Of late, I have been suffering from blame fatigue syndrome – BFS. It is a unique African disease where the victim gets tired of others shouldering the blamed for the 1001 problems that beset the continent. Quite recently, President Mahama blamed the IMF for the poor performance of the African Agric sector. When the Ebola virus took the world stage the West took a hit from a few writers like Dr Perry Brimah.
Not too long ago, I had to counter a two part series entitled: Are There Scientists In Ghana? A couple of years back there was one such insulting article, which completely disembowelled me. The bleeding heart socialists blame capitalism for all Africa's woes. Others empty their arsenal on imperialism and slavery. I am very certain I can write a bestseller just cataloguing the Africa's bogeymen. This blame game has being going on since the overthrow of Nkrumah; when there after we went cap in hand to the IMF. There is a saying that when you continue to blame others for your problems you become a passive moron.
I will say from the outset that I am neither an engineer nor a scientist, and for that matter what I am writing is not in the interest of self-preservation. It is only the responds of a concerned citizen to help us think outside the box, and leave behind the parochial ideas that is limiting our development. This piece is not in the least trying to provide alibis for them, as someone suggested in an earlier article. It is meant to open a vista for fresh thinking as to how we deal with our problems and the outside world.
This is the basis of my opposition to the blame culture. My argument is if we blame our scientists for not coming up with the requisite inventions, does that mean that until they put their acts together to come up with viable solutions we are going to be stuck with the status quo? Now, we blame the IMF, the World Bank and the West, which I am pretty certain they are not going to change anytime soon. Does that mean that we are perpetually going to be economically and financially shackled?
Ever since the Ghanaian economy took a fatal nosedive we have been looking for an economic elixir to solve our problems. Sadly, for those who wish for that it is not as easy as they think. The overwhelming majority of Ghanaians are wasting away in poverty. And when you think about the fact that we are endowed with copious natural resources the frustration becomes palpable. For some Ghanaian intellectuals, their exasperations flows through their pens with smooth language full of casuistry and sophistry infused with bombastic intellectual gymnastics to vent their spleen on some innocent members of the society like our scientists and engineers. Over a decade ago, I read a similar diatribe, which seems to have been written by some knowledgeable drunken town crier. And I don't think there is light at the end of the tunnel yet for these articles.
Sometimes, their style of argument, which I refer to as dictators with pens instead of guns share a common tangent with lack of patriotism with regards to nurses and doctors who leave the country in search of greener pastures. To broaden the scope of this outmoded culture, there are those who will say it's the fault of the police due to corruption, forgetting the fact that corruption is endemic in our society. Some will say it's the military because they keep meddling in the political life of the nation while doing a bad job of remembering the euphoria that legitimised the overthrow of those constitutionally elected governments. Other schools of thought believe it's the educational system while glossing over the fact that they were modelled on the British system that has produced most of the inventions we enjoy today. Others are adamant that it's our leaders, dismissing the fact that they rose from our ranks. So the question is where does it end?
The anguish of most of these concerned citizens who peddle these straw man's arguments are the seemingly light years we trail behind the Asian Tigers, notable among them South Korea. The South Koreans before achieving their industrial status were also an agrarian economy, but now happens to be the 15th largest economy in the world. Besides, if we adopt income per capita or the Human development Index they will be much higher on the table. As such, most Ghanaian thinkers find it very hard to swallow since we had similar per capita income before both countries launched their industrialisation, which coincidentally took place the same day. There are tangible explanations to their remarkable achievement, which I have written extensively elsewhere.
Having said that, it is important to note that development does not happen in a vacuum. No matter how sophisticated an engineer or for that matter any field that requires high-powered brains needs to perfect and excel that training through practical job experience. Clearly, that is the essence for the need for sophisticated research and development laboratories, which do not fall from the sky. As has always been the case some will say the government should provide it. And I will humbly tell them it can best be achieved in the hands of the private sector, because the government is very bad at the allocation of scarce resources. These are some two examples to chew on: Ghana Airways and TOR.
There are so many reasons stifling the development of our scientists and engineers, which I cannot outline all in this roughly 2000 word article. However, I will do my best to touch on the most salient ones. All the current developed nations achieved their development through the injection of foreign capital and technology. The British perfected their technology through influence from continental Europe. The difference with the Brits is that they have the commercial instincts to every technology. And of course, the British passed on their knowhow to the Americans.
