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27.08.2008 Feature Article

Excellence, Excellence where art thou?

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It hasn’t quite been a “summer” of discontent but the complex issues of nation –building and the disparate political approaches to this task continue to fuel strong emotional outbursts from opposing viewpoints. Democracy is not about who shouts the loudest but about who does the most for the citizens with the least amount of resources. It is about stewardship of the national trust not only for now but for the much talked about future. Here in lies the cancer of corruption, which I mention only so I can move on, since it is constantly addressed by so many commentators.
In the last few months, we have had to contend with the national awards which created a debate on nothing other than the tension between mediocrity and excellence. The president presented his spirited defence of his decision to give out as many as he did. On the opposing side are those who believe that many of the recipients did not meet the basic requirement of excellence to merit an Order of the Volta. Simply being in a position of authority seemed to qualify most awardees. There were a few individuals whose awards generated little or no controversy. Being a party loyalist seemed to be another criterion. For this category, political parties must institute their own awards. As long as there are filthy open “malarious” drains all over the land, trains that don’t work, hospitals that barely meet their mandate of compassionate care to the people and tons of citizens avoid dealing with agents of the public service, such as the police at every opportunity for fear they will be divorced from their hard earned money. Excellence is still an ideal yet to be realized. If we set the bar too low, individuals will simply not aspire to greater heights of achievement. The president had an opportunity to single out a few exemplary Ghanaians for these national honors but notwithstanding his well thought out explanation, he ended up diluting the value of the OOV. That is the word on the street.
Our participation in the Olympic Games is a case in point. We have been avid participants since our birth as a nation. Our best results have been in boxing, track and field and soccer. In our 50 years of participation, the sports leadership has not been able to expand our involvement by developing Ghanaian talent in other sports. There is no reason why the young men who take part in annual regatta events cannot adapt to a sport like Rowing. Likewise Shooting, Cycling, Beach volleyball, Volleyball, Tennis, Ping –Pong and Judo should be within the reach of Ghanaian athletes. We simply need to set development targets and find sponsors with a detailed community –based grass roots development plan in hand to excel at these sports.
We are reminded at the games that, even though all the athletes assembled are the best, in any event only those who are truly excellent are awarded prizes. This is what keeps the games competitive and causes athletes to strive for the meaningful Gold, Silver and Bronze medals.
Our failure to invest in developing the talents of our youth have already yielded sour fruit in all the young men and women who sell cheap imported merchandise on the “street markets” in Accra traffic. They are industrious and ingenious people but imagine what would happen if their creativity were applied to production in various sectors of our national experience. It is hard to find truly skilled mid-level technical workers Ghana now. Everyone has a tale of woe regarding repairs to houses, cars and equipment of all sorts. Our artisans are never able to cost their projects appropriately and their work ethic is often so poor that you have to stick around and monitor them while they work. This obviously inflates the cost, though in Ghana time is still not recognized as a currency of commerce. The best carpenter or mason is a critical to national development as the best doctor or professor.
The President is absolutely correct in identifying institutional efficiency as the critical area of development going forward. The institution requiring the greatest support at present is the Electoral Commission. Its ability to meet its constitutional mandate is critical to our future as a stable nation – state. It should be resourced and supported by borrowed funds if necessary to enable it to meet its mandate. Our current re-registration exercise revealed that the EC is not being well equipped to protect the integrity of the democratic process in Ghana. This is more of a priority any day than a presidential palace.
Our infrastructural developments in the last eight years are undeniable but we are building a fantastic infrastructure on a foundation of poor indigenous data and an ill-prepared workforce with a poor work ethic. In Ghana the most complicated question is “what is your address?” This leads to a long discourse involving land marks, some of whom are living and mobile. Naming streets, byways and highways and simply numbering houses in a logical fashion has eluded us for 50 years and we still believe we are on our way to economic glory. We need to tackle the simple things first. For example, we talk so much about the contribution of tourism to the economy. Indeed Ghana can be a tourist paradise. Take the case of Mole Game Reserve: A unique place for interacting with elephants at close quarters, if there ever was one anywhere on earth. Yet the road to Mole is impassable. In order for a tourist site to be viable over the long run, it must be accessible. Yet we go on and on about improving the lives of citizens in the Northern and Upper Regions but we do not do the minimum required to help people help themselves. In 16 years neither the NDC nor the NPP has addressed tourism in a fundamentally sound and sustainable manner.
We must frame the core principle upon which we build our development goals as the pursuit of excellence. This should be our national mantra. There was a time when it was. The leader who returns to this basic premise and introduces it early in the lives of our citizens, we will lead the nation to its true potential.

Dr. T. P. Manus Ulzen
August 26, 2008
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Thaddeus Ulzen, Dr.
Thaddeus Ulzen, Dr., © 2008

The author has 61 publications published on Modern Ghana. Column Page: ThaddeusUlzen

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