Pointing Fingers Is Not Going To Solve Our Problems

Thu, 12 Nov 2009 Source: Baidoo, Philip Kobina

I was recently going through the archives of ghanaweb, which I usually do from time to time, when I came across an article entitled ‘Ghanaian Engineers and Scientists: Do they have low IQs? It was such a classic headline grabbing I couldn’t resist but read it. However, I finished reading the piece hollowed out and suffering from disappointment fatigue with the article dripping in innuendos and insults. Instinctively I felt a strong need to respond to the huge misconception spoiling the unconscious debate that is taking place across the length and breadth of the country and wherever Ghanaians are found around the globe as to the direction the country should take to realise any meaningful development in all facets of our national life.

I will say from the outset that I am neither an engineer nor a scientist and for that matter do not have any self-preservation interest in what I am writing. It is only the responds of a concerned citizen to help us think outside the box and leave behind the parochial ideas that is limiting our development.

The essence of the piece is the undeniable fact that Ghanaian engineers and scientists have failed woefully to come up with ideas to solve the countless problems that besets us. It is the typical blame culture that has plagued our nation, ever since its economy took a fatal nosedive. This is not the first time I have heard this argument and is not going to be the last time, for sometime to come, that our lack of development is the fault of our engineers and for that matter the Ghanaian intelligentsia. There are similar arguments, which also share a common tangent with lack of patriotism with regards to nurses and doctors who leave the country in search of greener pastures. To broaden the scope of this outmoded culture, there are those who will say it’s the fault of the police because of corruption, forgetting the fact that corruption is endemic in our society. Some will say it’s the military because they keep meddling in the political life of the nation while doing a bad job of remembering the euphoria that legitimised the overthrow of those constitutionally elected governments. Other school of thoughts believe it’s the educational system glossing over the fact that they were modelled on the British system that has produced most of the inventions we enjoy today. Others are adamant that it’s our leaders dismissing the fact that they rose from our ranks. So the question is where does it end?

The anguish of most of these concerned citizens who peddle these last throw of the dice arguments are the seemingly light years we trail behind the Asian Tigers, notable among them South Korea. The South Koreans before achieving their industrial status were also an agrarian economy but now happens to be the 12th largest economy in the world. And most Ghanaian thinkers find it very hard to swallow since we had similar per capita income before both countries launched their industrialisation, which coincidentally took place the same day.

There are tangible explanations to the remarkable achievement of the Asian tigers but for the purpose of this article we shall stick to Korea. South Korea benefited immensely from the wholesale shipment of the obsolete equipments of the Japanese industries, which needed replacement after the Second World War giving them a head start during the fledgling state of their industrialisation. Besides, the unbridled need for America to prove the incalculable mileage of opting for their camp poured incredible amount of capital and investment into S. Korean economy in addition to technical expertise, perhaps, to demonstrate to the North Koreans the absurdity of choosing communism. Therefore the South Korean engineers and scientists had the opportunity to develop their expertise in the laboratories that came via the extraordinary investment and machinery that came from outside.

Having said that, it is important to note that development does not happen in a vacuum. No matter how sophisticated an engineer or for that matter any field that requires high-powered brains needs to perfect and excel that training through practical job experience. Hence the need for sophisticated research and development laboratory, which do not fall from the sky. As has always been the case some will say the government should provide it. And I will humbly tell them it can best be achieved in the hands of the private sector because the government is very bad at the allocation of scarce resources.

There are so many reasons that have stifled the development of our scientists and engineers, which I cannot outline all in this roughly fourteen hundred-word article. However, I will do my best to touch on the most salient ones. All the current developed nations achieved their development through the injection of foreign capital and technology. The British perfected their technology through influence from continental Europe. And the British passed it on to the Americans. The most mesmerising technology of our age, the space programme technology, did not originate in Russia nor America they were first developed in Germany and was perfected by the Americans and the Russians after the Second World War. And the Germans can neither claim any technical superiority because their modern technology came from England.

For a practical example there is no way, even in a hundred years, we will be able to drill the deposits at the Jubilee Oil fields. Tullow Oil and the Exxon Mobile who want to drill this off shore oil reserves have perfected their technology through decades of innovation and try and error. Our scientists and engineers who will be lucky to be employed by these foreign companies will learn something. From that they can set up their own businesses that can even repair some of the platforms at a cheaper cost than can be done by well established companies in the trade. Through this the technology will be passed on inadvertently to most Ghanaian engineers who can also appropriate it in other sectors of the economy.

The concept of human inertia is something that is grossly overlooked in our society, which also suppresses the effort of our scientist and engineers to be innovative. There was a time in the western region where a village was provided with a borehole in an attempt to stop the rampant recurrence of river blindness in the area. It came out that the chiefs and people of the area prefer the contaminated and bacteria ridden water from the river than the borehole simply because it did not taste nice. The idea is human inertia is a potent force which needs a lot of tact to overcome and that of Ghanaians including myself has an unusual clad that needs extra effort to bring down. Our love for imported things, which is not unique, can be said to be one factor that is killing the development of local industries. It plagued the British, the Americans and the catalogue is endless.

It is very important to note, and a lot of psychologist will tell you this, that middle class comfort do not produce geniuses and a sizeable chunk of our engineers and scientist come from such background. Quite a few of the world changing inventions did not come from well-trained engineers, the most notable among them Michael Faraday who invented the electric motor never had any university education. When he accomplished that he was under the tutelage of the most renowned scientist of the Victorian era Sir Humphry Davy but he did not come up with that world changing invention. Benjamin Franklin, a prolific inventor of the eighteenth century, did not even finish high school. It takes special inspiration coupled with the necessity and a voracious appetite to satisfy a debilitating need to make an inventor. Most engineers did not go through their training to come up with an invention. The express need is to make a decent living and if by chance they come up with something that revolutionise the world it becomes the icing on the cake but not the purpose of their training.

The best way to solve the problem is to set up a fund that will support people who come up with inventions or throw a gauntlet for people to come up with specific invention that will really satisfy a need. All that we have to do is to grow our economy based on the economic activities that we have relatively competitive advantage. Technology can always be imported from abroad and we don’t need local engineers and scientists to come up with specific inventions to solve local problems.

Philip Kobina Baidoo Jnr



Columnist: Baidoo, Philip Kobina