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20.08.2005 Feature Article

Ghana – Chaos And Complexity Theory In Practice

Ghana – Chaos And Complexity Theory In Practice
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I choose to share some of the ideas with Ghanaians, especially those who want to visit or have visited Ghana and come back disappointed or live there, and may be developing high blood pressure and high anxiety levels. The average life expectancy of a nation directly correlates to their level of development in the UNDP definition of Human Development Index (HDI). The average Ghana still has a 20 year shorter life span compared to people in the developed nations. We have reason to worry and find solutions.

In a recent debate on the Ghana Leadership Forum emanating from a posting by Ernest Yanful in the week of August 8, 2005 on the 2005 Port Duties, Nana Otuo Acheampong, Editor/Publisher of Ghana Review International [now settle in Ghana], had indicated working with the government to straighten out the port duties. The debate has strongly featured contributions from many on why government should have 8 levels of taxes and heavy duties on Ghanaians who are returning home from abroad and shipping vehicles and personal goods purchased out of their sweat and money overseas. In a reply posting

I stated [Thu, 11 Aug 2005 14:44:56 -0700]: NOBODY, and I repeat NOBODY, should have to work hard in any human society and have to pay up to 50 or 100% or more of the value of his property to government, especially whose officials have proven themselves to have no consideration for the economic condition of the state and willing only to serve their self interest. [Some call it public thievery, but I won't call it that way for now]. 8 Levels of taxation and fees on property acquired not on our land is ridiculous!

Nana wrote [Friday, August 12, 2005 2:29 AM] :

On your return try the little you can within your power to improve your community. For instance there are two open gutters leading to my house in Tesano. From my meager resources I'm in the process of building concrete slabs to cover them. In the meantime I have spent 200,000 Cedis only to have 4 notices built for me. Each reads "Mosquitoes. Please do not urinate here. Thank you". I have no doubt that there'll be at least 4 less mosquitoes once the signs go up. Don't you think so?

I'm also appealing to the neighbours for contributions to provide street lights to compliment the one I have done outside my house. The response has been fantastic, and we meet on Sunday to take decisions on the lights (Dr. Nana Otuo Acheampong).

George replied [Friday, August 12, 2005 4:37 PM]:

But you should not be doing this. What do you pay TAXES for? Somebody at the Accra Metropolitan Authority (AMA) is not doing his job. Find that person and SACK HIM! If the next person doesn't do his job too, sack him!” (Prof. George Ayittey)

On the Individual and Society:

I agree with Nana that we need to do things for ourselves. Most Ghanaians overseas, as at home, seem to think of individual achievement. What we fail to do is get to the next step in the hierarchy as expounded by Professor Maslov or the great teacher Confucius taught. We have done enough for ourselves. On the personal level, I have seen evidence of many personal achievements, large mansions all across Ghana. Some have also contributed nicely to their towns. I even went to the extent of paying C2 Million for some road to be constructed in my village. In my village the rich Kwahu buys donated over C200 Million in an hour to help the University and promised more. Many of us in certain neighborhoods have covered gutters and so forth. However, I agree more with George that these individual self-help projects are not adequate when we have an elected body called government. Sometimes our thinking and statements of opinions, wrongly interpreted, can lead to diversified misperceptions of the role of government – vis a vis institutions and leadership.

What Nana Dr. Otuo is recommending and doing is what used to be done in the village under self-help African systems. It was a great concept before we decided to form modern Western style town and cities. Whether this is better or not is immaterial. Even though there seemed to have been no central governing body, it was under a local government under the leadership of a Chief who would occasionally see the need and summon his people with a gong-gong of dong-dong. As much as we may sometimes see problems from purely scientific or engineering solutions, developing an organization such a nation takes on more than self help or volunteerism, as Nana is advocating. We live in a society that now appears to follow what Canadian Organizational Theorist Gareth Morgan and others described as Chaos and Complexity.

Explaining Our Ghanaian Society: Let me elaborate a little here. There are many interesting theories that have been proposed to explain human societies. One of them I find very interesting and perhaps applicable to Ghana and other such societies in Africa such as Nigeria.

