Prohibiting corporal punishment in schools.

· The African child must be loved and cared for, not beaten.

TIS Corporal 2
TIS Amnesty International Club

The invitation by the Tema International School (TIS) Amnesty Club to be the guest speaker and launch their campaign (January 2018) against corporal punishment in schools took my mind back to my own childhood, to a gory incident, which I shared with the audience. I was visiting an aunt in a compound house in Fante New Town, Kumasi, when a woman burst out from her room raging at her maid servant for something the poor girl had done or not done.

In her anger, the woman snatched a frying pan and slammed the side of the kid’s face with it: blood gushed out of the child’s ear. Besides some initial murmurings, people went about their business as if nothing had happened. It was the norm to make children suffer for their offences through any means necessary.

Mindless reasons for child abuse run the gamut from anger to moral outrage, resulting sometimes in the injury to a hapless child from an manic disciplinarian.

The TIS campaign brief          

The TIS campaign brief stated as follows: “As enshrined in Article 28 of the UN Conventions, Discipline in schools should respect children’s dignity. For children to benefit from education schools must employ orderly ways without the use of violence. Therefore, governments must ensure that school administrators review their discipline policies and eliminate any discipline practices involving physical or mental violence, abuse or neglect.”

The brief asserted that “schools should implement proactive policies and efficient monitoring measures that will enable members of the school communities to be self-responsible towards creating [a] friendly, orderly and safe learning environment in order to promote acceptable behaviours and actions.”

The panel speakers included the human rights education and activism coordinator, Amnesty International, Hannah Osei; Dr Wiafe-Akenten Brenya, University of Ghana Department of Psychology; Akua Boateng Duah, child’s advocate, Challenging Heights; and Rosina Adobor, Kpone-Katamanso district director of education, Ghana Education Service.

TIS was represented by Chloe Asiedu, initiator, TIS Amnesty Club; moderato Alistair Kirk; and MC Otuwa Dabanka, president of the club.

Who will throw the first stone?

In a previous column, “Suffer the little children to come unto me,” (December 14, 2015), I noted how difficult it was to forgive the absurd reasons I hears when discussing (on radio or TV) the issues of school discipline with grown-ups who should know better than hurt children. The most abusive reason, the one that has become the default mantra or excuse-in-chief, for beating up kids, is the archaic biblical quotation, “Spare the rod and spoil the child.” Many adult abusers stand ever ready to throw “the first stones” without ever stopping to “remove the mote” from their own eyes, considering society’s own contribution to the overall indiscipline and poverty we see today.

CDN Kumasi
Children’s tennis club, Kumasi, Ashanti region

Throughout history, children have been subjected to domination, murder, abandonment, incarceration, mutilation, beatings, and forced labor – to name some examples from the litany of child maltreatment. Many practices we know today to be brutal and senseless were entirely in keeping with the ethos of the past, but unfortunately some still persist.

Some ideas promoting the abuse of children are stories with deep but primitive religious roots. Two famous examples of the widespread killing of children were those ordained by the pharaoh at the time of the birth of Moses (Old Testament), and by Herod (New Testament) when the birth of Jesus was foretold to him. For goodness sake, if muscular kings themselves couldn’t locate Moses or Jesus, why must children suffer? Children are the softest targets and continue be the victims of misplaced anger.

Another culprit, one King Ahaz, was cited also for barbarous behaviour. He “burnt incense in the valley of the son of Hinnom, and burnt his children in the fire” for ritual sacrifice [2 Chron. 28:3].  Such hideous unquestioned precepts possibly set the tone for child beatings that have lingered to this day.

Societal hypocrisies

When Jesus resorted to the whip himself, it was not against children; it was against the crooks who had turned the temples of God into “dens of thieves”. Societal hypocrisies are too much with us. In Ghana, for example, were naughty children the felons who put the ghost names on the nation’s payroll, paid out dubious judgement debts, and collected bribes for our learned judges? Children need good sanitation, water, and toilet facilities in the public schools. Such are the basic human necessities which every discerning adult must help to provide in their own communities and beyond!

