My wild dreams
It is said that what you reflect on or encounter during the day usually returns in your dreams. It was not surprising therefore that I came out of a discussion on the linkages between academic pursuits and societal progress last Tuesday and had wild dreams about why we tend to have such a wide array of intellectuals per capita in this country – and yet have still not conquered abject poverty, ignorance and disease in our part of the world.
I dreamt of suggesting forcefully at a forum that irrespective of the rigour embedded in any research output, if it does not produce solutions to societal problems encountered or does not produce incremental value to these, then the research is shallow in terms of relevance.
The research then merely produces high academic pomposity and is low on relevance. I wonder whether at this stage of our development we can continue to sit and glare at the gulf between research and national development.
I woke up the next morning wondering why I should be obsessed about our less than optimal level of growth after sixty -five years of independence, especially when we compare ourselves to those who gained independence at the same time.
Perhaps I need some neurosurgery or psychotherapy to determine if my cerebral wires have not cracked. Even those who profess to have the solutions to these problems and seek our votes to fulfil our aspirations are probably not so worried. If they were, why would they recklessly engage in misprioritisation while we continue to bleed profusely?.
Conversion of polytechnics into universities
I am quite perplexed about the conversion of some polytechnics in the country into technical universities. Laudable as the policy may seem on paper, I am lost in the attempt to evaluate benefits fom this conversion in the country’s science and technology space.
I may be wrong (and I crave to be pardoned for my ignorance) but, sadly, the clearly significant and visible changes that come to my mind are the hurried conversion of lecturers with MBA/MSC equivalent qualifications and the pursuit of tertiary degrees by others to meet the current minimum requirement for lecturing in a university, and the resultant agitation for research allowances and upgrades in emoluments in line with existing universities. Beyond these, I fail to see clearly tangible benefits apart from the proliferation of degrees.
As I travel through the rural areas on my farming activities, I cannot fail to notice the number of imported ‘Aboboyaa and Pragyia’ vehicles parked in various mechanical workshops with little hope of being repaired by the ill-trained artisans. These rural mechanics find it difficult to repair and return these vehicles to the roads so they can contribute in transporting people and food along the usually rough roads that we continue to ply.
Ironically, every government since independence claims to have virtually solved our road and transport problems. However, if you consider how the state of our roads contribute to vehicle breakdowns and accidents, you may wonder – like me – whether the state can continue to afford 275 members of parliament and needlessly oversized government machinery.
I wonder why this increase in technical universities has not led to the establishment of production units in these institutions: not only to train quality technicians for the auto and allied industries, but also to maintain simple transport, medical and agricultural equipment.
This would enable sceptics like me, waiting to be purged, to visibly appreciate the relevance of upgrading these institutions – whose maintenance doubtlessly exacerbates the widening budget deficit with little to show for the incremental public expenditure.
A new degree in Procrastination and Excuse-Management
While reflecting on the linkages between academic pursuits and their relevance to the national development agenda, a strange idea crossed my mind. Perhaps we need to establish a desk in one of the universities to promote the study of procrastination and excuse-management as part of the effort to re-energise ourselves from our sluggish rate of development.
I was drawn to this thought after hearing that some of our sister African countries readily admit behind the scenes whenever there is a conference in or outside Ghana, they prefer to be close to the Ghanaian participants.
They gleefully acknowledge that almost invariably, the Ghanaian participants come to such fora with the best of ideas which Ghana itself will not implement. The others become too happy to ‘copy and paste’ with a little tweaking effort to implement with speed in their respective countries. The results have usually confounded them, and even the Ghanaian originators of such ideas.
Our electoral, local government, educational and agricultural systems readily come to mind in this space. The irony is that other countries act with alacrity as far as implementation of such ideas are concerned, while we continue to discuss our plans interminably. Rather frustratingly, we tend to jettison most of these plans because they were originated by prior governments who may take credit when the incumbent government successfully executes such projects.
There are far too many such plans and projects to pick as examples. These make one wonder why we spend precious resources producing development plans which are merely gathering dust in various government departments.
