It also allows people to read good idea generating books or brain- storm and develop a positive insight that will reveal a pathway for fairness, integrity, service and humane principles that give them security to adapt to change and take advantage of the opportunities that changes created.

Solitude helps to purge one’s thoughts of pride and superficiality to expand one’s horizons. The purpose of being in solitude or managed confinement is to repair all that which is faulty in one’s personality and thoughts. It’s a way of learning a lesson and making one more thoughtful and sensitive to others’ needs.

But, what lesson could compensate a person like Mandela for a life spent behind bars? Well, without doubt Mandela’s imprisonment deepened and enlarged his soul and thought by teaching him to be more compassionate and less privileged. He came out of prison totally different---a person with a lot of power before he went in. The power of ideas comes through thinking and thinking comes alive and powerful from being in solitude.

How many hours do our leaders, policymakers and community leaderships spend on researching and reading about issues and the jobs they were hired or elected for? How much time do our politicians spend attending the needs of their constituencies?

As a chief of your town how much time do you actually spend on one –on-one with your subjects or the ordinary people in your town? How many DVDs do you have as compared to the number of books? As a District Chief Executive or an MP how often do you change your car when you visit your district? After only seven months in office you probably weigh more than when you were elected .Be honest, don’t cheat on this one. What is your source of ideas, if any?

In a country like ours where one’s family or where one is born dictates one’s life outcome, the government needs to play a meaningful role not only in shaping one’s future but reduce the level of inequalities. That is why our policymakers should be very creative and sensitive to the needs of the people.

In a broader sense we need a visionary and inclusive leadership at the helm of our institutions –from chieftaincy to presidency. Our leaders should be alone to challenge the status quo and focus less on what Ghana is and more on how it ought to be. Trust me, many things are not as they ought to be in our part of the world. Yes, there is a tendency to become overwhelmed by the challenge of trying to fix things. But, we should focus on the possibilities—the endless possibilities within us.

I’m proposing the institutionalization of ”Think Week”: This is a time set aside for our policymakers, especially MPs and District Executives , to spend time alone to do their serious, creative thinking. Why not? Microsoft and other Fortune 500 companies do it, as well as every CEO. Perhaps if our leaders learn how to be in mental confinement maybe for a day, we can address the huge disparity and egregious inequality that exists between our living standards and the developed world.

By the way, leadership is not just the possession of vision and ability to think. It’s has more to do with putting a “system” in place that works for the benefit of the people it’s intended for. A remarkable leader creates not necessarily an earth-shaking idea, but a system which can out live him.

Take our energy situation. We always have electricity interruption in the dry season, when the rainfall doesn’t empty into the barrels of Akosombo Dam. We have been living with such inconveniences but no comprehensive solution has been given other than building more dams that depend on the same rainfall. Rather than of pursuing vigorously alternative energy sources like natural gas, wind and solar stations across the land we are still opting for the same old modules. We can even revitalize the rural Ghana with solar panels. What about harvesting our water resources?

On an individual level, there is enough blame to go round. Ghana didn’t get to this juncture by accident. It’s like all the social and economic problems including lack of integrity and laziness just sneaked into the country at night when everyone was asleep. Surprise! We can blame our plights on colonization and other forces all we want until thy Kingdom come. But, it should be known that our poor state of affairs is more internal than external. Everything that happens to us is largely of our own making. It’s a choice we make!!

These choices, of course, are not single monumental ones. No nation decides, for example, to become poor so that it could go panhandle for money around the globe, or sleep in darkness or scramble for water in the dry season”

Do we try something new, or stick to the tried –and-true? Do we take risk as a nation? Do we indulge our hearts or cater to our fears? Do we do what‘s comfortable? For the most part, we often tend to choose comfortable and familiar, the well-worn but well-known.

Yes, there are some conditions we have no control of like climate. However, whining about uncontrollable conditions won’t get us any where. Is it the display of our kind of creativity by cheating the system, government or our fellowmen or women and all the “evils” that we do?

