The literary genius of Ama Ata Aidoo.

In interviews to screen potential writers, as the chief examiner in Citi Fm’s yearly Write-Away Contests of 10 to 14 year olds, I ask, “Why do you write?” The answers invariably corroborate responses to similar questions posed to some of today’s outstanding writers and poets.

Early signs of genius

 For Maya Angelou, the dedication to writing from an early age was to support “all the strong black birds of promise who defy the odds and gods and sing their songs”. For Sylvia Platt, she noticed since the age of 15 years, that, “There is a voice within me / That will not be still.”

When asked how her writing began, Ama Ata Aidoo reflected that “at the age of 15, a teacher had asked me what I wanted to do for a career, and without knowing why or even how I replied that I wanted to be a poet. About four years later I won a short story competition but learned about it only when I opened the newspaper that had organised it, and saw the story had been published on its centre pages and realised the name of the author of that story in print was mine. I believe these moments were crucial for me because … I had articulated a dream… it was a major affirmation for me as a writer, to see my name in print.”

Since then, and drawing on folklore, Aidoo’s works of fiction particularly dealt with the tension between Western and African world views. Her leading characters are often women who defy the stereotypical African women’s roles of their time.

Aidoo at Brown University

After nearly seven years on the Ivy League Brown University faculty (Providence, RI), Ama Ata Aidoo concluded her time there in December 2010. As a visiting professor of Africana Studies –  in the company Prof Anani Dzidzienyo (an Mfantsipim alumnus), Aidoo (from Wesley Girls High School, Cape Coast) left an impression on colleagues who paid gleaming tributes to her work, spirit, and important contributions to the Brown community.

A celebration and tribute at Brown – dubbed “Conversations in Africana Writing: Ama Ata Aidoo” – attracted Tuzyline Jita Allan of Baruch College, CUNY, who said: To “take the African out of the African context [is like taking] fish out of the water. Wherever [Aidoo] is, she has to go back to Ghana – not lose her cultural identity – her Africaness – the nourishment. She is such a seeker of truth that she’s not blind to the flaws of tradition: that men are born and should occupy a place of hierarchy – that is not exactly suitable for Ama. [There’re] traditional aspects that need dismantling.”

In toasting to Aidoo, the chair of the Africana Studies at Brown University, Tricia Rose, alluded to the courage of Aidoo’s convictions: “In her mind and spirit is that larger commitment to a just world, to a sense of openness: A sense of possibility means that she encourages us to be willing to change even as we remain committed. And she speaks across generations in a rich way more so than anyone else I know. It’s been a real blessing having her here.”

Cambridge International Examinations

The Cambridge International Examiners (CIE) understandably feature African Prose (in Literature In English) from Chinua Achebe’s classic “Things Fall Apart”, and Cyprian Ekwensi’s first novel, “People of the City”, among others.

CIE poetry selections include African Poetry by Charles Mungoshi, and Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka, and others. For the genre of African Drama, it was  most appropriate that, in 2016, Aidoo’s plays “The Dilemma of a Ghost” and “Anowa” were included in the selections. In due course, it will be most fitting to feature “The Marriage of Anansewa” by Efua Sutherland.

As memorable collections, the CIE drama choices revealed the literary stamina, pathos, and grace of black women in the tradition of Bessie Head (“When Rain Clouds Gather”), and Maya Angelou (“I know why the caged bird sings”). The selections explore pertinent issues about black women in modern societies, the strange mix of religion and superstition, and other concerns ripe for unravelling in the 21st century. The African plays, in particular, provide rich metaphors and other exotic figures of speech for the appreciation of African literary culture and values.

Aidoo’s new unpublished poetry, The Lady

“She was a woman once.

With lots of vim and push
grit, gumption and guts.
Great energies,
Loads of ideas, and not to mention
A decent dose of
Go-getting and daring-do.
She even tried to have it all
A good career in public spaces
A cosy bourgeois family.

That was clearly then.
She is a lady now.

Not for the
Indolence and the snobbery,
Or as the vain projector of the general, and
Vane of others’ dreams
Greed, desires and hates
But a fitting title
Earned through
The grace of age

Absolutely.

