26.05.2004 Feature Article

Can We Handle The Truth? III

Can We Handle The Truth? III
26.05.2004 LISTEN

More than 400 years ago millions upon millions of young able-bodied black people from sub-Saharan Africa and others from north Africa were dumped on ships, shackled together and taken to the Americas or the new world as they called it then to begin a life of slavery and servitude.

The slave trade has been recognized and recorded the world over as one of the greatest crimes ever to have been committed against a race of people. It robbed the black people of the most potent component in every development plan- human resource-when the able-bodied and those with the highest intelligent quotient (IQ) were shipped out of the continent and used ostensibly for manual labour.

Almost two centuries after slavery was abolished in Europe and later in the United States of America and in the Americas, another form of slavery like a reproductive cycle began a life of its own.

The difference between the old slavery and this new one is that unlike the former when the natives were forced into a life of slavery, the latter appears in a less than obvious fashion and prides itself in subtlety. This new form of slavery is what we witness at the various foreign consulates all over Africa where able-bodied and mostly highly educated young folk spend outrageous hours beginning in the wee hours of the morning queuing for visas to leave the shores of Africa for the white man's land.

A 3-hour tour of the foreign missions would suffice the appetite of any curious person who would want to have a first-hand glance and appraisal of this situation.

When asked to comment on the mad rush by young energetic Africans to leave the shores of the motherland in pursuit of so-called greener pastures abroad, the famous Nigerian Playwright, Chinua Achebe chimed in with the following words.

“If the slave dealers of old were to send ships to the coastline of Africa today, those ships would leave the shores of Africa with almost all the able-bodied youths on the continent.”

Sounds controversial huh! Well Achebe is one person who speaks his onions and is a living example to the undying truth in the axiom, “the pen is mightier than the sword.” As a writer Achebe has used his literary prowess over the years to run commentary on the socio-economic challenges facing the continent and its people and which has also reflected the realities of the African situation.

In his long years of service to the African people and the world at large he has educated the masses on the violent and unpredictable nature of the political situation, the poverty, the missed opportunities and the leadership conundrum that the continent has had to deal with over the years.

If there is any moral or truth in the ageless words of this wise and great African it is that life is a cycle, it is a kind of a revolving door that ushers people in and out of a place. It would impact your life one way or the other once you come into contact with it.

So if the slave trade of yore was abolished because it dehumanized a certain race of people and belittled them in the eyes of the other races why are our youth leaving the continent in their millions this time paying their own passage to countries they were forcefully sent to work as slaves on cotton plantations some centuries ago? THE GHANAIAN DREAM This question is best answered by the phrase, THE GHANAIAN DREAM. There are two kinds of dreams. One is a train of events that occur in one's sleep. These could be purely informative, educative and most times highly contrived or psychological (especially when one spends the whole day dilating on a certain topic) or even coincidental. It could be a precursor or a sign of something that might happen in your future. The other dimension basically encapsulates what an individual represents as in what they want to achieve or accomplish in life. And there is the rub.

A more famous phrase one would want to interject into this is what has become known among young people in the USA and all over the world as the AMERICAN DREAM.

The American dream is basically a dream that is fixated on material possessions like a house, a car, a great job, a nice family and ability to enjoy the niceties that life throws at you.

However the price it comes with is hard, hard work.

Every young American is socialized from day one to work towards a college education. The possibilities of a college education in America are endless and very rewarding.

They are also raised to be independent.

At a young age, American kids are exposed to the rewards of labour (work). It begins with fathers paying their kids a dollar to wash their cars. Kids between the ages of 7-15 move from a house to another with a shovel in tow, shoveling snow for their old neighbours for a fee ranging from a dollar to five or even higher depending on the volume of the work done.

The money accrued from this adventure is saved in a piggy bank until it is enough to purchase a car. By age fifteen, this kid has a car and begins a life of independence.

He/she takes $6 to $8 an hour jobs at McDonalds, Burger King and other eateries selling French Fries (Chips) and burgers, pizza and does other odd jobs at supermarkets and grocery stores all in the grand scheme of becoming independent and also going to college.

This used to be the Ghanaian Dream -at least the fundamentals of it-especially in the late 50's up until the late 70's when Ghanaians mostly university students were “ingressed” into the labour force right after school. I wasn't born then but I came to learn later in life that these college graduates were offered highly paid jobs in both the civil and public service institutions. These jobs came with fringe benefits like a car and a bungalow and without doubt became an attraction to every young guy out there which I believe profoundly affected university admissions and education in Ghana.