Chaos and Complexity Theories, developed from authors (Gleick et al, 1987) using computer simulations and studies, states that complex nonlinear systems, such as organizations and human ecologies, are characterized by multiple systems of ordered and chaotic interactions. Due to the internal complexity of these systems, random disturbances can produce unpredictable events and reverberations which can create novel patterns of change through the system. Despite all this unpredictability, coherent order always emerges out of this randomness and chaos (Morgan, 1997, Images of Organizations, 262; and Gleick, 1987). It is always a very tough job to lead an organization like Ghana that seems to be acting in what appears to be chaos. According to writers and researchers on leadership theories, it takes lots of cognitive (in-born) and crystallized cognitive (learned) skills, as well as problems solving skills and of course human relationship skills. I call all this human and technical skills and savvy. I have indicated this in many of my writings.

Managing in complexity and changes in organizational patterns and behaviors, can be analogized to the influence of an “attractor” pattern or force, which in the simulations shown by mathematician Edward Lorenz (Morgan, 1997, p.264), can shift patterns from one trajectory to another, creating what are called “bifurcation points” like forks in a road. It is for this reason that I had, before I even learnt organizational theories, thought that leadership is the key to our development. African societies are in motion, but seem very chaotic and seem like going nowhere. In fact in my exploratory research in Summer 2005, I took pictures of Nsawam, a major trading center when I was growing up in the 1950s, and what I could predict would have been a major city by now.

What Nsawam could have been: I use Nsawam as an example. Nsawam has not changed one bit and still seem even more chaotic than I saw and admired as a child in the 1950s. With only 24 miles from the major city of Accra, and most lovely real estate sites, only God can tell why the “bifurcation points” in this chaotic system has not helped develop better 6 lane [minimum required] transportation highway system from Accra! It takes me 40 minutes to travel to San Francisco Airport from Fremont, California, a distance of about 35 miles. I know we can do the same in Ghana. Roads are built of cement, gravel, sand and tar, but more importantly, the human mind. I'd rather call this invisible hand that shapes chaotic and complex systems be called and ascribed to Leadership.

To further exemplify chaos theory, anybody who went to Ghana between 2003 and 2004 and witnessed how traffic moved at the Tetteh-Quarhie Round-about will understand this theory of chaos and complexity. I witnessed no accident at all in 3 months of driving and yet every time I entered that round-about, it was like entering a den of lions, or shall we say a fishpond full of fish where everybody gets their share of food, from where you cannot tell, and nobody dies. I can assure you that your blood pressure will rise every time you drive through some parts of Accra, especially around Tudu, around Makola, and then at Madina Market! Gooooosh!!!

Please don't try driving in Accra until you have been in Ghana for some time and seen your Doctor to check your readiness for this! Of course part of the pressure also comes in not having orderly house numbering and visibly posted road names in our cities. Africa is indeed a chaos of the first order! After 34 years of driving in America, Canada, Mexico, it took me the whole Summer 2004 to feel confident to drive by myself to go and get some simple items from the mushrooming road-side stores. I usually had an entourage I call bodyguards. I always wondered how long it took Europeans and others to drive by themselves. I always wondered also what Nsawam could have been under proper leadership with vision?

Adjusting in Ghana:

We all adjust differently. I chose not to adjust but to change. You see, the idea of Nana, returning home from UK and seeing open gutters as abhorrent and covering the gutters, and then summoning neighbors to go with him shows a spontaneous kind of leadership emerging from a chaotic situation. It may be analogous to what is called “situational leadership” in leadership journals. Africa has survived despite this chaos. That is why some say there is a God, despite Africa's chaotic and apparent helpless situations. I found things similar to what Nana found. My neighbor had covered his gutters with the ACP cylindrical pipes and could drive over his before I went home in 2003. I liked it, but mine had already been done under my [still not perfect] remote management system by my managers who did the “normal” sewage even though the land had what they called French drain. We had continued the gutter on the neighbor's, but don't ask me where the gutter led to! Okay! You won't like the scene! Not soon after I moved to Ghana in July 2004 a contractor hired by government [with no name and no signs to show who they were] came and dug the official gutters, 10 feet away from ours. The road had been narrowed 10 feet then, and I gained 10 feet of front yard, but at the expense of another $5,000 in concrete and cement and pipe work to redo the gutter. This year in March-April 2005, the mosquitoes won the battle, and under duress I had to cover the 140 feet of gutter, another cost of about $4,000.

Sharing the money, empowering the towns:

By the government we have hired [NPP government under Kufuor now] who dictate how much money my district of Amasaman should get, and not taking this responsibility seriously, even the people who can afford it are wasting money that we could all use to build something better. In the West, as you all know, we pay these through property taxes. My neighbors in East Legon, I can guarantee 99% will pay willingly and gladly to put the covered sewage and shared central water system. Don't let anybody deceive you we don't have money to develop ourselves in Ghana! We do! Take $5,000 and multiply by say 10,000 homes and see what you get! $50 Million! Do these government Ministers need calculators to do this Math? Come oooon!! Would we need any foreign loans? Similarly are the people in Dzoworlu, and Madina, Adenta and rural areas like Abetifi, Pepease, Nkwatia, Mpraeso, Aburi, Manpong, Manfe, Akropong, Kyekyebi, Sunyani, Boodee-bebu-abowo, to name a few areas.