“Connection” is a national game” This reminds me of a story about a New Year’s Eve village party. You may have heard about it. It’s about a village that was planning a grand New Year’s Eve celebration. Every member of the village was required to bring a bottle of wine and pour it into a huge plastic container, in the middle of the village. The convention is that everyone would share a drink from the container on the eve of the New Year. To make a long story short, a lot of people came from afar and near to empty their bottles into the container and were instructed to wait for the celebration at mid- night. As their culture dictates, the chief opened the valves and invited the people to join him for celebration. Whoops. Not too fast!

Something unusual happened. Every glass they raised contained water instead of wine. Another Whoop! One thing was obvious. Apparently, everyone in the village had the same wacky idea: “If all my neighbors bring great wine, no one will notice if I just slip in a bottle of water.” “Oh, heck my little bit of deception won’t be too bad to spoil the New Year’s fun.” So they thought. Does that ring a bell?

Unfortunately that behavior plays out in our work situation and everyday life in Ghana. We believe a little “cheating” the system won’t make a big difference. It has a dignified name. The good old Stealing or duping which is euphemistically called “connection” is practiced with impunity by almost every Ghanaian. But, what if as a mechanic your slacking off to fix the government buses’ brakes resulted in an accident, which unfortunately and coincidentally cost the lives of a lot of people? What if, your own daughter who happened to take the bus free that fateful day was among the dead?

What about the road contractor who thought a little cheat is not going to do any harm? He used one hundred bags of cement, instead of the official requirement of three hundred bags? Because of his lousy workmanship and work ethics the bridge he built didn’t last more than a year. It collapsed and claimed the lives of his two colleagues and their loved ones.

As a teacher the student you failed to teach five years ago is the same person who just robbed the bank and killed two innocent customers. He has no education and no marketable skills, so he turned into robbery for his survival.

What about the police officer who refused to arrest the driver who drives around with a faulty brake mechanism? The driver got into an accident and killed fifteen people after giving you GH5.00 bribe (all in coins).

As a chief and a community leader of your town you’re also jointly responsible for the poor academic performance of the students (the main “assets” of the town) because you failed to support them with much needed resources. You can’t do much because you’re spending the resources on unnecessary litigation instead of funding after-school tutoring programs to help the students on their school assignments. All it takes is to hire a teacher to help the kids to study after school, instead of them congregating at Video centers; to watch video shows proudly featured by my friend Agya Koo.

You’re a District Executive Officer and have engulfed yourself in party business so that the welfare of the people in your locality is secondary to your agenda. You think no one will notice the damage your poor stewardship is causing the district. How do you feel when you go to bed at night? What is the most significant action you took during your tenure? Did the ordinary folks benefit from your stewardship? It’s you and your conscience!!

Citrus farmers’ Connection: Speaking of conscience, do we have any? I was in Ghana six months ago, and I inquired about the closure of a citrus -juice factory at Asamankese in the Eastern Region. I was told that some few greedy citrus farmers decided to invent their own “connection” by beating the system and increasing their fortune by harvesting and supplying immature oranges that subsequently made the company incur a huge financial loss. As an obvious result, the factory closed it doors, and the credible farmers had no reliable market for their produce. The orange season will soon come and the poor, greedy farmers don’t bother to harvest the oranges any more. The oranges have become waste .A classic example of a “little cheating” and “connection” at work. Look! Who are the losers?

I believe each one of us is equipped with unique skills to accomplish our goals with creativity. So all we need is the right inspiration, books--- by authors like Zig Ziegler, Napoleon Hill, Dale Carnegie and Covey R. Stephen, just to name a few --- and environment to unleash creativity to flourish. Once we do that, we can engage in work that is an authentic fit and improve our lives and subsequently, this will improve our communities, and ultimately the entire nation. So don’t be afraid to spend some quiet time with yourself.

It always takes the unexpected unusual force or event to redirect our thoughts, courage, goals and ideas. So change, even if unwelcome, forces you to reevaluate what your best options are. Those times of mental transitions (“confinements”) are great opportunities to look for ways to build on the good and ignore the bad. “A mind that feeds only on itself soon is undernourished, becoming weak and incapable of creative progressive thought.”

Kwaku Adu-Gyamfi NJ, USA

* The author is a social commentator and a founder of Adu-Gyamfi Youth Empowerment Foundation for the youths of Asuom.