Using jobs, gates, and mark
So, in the United States of America there is a vote ongoing as we speak. Close to 100,000 people have (and still are) signing a petition to keep Jeff Bezos from re-entering the earth after his trip to space next month. Yep, someone (the world’s leading billionaire to boot) is being voted out of the world—he might be the first alien of the world. But that is not the incredulity I intend addressing with this title—’Wakanda life is this.’ We have within our own borders—national and continental an event—series of events in fact; no, a culture—much more ridiculous than one man being exiled to space.
But it is ridiculous, isn’t it? This whole ‘space’ thing. As some of us—countries—are still finding our feet on this planet, other nations are contemplating other planets. Me, I find it ridiculous that I find this ridiculous—that I live in a part of the world where such scientific advancements are utterly outrageous to us—far-reaching.
Yes, this paragraph is a ‘prequel’—it has a life of its own. It is actually a prequel and sequel at the same time. Because the paragraphs that come after it were written before it.
Part I: Zuck
He was a sophomore in Harvard when he built on the idea of connectivity. Connectivity, in this particular case, is a fancy word for wanting to know other people’s ‘business’, and reciprocally, have them know yours. This idea started off Harvard-specific, but soon crossed over to other universities in America; consequently, it became university-specific. It then proliferated to American high schools, then to the general public, then companies, and so on. Soon this online platform which, in the wildest of dreams perhaps, was intended to be country-specific, crossed national borders and found itself everywhere, worldwide
And it began with an idea—not particularly original even at that time, for MySpace, Friendster, had given the world a sneak peak of social networking, but not as grandiosely as Facebook has done it. “I opened up the first version of Facebook at the time I thought, ‘you know, someone needs to build a service like this for the world.’ But I just never thought that we’d be the ones to help do it. And I think a lot of what it comes down to is we just cared more.” That is Mark Zuckerberg speaking. ‘Cared more’—easy enough, but that is only half of the story; Facebook—like any other company—is what it is now because of…funding.
Someone sat down with the slipper-wearing Level 200 boy—devoid of real-life experience, with not a family name or wealth to leverage; a horribly dressed young man with ‘nothing’ but his own brains to save him—believed in his idea and invested money into it. Mid-2004, Peter Thiel, an investor made a cash infusion of half a billion dollars into this starry-eyed young gentleman’s company. This became the first in the longline of future investments into Zuckerberg’s gold mine, with some investors begging: “Please, take my money”; and some unsuccessfully coaxing Mark into selling. Within a span of just three years, the social media networking site had seen investments and proposals for acquisition from the likes of Google, Yahoo!, Microsoft, etc.
Since its founding in 2004, the site has revolutionised interconnectivity, social media networking, and the Information Age, placing the 36-year-old Zuck as one of the most influential and powerful people in the world—in fact, dubbed the most influential person of the Information Age amongst a list of 100 industry giants (Vanity Fair). He was dubbed the youngest billionaire (self-made) at age 23. He is presently in the centibillionaires club—a very tiny club featuring the likes of Bill, Elon, and Jeff.
The visionary Steve and his talented pal, also Steve, were 21 and 25 years respectively when they built, sold their first computer, and founded what was then called Apple Computers, Inc.—in Steve Jobs’ parents’ backyard. They had been university drop-outs—Jobs, passionate about electronics; Wozniak, then a self-taught programmer. These two would, from such humble beginnings (both financial and expertise), in the years subsequent traverse a path of checkered successes, never failing in the big picture of ‘changing the world’.
And Jobs has indeed revolutionised the Information Age across diverse fields from electronics (PCs, smartphones, tablets) to music (how we listen, make, and sell music), to even the film industry (with the co-founding of Pixar), etc. Apple Inc. is a trillion-dollar company with its influence, geographically: spread across the globe; and its impact: across diverse fields in the Information Age.
Jobs, the hippie—the sometimes-barefooted genius—was, within two years of co-founding Apple Inc., then only 23 years old, a millionaire. Again, after a period of two years, his net worth had ballooned to over 200%–cementing his millionaire status, then a very rare feat for a self-made person.
This mind-boggling success story had, like any other success story, an investor who believed in the dreamer’s ‘nonsense’. Mike Markkula, became the then Apple Computers, Inc’s first investor, lending real-life form to the dream—subsequent investors would follow suit.