Her hair sits on her head,
With an ease rivaled only by
The straw hats
Her younger market sisters and daughters
Sport to protect themselves from
The beautiful but cruel tropics,
Bleached white by time and the merciless sun.

This is today’s reality:

Eyesight compromised
Ankles swollen from nothing much ingested
Her voice a whisper that goes in tandem
With the shuffling gait…

But then, look down.

Her toes glitter and glow
In crimson impish glory
Ten unabashed
Stars that twinkle and laugh
Outrageously,
Lifting her head, her heart, her soul,
And ours too.
Cheering her and all of us
Getting us to hope and sour.

O Lady, you glad me.”

Aidoo’s literary awards include the 1987 Nelson Mandela Award for Poetry and the 1992 Commonwealth Writers Prize for Africa. In 1995, the co-named Aidoo-Snyder Book Prize was established by the Women’s Caucus of the African Studies Association (ASA). In 1997, Aidoo established “Mbaasem” to promote Ghanaian and African women writers.

(Email: anishaffar@gmail.com)

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Literary icons: Wole Soyinka and Ama Ata Aidoo

 

Kwame Nkrumah and the African Personality.

  • In memory of Africa’s man of the millennium.

On March 6, 1957, when Ghana became independent, I was about 10 years old, and in class three at St Peter’s Middle School, Kumasi. On President Nkrumah’s maiden voyage to the Garden City, school children lined up along the principal streets in Kumasi to welcome the leader of the new nation. Our school’s vantage point was at the Amakom roundabout, and it was here that I caught a first glimpse of the president. He had arrived from Accra and was escorted in a slow paced open car from which he waved to the children.

That fleeting beginning was but the early morning of an epoch of trials and tribulations from which the African continent was never to be the same again. We were too young and too naïve to even begin to ponder that sooner than later the man waving at us was to lead the independence movement across black Africa.

Already, the TIME magazine, in 1953, had unveiled a picture of Nkrumah on its cover, with the caption: “GOLD COAST’S KWAME NKRUMAH. In the Dark Continent, dawn’s early light?”

Branding Ghana

In business, a classic way of gaining an upbeat market position is by deploying and defending a brand. Like a business, the Gold Coast had been rebranded with a new name, Ghana: it had a logo – the national flag sporting the bright colours of red, yellow and green, with a majestic black star radiating at its centre. The brand sported a tag line: Freedom and Justice. For good measure, on the international front, Nkrumah had initiated the Black Star Shipping Line to explore wider horizons. The Ghana Airways was to lift high the flag of Ghana across the skies.

The Ghana brand stood for more than just one small country; in sync with Nkrumah’s personal charm, the world considered the great possibilities ahead for Africa. The independence struggles within the continent itself became an emotion and an experience. The success of the Ghana brand was so great that it used to be said, in those days, that when a black man met a Ghanaian for the first time, the introductory remark that followed was simply this: “You are lucky”. Nkrumah heralded the African personality, an international clarion call that was to inspire the blues singer, James Brown’s revolutionary lyrics, “Say it loud, I’m black and proud”.

Industrializing Ghana from 1957

Over half century ago, Nkrumah showcased Ghana as the beacon of progress for the African continent. To industrialise the nation to sustain itself, he nursed major state enterprises from scratch: the Black Star Shipping Line, Ghana Airways, Volta River Authority, Ghana Industrial Holding Corporation, Ghana Atomic Energy Commission, Ghana Housing Corporation, State Fisheries, Meat Packaging, Sugar Plantations, Shoe Factory, Jute Factory, Workers Brigade, Youth Employment Service, United Ghana Farmers Council, Ghana Education Trust, State Publishing, Ghana News Agency, Institute of Languages, etc. He relayed a host of meaningful state enterprises into the hands of his fellow countrymen as independent pioneering challenges, distributed across the regions. Today almost all of those bold initiatives have gone defunct.

The continued survival and success of Ghana Commercial Bank (which was lately about to be sold off), for example, was a true miracle, a God-sent model. Its inception by Nkrumah afforded Ghanaian bankers the means to escape from a lifelong clerical subservience in colonial banks, and to excel as bona fide African managers of import.

