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Opinions Wed, 28 Aug 2019

On fame not competence in African elections

Professor Ransford Gyampo’s article with the title “African elections thrive on fame and popularity” published on ghanaweb.com on 26 August, 2019 is not airtight.

In a society where according to Ghana’s Ministry of Education, the average publication per lecturer per year is 0.5 or one publication every two years, any publication by a faculty member is welcome and should be carefully appraised.

We must read them keenly since some of the students, ( – if they read!), that employers will hire would have been influenced by such perspectives and precepts.

Let us examine the thinking behind the thinking, in the article; nothing more.

One, the generalization about Africa in the headline is not supported by anything said in the article. There are at least 54 countries in Africa; “sub Sahara Africa” is not Africa.

The article recycles the same old stereotypes that we often accuse the Western media of.

Two, there is no reference to evidence from Liberia which suggests her citizens have realized the mistake in electing a professional footballer.

What is the basis of the assertion- an opinion poll or anecdotal evidence? And if it were the former, is it not appropriate to provide comparison to previous polls?

Three, the point made on comedians, footballers, actors, musicians “who may have won our hearts” but may not have “what it takes to serve our interest” in a representational governance system, is not helpful nor useful.

Is this not the situation everywhere else in the world? Does this not also apply to lawyers, doctors, army generals and other professionals? There is abundant evidence to show that it is so.

Four, in the case of the second group of people who Gyampo says “can represent adequately but have no confidence” and in that case political parties should “cajole, groom and select them as candidates for elections”, he failed to explain why they are better for representational governments and what they will do differently.

Five, the article draws a tenuous link between that second group of people who are “ideal” for representational politics and the “Philosopher kings”. It concluded erroneously that such people are Plato’s philosopher kings.

“In Plato’s conception of justice within the state, he had a place for everybody in society. Producers had to be producers. Guardians had to be guardians and only Philosopher Kings had to rule,” Gyampo wrote.

Thus for Plato, the philosopher king is not cajoled and groomed by anyone to stand for “elections” in a politics of “representation”.

Besides by no stretch of the imagination is present day Ghana an utopia where wisdom, intelligence and pursuit of the simple life are the ethos of our professional classes. There may be individual exceptions, yes; but that is not our reality.

We believe strongly that to elevate the level of public discourse in Ghana, at least these five suggestions will be in order.

First, Prof Gyampo should be commended for his constant public engagement; he has expanded his lecture halls and made parts of his lecture notes available for public scrutiny – we thank him.

Second, students should boldly interrogate issues by addressing principles, not personalities. That is the enlightened path.

Any attempt to bring in personalities should be treated with utter contempt.

Third, peer reviewed publications and mentorship should begin to crowd out the drivel from chancers, “prophets”, politriKcians, and radio and TV presenters who cannot and will not produce scripts but will just start talking.

Fourth, those professors who will only talk without writing, (except producing Wikipedia notes) should be challenged by their students to publish their own material so that the students and interested citizens can quote them.

Finally external examiners who moderate exam papers should demand that a lecturer’s publications be part of the course outline for the semester.

If a student cannot quote her lecturer in an exam, then who should quote that lecturer?

Obviously, from the events and heated exchanges of last week on university education, and beyond; it is now our collective responsibility to assure ourselves of the competence of our lecturers and the quality of their output.

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Columnist: Isaac Ato Mensah