All this talk of money and influence calls to mind Bill. In 1975, at age 19, having dropped out of Harvard, Bill Gates co-founded Microsoft with his friend Paul Allen. This programming prodigy quickly rose in fame to become founder of the largest PC software company in the world, having—five years after founding the company—been approached by industry giant IBM to develop an operating system for their PCs. It is quite the daunting task attempting to list Gates’ successes, even more so, when one has to summarise them. But you know that should you find a list purporting to name the world’s richest people, and find this bespectacled face absent, such a list would immediately and unquestionably lose validity. For the past 33 years, he has been in these lists; for a total of 18 times, he has been number one.
But enough of the money talk, for these people soon realise, in their accumulation of wealth, the inherent absurdity of it all, if the money is put solely to individualistic use. Since co-founding the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, he has, for many years, had profound influence on global education, global health, science, technology and innovation, etc. Oh, how good it must feel to be in a real position to directly influence the world around one!
A Young World
All this talk makes me sad. This Information Age is like juju. Its characteristics are: quick and enormous wealth, in the shortest span possible. Out of jealousy, I might have to insist that it is in fact ‘sakawa’. That these people are in fact, exchanging lives for these wealths dabbling in blood money, sleeping with mad women, eating excrements, signing contract with Satan… Jealousy is an ugly, ugly look, isn’t it? Yet, these 20th/21st century giants swear that what they do, really, isn’t hard at all. They swear that one needs not superhuman intelligence, one needs not have liaised with extraterrestrial beings to be instilled with the ability to also influence the Information Age. But tell me if they have not trapped an alien somewhere from whom they draw such knowledge and inventiveness, thus maintaining a tilt of power, leaning largely towards the White race.
Yes, I’m jealous!—what do you expect?—and you should be too, in fact.
You should be jealous of the fact that unlike your nation, other nations elsewhere have created a culture of innovation and inventiveness—one that is instilled deeply in all citizenries; one that recognises that Person A may have the potential, skill, or knowledge, Person B the resources and wherewithal; one that has taught that it is only natural, and imperative in fact that these two groups constantly seek themselves out; and one that consequently has helped cement these nations—with their nationals—places in top spots of various rankings—of influence, wealth, and power.
You should be jealous that the situation prevailing in your country is one of dreams deferred. And “what happens to a dream deferred?” It explodes?—no, it finds itself in the stockpile of discarded Ghanaian dreams; and what we are left with is a festering of old methods, missing out on the new, missing out on the recent advancements across the globe; missing out on the opportunity to massively influence our world; missing out on the opportunity to effectively—on par with international standards—utilise our youth.
Before I proceed, I need to reiterate these facts as true:
- Ghana is a developing country
- ‘…ing’ denotes an ongoing process
- Thus, Ghana is on a journey not at finality
Even though going on, I may seem to have forgotten these facts, kindly know that I have them all at the back of my mind…or in this case ‘at the back of my words.’
The problem is not with the journey, but with certain attitudes we have been demonstrating—one that cast a shadow over the journey. It creates the impression that development is not something we would be methodically arriving at, but something that we, at our very best, might just stumble upon—again, not as a result of method, but of time. That with the prolongment of time, every nation—even the poorest now—may just find itself finally arriving at development. That no matter how slow they are running, they are eventually going to arrive at the finish line—last maybe, yet still arrive. This is not a narrative that any nation should wish upon itself.
Like in every journey there are hurdles. Ghana and Africa’s hurdles are not found in an inherent incapacity but in our inability to effectively mine our resources—not just the natural, but significantly, our human resources.
Get off your high horse!—or in this case, your high camel
“Ghana is blessed with natural resources.” This is something we catch ourselves saying a lot. “We have cocoa, gold, bauxite, oil…” You know how this inexhaustible list goes. We name-drop our resources a whole lot—again, our natural resources. So much so that the Ghanaian child, even if denied every semblance of pride—pride in self, nation, and continent—is never denied this pride: the pride of listing all the natural resources his/her country is blessed with.
“Ghana is the best—natural resource-wise” has been hammered on us for so long that the realisation that developed nations have their own fair share of such and such resources is quite hard to swallow.
