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Opinions Sun, 26 May 2013

Re: No funds to pay stranded UK students – GETFund

I chose this rejoinder to interrogate my President’s, John Dramani Mahama, assertion of the “African renaissance” thesis on the African Day, May 25 2013. I think the assertion is at best populist and misdirected toward an audience that needs to undertake self-reflection in order to aspire to standards of self-discipline, responsibility, and accountability to their people.

Any reader of African history would appreciate it is not the first time the word renaissance is making its foray into our political lexicon. In his independence declaration speech in Ghana in 1957, Kwame Nkrumah employed the word strategically to stir the spirit, energy, and thoughts of a new nation and the African continent to aspire to greater heights. The word has reappeared many a time in African political thought and history, including its recent use by the former South African President Thabo Mbeki, who employed it to reposition the HIV/AIDS debate in his country. In consonance with his African Renaissance project, Mbeki urged Africans not only to define themselves, but to also define the illnesses that afflict them. Based on some of these rhetoric that seem to run away from reality, he proceeded to reject any links between HIV and AIDS, a decision that informed his policies toward people living with the disease with dire consequences in his country.

Writing in 2012, the Noble laureate in literature, Wole Soyinka, was emphatic in his summation of the African post-colonial experience. He declared that the continent has suffered a cardiac arrest! How can a man in cardiac arrest aspire to renaissance?

Turning to the above-titled response from the Ghana Education Trust Fund (GETFund) to Ghanaian students on Ghana Government scholarship who are stranded in the UK, I wish to illustrate why the continent is in cardiac arrest, caused by its citizens and leadership, and the same people who have caused it this cardiac arrest should now turned around to be beating the dying house to try and cross the finishing line. The point is that with the way things are structured, Ghana and for that matter Africa is not going anywhere.

I am quite certain that the principles behind the setting up of the GETFund have not been lost on our amaurotic minds. But from all indications, the fund has become yet another thank you package for politicians, their cronies, and their yes men. When I embarked on a one-man protest match in March 2012 to draw attention to the need to free the fund from political manipulations, it was based on the terrible cases of manipulation of the fund in support of party apparatchiks and family members that I have followed over the years. I followed one such terrible case to Glamorgan University in the UK. I wonder if she is able to produce her thesis and leave that university now after too many extensions. I am not ready to rehash those stories in this piece.

The fact is that both the NDC and the NPP have seized the scholarship secretariat and its sister institution, the GETFund, and made them the intellectual wing of their political parties. Considering the self-serving nature of any political system, functional democracies have made great efforts to insulate educational opportunities such as scholarships from direct manipulations of politics. I have queried many Africans why America or any other Western country would offer them scholarships even at the expense of their taxpaying citizens sometimes. The answers are mixed and I can clearly say that some fail to appreciate the logic of this magnanimity.

In the very contentious political environment Ghana finds herself today, where we must have even hoisted ideological – NPP and NDC – flags on even the food we eat, how would young brilliant students who hold promise for the future of that country, but without the necessary political affiliation and connections, fare in accessing scholarships their taxes have contributed to in an institution chaired by a chairman of a political party?

The most disheartening thing is the failure of the political parties to even select the best among their crop of supporters for these benefits. So you find situations in the lecture rooms where you begin to question the credibility and the mental alertness of the individuals who work in these scholarship awarding institutions in Ghana where these scholarships are doled out.

With regard to the current debacle concerning the non-remittance of Ghanaian students studying abroad on Ghana Government scholarship, the following questions should prick every right thinking Ghanaian to question the state of the economy and the way things are done:

I. How do you send people abroad to study without making provision for the duration of their studies?

II. How were the beneficiaries of these scholarships selected?

III. Every organization makes financial projections, based on which important financial decisions are taken. Do GETFund and the scholarship secretariat have financial projections for their activities?

IV. Do the scholarship secretariat and the GETFund have financial analyst or they are being operated by family members and party apparatchiks?

I have read the recent story of Olivia Agbenyeke (Available at: http://graphic.com.gh/General-News/olivia-the-glitter-in-the-agbogbloshie-slum.html ) and i have a case of a Ghanaian student with a GPA 4.0 in his masters on my table now. They are all looking for funding to pursue further education. But with the current structures in place at the GETFund and the scholarship secretariat, I only can wish them well. I hope some universities and foreign countries come to their aid. Even though in the case of Olivia, there have been effort to raise money from individuals to support her, I vowed not to put a dime in such contributions for there are too many of such cases around us, but we all wait until we become victims before we complain.

Upon reading the statement released by GETFund, I was expecting a reaction from the student leadership in Ghana – National Union of Ghana Students (NUGS) and the various Student Representative Councils (SRC) on the tertiary campuses - or just any concerned student to raise issues with the management of the fund, but all these organizations have been strategically divided along political lines and in ways that make it difficult to effectively mobilize students to interrogate these glaring manipulations by the politicians.

To the Ghanaian tertiary students, they must stop pointing accusing fingers at the politicians. If politics have failed us, they are equally responsible for this failure for their actions and inactions are responsible for the continuing rot in these institutions. But let me tell them that, one day it would be their turn to be denied a scholarship or to suffer the consequences of these manipulations abroad as their compatriots are doing. “First they came for the communist and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a communist. Then they came for the socialist and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a socialist” Martin-Niemöller-Foundation. One day soon, it would be your turn and you would care. Now to John Mahama, the word to a headstrong gathering of leaders and yourself on a day like this is not “renaissance,” it definitely must be self-reflection, discipline, responsibility, and accountability. I am sure the story I have narrated in this rejoinder should touch your heart if you truly care about the so-called renaissance you are trumpeting to an audience that is just on a talk shop. Put your own house in order and use that as a shining example to illustrate the specifics rather than the threadbare term renaissance that has gotten us anywhere. If you are a student in any tertiary institution in Ghana, you might consider following the link below to the powerpoint narration of the scholarship situation and use it as a point of mobilization to interrogate what is happening at the scholarship secretariat and the GETFund. http://www.slideshare.net/pytsikata/award-of-ghana-government-scholarships

Prosper Yao Tsikata

Columnist: Tsikata, Prosper Yao