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Opinions Wed, 19 Jun 2013

Ghana's silent inventors

Regards. GHANA'S SILENT INVENTORS: "STEVOM CAPTAIN" STEPHEN OWUSU-MENSAH

Compatriots,

Ghana has a lot of talented ordinary but Special People, whose work remain marginalised and unsupported. These ordinary but Special People include: inventors, thinkers, rousing public speakers, educators, courageous charity workers, child geniuses, experiential historians, elderly oral literature (orature) memory banks and extraordinary entrepreneurs.

I hope in my small humble way, this symbolic gesture will sound the necessary alarm to attract the right investors from both government and the private sector to help elevate the landmark efforts of these Special People.

Today, I want to publicise the life and work of Steven Owusu-Mensah - aka, STEVOM (Email: stevom@europe.com). With slight editing Stevom speaks for himself. I first asked him about his background:

BACKGROUND "I attended Adum Presbyterian Boys School, in the 1970s and lived at EFIKESIEM-NANA ADUSEI, near old S.A.T, KATABAN HOUSE, opposite GHANA DRUG HOUSE. I moved to Tema after my schooling and attended, several Technical institutions: Koforidua Secondary Technical Collage ( GHATECO ), Accra Technical Training Centre (ATTC), Kokomremre.

"I started humbly as a young creative art and craft artist, like Osofo Kwadwo Safo, at Adum, Kumasi. I worked as a Tally Clerk at Tema Harbour with GHAPOHA and BLACK STAR LINE (shipping company).

"I built my first workshop in the form of a Captains Bridge. This used a lift I made from washing machine motor, coupled with gears and pulleys, that lifted me to the first floor at the back of my double Decker workshop. This was at Community 2, BBC, TEMA, near the old Day Care Centre (Kalamazoo Time-Tells).

"My workshop attracted a lot of visitors including: Vicky Tetteh, Mac [Tontoh?] and Bob Bentle (then of the Weekly Spectator and the Mirror weeklies). Alhaji Issa and Jewell Ackar were my past-time friends.

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"Through this I had a Friday programmes at GBC TV. It was called "Uncle Steve, Hobby Time With the Children".

INVENTIONS "First I built a Kerosene-Powered Ice Beverage Dispenser Fridge. Then I built two telephone booths with a tow car which transport them to school parks. This Telephone unit worked automatically on pay-and-talk timer and re-chargeable batteries.

"Unfortunately my workshop was pulled down by PNDC Militia Men, on the orders of Mr. Adjei Annan, the then District Head. We were relocated to the European Market near Aggrey Road Petrol Station. But we were required to construct a permanent shop behind the Melcom Store. This was difficult because I was in short of money.

"I relocated with the Ghana Garages Association to Kpone, near the VALCO Alluminium Co. This was very challenging. There were bushes with snakes and other reptiles. But as the saying goes, "Necessity is the mother of inventions", I persevered.

"I started trying my hands on many things, as an electronics technician, I found myself an Albion wiper motor and started experimenting by rewinding step-up Transformers, inverters and stabiliser units. I finally succeeded.

"I joined the, Ghana Regional Appropriate Technology Transfer Unit (GRATIS Project) in Tema. I received publicity from: The Ghanaian Weekly News papers; The Mirror, Dated, 20th January 1978; 23rd April, 1988; The Weekly Spectator 10th. June 1978 17th June, 78, 14th Oct.78; 7th April 1990; 1st. Sept. 90; 2nd. June. 90; 12 April. 90; 17th. Oct. page 9, en 10. Weekly Spectator 1992.

"I attached this related video of my very good friend, William Kamkwamba of Malawi. He was wrongly said to be out of his mind during his days of research and experimentation, as mine was in the 1980s (http://www.ted.com/talks/william_kamkwamba_how_i_harnessed_the_wind.html).

SUPPORT IN HOLLAND "In Holland, Mrs. Amma Asanti Asantewaa, a Ghanaian-Netherlands Politician, organised some Amsterdam industrialists to support an Industrial Forum. The Forum identified Ghanaians as hard working and industrially creative. She pitched that with the requisite technical blueprint, tools and material and financial support, Ghanaians can excel with flying colours as industrial inventors.