After independence, there was hardly a single structural layer of economic importance which did not have Nkrumah’s imprint and blessings. Ghana and Africa have to “sift from the ruins of the past” in order to understand the present, and grasp the future. The path is clear through the visionary precedents set by one man: his empathy for the masses’ well-being; his concerns for both adult education and universal higher technological education. On occasions, I’ve engaged a few of that seemingly lost generation of youngsters peddling wares on street corners from dawn to dusk, and asked in friendly tones, “Do you know who Dr Kwame Nkrumah is?” A few spirited ones inquired, “Wasn’t he the first president of Ghana?” Yes! But how very little is known today about this great African leader by the youth to whose advancement he was so committed like no other!

The wastelands

With Ghana’s adolescence today trapped on the streets, competing with vehicular traffic for speed and space to push imported catapults, toothpicks, matches, superstition and pornography, where’s the hope of this once proud nation? With the exquisite God-given landscapes – which in places Kwame Nkrumah enhanced with Parks and Gardens – now ravaged into slums and wastelands; with indiscriminate galamsey mining and toxins now poisoning the rivers, and ruining the lush farming hinterland, where’s the hope?.

 Africa’s current leaders

These days, when African leaders, in their flowing robes or stylish western suits, happen to meet their counterparts – especially leaders from the successful emergent nations enjoying superior standards of living – do they not squirm? How can a person of conscience not be moved considering how far others have come, having emerged from similar deplorable beginnings? At the root of the African dilemma is the lack of foresight, the greed, the selfishness, and phrase a British prime minister has now famously coined, “fantastically corrupt”! Where do we go from here?

(Email: anishaffar@gmail.com)

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A sample of Nkrumah’s written works

Ghana’s precious playwright, Ama Ata Aidoo

  • In the tradition of the iconic Efua Sutherland

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Ama Ata Aidoo (Picture Credit: Kobina Graham)

After reading Ama Ata Aidoo’s plays, I developed a curious appetite to meet the author in person. And it happened, a few years ago! As I recall, it was at a program to honour her – I believe – at the Accra International Conference Center or so. Seeing her for the first time, coming down the aisle aided by a walking stick, I reached out in her direction and escorted her to the front row. We sat together through the event – talking, and taking pictures on her Notepad. She was lively, discerning, and full of fun as she spoke in rich Fanti metaphors.

One day, about to redeem an open invitation to visit her at home in Tema, I called to check on her availability. Having tried in vain to reach her by phone that time, I sent a text: “Good afternoon Auntie Ama. Tried to reach you. Please call.”

She replied through a text, signed, “AAA”: “Anis, great hearing from you, although … Right now still sitting in the plane waiting for the wheelchair people to come to disembark me.”

The Dilemma of a Ghost

Before meeting her in the flesh, I had once called Prof Kwabena Nketia to ask about the play, The Dilemma of a Ghost. It had premiered at the Commonwealth Amphitheatre at the University of Ghana, in 1964, while she was a student there. Enthused by the memory of that nostalgic event, Prof Nketia recalled, “My own children performed in the play: Akosua was eleven, and her brother, Kwabena, was about ten.”

Aidoo cut her literary teeth in the world of drama using a narrative technique that embraced prose for the bigger story; the supporting subtleties and nuances were laced in poetry. The Dilemma of a  Ghost portrayed the clash between native Gold Coast culture and western values.  The play explored the conflicted environment of an African husband and an African-American wife. The dialogue in the following scene is worth showcasing:

“ESI: [Addressing ATO] Is it true that your wife has thrown away the snails I bought?
ATO: Who informed you?
ESI: That is not important, but is it true?
ATO: [Defensively] She does not know how to eat them … and …
ESI: And what, my son? Do you not know how to eat them now? What kind of man are you growing into? Are your wife’s taboos yours? Rather your taboos should be hers.”