Deepening my frustration about our sluggish approaches to development plans was a WhatsApp photo that I chanced upon during the week. It depicted the arrival of a ship carrying grain from Ukraine to the Horn of Africa, with the caption ‘And the nation at war is able to feed African nations at peace, whose excuse for not progressing is the same war in the country that is feeding them!’
Honestly, my pride as an African sagged – even if momentarily. I call this an irony of ironies. Such a profound statement that should wake up the conscience of African political leaders to ask themselves if they merit the hundreds of over-US$200,000 V8 vehicles they flaunt in front of our poor faces.
For anyone passionate and optimistic about African development, this must be a wake-up call. It must rejuvenate a new sense of humility and positive anger to enable us conduct introspection into how far our leaders have stalled our progress, while they excel in propaganda, greed, tribalism and unnecessary partisanship.
Our leaders’ quick resort to external locus of control must be punctured aggressively. If it is not colonialism, it is slavery, racism, unfair global trading patterns – and lately COVID-19! We certainly must find some external agent or factors to blame for our self- inflicted woes. It is time to purge ourselves from such mentality and become active architects of our destinies.
Different perspectives in risk management
Often times we erroneously see risk management as a reactive management function that deals with the impact of adversities in our business or governmental efforts. This approach is counterintuitive, as it makes us oblivious to inherent opportunities even in calamitous events.
While we apply resources to proactively ensure that we have identified, measured and instituted adequate controls to manage the likelihood and impact of adverse events on our forward march to attaining organisational or political goals, we must equally be conscious of opportunities embedded in the worst of situations and how we can position our strategies to exploit such events to our benefit.
The onset of COVID-19 clearly demonstrates why we should re-orient our thinking away from usually seeing risk management in a negative sense. Clearly, the global pharmaceutical giants and the entire industry have benefitted immensely from the COVID-19 scourge.
They succeeded in whipping our fears into a frenzy while they directed resources into the production of vaccines – and got the aviation and travel industry to make it mandatory for travellers to be vaccinated.
Effectively, therefore, the need to stem spread of the disease produced billions of instant dollars for producers and suppliers of vaccines. Against all ethics, they even turned the supply chains into both economic and political weapons.
Thankfully, Africans did not die in droves as earlier predicted. Food security suddenly became a topical issue in global trade when some countries tactically refrained from exporting certain food items.
Perhaps what can also be taken from this COVID-19 scare is for African countries, especially Ghana, to position ourselves as the food-basket of the world. We can do this by strategically re-orienting ourselves in the way we conduct agricultural development. We must break away from the lip-service to agriculture – and the empty, political sloganeering and mediocrity when we have succeeded in producing just enough for subsistence consumption.
As a farmer myself, my spirits sag each time tomato, rice and mango farmers lament the lack of marketing outlets for their produce while we busily import tasteless fruit-juices and substandard rice from abroad. These cries of the farmers did not start from yesterday.
It has been a perennial problem – yet successive governments have never mustered the political will to solve the crises: preferring to be fixated on import duties from importers as if they care little about the resultant excise duties if local processing units are in full and sustainable production, and creating local employment opportunities.
I dream of a period when we can stock our various warehouses and processing centres with so many food items. We must be the first to be contacted when the World Food Programme needs grain to assist Pakistan, the Horn of Africa or some other corner of the globe where food assistance is required on account of drought, war or some natural disaster.
I still cannot believe that for so long we have continued to deny we have food security issues when, even in villages, the price of staple food items are going beyond the reach of the so-called average person and schools are having to vacate prematurely on account of food shortages.
Instinctively, no one needs to tell you that you are hungry and must find some food to eat. By our attitude to food security, though, we appear to be waiting for some external body to instruct us to take agriculture seriously.
If we had planted Wawa or Odum trees as a national strategy from inception of the fourth republic in 1992, thirty years on we would be harvesting them for export by now.
Rather depressingly, we acknowledge our hunger, spend millions of foreign exchange and look to others to feed us through imports – while we turn to the Merciful God to intervene in the depreciation of our currency as if we do not know the determinants of the value of a currency.
The writer is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Bankers, an adjunct Lecturer at the National Banking College, a farmer and the author of ‘Risk Management in Banking’ textbook.
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