"The Forum programme gave me the opportunity to assemble and present an Electric remote Lamp that can control or operate many lamps in one place.

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"(The caption of my presentation to the, Amsterdam Burger Mister Mayor, Y. COHEN: SIKAMAN COMMUNICATIONS NETWORK - SiCON, OKYEAME, Jan/Feb. 2002. Also RTL AT5 Netherlands TV. Net Work. CLICK ON THE LINK FOR THE VIDEO. OSOFO KWADWO SAFO KANTANKA AND STEVOM, THE FIRST GHANAIAN TO BUILD A WIND-POWERED ELECTRIC GENERATOR, SHOULD BE UPLIFTED RATHER THAN SIDELINED AND TRASHED). LETS BE EDUCATED FROM THIS VIDEO.

Often when we are stressed about the many negative images the World's media beams to us, about embarrassing misfortunes befalling Ghanaians/Africans, we curse the very earth we stand on. In deep, secret, shock and disappointment, we even criticise our collective abilities as African people to compete with the rest of the world in many areas of invention and development.

Thus we psychologically extricate ourselves from the objectionable, deeply wounding news, by attacking the collective. By escalating our embarrassment into one of collective responsibility, we universalise and diffuse our own culpability. It is a head-in-the-sand defence mechanism.

How many times can you remember criticising the behaviour of an African person/people and ending up questioning your or our collective intelligence as a people, compared to say: Indians, Chinese and Europeans? Do you wonder if it is because we are intrinsically stupid?

What was your reaction when you heard that some Ghanaians had been arrested for taking part in the recent riots in London? At the beginning of NATO's War against Iraq and Afghanistan, what was your reaction to the earlier arrest of a Ghanaian alleged to be a home-grown terrorist in London? Even when he was released because of mistaken identity, did you forgive him outright?

Again, what was your reaction to arrest of the alleged "Rogue trader", Ghanaian Kweku Adoboli arrested over UBS $2bn loss on, Thursday, September 15? Did you read too much into his name, "Adoboli" and wonder if he was not a Nigerian pretending to be "Omo Ghana"?

How many times have you looked away when starving children and women from Dafur, Somalia, Liberia and Sierra Leone have invaded your after-work dinner?

"Have you not ever questioned why African engineers, rocket scientists, astronauts and astrologists are not represented in the international family of scientists holed up in the permanent space centre on the moon? Do you not get irritated at all at the constant positioning of the African Personality as one who is permanently consigned to consume technological innovations from the rest of the world? Eh, do you not?

Yet there are thousands and millions of technological/scientific, political, economic, philosophical, architectural, agricultural and overall cultural geniuses walking around us everyday. But we seem to be blind to them. Any one of these geniuses is just as capable, or far more talented that their equal anywhere else in the world. So why are our leaders not taping into this endless pool of talents in Ghana/Africa?

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The answers are many. First Africa is the origin of humanity. The whole world acknowledges - some more tentatively than others - that. Prior to Egypt, we built the Step pyramids in Nuba - Nubia, Southern Sudan - the heart of Africa. (Incidentally that is where most of present-day Ghana comes from - The Rise of Civilizations, http://www.angelfire.com/ca2/kushana/Civilization.html; Sudan's forgotten pyramids, http://www.cosmosmagazine.com/features/online/3343/sudans-forgotten-pyramids; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pyramid; The Meroe Pyramids,http://goafrica.about.com/od/peopleandculture/p/meroepyramids.htm;http://www.cbaac77.com/).

"Anatomical evidence: Sometime prior to 1 million years ago early hominids, sometimes referred to as Homo ergaster, exited Africa and dispersed into other parts of the Old World. Living in disparate geographical areas their morphology became diversified through the processes of genetic drift and natural selection" (http://www.actionbioscience.org/evolution/johanson.html; The African Origin of Humanity - The African Diaspora Lecture Series, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5bcPgrpdbY4; Africa – Origin of Man, http://www.africaforever.org/origin-of-man.aspx).