Creepy interpretations of religions, insidious native superstitions, half-baked literacy, and cold-blooded illiteracy breed some of the spookiest offenders clothed in holier-than-thou pretenses. Silly notions and fallacies are still held and propagated to this day. In parts of Africa, widespread poverty made children an economic liability, and were often abandoned, sold, or mutilated to make them more piteous and effective beggars.

The United Nations’ 3 Ps

Today, in lieu of the abusive, decrepit adage, “Spare the rod and spoil the child”, the United Nations introduced a charter that cut across cultures, nationalities and religions. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) guarantees: 1. Rights of provision (adequate nutrition, health care, education, economic welfare); 2. Rights of protection (from abuse, neglect, violence, exploitation); and 3. Rights of participation (a voice in decisions affecting the child.

The UNCRC places an obligation on countries to provide and protect these rights. Ghana was one of the first nations to have ratified it. It’s now time to practice what was signed to protect the children.

TIS Akorlikope
TIS community service for children, Akorlikope, Volta region

Email: anishaffar@gmail.com

God rewards effort and productive work.

· Lazy habits and sustainable development goals will never mix.

Why do poor African countries continue to pray so much but choose to do so little? There’s the gnawing wish list – perpetuated by tithe hungry prophets – for the good things in life: nice cars, designer clothes, gold jewels, wide screen TVs, mobile phones, and the rest; but why neglect to emphasise the relevant vocations and industries that make those wonderful things possible?

 No such thing as a free miracle

It’s so childish indeed, this business of wanting the good things in life without putting in the thinking and the work that goes into making those wonderful things possible. To crown such infantile attitudes, factories and industries have been bought, dismantled and converted for all night and day prayer vigils, daring God to leave His throne and come down to grow crops, provide transport, remove the trash, clean the gutters, fill our potholes, and then proceed to deliver a strong currency for the nation’s prosperity.

Each morning, like so many others, I am besieged on WhatsApp by numerous incantations, prophesies, decrees and spells like this one: “God will reposition you for breakthroughs, miracles, great and notable achievements … He will vindicate from you every physical and spiritual falsehood. Every decision that shall be taken up by any panel concerning your matter shall end up in your favour. Every unrepentant enemy of your glorious destiny shall be perpetually silenced …” on and on.

Meanwhile, the silent prayer between me and God is very simple: “Dear God, my heavenly father, please give me the strength and guidance to do my very best work.” Finished! The idea is to focus and commit to one’s purpose without fear! I often cite for teachers and students, the American president, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s admonition that “The fear of fear is fear itself”.

In that regard, I restrain both the young and old as follows: “You need to be afraid if you peddle half-truths and malicious gossip about others: You need to be afraid if you run after other men’s wives: You need to be afraid if you run after other women’s husbands: You need to be afraid if you trade in illicit drugs: You need to be afraid if you burgle other people’s homes. But if you do none of such hideous things, the blessings will tend to come to you naturally without some confidence trickster preaching down your neck for your money.”

Hiding behind the cloak of religiosity

In a column, I noted that a leader’s unflinching grit to look at his people straight in the face and tell them the uncomfortable but necessary truths is the stuff of which greatness is made. That courage reminded me of a conference organised by the Methodist University College (in March, 2017) dubbed: “International Conference on Entrepreneurship, Business and Technology” (ICEBUT). In the opening remarks, President Nana Akufo Addo urged Ghanaians “to desist from hiding behind the cloak of religiosity to indulge in habits that have robbed the state of countless hours of productive time.”

He said, “We arrive at work late and then spend the first hour in prayer; we become clock watchers and leave in the middle of critical work because it is the official closing time. Everything comes to a stop when it rains and we seem to expect the rest of the world also to stop.”

The president charged the leadership of the various religions and unions to lead a campaign to change that awful attitude: “We have no respect for the hours set aside for work. We pray; we eat; we visit during working hours. We spend hours chatting on the telephone. We take a week off for every funeral and then we wonder why we are not competitive.”

God rewards hard work

In 2016, I drove through the Silicon Valley to Palo Alto (California, USA) to visit Facebook and Stanford University. Enter Facebook and you witness the very epitome of “Cleanliness is next to Godliness”. You start with the gardeners tending the flowers and lawns, and cleaning doors and windows. You see workmen painting the curb and clearing dust and dead leaves into garbage trucks.