The most mesmerising technology of our age, the space programme technology, did not originate in Russia or America. They were first developed in Germany and it was perfected by the Americans and the Russians after the Second World War. And the Germans can neither claim any technical superiority, because their modern technology came from England. Swiss are the best watch maker in the world, but they did not develop the technology, it was started by the French Huguenots who sought refuge from religious persecution in the Swiss Alps. Currently, the country that leads in Maglev train technology popularly known as bullet train is Japan. Curiously, they did not invent the train technology, but received it from the Americans. For all that you know the American also imported it from the Brits.
For a practical example, there is no way, even in half century, could we have been able to pump the deposits at the Jubilee Oil fields. The Tullow Oil and Kosmos energy that drilling this off shore oil reserves have perfected their technology through decades of innovation and try and error. Our scientists and engineers who will be lucky to be employed by these foreign companies will learn something. From that they can set up their own businesses that can even repair some of the platforms at a cheaper cost than can be done by well established companies in the trade. Through this conduit the technology will be passed on inadvertently to most Ghanaian engineers who can also appropriate it in other sectors of the economy. It is important to note that the transfer of technology will not happen when there is intermittent violent change of government, which Ghana was an active victim for almost a generation. The reason is simple. Investors invest in countries where they can guarantee the security of their investments.
Finance is one of the most important aspects of the jigsaw that most people ignore. Though, Ghana is on the ascendency regarding the financial industry, it is always being undermined by incompetence and corruption. The effect is the harmful constant double digit inflation that has been gnawing at the pillars of the economy since the eighties. Until we take steps to stop it investment into research projects will never happen.
Currently, there are Ghanaian intellectuals who object to multinational companies who would like to take advantage of our cheap labour market. They are unable to make the connection that inexperienced labour attracts cheap rates. And so long as there is high unemployment in the economy Ghanaian labour will attract lower prices. High wages only comes through efficiency and productivity.
And last but not the least is the competitive spirit of capitalism. Lack of competition in India up to the early 90s nearly destroyed Hindustan Motors and Tata steal – just to name a few. The party of the Indian finance minister who initiated the changes lost their power when the reforms started biting. Now, Tata steal, for example, is one of the most efficient and profitable steal plants in the world. India actually kept themselves poor needlessly up till the time they started their reforms, yet they had scientists. After the adoption of liberal economic reforms that liberated their entrepreneurs, strangely their scientists also surfaced from obscurity.
The concept of human inertia is something that is grossly overlooked in our society. But its effects also suppresses the effort of our scientist and engineers to be innovative. There was a time in the western region where a village was provided with a borehole in an attempt to stop the rampant recurrence of river blindness in the area. It came out that the chiefs and people of the area prefer the contaminated and bacteria ridden water from the river than the borehole simply because it did not taste nice. The notion of human inertia is a potent force, which needs a lot of tact to overcome and that of Ghanaians, including myself, has an unusual clad that needs extra effort to bring down. Our love for imported things, which is not unique, can be said to be one factor that is killing the development of local industries. It plagued the British, the Americans and the catalogue is endless.
It is very important to note, and a lot of sociologist and psychologist will tell you this, middle class comfort do not produce geniuses and a sizeable chunk of our engineers and scientist come from such background. It is people who are hungry for success who drive human progress and not people who celebrate middle class comfort. It is imperative to note, quite a few of the most important world changing inventions did not come from well-trained engineers and scientists. The most notable among them, Michael Faraday, who invented the electric motor that changed the world, never had any university education. When he accomplished that he was under the tutelage of the most renowned scientist of the Victorian era Sir Humphrey Davy.
Strangely, he did not come up with that world transforming invention; though, he spearheaded the experiments that eventually led Faraday to invent the motor. Benjamin Franklin, a prolific inventor of the eighteenth century, did not even finish high school. Thomas Edison had three months of formal education. The Wright brothers were an ingenious bicycle mechanics who invented the plane that enabled man to soar like the eagle. It takes special inspiration coupled with the necessity and a voracious appetite to satisfy a debilitating need to make an inventor. Most engineers did not go through their training to come up with an invention. The express need is to make a decent living and if by chance they come up with something that revolutionise the world it becomes the icing on the cake, but not the purpose of their training.
The best way to solve the problem is to set up a fund that will support people who come up with inventions. Secondly, to throw a gauntlet for people to come up with specific invention that will really satisfy a need. Finally, we need an equivalence of the British Royal Society for science. The rest is nothing short of growing our economy based on the economic activities that we have relatively competitive advantage. In the short term technology can always be imported from abroad and we don't need local engineers and scientists to come up with specific inventions to solve our immediate local problems.
Philip Kobina Baidoo Jnr