The answer to the above questions are many. First, European Imperialism, Slavery and Colonialism had a devastating impact on Africa's technological advancement. Under these, African nations were prevented from pursuing technological innovations that had earlier enabled them to lead world technological and cultural advancement (Colonialism and Africa's Technology, http://www.africahistory.net/colonial.htm; Africa Before and After the Slave Trade, http://www.eblackstudies.org/intro/chapter2.htm; Globalisation, Its Implications and Consequences for Africa, http://globalization.icaap.org/content/v2.1/01_akindele_etal.html).

Second, our leadership has been poor and blinded by both innovational ignorance and neocolonialism. Examples: during the PNDC era in the early 1980s, a group of People's Defence Committee (PDCs) comrades decided to activate one of the many visionary silos Dr. Nkrumah built in most of Ghana's regions to store excess food. This one was in the Industrial Area, near Nkrumah Circle, Accra. They proactively worked hard to clean, oil, reconnect and power mechanisms that had layed unused since 1966!

The conveyor belt started working. Elated, they reported this feat to the State House, then the Head Quarters of the PDC/WDCs. The matter was reported to the Castle. The response was devastating. They were told to leave the silos alone. Because the PNDC government was seeking to reactivate the whole silo system with loans from the IMF/W. Bank. The PNDC's mad preoccupation with the magical, all-solve-all panaces of the IMF/W. Bank instantaneously sent the good comrades went into permanent depression and hibernation!

Through five terms of NDC, NPP and NDC again, the said silos that were expensively built but were not completed before the ouster of Dr. Nkrumah, remain abandoned. Meanwhile, Ghana has perennially complained about its poor facilities for storing bountiful food harvests! Yaa asei-sei anaa yaa asekyew?

This is the cause of our ridiculous food importations. We are unable to store excess food long enough to ward off food shortages. In Europe and the US, they have food mountains - butter and edible oils, vegetables, milk, grains, fruits, meats to last them for ten years! They also have thousands of litres of oil and other strategic natural energy sources to last them through 10 of more years of way or natural disaster. It is your guess how many days of such resources Ghana/Africa has?

Kenya, Malawi and many grain-exporting nations in Africa, have grain storage policies that has guided them to build large-scale silos similar to what Dr. Nkrumah built. This is precisely why they can export grain. We can learn from them. You would think from the above that if our "very helpful friends", the IMF/W. Bank are sceptical about funding the building of our silo, because it is not in their self-interest, Ghana will intelligently elevate local storage technologies to the national level or seek help from India or China. But no. A good example is giant stone-built silos that can be built easily nationwide (see image). They require basic technology to maintain.

Our successive governments - all of them - have acted with extreme hostility to any local technological initiative. They will rather contract foreigner to build housing schemes, roads, repair equipment or even manage our football teams. They must always wait for things made abroad. Why? For my life I wake up in the middle of the night ruing and tearing my hair out over their technological intransigence. This is why I have no hair left! I just do not understand this asinine style of "leadership"!

You have all seen my regular posts on the need for our government to involve, Pastor Safo Kwedjo Kantanka (and others like STEVOM), KNUST, Ministry of Science and Technology and the private sector to run a technology innovation plant. They could for example transform trucks into threshing, grinding and road-building tractors.

I posted a letter to the Castle on-line over a month ago. I have not even received a letter of acknowledgement in courtesy. Not even a "sukusuku momoi" in response! But one does not expect much from them. Any of them - NDC-NPP. I know the nature of the beast. And I am not going to be blowing kisses at them either!

The mixture of this wizard's-apothecary of warped history, lack of developmental self-confidence and self-imposed lack of innovatory leadership, is what defines our current technological disability. The effect is that we have paradoxically inverted the need to encourage innovation. We have replaced this with ridicule, officious stone-walling and abject nonsense.

Hence, we treat our most courageous, single-minded technological bright-sparks contemptuously. We brand them at the grassroot level as "mad", "mentally touched", "Wee smokers". At the national level our leaders look over their shoulders to their Western sponsors. They then frustrate our local technological geniuses - through an ideological device rather than an act of willful discouragement.

Ghana/Africa led the world in the past. We can lead it again. I am done with the fancy talk. Compatriots, I suggest that any help possible must be given to Ghanaians/Africans like Stevom Captain Stephen Owusu, Pastor Safo Kwedjo Kantanka and William Kamkwamba of Malawi.

Columnist: Kofi of Africa