CSIR @ 60: Best birthday gift

BY: Enimil Ashon

Isn’t it amazing that 60-plus years after independence, we still have not found a solution to the problem of having to leave tomatoes or yam – or name any basic farm produce – on the farm to either rot or leave the farmer with no option but to literally beg market queens from Accra, Mankessim, Takoradi and Kumasi to buy them at prices that cannot keep him through another planting season.

Shamelessly we solve the problem of shortages by importing from Sahelian West Africa – from Burkina Faso and Niger, among others.

We have large tracts of land and a mighty army of unemployed youth, yet Blue Skies, one of the finest examples of Ghanaian ingenuity in industry, is forced to import oranges to feed its factory.

And we have leaders!

They will open books on Economics that will prove that Kwame Nkrumah was wrong in establishing state farms. Perhaps it is true that we could not manage them. Granting that that is wholly true, I ask: If in 1966 we did not have sufficient number of economists and marketers, can we say the same thing five decades on, with Economics, Management and Business majors graduating from the state universities annually and multitudes of young minds graduating, first class, in Marketing from nearly all the private universities and polytechnics in this country?

We’ve got it all upside down. Today, we call polytechnics technical universities. Go there. Go also to the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST). There are probably more language and Marketing students than pure science and technology or technical students. Did you know that the University of Cape Coast was set up by Kwame Nkrumah to train science teachers?

With glass, shoe, corned beef, radio/TV and tyre, match factories, boatyards etc. in the early to mid-1960s working at capacities that could absorb KNUST and technical school interns, there was an incentive to do science.

Fact: The success that the Gold Coast made with the production, storage and marketing of cocoa was largely based on the research and development (R&D) activities of the Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana (CRIG).

Fact: Ghana’s fame in oil palm production in the 1960s, which drew the then President of Malaysia to send his scientists to learn from scientists in Kwame Nkrumah’s Ghana, was achieved on the back of scientific research into soils and crops. Today, 61 years after independence, with technology developing faster than you can blink, we are still importing raw gold, cocoa, diamond, bauxite and other commodities.

By the last count, we had over 80 universities, 10 technical universities and some two dozen technical institutes.

What did Kwame Nkrumah see in science and technology 60 years ago? Hear him: “Only the mastery and unremitting application of science and technology can guarantee human welfare and human happiness.” He was speaking at the fourth anniversary of the Ghana Academy of Sciences.

Contrast governments after Nkrumah. There is no faith in science and technology. Otherwise how come that besides salaries, money for actual research comes from donor nations and foreign institutions?

Give me another word for priorities.

Last month, first time in 23 years, I shed a tear. This was after an interview with the Minister of Environment, Science and Technology, Prof. Frimpong Boateng. When I asked him about his government’s promised support of one per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) to science, technology and innovation (STI), he pleaded on behalf of the government for time; that the government first had to take care of food, schools and health.   

My motto is one: No science, no future. The alternative is to push the children through school only to produce university and technical university graduates who, 60 years on, cannot solve problems of electricity generation, for example.

I haven’t said that funding to other sectors must cease, but I am convinced that to starve scientific research of funds while nursing and teacher trainees are still given allowance is out of order. Meanwhile, troops of senior high school (SHS) graduates are either paying hefty bribes into state nursing schools or paying fees to train in private nursing schools! Sixty years after 1957, why should we pay anybody to learn how to teach?

I am happy to note that under Prof. Frimpong Boateng, work on an STI Policy has been completed. I am shocked, however, that the policy still has to go through Parliament to give it legal teeth.

Certainly Parliament is not so busy that even on recess, MPs are recalled, and paid allowances to sit on issues which, in my humble opinion, are not life-and-death - for example, “cash for seats”. Everybody puts their money where the heart is.

Do I not trust the Akufo-Addo government to gift us an STI Policy? My answer lies in the proverb, “Once bitten twice shy.” In 2000, a National Science and Technology Policy was approved by Cabinet, but that ended it. It did not advance into full implementation. Inexorably, indefatigably, the scientific community pushed until a working document on the management of science and technology policy was prepared in 2001. Nothing happened after that.

The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) is 60 this year. Why not the passage of the STI Policy as a birthday gift?

Ghana needs a document that provides a broad framework for defining the goals, use, institutions of and the funding sources for science and technology.

PS: Discovered only this week: ‘Jászfelsőszentgyörgy’ is the name of a small village in Hungary. It is one of the longest-named places on earth.