 Aidoo got the gist for the play, she said, while listening to a children’s playsong in Takoradi (Western Region) where she grew up. The song lent itself to many promising adaptations; but she felt impelled, particularly, to enter an arena where angels feared to tread. There was something of value she really wanted to say, and it was worth the effort in walking straight through the uncomfortable truth of Africa’s complicity in the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

Efua Sutherland

Aidoo was possibly energized by Ghana’s iconic playwright and poet, Efua Sutherland (1924 – 1996), also a Fante (from the Central region). In 1960 Sutherland founded the Drama Studio in Accra; it later evolved into a lively part of the  Institute of African Studies when she joined the staff of the new School of Music and Drama, Legon, headed by the world renowned ethnomusicologist, Prof Nketia.

Between Sutherland and Aidoo, the University of Ghana was treated to original theatrical performances.  The two amazing women brought to the stage women issues that had long been silenced in a male dominated world. Sutherland’s staged works included Foriwa (1962), Edufa (1967), The Marriage of Anansewa (1975), and Anansegoro, story-telling drama in Ghana. For children’s plays, she used a bilingual approach, supported by the relevant literature as in Vulture! Vulture! and Tahinta (1968). Both were composed as rhythm plays with various chorus lines.

With the formation of the Kusum Agoromba (Kusum Players) in 1968, Sutherland originated a touring group that performed at schools, churches, and training colleges in Ghana. Sutherland’s Drama Studio – initially intended for a workshop to groom children’s writers – soon morphed into a turf for sprucing playwrights and creating new theatre.

Aidoo’s Anowa

Returning from Stanford University in California to teach at the University of Cape Coast, Aidoo released her other play, Anowa, in 1970. The play was set in the late 19th century, and featured the beautiful strong willed Anowa who refuted tradition, but soon got entangled in a childless marriage to a rich man “she chose” herself, a man who was alleged to “trade” his manhood for wealth and slaves on “the whole Guinea coast”.

The poetry in the drama is splendid and captivating, as exemplified by this juicy inkling from an Old Man character erotically taunted by Anowa’s charm:

“Beautiful as Korado Ahima,
Someone’s – Thin-Thread.
A dainty little pot
Well-baked,
And polished smooth
To set in a nobleman’s corner.”

The sense of Gold Coast and European colonial history in the drama is equally telling:

“It is now a little less than thirty years
When the lords of our Houses
Signed that piece of paper –
The Bond of 1844 they call it –
Binding us to the white men
Who came from beyond the horizon.”

With pan-African overtures the plot returns to the theme of Africa’s connivance in slavery, the “trade with the white men … buying men and women.”

The Zimbabwe International Book Fair  listed Anowa as one of the best African literary works of the 20th century. Aidoo’s other books include Changes (published 1991, and winner of the 1992 Commonwealth Prize for Literature in Africa); and The Girl Who Can, and other Stories (1997).

(Email: anishaffar@gmail.com)

 

 

 

Lee Kuan Yew’s visionary examples for public schools in Africa

· Cleanliness is Godliness, and profitable

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Time to “clean and green” Africa’s public schools

Let’s begin with the following lines parodied from William Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice: “The man that hath no hygiene in himself, / Nor is moved with concord of sweet cleanliness, / The notions of his spirit are as dull as night … / Let no such man be trusted.”

In the column, “Social forces that influence a child’s personality into adulthood”, I noted that “The need for cleanliness in public schools – especially the lack of toilet facilities and water for both adults and children to wash their hands for good hygiene – cannot go unheeded [and that questions] the negligence of those officials – coasting comfortably on the nation’s payroll, with perks – whose responsibility it is to make sure that the proper hygienic conditions exist for the well-being of the nation’s children.”

Poor hygiene in Africa

A reader sent a response as follows: “But you know the phenomenon of poor hygiene is very present in our adult Ministries, Departments and Agencies. You will find to your horror that hardly any MDA can pass the hygiene test. Doubt it? Let’s carry out a survey of the bathrooms of all MDAs in Accra tomorrow morning.”

It seemed that some officials themselves share cardinal traits that see nothing wrong with the unhygienic conditions that exist today; but children must not be raised to perpetuate that sickly cycle. At the international level, the lack of good hygiene may dispel quality foreign investments and tourism and stall Ghana’s potential as an economic gateway to Africa.