Enter Stanford and the pride of ownership engulfs you heartedly. The commitment, the timeliness, and the diligence with which functions are attended to are so deep that they put shallow prayers to shame. The toilets in a library, for example, were so clean that you could see your face in the polished floors.

Miracles are created by God through the work of ordinary men and women who appreciate their godly responsibilities. Miracles are truly in abundance to any person no matter the prayers or religion. As Mahatma Gandhi put it so wisely: “God has no religion”. Spirituality helps those who are awake to make the world a better place.

The sustainable development goals

There was such a hue and cry about Donald Trump calling African nations “S#@%holes”. That brought to mind the three sides of a coin. One side held that the US President had no right to insult Africans; and that is correct. The second side advocated that it’s time for Africans to call a spade a spade and accept the reality where the youth scrambled in droves to escape poverty to places where they are detested and abused; and that is also true.

SDGs
The sustainable development goals 

In considering the two premises, the third side, the edge of the coin, invites the critical thinker to think into the future: to believe, unequivocally, that with or without Donald Trump’s insults or reminders, Africa needs to focus and make the seventeen sustainable development goals happen. That is where the continent’s spiritual responsibilities lay, to ease the pain of the people. Amen!

Email: anishaffar@gmail.com

 

‘The voice from afar’.

· A tribute to the iconic K.B. Asante.

anis and kb
With K.B. Asante at a Ghana Broadcasting Corporation event

About ten years ago, I got an invitation from K.B. Asante to join him in celebrating his life at the Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Accra. Then in his regal eighties, he arrived at the premises dressed elegantly in the company of his dear wife, Auntie Matilda. Speaking from the podium he said he was not about to wait to die for others to jump into the pulpit to talk for him. He knew who he was, and was ready to tell his own story before the final curtain.

A man of conviction

A fearless man, he was self-assured, secured in his core. Such wonderful traits I learned to love about him. You don’t choose a mentor by his shifting postures! Mr Asante’s conviction to speak his own truth reminded me of the daring French philosopher, Denis Diderot (1713 – 1784) who wrote: “I press myself; I wrest the truth from myself. Then it seems to me that I have a gay soul, tranquil, honest and serene.”

For the church service, a brochure had been duly printed narrating the time of his birth up to that time, adorned with a chronology of his various stations and deeds. [His death came so unexpectedly that it left me no room to find that brochure. But I will trace it in due course, and make a big deal about his accomplishments.]

At the reception I took pictures of him and his wife; but before the shots were taken he had warned me he did not take good pictures. I simply asked him to smile, and he did. I used one on the cover of my book, “Leadership: Reflections on some movers, shakers and thinkers”.

The Achimota class of 1942

In a chapter devoted to him, I wrote: “Mr Asante boasts of an eminent Achimota College Class of 1942 that sported Professor Silas Dodu – the first Professor and Dean of Ghana Medical School; Professors Albert Tackie and Addo Kufour of KNUST; Victor Owusu – the great legal brain of the Okomfo Anokye Chambers [and a former Minister of Justice, and External Affairs]; Joe Reindorf – a former Attorney General; R.R. Amponsah [of the United Party tradition]; and Dr A.A. Armar of the Methodist Church; Dr J.I.T. Glover; D.Q. Annoh of Ghana Railways; and Ambassador Richard Akwei.”

With such gallant peers and pedigree he served as a mentor to many. I admired and loved him. And whenever our paths crossed, his lust for life and the resolve to engage fully were apparent. I had often planned to write a column titled “The Three Wise Men” featuring my former headmaster, Francis L. Bartels, Prof Kwabena Nketia, and K.B. Asante. Three wonderfully selfless thinkers who – though miles ahead of me in age – still became my dear friends!

“What is education?”

I got to know Mr Asante through his column, “Voice from Afar”, which appeared on the editorial page of the Daily Graphic every Monday. By the time his book of the same title came out, I was already a fan, and did a review of it.

In the review, I wrote: “To Mr Asante’s credit, his weekly columns contain faithful attempts to make the state safe. But in spite of its frank boldness, the book may find it hard to make men virtuous. Remember, saints and saucier prophets tried to redeem mankind, but to no avail. Recall Isaiah’s frustration: ‘Stop trusting in man, who has but a breath in his nostrils. Of what account is he?’”

