A chat with Frimpong Boateng
As I promised last week, I sought out Professor Kwabena Frimpong Boateng, the Minister of Environment, Science Technology and Innovation. The purpose: to find out if President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo is being faithful to his pledge of one percent of gross domestic product (GDP) to Science, Technology and Innovation (STI).
For 15 minutes, he gave me a lecture about the speed of light, the existence of other galaxies and the futility of using our finite and partial knowledge to disprove the existence of a being who has such infinite knowledge.” How can we say there is no God?” he reasoned.
I could have spent the night at Prof.’s residence! On behalf of the scientific community, however, I cut in to pose the question: When is Nana Addo’s one percent promise going to be fulfilled?
Here is his reply: “In democratic governance, as you know, some things grind slowly and must be pursued logically. To effect an increase in the STI spend, one needs a policy. I can assure you that the STI Policy has been drafted and is before Cabinet. It will have to go to Parliament for debate and approval. That is the policy that will spell out the allocation of funds to research institutions such as the CSIR, universities and all.
“Fortunately, we have a President who is convinced that without STI, the whole nation will perish,” he said, warning: “We cannot afford to import everything, from toothpick to airplanes and hope to continue existing. If we are not capable of manufacturing machines to work for us, we will perish. The world is driven by technology: agriculture, education, transportation, even waste collection – they are all driven by technology. Technology is why only five percent of America are engaged in agriculture but are able to feed the whole nation, while 70 percent Ghanaians are into farming but cannot feed us.
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“We have no choice but to embrace technology. The people we want to catch up with – Malaysia, Singapore and South Korea – they are running with technology.”
So what is being done by the Nana Akufo-Addo government in which Prof. Frimpong Boateng is Science Minister?
Prof. used this question to announce the setting up of a Presidential Advisory Council for Science and Technology, “a body of prominent scientists, both local and foreign-based – some from America’s space centre (NASA) – to advise the President on STI.”
Then there is the Ghana Innovation and Research Commercialisation Centre which will link research to industry to commercialise research findings.
“I know that because of past disappointments, Ghanaians have become impatient but I can assure you that things are going to happen. Within the first term of Nana Akufo-Addo’s government, Ghana will see Africa’s first Super Computer, the type that accesses information from outer space, millions of light years from earth. It will be available to all institutions that need to process big data.”
He referred to the communication satellite station at Kuntunse installed by the SMC-1 government in the 70s. “That equipment has been replaced by Ghana Radio Astronomy Observatory. Now we can observe from deep space. We can observe the formation of stars, the death of stars, gravitational waves, the black hole and all that.
“Unfortunately, at this moment in our history because we need food, houses, medicines and other basics of life, we may be tempted to dismiss these efforts as abstract or label them as not priority. But I can assure you if we are able to do this, there is nothing we cannot do”
I asked Prof.: Does Ghana have the men and women to work these high-level technological wonders?
“Why not?” his voice was raised. “Thankfully, we have a National Robotics Association. These are high scientific brains. Also, as I speak, there is a Ghanaian who has the technology to convert plastic waste into bitumen – a type superior to what Ghana imports from abroad. His company (Core Construction Limited) has produced a sample. We are asking the Ministry of Roads and Highways to give us a portion of road to prove that this Ghana-made bitumen is better by far than what we are importing.
“We also have a Ghanaian who is turning plastic waste and gutter sand into concrete blocks. His blocks are 100 percent stronger than what we know now.”
It is for people like these, said Prof., that the government is encouraging business incubation as a concept to provide venture capital.
Also, he added, “It is to prepare Ghana for this immediate future that we cannot wait any further to set up foundries and machine tool centres all over the country. We need the capability to reproduce precision tools, parts and equipment. We used to have them at the Sekondi Railway ‘Location’ in the 60s.
“Without these in place, we cannot help people such as Apostle Safo of Christo Asafo to scale up production. He will need other companies that produce different parts of the car – chassis, suspension system, the body, locks, doors, upper arm, ball joint, the exhaust, brake pads and the navigational system. No car manufacturer does all these things alone,” he said.