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15.12.2001 Feature Article

Old Varsity Students Must Step Up

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It will not come as a surprise to anyone for me, a Ghanaian, to pronounce how unique we really are as Ghanaians. The surprise actually comes in the number of non-Ghanaians who pronounce our uniqueness with nary a hesitation. That uniqueness is found in many ways like our penchant for talking it over rather than fighting, for modesty rather than loud, for candidness rather than deceit, for love of Ghana – however her state of affairs – rather than abandonment, and so on.

A quick glance around lately, however, is enough to cause observers to pause and momentarily question the validity of our claim of uniqueness. We may be doing fine in most of the instances provided above. But when it comes to loving Ghana, we are not different from anyone. How else can one explain the level of affluence we enjoy outside the country, which is no sin by the way, with no attempt whatsoever by many of us to seek ways to trickle some back home?

In many cases, the reason, while not very convincing, has merit. Ghana, or whoever was running it at the time, made life so difficult, and yet made it so hard to leave the country for better opportunities that once outside, the bad taste left in the emigrants’ mouth lasted long enough to keep Ghana off their list of priorities. For sure, they will send remittances home periodically. But don’t talk to them about a permanent settlement home, or any substantial trickling back home of their acquired affluence unless you love to waste your time. In short, they argue, Ghana gave them nothing so they owe Ghana nothing. There is a group of Ghanaians, however, who cannot use this argument. Students of Ghana’s three main universities up until the early eighties had more resources spent on them individually than perhaps any other group in our nation’s history. And it all happened right in front of my very eyes.

Growing up on the campuses of University of Science and Technology in Kumasi, I always looked at those students as kings and queens. For starters, the amenities they had at their disposal were unmatched by any sector of our society. Constant electricity and pipe-borne water supply, accommodation, superb landscaping, three square meals plus snack daily, well-stocked library, Great Hall, well equipped Junior Common Rooms (JCRs), Paa Joe Stadium, etc all came at no financial cost to students or their parents. In fact, many post-graduated students, upon graduation, earned Ghana Government scholarships for further studies abroad.

Today, all those amenities exist only in history. A walk through campus will sadden the happiest soul. Botanic Garden lacks the picturesque scenery that attracted young lovers. Three square meals? What is that? Water and electricity? Good Luck. Let’s just say things are not quite the same anymore for the students that followed you.

Yet many of you fully rode the advantages that those amenities provided you all the way abroad. Even though some have returned, those who still live abroad earning a fortune woefully outnumbered the returnees. Again no one, including this author, has any problems with the turn of events. Actually, Ghana must still look upon those who fit this category as assets because the difference they can make in the development of our nation can be measured in immense terms.

But they have to step up.

Obviously, that no one can force anyone to do what he or she does not want to do. It would not even be worth the try. The only option left is a direct appeal to the applicable consciences. And there are a lot of good consciences to go around. And the universities back home are counting on those good consciences to come through with financial help to restore the great amenities for current and future students.

An accurate number of past students of Cape Varse, Legon, and Tech who reside abroad will be hard to come by. Still, one vehicle stands out as what this conscience-based effort can ride on to be implemented. All three universities have Alumni organizations located in many metropolitan areas here in the western hemisphere. A moment here to commend the efforts of Dr. Ebo Coleman and Dr. Araba Aikins of Ghana University of Science and Technology Alumni of Houston (GUSTAH) is in order. Their efforts need to be duplicated everywhere, and ultimately be combined.

What little it takes individually to make a magnitude of difference is what makes it a sin when it is not done. In America, for instance, a commitment of $10 a month will not make or break even a dishwasher. To the Ghanaian University-educated professional, it is but a drop in a bucket. You do the math to figure out what impact that such an eventual figure can have on the restoration of the amenities they enjoyed.

So why are they not lining up to pay up? There again the reasons vary – some convincing, some merely excuses. “Hey, I completed my national service before I left so I paid back.” In cedi to cedi terms did you really pay back? Then there is “how do I know the money will end up where it is supposed to be, or if it will be managed right?” You can help set up the machinery to ensure that it does, or it is, if you really cared about doing it. The bulk, however, are my buddies, the procrastinators. “Oh, I’ll do it.” When – when you are eighty and walking with a stick?

To their credit, many of these individuals have given up all what they had going for them abroad to go back home to help. I particularly tip my hat off to those currently working in Ghana for what amounts to single digit percent of what they were earning abroad. That is the ultimate in sacrifice, and I hope folks at home will appreciate those individuals. Many of them have absolutely no financial incentive to fold their tents and head back home. The only incentive is to have the satisfaction of knowing that they helped build our country.

It is our hope that folks at home do not consider them “too known” when they try to apply some of the skills and ideas they learned abroad. It is equally our hope that they apply them without the conceit that causes many at home to reject those ideas and skills. As long as it helps Ghana, it should not matter if came from abroad or if it is home grown.

For those who have heeded the calling of your conscience and proceeded to pay back in one form or another, you deserve to be highlighted for emulation. For those who have not thought of it yet, or have thought of it, but have not actually began paying back, time may be running out. A visit back to your old university may be long overdue. When you see the degradation that I saw, may be you will begin the process of stepping up.

Jermaine Nkrumah
Jermaine Nkrumah, © 2001

The author has 27 publications published on Modern Ghana. Column Page: JermaineNkrumah

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