17.03.2002 Feature Article

Tribute to Esther

Tribute to Esther
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: We Need To Elevate More of Her Kind Into Public Office I was shocked recently to learn that a true Ghanaian heroine I had never heard of, Esther Ocloo once lived among us all this time and was never given the necessary recognition until her death. Here she was, neatly portrayed in the March 10th, 2002 obituary section of the New York Times, among some of the world’s very finest. She was Ghana’s contribution to the world. I sighed and smiled contentedly reading about her life, my instincts nudging me to believe that heaven must have claimed her for the sole reason that it missed one of its precious jewels that had been lent to the nation of Ghana and the beautiful yet mysterious continent of Africa. It was also then that I knew us Ghanaians have been blessed all this time.
I immediately began to research Esther Ocloo. For those of you who are clueless like I was as to who Dr. Esther Afua Ocloo was, here’s the scoop: Esther Ocloo used to be Esther Afua Nkulenu, born in Peki-Dzake on April 18, 1919 in the Volta region of Ghana. Esther was able to attend secondary school in Accra through scholarships from the Ghana Cocoa Board, and with firm moral support from her poor parents who farmed for a living . Upon graduating from secondary school, Esther decided to live with relatives in Accra. Folks, now we all know the story of how Esther could have lived her life from here, coming from a poor family and having acquired a taste for city of Accra and armed with her secondary school education. She could have either found an rich, married, older man to support her sophisticated, acquired and educated lifestyle in Accra, found herself a younger man not as old as the older man to marry her so she could become Mrs. So-so-and-So, so she would be financially dependent on her husband or if she wasn’t that smart or lucky, gotten herself pregnant by an imbecilic con artist … all because her parents mind you were not rich enough to help her further her education. Esther did none of the above. Instead when she needed money, she asked a kind aunt, a benefactor, who gave her ten shillings. I am yet to figure out what the equivalent of ten shillings will be in our current economy. One thing I know for sure is that being broke anywhere in Ghana alone is no joke. The “hark my soul” experience, and pray to God up above, that it doesn’t occur in the harmattan season can be harrowing, so when I read that Esther turned her gift of ten shillings when she needed it most into Nkulenu Industries, one of the most productive and thriving companies in Ghana, I thought Esther Ocloo must have been one of the disciples of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, except this happened in 1942, some centuries after Christ’s death. Obviously this women was a Ghanaian visionary comparable to the likes of Madam Curie, Bill Gates, and even the founding fathers of the United States of America. I was not one bit surprised then to find her good name accompanied by a sweet tribute nestling among some of the world’s greatest, on the much-turned pages of the prestigious New York Times. How many Ghanaians will have the whole world read about them and their good works when they are no more? If I strived hard to emulate this heroine of mine, perhaps, someday I can also make a mark in some place on some lives.
But where was I all this time? I who have made it my life goal to spot the shining stars of Ghana missed her. I missed her because all the fuss and focus was on the people who did not, have not and will not teach us anything worthwhile anyway. Our eyes, mind and every cell of our being have been focused too long on those who corrupt, murder, steal and try very hard in various disguises to bring Ghana to its knees, with her hands stretched out begging, daily begging, monthly begging for money and more money from anyone who will freely give, lend her money and in exchange drain her slowly out of everything including vast resources it ever owned or was loaned. Ghana is rich I must say again, but we need to elevate and pay more attention to people like Esther Ocloo who through elected leadership will reach out to its rich and vast crude material and human resources to milk her wealth for her people. If Esther had squandered her little money( and she had every legitimate reason to), like our African leaders( who do not have any rights to) loot the continent’s coffers, would I have a story to tell about Esther at all?
There is one fact that stands out very clearly in my mind the more I think of Esther Ocloo and it is that none of our leaders really have the interest of our nations at heart. If a poor young woman can turn ten shillings in 1942 into wealth today, then what have these men in power been doing all this time? It is not to sound sexist or political, but really, how could the past leaders not have turned the money Ghana had after independence( using the same 1942 period that Esther had her insight to build her own wealth) into the wealthy nation she could have been today? We may point to tyrannical, power-hungry, corrupt cowards with myopia or no vision at all who mismanage the scant money and sell off the continent’s vast material resources at deep discounts to foreigners and here exactly lies my point. Ghana, and hence Africa, with our rights to vote as citizens must search for people like Esther Ocloo to lead and guide us. We must push our Esther Ocloos into the limelight and strongly support their causes. They may not be politicians by nature but what they contribute to the nation is very essential to the very heartbeat of our economy. And we all know what a healthy economy can do for a nation.
Yes, Ghana has the wealth but we need intelligent, ingenious, industrious geniuses like our beloved Esther to take our vast crude material and human resources, apply their Midas touch, their extraordinary talent, vision and industriousness to churn it into wealth. These people are right here in our midst but we fail to make them shine and instead assign all our energy behind bickering politicians who have no right leading us as a nation or are simply out to see what they can get out of the big pie. Leaders who beg and beg for money, which they in turn embezzle and do not produce anything in return whiles still begging until the nation is in debt up to its ears and neck and begins to suffocate from its debt! If Ghana finds itself a HIPC, it is yet to find she is also now a slave of a different kind post colonial rule, to donor countries.
And where had Esther been all the time? I wonder in what office she could have been displayed for all of us to witness her tremendous and admirable feat? Behind Konadu Agyeman Rawlings and her 31st Women’s Revolution? Where had Esther been I wonder even after being recognized by the whole world (except of course Ghana) as the founder and first chairwoman of Women’s World Banking, the first woman to win the Africa Prize for Leadership, a pioneer of micro lending, the financing of homespun businesses, an industrialist , definitely talented entrepreneur, an advocate for women’s economic development and the numerous accolades generously bestowed on her by the outside world that knew her worth. Finally, where was Esther to look up to when I was growing up as a young girl in Ghana? I never heard of her? Ever, well until her death.
Of course a visionary, according to the Thesaurus, is a (a) a prophet (b) a creative thinker (c) thinker (d) seer (e) a futurist . I personally wouldn’t say Esther Ocloo was a prophetess, but a creative thinker and a futurist she definitely was.
My personal view of this extraordinary woman, even though I regretfully never knew her, is she used the scarce resources she was given in the most efficient way she knew how to. Esther Ocloo was in essence, resourceful and pioneering. Even at the moment when she could have squandered the little money without a second thought in a split second, she thought ahead and instantly turned ten measly shillings into an opportunity, a company and a legacy that still remains after her exit out of this world . I think this is a feat that must not only be praised, but emulated by every Ghanaian, man, woman, child. African governments led by so-called competent leaders can only dream about achieving one quarter what our beloved mother, sister and friend achieved in her life. I say this not to make comparisons but to stress that developing countries should have people like her in prominent positions so she can use her innovative, business and leadership skills to help us all prosper. And yet, sad to say some of us never knew her at all. How can this be when we are in desperate of shining stars like Dr. Ocloo for our people to be inspired. How dare we miss using her to truly inspire our children?

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