From Third World to First

The ASEAN nations – touted today as models of excellence in hygiene – started off similarly from unhygienic lifestyles. The key example is Singapore, where Lee Kuan Yew showed that it is possible to be clean, proud, and profitable. Those who think that nobody is indispensable need to think again. Being a visionary, Lee searched for a master plan, some dramatic way to distinguish Singapore from other Third World countries in order to attract quality investors and tourists, and boost the economy.

It feels incomplete, lonely, and agonizing to appreciate something and not share it with those who need to be equally concerned. But this urge – if not acted out with courage and determination – leads into a downward spiral into decadence and mass poverty. And that is where visionary leaders step up to the plate and show their mettle.

In Lee’s case, he had to share a most painful truth, an unflattering portrait of his own people. He accepted that “We did not measure up as a cultivated, civilized society,” and added that Singaporeans must not be ashamed to admit their failings, and then set about to fix them, to become “cultivated” and “civilized”. That honesty was the linchpin from which all progress flowed to Singapore.

Lee had already visited about 50 countries and stayed in many official guesthouses including Ghana in 1964. What impressed him was not the size of the buildings but the standards of their maintenance. He could tell when “a country and its administrators were demoralized from the way the buildings had been neglected – washbasins cracked, taps leaking, water closets not functioning properly, a general dilapidation, and, inevitably, unkempt gardens.” He did not want visitors to Singapore to judge his people in that shameful way.

Clean and green Singapore

Having settled his mind for a “clean and green Singapore”, Lee called a meeting of public health officers and spelt out an action plan. He then met all senior officers of the government and statutory boards to involve them in the “clean and green” movement. He wrote: “I got the ministry of defence in charge of national servicemen, the ministry of education with half a million students under its care, and the National Trades Union Congress with several hundred thousand workers [to] make Singapore a pleasanter place for ourselves, quite apart from the tourist trade.”

At the beginning, Lee said, “Foreign correspondents used to laugh at us” but, as he put it, “we would have been grosser, ruder, cruder society had we not made these efforts to persuade our people to change their ways.” Through the schools, the children sent the messages home to their parents to abandon the old habits and make good for a new day, and a new country.

He said, “We had to work hard to be rid of littering, noise nuisance, and rudeness, and to get people to be considerate and courteous … we kept down flies and mosquitoes and cleaned up smelly drains and canals. Within a year there was a distinct spruceness of public spaces.”

Africa to learn from ASEAN leaders

He noted that no other project brought cleaner and richer rewards to the region. The “biggest dividend was when Asean leaders decided to compete in the greening of their cities. Malaysia’s Dr Mahathir [when he became prime minister] greened up Kuala Lumpur.  President Suharto pushed greening in Jakarta, as did President Marcos in Manila and Prime Minister Thanin in Bangkok, all in the late 1970s. I encouraged them.”

There’s a moment when one has to have faith that a true instinct would respond concretely to a commitment. And when there’s the courage for a back-up, all other good things may be guaranteed. Transformational leaders persist in moving and changing things in a big way; they communicate a new vision and abundant possibilities to their people.

(Email: anishaffar@gmail.com)

 

Where there’s no vision a people perish

  • Inspiration for Africa’s youth

History affirms the adage time and again. In India, Mahatma Gandhi’s vision of freedom for a sub-continent created a bold movement – Quit India – that subdued an imperial power. In Africa, Kwame Nkrumah’s vision of a free Africa saw the independence of the sub-Saharan nations. In the United States, Rev. Martin Luther King’s dream of freedom for the Negro resulted in the civil rights movements that were to hatch the first ever African-American president, Barack Obama.

Karsh, Yousuf. "Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela." Karsh beyond the Camera. Boston: David R. Godine, 2012. 157. Print.
Nelson Mandela. (Photo: via https://tedrathbun.wordpress.com/)

In South Africa, Nelson Mandela’s vision of freedom from the deadly apartheid regime liberated a nation shackled to servitude. In Singapore, Lee Kwan Yew’s vision of a prosperous nation elevated his country to exemplary living standards. All these icons committed themselves – body and soul – to the service of something greater than themselves. And the results were prophetic and legendary.