Later on things started to change. The socio-economic and political reality of the times cast its shadow on our way of life and shattered the halo around the black star on the Dark Continent. Political adventurism and misadventure by a few bad men changed the complexion of the situation and brought us to this breaking point we find ourselves as a nation.

The Ghanaian Dream has changed from what it used to be in the past to what it is today. What used to be the Ghanaian Dream has been substantively watered down to represent what we see in the unbridled quest by young Ghanaians to leave the shores of Ghana for better opportunities overseas. It is what one could call form triumphing over substance instead of the other way round. MENTORS & THE GENERATION GAP Our people are migrating to America and Europe because these countries are rich. Second they are places laden with opportunity. People are leaving Ghana and other countries in the so-called third world countries in their droves and on a daily basis because of the absence of opportunities they see or have been told abounds in the country they are migrating to.

So what has driven the American economy to make it the indisputably greatest economy on earth? Like I stated earlier in the article Americans are socialized to embrace education and also to be independently minded. These two principles have fundamentally transformed this nation into an amazing land of opportunity where people from all over the world have come and prospered.

America and the developed world have had a rich tradition of enterprise and industry. The stories of the Kelloggs, Henry Fords, the Rockefella family, the Carnegies, the Wright brothers, the Jackie Robinsons, the Oprah Winfreys, the Bill Cosby's, the Bill Gates etc have been told to the new generation. How were their stories told? They spent time to write books and published their memoirs for the benefit of posterity. They hosted workshops and training seminars for young entrepreneurs. In their books and memoirs they shared the challenges, obstacles and problems they faced on the way to success with the world in order to encourage a future entrepreneur probably in college or even on the streets not to give up but to persist in the face of these challenges. So these pioneers laid the foundation and eventually led America into its industrial revolution.

Similarly some Ghanaians who decided to defy the exodus bandwagon and stayed put in the country have been able to pursue their dreams. Others joined the bandwagon but came home to establish businesses and even employed people.

However the Ghanaian industrial spirit has been well defined in the trail-blazing work of individuals like Appiah-Menka, Kwabena Darko, Addison, Esther Ocloo, Appenteng, Siaw (Tata Brewery). These and others before them have made significant contributions to the development of our country by setting the pace in the manufacturing industry through hard work and vision.

I am told before Siaw made his fortune he was selling chewing sticks “twapea” on trains in the hinterlands of Ghana. Through hard work and diligence (political connections-of course) he was able to start his brewery business and bought what is now Ghana Brewery Company or Achimota Brewery Company Limited.

One cannot forget the late Esther Ocloo and her Nkulenu factory, Appiah-Menka and his soap, Addision and his cement factory, Kwabena Darko and his poultry business, Kwame Ofosu-Bamfo and his Sikkens business and the pioneer nails man whose name I cannot readily recollect.

In spite of the great work these individuals have performed for this country none of them (dead or alive) to the best of my recollections has written a book or published their memoirs. It would be a very unfortunate situation if that stands to be true.

What we need in this time of our nation's development is the closure of the generation gap between the old generation and the new one. There must be a point of convergence between the experience of the old generation and the ideals, dreams and aspiration of the new generation.

Anytime a generation gap is identified you would find a communication gap lurking around the same vicinity. In other words if you scratch a generation gap and you would find a communication gap. The old generation is not talking to the new and vice versa. Whereas it is a common occurrence for tradition to be handed down from one generation to another in order to preserve society and it's way of life I doubt if the older generation of entrepreneurs in Africa and the third world are passing any values in terms of their experience to the new generation and by extension to the larger segments of the population.

America and the entire developed world is where they are today because of the rich tradition of successful businesses and the pioneering spirit of these great people I have mentioned and also because they offered their experience to every Tom, Dick and Harry who cared to seek it.

These individuals by their works and great example have shown Ghanaians another alternative to traveling overseas and that is staying in Ghana and making use of the opportunities (They might be modest but very important) to pursue your dream in order to contribute to the development of the nation.

In spite of persecution by the political elite of their time and even at the pain of imprisonment, exile and the ultimate sacrifice-death- they stood their ground and lived their dreams. POSTSCRIPT It is said that Ideas are universal and technology is location specific. So how can Ghanaians transform the ideas God has blessed all his creations with into technology to benefit our people?

Are black people and all people of colour “cursed” by God to live a poor and a wretched life? How does the mental state of the individual impact their lifestyle and suffocate a promising future? Does one's destiny change when they travel abroad instead of staying home and making a boots-on-the-ground contribution to the development of their ones country?

Read these lines next week as I present the fourth in the CAN WE HANDLE THE TRUTH series. Paa Kwesi Plange For Gye Nyame Concord