Once we shared a dais at the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation, Accra, where we both spoke to launch a GBC / Star Ghana project titled, “Same Currriculum Different Outcomes.” There I told him how he motivated me in writing my columns. He replied, “And you motivate me too.” To prove that point, he had quoted me in a piece titled “What is education?” (January 7, 2013):

“We may not be able to define education adequately but we know what we expect from an educated person. As Mr Anis Haffar put it in the Daily Graphic on Christmas eve, the educated person should be able to address the things the new day requires; consider and resolve new challenges and anticipate future developments and requirements.” It was flattering to have caught the great man’s eye.

Asante meets Dzidzienyo of Brown University

I’m ever grateful to my senior, Professor Anane Dzidzienyo, of Brown University, Rhode Island, who kept pestering me with emails and phone calls to arrange for him to meet “your friend” Mr Asante. When I finally arranged the meeting last year, Dzi – as we affectionately called him – came down from the United States.

That morning meeting on the veranda of Mr Asante’s house, near the Palm Wine Junction, Accra, was endearing and full of choice insights. [That was the last time I saw him.] I remember his instructions to the house: “Turn right at the Shell station. My house is on the left; you won’t miss it; it is the only house with plenty of trees on that road.”

A professor of Africana Studies at Brown, Dzi was particularly interested in the relationship between Ghana and Brazil, and the ambassadors at the time of Kwame Nkrumah. With the obligation of a historian, Mr Asante took his time and answered every question put to him. His memory was intact to his last year, at the age of 90 plus.

I learned from Mr Asante that everyone has a genius, a potent spirit: but it lay latent, to be discovered to bloom through the clarity of purpose and persistence. And what a reward! His spirit served him well.

signing the book of condolence
The author signing the book of condolences 

Email: anishaffar@gmail.com

Of organic waste, environment and food sufficiency

·Promoting sustainable development goals in Ghana

Of the courses that I took in my first year university education in the United States – in the early 1970s – one in particular resonated with me. Titled “Living in The Environment”, the seminar was such an eye opener that I kept the textbook which cost US$15.55 in those days. In a topic, “Ecological Waste Management and Recycling,” the author, G. Tyler Miller, Jr., noted: “Instead of overloading aquatic systems [with] rich sewage effluents, these plant nutrients should be returned to the land (forests, parks, and croplands) or to aquaculture ponds as fertilizer.”

Miller noted that waterless toilets not only saved water but also reduced the need for more and more expensive sewage treatment plants. He cited “the Clivus Multrum waterless toilet” widely used in Sweden which uses bacteria to break down human and kitchen wastes which form a dry, odourless, solid material that can be removed every year or two and returned to the soil as fertilizers. [The solid waste is collected through a structure with a latch in the basement floor].

 

Ephraim Amu the agriculturist

In the context of fertilizers, I recalled the biography of Ephraim Amu, titled “AMU The African” authored by Fred Agyemang. While Amu was known famously as a composer and a musical genius, little did we know that he was a keen agriculturist at the Akropong Presbyterian Training College. The biographer noted that Amu used “unorthodox” means to increase the yield. The author wrote: “being the tutor in charge of agriculture and college gardening, [Amu] would ask the Kru boys who removed the college ‘night soil’ or toilet pails to put the filled pails at a place from where the students could carry them away to manure the college farms.”

Amu’s manuring method “increased the output of food for the college garden. More cassava, beans, pepper, bananas, garden eggs, spinach, cocoyams and yams were grown and harvested by the students year after year. More ‘operation feed yourself’ farming effort was encouraged and this increased the output of foodstuff at the Akropong College in the 1930s.”

Kweku Anno, KNUST alumni

Properly managing our organic waste to dramatically enhance our environment and provide vital by-products for agriculture brings to mind the agricultural scientist, Ing Kweku Anno, educated at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST). He once wrote: “Unfortunately the reality now is that most of the organic waste we generate from our homes, offices, workplaces, farms, factories and markets end up in our drains and open spaces and subsequently washed into rivers, streams, lakes and lagoons.