John F. Kennedy provided another intriguing case study. After the Soviet launching of the satellite, Sputnik 1, he stepped up to the challenge on national television and asserted his vision that America will put a man on the moon within a decade. Soon thereafter, John Glenn completed a three-orbit flight in the Friendship 7 space capsule (1962).

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John F.Kennedy and Kwame Nkrumah(Photo: http://www.jfklibrary.org/JFKWHP-1961-03-08-D)

It was said in a Kennedy biography that while visiting the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) site to boost morale, he met the staff lined up in a corridor to greet him. At the end of the line, he was introduced to a toilet cleaner, who, when asked what his job was, replied proudly, “Mr President, I’m helping put a man on the moon.”

A bold vision is a potent motivator. When a vision is defined, and shared with others, it helps to motivate and unify a group of people around a purposeful goal.

Claim the future

Another visionary is Barack Obama. He is honest in saying that “Africa’s future is up to Africans… Opportunity won’t come from any other place… it must come from the decisions that you make, the things that you do, and the hope that you hold in your hearts”. The giants like Kwame Nkrumah and Jomo Kenyatta are no more; instead, Africa’s future will be from the visions of “the young people brimming with talent and energy and hope – who can claim the future.”

A vision is an imaginary window through which we view the possibilities for a better world. It is a desired future or an outcome: Something that can make a positive difference, and though it may not exist presently it is not impossible to achieve.

Modernity demands a bold, new world. It’s amazing how many adults, unwittingly, strangle the youth with such preposterous beliefs like, in Akan, “Akodaa bo nwa, onbo akyekyedee,” (to wit, the young may crack the shells of snails, but not the harder shells of the tortoise). Many of the frustrated youth we find today on the streets are victims of “Learned helplessness”: The dreadful sense that they have little or no control over their future lives.

A modern curriculum must help promote creative ways in which the youth see themselves as masters of their own interests, values, and fate. It must help the youth identify and define meaningful visions / missions for themselves. Teaching methodologies must steer learners to pursue the visions / missions with conviction for their own personal growth. At the end of the day, the useful things that we love to do and care about are most likely to be the niches we carve for ourselves holistically and professionally for self-actualization and fulfilment.

The questions are the answers

In pursuing visions / missions, such questions will invariably present themselves: If you were to make one positive change in your life what will that be? If you were to make one positive change in another person’s life what will that be? What is the particular thing you can do to improve other people’s lives? What is the greatest good you can do for the greatest number? What do you feel inspired to do to make a difference for a better world? Can you put that inspiration into words?

The idea is to help the youth identify a sense of purpose – a territory – and begin the journey, and build a life around it. Many times we forget that the young Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, for example, did not start off with the intent to make billions of money. They merely started off with a vision to help people work smarter and not harder: The mission, then, was to create a personal computer (PC) for every desk at home and in the office, to improve people’s productivity.

Particular visons must be selected to serve as entry points in one’s own education, and groomed thereafter as points of departure to begin the journey to make a difference. It helps greatly, when instructional methods match learners’ interests in various practical ways to include service learning, volunteerism, and community service. All that help with the practice of important leadership skills, and they lead to emotionally intelligent behaviours such as honesty, diligence, tenacity, punctuality, etc.

Great leaders are inspired by visions beyond themselves. Healthy egos seek a sense of service to others. What can be done to improve the lives of others? It is never too early to be a visionary for the greater good of humanity, to learn to serve.

(Email: anishaffar@gmail.com)

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Martin L. King Jnr (Photo: O. Fernandez/ N.Y World-Telegram and The Sun)

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Mahatma Gandhi (Photo: http://www.biography.com/people/mahatma-gandhi-9305898)

 

Bill Gates initiates the brave new era of “Instructors of Practice”

  • A game changer for hands-on purposeful education

Advancing Ghana from third world depravity should be in everybody’s interest. Other countries have shown how to avoid poverty, disease and lower life expectancy through the glorious mix of intellectual commitment and actual hands-on work. In the previous column, “Education for the world of work”, I indicated that for a developing nation like Ghana, academic pursuits and the ability to solve practical problems should go hand-in-hand in the traditional universities as well as in the new technical universities evolving out of the nation’s polytechnics.

