Is Ghana An Ungrateful Nation?
Orangeburg, South Carolina
29th August, 2011
In the life of every nation, there are events that define the character of that nation. One of these defining events is how the nation treats its heroes. Last Friday, Ghanaians awoke to the news that Professor Kwabena Frimpong Boateng, the man who almost single-handedly established the National Cardiothoracic Center had been fired as Honorary Director with immediate effect. According to reports and interviews by the Professor, he was informed of the said dismissal through a letter and had only a few hours to pack out of his office. He later claimed that he had done nothing wrong, a claim yet to be contradicted by the Ministry of health.
The manner of the dismissal of Professor Frimpong Boateng makes me feel embarrassed and deeply concerned as a Ghanaian. It should force all of us to examine closely what our governments do in our name. While I sympathize with Prof for what has happened, my major concern is not him. It is Ghana. I am concerned that as this story plays out, some young Ghanaian, blessed with talent, in Medicine, Engineering, Soccer or something else, is sitting somewhere in North America, Europe or Asia and trying to decide whether to respond to the patriotic pull and return home to help or to stay elsewhere and enjoy the comforts of life. Today, as Ghanaians, we must ask ourselves whether the treatment of Prof. Frimpong Boateng will make that Ghanaian more or less likely to come home.
I am not one of those who believe that the good Professor is indispensable. Indeed, I believe that nobody is indispensable to any enterprise. The Prof himself was implicitly acknowledging that when he ran for President twice. Presumably, if fortune had smiled on his undertaking, he would have left the centre and believed that the centre would have been in good hands. So I do not make the indispensability argument. However, the Professor was very crucial to the establishment and success of the Cardio-thoracic centre. According to reports, after arriving in Ghana with the dream of establishing the centre over two decades ago, the Professor was nearly frustrated out of town. After encountering many obstacles, the then Chairman of the PNDC, former President Rawlings, stepped in to help secure the site for building the centre. According to witnesses, the Professor poured his heart and soul into the project and he succeeded. Today, as he leaves, he is leaving the only centre of its kind in all of West Africa. He has rendered an invaluable service to Ghana and mankind. There are many who question the government’s right to make such decisions but I do not. I believe that elections have consequences and that when Ghanaians voted for the NDC in 2008, they were given them power to make such decisions—for better or for worse. However, given all that history, even granting the argument that the Professor needed to leave the centre could it not have been done in a better way?
I am not one of those who automatically reach for political explanations in such situations but the way this situation was handled leaves much to the imagination. It is ironic that President Rawlings in his own way, was supportive of the centre but unfortunately, his protégé, President Mills’ government is getting rid of the man who built it. Could he not have been eased out in a more dignified way that recognized his immense contribution to the establishment of the centre? The disturbing thing about this thing is that it is not the first time our nation has shown ingratitude and insensitivity to people who have served her well.
As one who has led organizations before, I am not suggesting that when one has made lasting contributions to an organization or a nation, they are entitled to their positions forever. It is possible to be the founding hero of an organization or nation and still outlive your usefulness to that organization. Thus, while President Mugabe deserves all the plaudits for his role in Zimbabwe’s independence, he should have left office long ago. The point is that humiliation need not be part of such changes.
Many years ago, Dr. Mustapha, a neuro-surgeon, was dismissed from Korle-Bu in a similar manner. In his case too, he had given decades of exemplary service to his country and his institution. Then as now, many wondered whether even if he needed to leave, it could have been done in a more dignified manner. Indeed, our nation does these things quite frequently. In its more mundane form, it has come to be called “proceed on leave”. Most of the time, this leave is a prelude to retirement. Often, the motivation of those executing these involuntary “retirements” have more to do with politics and nepotism than competence and efficiency. By making these observations, I do not, for any reason, wish to leave the impression that this has only happened under President Mills. It has happened before. However, when a government is led by a man who is pledged to being the father of all Ghanaians and to building a “Better Ghana”, one is compelled to ask the question, “ Is Ghana an ungrateful nation?” and “Is this a government of reconciliation?” After getting rid of Prof the way we did, when are we going to thank him properly for his service to Ghana?
I shall presently suggest remedies for these maladies but let me discuss, for a moment Prof. Frimpong Boateng’s response to his firing. He told an interviewer that “I can’t explain why I have been sacked. I am not hurt and I don’t bear any resentment. It is true I was instrumental in setting up the centre in Ghana and I even invested some money into it initially, but I am happy that by the grace we have been able to build such a facility which is a training centre for all doctors in West Africa.”
Ah. What class. What dignity. He has shown that he is perhaps a bigger man than those who did this petty deed. I know that buried in that infamous letter sent to him was a sentence thanking him for his service. That sentence was so short that there was perhaps a word of thanks for every five years or so of service by the Professor. The truth is that even if Prof. Frimpong Boateng does nothing more in his illustrious life and his tombstone bears the single sentence, “HERE LIES PROFESSOR FRIMPONG BOATENG WHO ESTABLISHED THE NATIONAL CARDIOTHORACIC CENTRE AT KORLE-BU IN ACCRA”, it will be more than enough. He truly is a hero who deserved better from his country.
As a nation, we need to learn from the best practices elsewhere and stop embarrassing people who by all accounts should be celebrated instead of sacked and disgraced.
In 2010, General Stanley McChrystal, the US and NATO Commander in Afghanistan, made some unguarded and uncomplimentary remarks about President Obama that necessitated his resignation. However, he was not given a few hours to pack out of his office. There was a very moving farewell ceremony in which a lot of serving Generals as well as Senior officials, including the Defence Secretary showed up to send him into retirement in a manner befitting a great General. To move across the waters and to pick a more light-hearted example, the longstanding goal-keeper for Manchester United, Edwin van der Sar, retired after the last season. After his retirement, it was revealed that Sir Alex Ferguson, the Manchester United Manager, was determined to let the goal-keeper leave in his own time and not to push him out. Manchester United was determined to send their goalkeeper out in a manner befitting his immense contributions to the club. If Manchester United understands this why does Ghana not understand? American President John Kennedy had it right when he said “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”
As a nation, we must come together to stop our governments from embarrassing those who have served our nation with distinction.
First, let us develop clear guidelines to guide action in such situations. Second, let all those in power remember that power is fleeting and that the man you sack unjustifiably today may be in government tomorrow. It bears noting that no party will be in power forever.
Third, regardless of our station in life, let us live our faith and live by the golden rule, to “do unto others as we wish to done unto” I am sure that none of us will be pleased to give so much of his dream—his talent—his industry to his country and have it treat him the way Prof. Frimpong Boateng has been treated.
Finally, let Prof remember that IN OUR HEARTS, despite our government, we love him.
Let us move forward, together.
Arthur Kobina Kennedy