What I can guarantee you we as a people in Ghana will not pay into is the idea of collecting the property taxes and using it to buy 88 Toyota Landcruiser vehicles for Ministers and deputies. No! As such, many in the affluent neighborhoods are not willing to pay their property taxes and challenging government to come to court with them. In my area, many Ministers live there, and since there is no computerized database, they don't know which “big man” lives where. I took a quick preview when I was at the District Office. I had to assume the “arrogant” [forgive me] attitude of a “big man” and even start lecturing them how they can use Computers instead of these books that looked like Abetifi Boarding School ledger manual in 1952. Strangely enough they listened to me for 30 minutes! There is no doubt some will wonder what comes on me when I am in such situations. For sure I know it's not Akom from some fetish priests. No! I was not at Tiananmen Square with those Chinese boys and girls, but there is something, some power, from within that we all need to unleash to fix our Ghana! This is the challenge!

Nana and all, I hope you join GLU to do this work of putting the nation under the fire of accountability and demand our leaders to perform. On solo work, we can all try to shine in our corners and see, perhaps some slow growth [good luck]. East Legon has expanded this idea by even building a police station through an informal volunteer group. When I want home, it was commissioned in March 2005 by no other than the Omanpanin Kufuor (I missed that one) who praised it as the first in the nation. What President Kufuor failed to mention was the fact that it was in the constitution for districts to be self-empowered to do these themselves! What somebody needs to tell Mr. Kufuor, and we will, is the fact that constitution also gives him sole power as dictator extraordinaire to appoint who our District and Regional Leaders should be. How can this work? Mr. Kufuor perhaps will do well to read it, and find ways to communicate this to the districts, and more importantly demand a change in the Constitution to make towns and districts elect their own Mayors or DCE (District Chief Executives)

I could go on further, but remember that we all (smile) used to live in the bushes some few hundred years ago? Then came the “white man” (sorry the European interlopers) who brought their ships and alcoholic Whisky [shame], and traded in gold and in slaves, and built Castles along the coasts of Ghana! Okay, we chose to surrender to them for 100+ years, and took their educational and other systems. What is wrong with us taking their management systems? Going back to the point, why should you, Nana, a PhD and former lecturer in a UK University, return to Ghana and in Tesano, or I in East Legon, Prof. George in say Cantonments, Dr. Sam in McCarthy Hills, Dr. Yaw Anaafi in Akropong, have to pay C200,000 or $5,000 when we could pay the taxes and have it distributed as done here in California, Ontario, or parts of Australia, UK or Germany, so that water and sewage, electricity, phone systems, will be provided and we pay our bills!! Why can't we allow a decentralized city and district management system to have their water/sewage and other utility systems? And why won't the central government then share the moneys collected at the ports and harbors in a negotiated fair manner to these districts and towns?

All it takes is management, working under rightful and effective leadership. I am no doctor, but I can once again say that the high blood pressure, increase in diabetes, strokes and hypertension found in modern Ghana can be directly attributed to the stress and anxiety levels people live under, scrambling for the basic necessities of life. Our friend Tony was telling me his blood pressure had gone up after living in Ghana for only 6 months last year. Living in Ghana for 3 months last year, there were times I felt like crying. But then, some of us, instead of crying, or joining our buddies to scramble for a Landcruiser or Pajaro and water delivered by a tanker every morning at the government bungalow, chose to form an NGO to activate for change. In case some may doubt it, I can assure you all that if we do not get the government's attention to our satisfaction, we need to raise the level of GLU activism to a far higher stage that will shake the very bottom of the power structure we have in Ghana today! [God willing].

References: Those interested in the Chaos and Complexity theory and others such theories can refer to: Gleick, J. (1987). Chaos: Making a New Science. New York: Penguin.

Morgan, G. (1997). Images of Organization. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications (New Edition).

Morgan, G. (1997). Imagin-i-zation: New Mindsets for Seeing, Organizing, and Managing. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers. ISBN: 1-5767-5026- Cheers, Kwaku A. Danso, President, Ghana Leadership Union, Inc (NGO) Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.