How to groom the various teachers – from the elementary to university levels – with the appropriate mindset and continuous training to merge academics with applications may be a hard nut to crack: People stuck in the old mode tend to be in a state of denial. The rate at which technology changes these days make continuous learning a lifelong necessity for anybody desirous of meaningful progress.

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Bill Gates (Photo: Russel Watkins/DFID https://www.flickr.com/photos/dfid/19111683745/)

The Harvard Business Review (June 2011), in a report, The Paradox of Excellence, showed how high achievers often undermine their own professional growth by being afraid to show their limitations. The report posed these questions: “Why is it that many smart, ambitious professionals are less productive and satisfied than they should or could be? Why do so many of them find their upward trajectories flattening into a plateau?” In citing a business school professor and a medical doctor (among others included in the study), the report said that such professionals “tend to shy away from assignments that will truly test them and require them to learn new skills [and] would rather do the wrong thing well than do the right thing poorly”.

To know when one needs help is wise; but to be contented – when indications support change – is to be patently passive or reactionary. The flexibility of great institutions and the people who lead them reside in the ability to recognize when and what to change. Unfortunately typical African institutions tend to remain dormant for too long. But just as the status quo and creativity are rightly divorced, so frigidity and innovation don’t mix.

Cambridge University faculty – some years back – was quite proactive in humbly requesting Bill Gates to help them out of their old ways. And to think that institution is one of the best in the world.

The young American’s technological innovations were sought to help the Cambridge professors glean a new horizon; they were sought to create the digital tools that could magnify the unique powers of the human mind through how to think; how to articulate thought; and, lastly, how to act on the thought by working collaboratively and seamlessly with others.

Miracles will never cease: To think that without so much as half an academic degree Bill Gates set the professorial and academic world out for better and greater things. And, that insightful new stance should incite the question: Who should teach the youth? Will it always be just the double breasted masters degrees and doctorate types or “Instructors of Practice” as exemplified by the very hands-on people one finds in every single nation, in the fashion of bold thinkers and doers?

I believe that colleges and universities need both kinds: what the Chinese I Ching may classify as the Ying and the Yang of human thought and progress; that is, the academics on one hand, and the practical hands-on thinker, on the other. And, this is the dicey issue: for a developing nation like Ghana, possibly more of the practical kind will help more sincerely.

Frankly, the youth – both the half educated and the unemployed – are caught between a rock and a hard place. The linear type colonial education is exactly the type that skips what I often call “The Affective Competencies”: curiosity, creativity, perseverance, audacity: the sort of competencies that moulded some of the most powerful game changers in the world: Jay Zee (entrepreneur), Gore Vidal (writer), Mark Zuckerberg (a social media icon), Charles Branson (the Virgin brand), Duke Ellington (jazz composer), the Wright brothers (aviation), and the great icon, Steve Jobs.

It is bad enough to be obsolete and not know it; but it is worse when the youth are persistently afflicted by some dull tutor’s ingrown inhibitions and obsolescence. “The Unknown Gaps” (in the topology of knowledge) may be defined as “Knowledge that you don’t know you don’t have.” Those gaps are serendipitous in their nature; they can only be seen and earned in the process of meaningful engagement, at the intersection where an idea meets action. One would never know what they don’t have till they start something new, something daring, something brazen – where new thoughts or processes begin to unveil themselves like a new bride dripping with spasmic smiles.

It just happens that those who fill “The Unknown Gaps” are instinctively the game changers. They possess the soft skills: They happen to be curious, visionary, authentic, dynamic, unconventional, and uncommon. And, my goodness, aren’t these the very traits we need for this brave new world of technological innovation, potential, and prosperity?

The bigger question persists, though: How can we ever teach the youth to aspire to dream big dreams and be great? Quality education hinges on quality experiences – a void often filled by a breed of “Instructors of Practice”, people who themselves have excelled through powerful hands-on learning experiences. And those are exactly the competencies the youth emulate and take into the real world, to the people they live and work with; that is, the tangible proof that they can launch their own service or product start-ups. Purposeful education has taken such a wide turn; and we need to embrace it.

(Email: anishaffar@gmail.com)