A reader’s plea: ‘Let’s encourage criticism from within!’

BY: Ajoa Yeboah-Afari
The writer
The writer

My recent column, ‘In the headlines: contrasting images of Ghana youth’ (October 26), has generated a very thought-provoking response from a reader, Gabriel Dei Yeboah. Mr Yeboah’s letter to the Editor follows:

Dear Editor,

I have been an ardent reader of the brilliant articles by Ajoa Yeboah-Afari in her column, ‘Thoughts of a Native Daughter’.

I must confess that I have been a secret admirer of this columnist and have even considered her as my mentor due to her insightful articles.

However, for the first time, I disagreed with her on the conclusion of her article, which appeared in the October 26th issue.

In the said interesting article, she described the attitude of one of the trainees of the Nation Builders Corps (NABCO) as negative just because he had criticized the way the inauguration of the programme was organized.

Ms Yeboah-Afari suspected him to be “a Trojan Horse” and a planted “spoiler” who she feared might create disaffection among his colleagues. She even wondered why those who recruited him did not notice (his attitude).

I, too, listened to the interview and, to me, the young man does not deserve condemnation for his boldness, frankness and sincerity.

From my understanding, the trainee did not condemn the programme in its entirety, nor its inauguration, but how it was organized. Specifically, he deemed the idea of bringing all the trainees from the nooks and crannies of the country to Accra for the inaugurations as a waste of money and an inconvenience.

If the interviewer had gone further and asked for his opinion as to how best he thought the inauguration should be handled, maybe he would have come out with a better and more cost-effective way to organize it in future.
For all you know, there were other trainees who shared his view or sentiment but were afraid to come out because of fear of victimization or name calling as she did in her article.

I am of the view that instead of condemning the youth for sincerely speaking their minds, we should rather encourage them to be bold and criticize their (institution) constructively when the need arises.

By so doing, we will help our leaders to improve on their decisions and actions because two heads are always better than one.

Suppressing criticisms from within will prepare fertile grounds for dictator leadership in future. We will also create a society of sycophancy, hypocrisy and fanaticism, the signs of which we are seeing now in some areas of our human endeavour. Ranging from the governance level through religion, family and even passengers in the same vehicles, we are not encouraged to criticize from within.

Politicians (I mean parliamentarians, party communicators or serial callers) in one political party almost always see everything wrong in their opponents’ camp but seldom see and criticize anything in theirs.

Members of one religion do not remove the logs in their eyes but easily see the specks in the eyes of others.

This culture of not criticizing our own is breeding a different kind of “culture of silence” which is dangerous for good governance. I know of some leaders who have failed woefully because they did not tolerate criticism from within.

As leaders, therefore, let us not see those who criticize us from within as enemies of progress with negative attitude but as those who want to help us succeed. So let us tolerate, and even encourage, criticisms from people under us in the same organization.

Gabriel Dei Yeboah

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Response of the columnist

(For the benefit of readers who didn’t see the October 26 article under reference, it dealt with the contrasting images of the angry, rioting students of the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Kumasi, on October 22 and, days earlier, the jubilant atmosphere at the inauguration of the NABCO in Accra, on October 17.)

Dear Mr Dei Yeboah,

Thank you very much for your spirited rejoinder. I’m really happy about your letter because you not only read my article, but you were stimulated enough to write your opinion and forward it for publication.

Now to your concerns:

As far as I’m aware, this was a one-off ceremony of a wonderful initiative by President Akufo-Addo. Nobody had stated that the inauguration was to be an annual affair. In fact, I imagine that it’s because of its sheer novelty that it was decided to launch the NABCO in such a historic way, to have all the trainees participating, to grab national attention.

I imagine that for most of the people who have completed school and had been waiting for months for a job, if they had been selected they would have deemed it ‘small trouble’ to be asked to come to Accra for the inauguration.
It seemed to me that the event was also the confirmation that their job-seeking nightmare was over, that the initiative was really taking off, evidently hence the merry atmosphere.

However, clearly the spirit and significance of the occasion were lost on the young man. For him it was only a big bother. He obviously had no fear of anybody punishing him for expressing his views.

Unlike you, I couldn’t allow myself the luxury of predicting what he might have said if the interview had continued. I was judging him by what he said, on camera, to the whole nation.

For the record, I didn’t call him names. I merely expressed the hope, as I wrote, that he wasn’t: “a ‘Trojan Horse’, a ‘spoiler’, somebody who has found his way into the Corps, or been brought in, to cause disaffection among them!”  

Personally, what I found memorable about the NABCO inauguration, as seen on TV, was the high morale. To me, the joyful, celebratory mood which permeated the Independence Square was the evidence of the NABCO pioneers’ thankfulness for this initiative which, among other things, guarantees them a GHȼ 700 monthly stipend.

And that was the point of my observation: his colleagues’ touching demonstration of their appreciation, while he could only condemn.

Anyway, now that you have revealed yourself as a long-time admirer of the column, I hope that you will continue to read it and never hesitate to criticise anything you read here.

Every writer needs a critic, especially an objective one.

Thanks again.   
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