“This accumulation of organic waste in our water bodies lead to excessive aquatic plants and algae growth. Over time, decaying aquatic plants and algae eventually kill off the waterbody ecologically. Already, many streams, rivers, lakes and lagoons near our urban areas are dead. Many water sources and water bodies within the landmarks between Accra and Tema are dead!”

On the larger national scale, he lamented: “Portions of major rivers running through major cities have become sewers. The environs of the Densu Estuary have become a waste dump with waste directly poured into the lagoon and mangroves! One can now see leachate from old dumps around Weija and Oblogo in the Ga South flowing directly into the Densu River downstream of the Weija Lake.”

Save the environment

Concerned about the rapid destruction of the environment, he said: “Waste is dumped indiscriminately and when the rains come, they are washed into our water bodies. Additionally, faeces from septic tanks and other traditional pit latrines are being indiscriminately disposed into water bodies. There are many dysfunctional sewage treatment systems in Ghana. Some major institutions like hospitals, universities, hotels and high occupancy offices have their waste running directly into the nearest drain and/or water body untreated. The use of septic tanks also contributes to this problem because when emptied their ‘cargo’ is dumped untreated.”

He explained that “Organic waste everywhere is constantly in a process of decomposition into its basic elements of water, carbon dioxide and nutrients which is recycled to plants and animal life via the nutrient and carbon cycles. We live in the tropics where the combination of high temperature and moisture speed up the decomposition of organic matter; and the recycling of nutrients is fastest. Unfortunately, our drainage system mainly of gutters transports both liquid waste and runoff including all the decomposed organic matter into the nearest low land which ends up in our water bodies, thus disrupting the natural nutrient cycle.”

Anno’s practical products

Anno cautioned that since Ghana’s vegetation is lush during the rainy season, “This might lead us to think our land is fertile. The irony here is that any attempt at farming on these same lands yield very little. Our farmers remain extremely poor and the youth are abandoning farming in droves. Many attempts by all our governments since independence at improving farming have all been failures. State Farms established soon after independence were all monumental failures. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, there were policies in place to encourage senior public servants to venture into commercial farming by making subsidised farming equipment and other inputs available to them.”

Anno’s BIOFILCOM’s research and practical efforts has resulted in various methods and products that convert household and industrial wastes into useful products that sustain the environment while adding yield to any agricultural effort including horticulture and fish farming. Note two of his environmentally safe designs in the pictures.

treated domestic water
Treated domestic waste water for vegetation
stand alone toilet
Efficient stand-alone toilet systems

[To be continued]

 Email: anishaffar@gmail.com

A happy healthy new year to all teachers.

· Some contributions from readers in year 2017

prampram
Teachers training to prepare electronic lesson notes 

Happy New Year to all readers of this column, and many thanks for the feedback and comments. I particular appreciate contributions from readers who stepped away from the crowd into that intimate space where, driven by the need to share insights, have on occasion offered their personal experiences. The following contributions by readers are noteworthy:

Resistance from parents

“I believe our leaders and players in education will make notes to formulate policies that will steer us from where we are. I work with World Education as a District Coordinator overseeing Complementary Basic Education (CBE) Project in the Sene East District of Brong Ahafo Region. This project targets children who are in the age range of 8 – 14 yrs.

“Even after we have taken these children – who are school drop outs – through 9 months of preparation to get them transition to formal schools, we are met fiercely by the resistance of some parents that they are only to help them trade, farm and fish. As for formal schooling, it is not part of the reason for their birth. At a time you are discussing 4th industrial revolution in digital technology, there are some teachers, pupils and students who are clearly not aware where the world has gotten to.”

Using smartphones in schools

“Thanks, for your contribution to Ghana’s educational system. I agree with you that the use of smart phones and tablets in schools will enhance teaching and learning and reduce the burden on teachers. Fifteen year olds in the US are developing apps and employing adults. We don’t have to stifle the creativity of our teenagers.”

On that same subject, another reader wrote: “Good morning: my take is that teachers may be disconcerted with the amount of knowledge available to students per smartphones which they themselves don’t command. I however think the issue of equity is real for rural schools. How do we address this divide? That said, I don’t think our youth should be left behind in this digital age. In any case a good number of these kids already own smartphones. Will the provision of good computer labs help?”

