Feature Article of Friday, 11 May 2012

Columnist: Mensah, Dominic

Public Ignorance as Means to Progress in Ghana?

As Ghana's 2012 Election draws closer, what is increasingly becoming obvious to me is the fact that common sense and ingenuity seem to be rare gifts among our politicians. Concluding from the contents of recent national politics, the impartial concerned Ghanaian cannot help but to feel sorry for the Ghanaian child whose future depends on the policies those privileged to be in power put into place today.

For the next moment, let us all pretend we cared about the future of Ghana. From the perspective of our national development, we have to agree with Newell Dwight Hillis, who in 1896 in his book, A Man's Value to Society Studies in Self Culture and Character, posited that “The largest wastes of any nation are through ignorance.” If Cicero believed that a room without books was like a body without a soul, what do we have to say to a nation without a functioning library system? In a world whose economy and development depend on skilled labor, what future could a nation have, which willingly neglects the mental development of its young men and women? How do we create a culture of critical thinkers necessary for our nation's development if our children do not have access to books? Are the managers of our country aware that the ultimate value of our children are their intelligence?

In frustration over these questions, I am writing this essay to argue what the possible impact of

human development could be if we constructed quality education, training, various centers of learning for our children. Andreas Schleicher, the Deputy Director for Education and Special Advisor on Education Policy to OECD’s Secretary-General, recently argued that “The only sustainable way [to become innovative and effectuate an acceptable standard of living for our citizens] is to give more people the knowledge and skills to compete, collaborate and connect in a way that drives our [country] forward…” Thus, what must be done should be very clear to all.

Now, let us address the sad condition of the public library system in Ghana. Upon a closer scrutiny of our public education system, it is disturbing to note that we barely have functioning public libraries in Ghana. That was not always the case. The Ghana Library Board (GLB) was established through a generous contribution of £1,000 donated by the late Rt. Rev. John Orfeur Aglionby, the then Anglican Bishop of Accra in 1950. With its inception, the GLB aimed to provide a nationwide library service. In that same year, networks of libraries comprising ten (10) Regional Libraries and fifty-three (53) Branch Libraries were established as a result of the Public Library Act of 1950. The duty of GBL was to establish and maintain public libraries all over the country. Consequently, it was projected that by the year 2000, libraries would have been established in all district capitals, as well as some of the minor communities in Ghana. What has become of this noble mission? Regrettably, the GBL has failed on its mandate, leaving our libraries to deteriorate and collapse. When I checked the GBL's website yesterday-- (http://www.ghanalibraryboard.com/index.cfm)-- I saw a picture of an Afro American girl with set of books in the background as cover picture of the website. The other pictures on the website could not have been taken in Ghana, and obviously not in the library for that matter. The website, it appeared, was last updated on Saturday, April 26, 2008. The contact lines as listed on the page still have the old Ghanaian city codes: Tel [land]: (233-21) xxxxx / xxxxx; Fax: (233-21) xxxxxx.

What does this mean? How could we have failed to establish such centers of knowledge? Can we talk about authentic progress if the masses are left ignorant? Should our politicians be taken seriously when they talk about moving Ghana forward under this condition? Do they know what it takes to develop a nation in our globalized world of sophisticated and competitive market? Who is going to educate our elites and political aspirants that their duties should not be treated like a spectator sports which they only watch and pay attention to during election time? Apparently, the masses are seen as bewildered herd whose purpose is to vote to ensure our politicians are re-elected. Now, It is of the utmost importance that those serving in public office recognize these centers of knowledge and learning serve as effective catalyst to help all Ghanaians live up to their potential and therewith bring desirable progress to Ghana.

We cannot hope to develop our nation in the modern sense if we do not dedicate ourselves to learning in order to help create a critical mass which is vital in all nations interested in authentic development and progress. Thomas Dixon, deservedly affirms in The Ingenuity Gap that, if our societies are to manage their affairs and improve their well-being, they will need more ingenuity, that is, more ideas for solving their technical and social problems.

In Man's Value to Society, Newell Dwight Hillis further argues that "One wise and original thinker [can] shape the destiny of a nation, and multiply himself in the lives of future millions." Who and where are the wise men and women to lead us to shape the destiny of our nation? Hillis in the same book asserts that primary fountains of a nation's wealth are not in fields and forests and mines, but in free schools and printing presses; i.e. books.

Our leaders have neglected to invest in the minds of our youth for so long. For consecutively neglecting to invest in the mind of the Ghanaian child, are the actions of our leaders- both past and present- any different from that of a wicked and ignorant government whose actions can brutalize a nation and even cripple generations yet unborn? It is in our interest to ensure that the majority in our country are educated and empowered. Ghana can never become great and competitive without a critical and enlightened youth. And if our children are to become great men, the keys to the rooms filled with great books must be opened to widen their perspective and experiences and in time develop great thinkers and performers in arts, culture, science, literature etc.

In the Trouble with Nigeria, Chinua Achebe rightly asserts that "the trouble with [Africa] is simply and squarely a failure of leadership." He adds that "The [Ghanaian] Problem is the unwillingness or inability of its leaders to rise to their responsibility.” The first generation and second generation and even to a degree, the third generation of Ghanaians born before and after our much cherished but nothing to show-for-it independence had missed the 20th century. Our children will also miss the 21st century and leave no future for their children unless we save it for them.

To save it for them, that is the moral duty of the educated Ghanaian! Must we not think there’s a correlation between the achievements (development) of South Korea and education? South Korea’s illiteracy declined from approximately 25 percent after the World War II to essentially zero today. South Korea took the subsequent years after a bitter civil war to eradicate illiteracy and ignorance from its populace. At the time South Korea was busy diminishing illiteracy in its country, Ghana’s leaders were busy looting Ghana’s revenue. Let's look at one consequence of that: Samsung in 2010 had a revenue of US$ 220.1 billion with its 344,000 employees; compare that to the 2010 official GDP of Ghana with its 24million people. And Ghana was essentially better off than South Korea in 1953-- even into the 60s. The message should be clear; we can no longer allow power-drunk politicians to exploit our ethnic and linguistic differences to advance their political careers at the expense of the general welfare of Ghana. We all hope for progress and development in Ghana but Ghanaian sentimentality and public excitement should not be promoted at the expense of intelligence and rationality.

Dominic Mensah,