Opinions Fri, 7 Mar 2014

Ghana’s perfect picture at 57

By Charles Kofi Fekpe

We have just turned 57 and like the saying goes, “You know you are growing old when you’ve been there and done that, but you don’t remember what exactly that was.” It was fascinating to read the different takes in social media, surrounding the day; believe me, it tasted just like a combination of Alafia bitters and Aunty Memuna’s wakye special – bitter, savory, and in some cases, flat! – just like wele! As we celebrate this special day, I thought it pleasant that we should engage our growing minds in looking at what the future holds for us as a nation and indeed, how best to grow towards it.

The world has over time, moved their understanding "Development" from the construction of roads; to the building of industries; to what I refer to as “comproduction” (where production on a world scale is done purely from computers and brains); and now, to the control of life forms itself (e.g. stem cells, plant genomes, body and gene recreations etc.).

You see, just recently Jan Koum and Brian Acton sold their mobile messaging application popularly known as “WhatsApp” for $19 Billion. Ladies and gentlemen, that amount, which they earned over a period of just 5 or so years, represents a little well over 50% of the total revenue (GDP) we generate as a whole country every year (averaged over the last 5 years). And there are many many more entrepreneurs like that around the world, making several millions and also billions of dollars from “brains and Computers”; some, so young it’s unbelievable. What does this tell us? Well if I am allowed to be sarcastic, then perhaps I can say, that if local Ghanaians were schooled, encouraged, supported etc. to do these exploits, earning monies on these scales into Ghana would have made it easy for Bank of Ghana to deal with the Dollarization of the Cedi problem we recently experienced (and which still hasn’t been addressed long-term by the way). The real point I want to make however this is: what we used to know, to be the only way to build national wealth, is being disproved daily by the trends in the world. Gradually, it is becoming clearer, that the real production needed to fuel the world is increasingly happening in the tiny spaces between brains and computer screens. I am not naively suggesting that Gold is no more needed, or cocoa or manganese or timber – I am simply saying that in the new world order, “Mr. Technology” determines the value of everything including the raw materials we so much love to export.

My greatest fear is this: Our leaders in Ghana still see development on platform 1 - the construction of roads and classrooms (not even schools, but classrooms).

Can you see the gap we need to fill and the jump we need to brave?

I tell you this: We don’t just need God in our boat; we also need ALL the granules of creativity we can wrestle from the rest of the world and we need to do it AGGRESSIVELY and unapologetically.

The interesting thing about ninety percent of countries that have evolved through some of these stages of development is this: the evolutions didn’t just happen by chance or out of the blue – they were intentionally purposed, creatively planned and scientifically executed. Take Britain as an example – it is currently piloting a project in which children as young as 7 years old, in a fun way, are being taught computer programming, with user-friendlier programming languages and platforms: it was an idea basically conceived because Britain WANTS TO BE the leading exporter of programming brains 10 – 15 years from now.

I am not saying the Government of Ghana should start a similar project (even though I don’t see why not, if that’s what it wants its focus to be), neither am I necessarily making a case for the small but aggressively forward-looking community of IT people in Ghana to be supported (even though it’s the best thing to do) – all I am saying is that if we DO NOT grasp quickly, the reality of how the future is evolving, that misplaced understanding as a nation will equally reflect in misplaced priorities, policies as well as systems. You see, if for example we don’t see the vastness of the gap we need to cover in catching up with the rest of the world, we would continue to be non-aggressive in our strategies, depending on traditional economic models and failing to find creative solutions to our gaps – solutions that have as its foundation, an understanding that, as I always say, the only way we will survive in the long run, is to do what all our neighbors are not doing and to aggressively catch up with the world.

The refreshing news however is this, the government of Mr. John Mahama, and those that may come after it soon, have found Ghana in a state where it is at its ripest state for a revolutionary redirection of its “FOCUS” as a nation, its efficiency, and its regional and global positioning. Why do I argue this: well, for one, the population is becoming restless - this may not be physically evident but it is brewing behind the shadows and most Ghanaians are naturally at a stage where they are willing to exert the extra energy needed to have a much better life. That inherent restlessness is a critical mass of inertia that Government can use for swaying the national boat in the direction of unprecedentedly swift change. It is a force, which if it manages well, can drive any attempt to rally the nation around a singular purpose that many can identify with – and that is where Government’s communication teams come in. Secondly, and although both issues are equal evils, the current glaring state of corruption, is a perfect justification on the back of which Government can ride, to overhaul the internal control and bureaucratic systems that will eventually support any national focus redirection plan. Finally, and yes finally Government has an opportunity to start breeding creativity in all its work. The traditional way of doing things have kept us babies for 57 years. There are already so many reasons to do so: we obviously are not generating all the revenue we need internally through mere taxes; there are major cutbacks in international donor budgetary support; the world market prices for our raw exports are not doing well; and our large service industry only feeds the local Ghanaian. ALL these and more are reason enough for us to start thinking creatively and innovatively about our long-term problems of wealth creation. Another obvious reason – human capital in many parts of the world is improving very highly in quality, and a large proportion of this human capital is very mobile or can be deployed remotely. This means that with an increasing influx of international organizations to Ghana (which require quality human capital), if we don’t find innovative and creative ways around the content and delivery of education, very soon, even the unemployed graduates in Ghana, will be priced out of the unemployment market, let alone the employment market. These and many more, is good enough reason for us to be consumed with creativity – right from the top.

As we celebrate our 57th independence anniversary, I still have very high hopes for Ghana and I wish the president and the ones to come after him well, but above all, I wish every Ghanaian this one thing – it may not be all of us, but I pray, some at least will live to see their hopes of Ghana becoming a great and strong nation come to fruition. God does NOT need to bless our homeland Ghana, He already did………. and the promises of God are irrevocable! Happy 57th independence anniversary!

Charles Kofi Fekpe (FCCA) fekpe@charlesfekpe.com

Columnist: Fekpe, Charles Kofi