How to handle mistakes

“When I started using pen in my primary school, and I made a mistake, I would try hard to erase it before submitting it to my teacher. Sometimes, I used chalk to clean my mistake but it later reappeared. So I began to use saliva; it worked, but only to leave holes in my books. My teachers then used to beat me for being outrageously dirty. But all I tried to do was cover my error.

“One day, a kind hearted teacher who loved me so much called me aside and he said, ‘Anytime you make a mistake, just cross it and move on’. He said further, ‘Trying to erase your mistake would only damage your book for nothing’. I told him in protest that I didn’t want people to see my mistakes. My loving teacher laughed and said, ‘Trying to erase your mistakes will make more people know about your mess, and the stigma is for life’. Have you made some mistakes in life? Cross it over and move on. Don’t expose yourself by trying to cover your mistakes. Better things are ahead of you. Good Day.”

Weep not. Rejoice

[I recall a column in which I wrote that the very sight of run-down public schools – without suitable toilets for the nation’s children – even in the regional capitals, made me weep. And I asked if this is what Ghana’s so called independence over the past 60 years has come to! Such horrific experiences have brought me to tears. From my village Tutuka school of Class One – in the mid-1950s – to St Peter’s, Kumasi, up to Form Two, there were no toilets. And to think children were still so deprived of the very basic human needs! A reader must have felt my pain, when they wrote:]

“Weep not my brother. Each word you write etches your soul into the eternal fabric of our national consciousness. So rejoice I say. Rejoice!” [Frankly, that assurance was a great relief. We are only human, aren’t we?]

Empathy for the victims

“Thank you for this straight forward plea for empathy for the victims of Ghanaian greed and misery. I know how hard it is for African politicians and their bureaucrats to take the plight of our youth and disadvantaged groups in our society seriously! We shall continue to patiently remind them until we die! I know why you continue to write. It’s one of the few options left for compassionate people.”

Aloof leaders

“A very big problem affecting this country is that most of our leaders send their wards to high schools abroad without even visiting the schools in this country. They visit the schools occasionally (to be tokenly visible on the first day at school, speech and prize giving day, world teacher’s day, etc). So how can they identify the obstacles affecting the schools? They don’t copy what they experience better into our country to foster improvement and development.”

Need for electronic lesson notes, etc

I recall the benefits of my first personal computer in the mid-1980s when I taught in Los Angeles, California. Not only did it help with my schemes of work / weekly forecasts, and lesson notes, the ability to save and retrieve work effortlessly made me a much better and enthusiastic teacher. And the results showed when I was asked to coordinate a Gifted And Talented Education (GATE) program.

 

ksi-ridge32.jpg
The author leading a teacher training session

In training teachers, I stress that if computers were being used by some teachers as far back as the 1980s, what excuse do we have to not use them today, in this digital age?

Email: anishaffar@gmail.com

‘Why I decided to live and work in Africa’

· Fred Swaniker of ALU gives three reasons

Swaniker
Fred Swaniker Celebrating an ALU anniversary with Graca Machel

A most enlightening engagement over the years was the invitation to Mauritius in July 2016 by Fred Swaniker, founder of the African Leadership University (ALU), to share my professional experiences in the US and Ghana with students and faculty in their Distinguished Guest Speakers Series.

The interaction involved visiting classes comprising of facilitators and students – from Morocco to South Africa, and from Senegal to Ethiopia. Speaking in a particular session, I labeled the university “a mini African Union of prospective leaders and entrepreneurs, and that Kwame Nkrumah was smiling in his grave knowing that the best has yet to come for this wonderful continent of ours!”

In a delightful lunch with students at the Elysee housing in Trou aux Biches, they shared their hopes and dreams for themselves and Africa. The ALU visit inspired the column, “African Leadership University re-imagines tertiary education: Innovations for problem solving and entrepreneurship” (August 15, 2016). I noted that some fresh universities “reject the usual ways of getting young adults to learn: lectures, textbooks, slogs in the library, exams – and professors. Instead students work on projects in teams, trying to solve problems” as entrepreneurs.