In a ranking of the world’s top ten natural resource-rich countries (accounting for the total reserves and market value of the resources)—I am sorry—Ghana is nowhere to be found. I hate to be the one bursting bubbles so I am not going to mention this: neither is the entire fifty-four states comprising the African continent—except one. Interestingly one finds, looming broad, a large number of developed countries. We could choose to dismiss such lists as ‘developed-world-centric’, but there is something particularly telling about them.
Mention natural gas, you hear the name: Russia. The country, together with Iran, contributes up to 40% of the world’s natural gas. Russia contributes more lumber to the global community than every other country, followed by Brazil and Canada (another developed country). In coal, you again find Russia placing second globally; in gold you find the country, placing third worldwide. In fact, in the mining industry, Russia features prominently with a vast array of commodities ranging from copper, aluminum, magnesium, etc. The country, greatest in land mass globally, is placed on some lists as the world’s top natural resource rich nation, in other lists you find it in the top five.
The US has coal in abundance—over 30% of the world’s coal. The country has timber, too, going for it. The nation is neither short on natural gas, gold, oil, nor copper.
You find in the coal list too, dominating, another developed country, Australia, where coal is mined nationwide. Australia tops, too, the gold list—the country supplies over 14% of the world’s gold. It supplies, too, almost 50% of the world’s uranium. In other metals (copper, iron, aluminum, opal, rare earth metals, etc); in timber, et al, you find featuring prominently, Australia.
In rankings of the world’s resource rich nations—better believe it—the developed world features predominantly. In top ten lists one is likely to find four or five developed countries—as opposed to Africa’s one. One—just one. DR Congo.
Eye of a Needle
It is like when we Christians, in our moment of need, poverty, console ourselves with Matthew 19:24 “…it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to go into the kingdom of heaven;” or Muslims, with the Quran “…the gates of heaven shall not open to them, nor shall they enter paradise until the camel passes through the eye of the needle…” only to find that said rich man/woman is in fact a better believer than we are. A rude, rude awakening.
This all seem contrary to popular beliefs, or the beliefs inferred from our experiences—the historical slave trade, colonialism, the ongoing neocolonialism of the African continent—that the developed worlds are barren grounds, incessantly prancing about, poaching from here and there, especially from here—the African continent; poaching our natural resources, ‘leaving us for poor’, while they enrich their coffers—doing so solely with our resources.
This is true, the African continent has been—historically and presently—constantly pillaged by the developed world. However, this truth is only so in part, Africa is not the only resource rich land. We are blessed, abundantly blessed, but not exclusively so. What we have going for us, really is a vast land of untapped potential. ‘Untapped’ because we relegate our human resource capital to the backseat in this development bid of ours.
Praises and Lacerations
Perhaps, the real narrative ensuing is this: the developed world is a greedy bunch, or maybe an astute bunch. They are a people taking advantage of another people (Africans). They are a people who have mastered the art of ‘utilisation’—of effectively utilising their very own human resources to effectively and efficiently transform their natural resources into globally competitive commodities. They are a people who have mastered the craft of pulling the rug from under yet another people’s feet—Africans. Centuries prior, they had done so by stealing from us in broad daylight, now they do so at dusk. They are a people who have, by so doing successfully secured for themselves places of affluence and influence on the international plane. While we on the African continent, we Ghanaians are still singing about the richness of our lands, not of the potentials of our people.
The little American child, sitting in that classroom learning is socialised to believe him/herself to be the key tools, resources, and drivers of their nation and the world’s advancement. The Ghanaian/African child is taught to sing praises to their rich lands, not their own rich hands. The former will change the world; the latter will just be an enabling ground for the former.
There is a Ghanaian and African problem needing remedy. One that does not necessarily change with the changing of votes and of governments—one that needs tackling from the very root.
Be careful all you kids walking around thinking your parents wealthy; you kids wasting away, not fighting for a future of your own, awaiting your parent’s demise so you might inherit enormous wealth, you will soon find that mama and dada are not as rich as you thought them to be. You will find that Ghana and Africa’s natural resources mean nothing should her human resources not be mined.
So wakanda life is this?—that an entire nation, and entire continent still has to have this conversation? It is International Women in Engineering Day, International Typewriter Day (celebrating the invention of the typewriter), and International Public Service Day all today. It is safe to say that we in Ghana have comparatively little to celebrate.