Recently, Swaniker cited three reasons why he decided to live and work in Africa. Edited slightly for space, he said the following:

1.Africa is an entrepreneur’s paradise

“Africa today is where China was 30 years ago. So those on the ground today will capture all these exciting opportunities. This is especially so if you think like an entrepreneur. You see, entrepreneurs succeed by solving problems for society, and guess what – we have so many problems just waiting to be solved in Africa! For this reason, I call Africa ‘an entrepreneur’s paradise’.

“For example, we still need to create great infrastructure. So why not be the one to build Elon Musk’s ‘hyperloop’ and enable fast transportation across Africa, without us having to build expensive and obsolete highways? Or why not be the one to build low-cost housing for the 800 million people who will be moving into African cities over the next 40 years? Why not be the one to leverage technology to create low-cost healthcare or education for the hundreds of millions of Africans who don’t have it today? Why not take advantage of Africa’s abundant land, sunshine, and rain to become an ‘agro-billionaire’ by growing and exporting huge amounts of food to the world’s ballooning population? If you have an artistic flair, why not be the one to create the African Disney? Why not be the one to figure out how to bring consumer credit to hundreds of millions of people – perhaps using blockchain technology? Or become rich by creating tourism businesses that also promote the conservation of Africa’s wildlife? The list goes on. There is SO MUCH entrepreneurial opportunity in Africa!

“In Africa, the ideas are simple. They’re just waiting for smart and courageous people to make them happen. With the exception of Elon Musk, I’ve never heard of an African billionaire in the USA. Almost all the African billionaires we know – Strive Masiyiwa, Aliko Dangote, Patrice Motsepe, Jim Ovia, Folorunso Alakija, Mo Ibrahim, Manu Chandaria, etc – made their fortunes right here in Africa.”

2. You can climb the corporate ladder faster in Africa

“All businesses in Africa need 3 things: a viable product, some capital, and talented teams. Of those three, most people think capital is in the shortest supply. That’s not true – it’s actually fairly easy to get capital as an entrepreneur if you have the right idea. The real shortage most businesses in Africa struggle with is finding well trained talent with the skills to execute. We have tremendous skills gaps in crucial areas that will be important for Africa to stay competitive. So if you’ve studied abroad and acquired those skills, you’ll be a hot commodity on the continent. I experienced this firsthand when I moved to Johannesburg after my first degree and started working with McKinsey. I was given far greater responsibilities than my colleagues who were working for the same company in New York. As a result, my career took off much faster than my peers who stayed in the USA.”

3. The priceless value of respect and dignity

“There is one thing I value far more than money or a successful career–and that is dignity and respect. In the USA, no matter how successful you get, you may be seen as a ‘foreigner’, an outsider, and (especially as the world becomes increasingly racist), even worst things. For example, before Uber came along, I had so many experiences of taxi drivers in New York driving right past me – a successful black man wearing a suit – to pick up the white passenger. The ability to live in your own continent and not have to suffer such disrespect is something that I can’t begin to put a value on. I love living in Africa, listening to our own music, eating our own food, being close to family, friends, and others who respect me for who I am not and because of my skin color. Nothing beats that!”

We all have a role to play

“Of course, while returning home was the right choice for me and many others, it may not be right for everyone. If I haven’t convinced you about the phenomenal opportunities that exist on the continent, all is not lost. You can still play a role: last year, Africans abroad sent $33billion to Africa, which typically compares to or even exceeds foreign aid sent to Africa. This is all investment that can support businesses on the continent.

“A program that we run called the Africa Business Fellowship (ABF) brings young American professionals (mostly graduates from top MBA programs) to Africa to work in African companies for about 6 months.

After their 6-month stint, the number one question on their minds was – how can I stay on the continent? Almost all of them didn’t want to go back to America! – which goes to show that something special is happening on this continent. I hope many young Africans around the world will come home and be a part of it.”

Email: anishaffar@gmail.com

 

Ghana can leapfrog through strategic infrastructure projects.

· Says Dr Thomas Mensah, Africa’s answer to Albert Einstein.

Every aspect of modern life relies heavily on scientific applications. The pace of technology, for example, has never been as fast as within the past few decades. Scientific globalization allows every serious country to tap into genius wherever it may be, and if that genius happens to emanate from one’s own countryman, the blessing is double breasted indeed.

Users of mobile phones and the Global Positioning Systems (GPS) may not realize it but the applicable technologies rely on early 20th century inventors like Albert Einstein. In the 21st century, inventors of Fiber Optics and Nanotechnology like Ghana’s own scientist, Dr Thomas Mensah, have zoomed in where Einstein left off.

Dr. Mensah
Dr. Thomas O. Mensah

It was an eye opener listening to Dr Mensah explain how Ghana can leapfrog from poverty into the first world through strategic infrastructure project implementation on Citi Fm’s Breakfast Show with the ace broadcast journalist Bernard Avle (Accra, 21st November, 2017).

I had earlier listened to Dr Mensah on Studio 54 where the interviewer began the discussion with the following remarks:

“Well across Africa, huge infrastructure projects are transforming the continent’s landscape and fueling record economic growth. However, many wonder what specific sectors should be prioritized to propel Africa into greater prosperity. Dr. Thomas Mensah is a Ghanaian- American Chemical Engineer, an inventor, an expert on the development of fibre optics and nanotechnology; in fact some of his inventions are in use inside our studio right now.”

Studio 54: Now, I mentioned that some of your inventions are in use, can you briefly explain that?

Dr Mensah: Well, Social Media is a big thing, and as you know, in the 1980’s I was one of the four inventors of fibre optics, and these allowed the internet to explode because now you have the fibre optics being used as under-sea cables to connect Africa to China, Japan, everywhere, so you can call Japan, you can send Facebook pictures to Japan, to China, all over the world because of that technology.

Studio 54: How can technology be applied especially in the sector of transportation in Africa in order to help the continent grow even faster and get even more prosperous?

Dr Mensah: Yes, we are proposing that African countries can leapfrog by implementing serious strategic infrastructure projects, for example, high-speed trains. What you see here (pointing to a diagram) is a proposal to the Ghana government, and actually I had a meeting with the president of Ghana last Friday on this. The idea is to have a bullet train – high-speed train – going from the South – Accra the main capital – through Takoradi, Kumasi, all the way to the border, to Tamale. And instead of taking 4 days to go from the South to the North by trucks or by train, whatever, you can take one-and-a-half hours, so technically speaking you can live in Tamale and work in the south.

Studio 54: So these really fast-moving trains, like they have now built, like in Kenya now, they have one from the port of Mombasa, these can play big roles in creating wealth and helping the countries to grow?

Dr Mensah: This is very very important; currently Morocco has one, Ethiopia has one, and as you mentioned Kenya has one. Now in West Africa, Ghana will be the first … Another proposal we have is to put fibre optics cable along the train racks, and as you go up you can actually branch off into the different rural areas with this – so internet will be everywhere. But most importantly, Vincent, you are going to have these trains traveling at 200 mph, and with the fibre optic cables using the WIFI on the train you can connect to the internet.

Studio 54: So, you are saying there will be a double or triple benefits in terms of the advancement and the spread of technology across the country?

Dr Mensah: Exactly! With this single project, [you] can create factories along the train route that will supply to the train … China has about 40 trains now since I first proposed this in America. America is now building from California now, 2 in California. China built 40 in 10 years: that means they built 4 every year. Which means China, for example, can build this train in less than 3 years, and it will create jobs that are needed. You can train people from High Schools to be mechanics, from Colleges, Universities to be part of this infrastructure development. Strategic infrastructure means that if you manufacture anything in the factories, you just put them on a high-speed rail and already it is in the port to go all over the world. So, this is transformational for any country that develops the technology; you know all the experts in the diaspora, myself, everybody will be eager to go back to their countries: just like Indians that were trained here, and Chinese that were trained here went back home and helped their countries develop.

If these high-speed trains are built some of us will be advisors, some will be back helping the country to maintain these trains. The maintenance and operations alone will really create, in some places, about a million jobs.

[Dr Mensah is a product of Wesley College Practice School, Kumasi; Adisadel College, Cape Coast; and Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Kumasi. He attended Montpelier University, France; and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Boston, USA]

Right Stuff

Email: anishaffar@gmail.com