From Annan to Frimpong: Service in the name of the nation
Dear Reader, let me start with an apology for not turning up last week.
Some malaria parasites decided to visit my bloodstream and wreak havoc, knocking me down for almost a week and sending me off to hospitals and pharmacies, with my fragile pocket taking a hit in the process.
Much as my mind raced with thoughts of what to write, reaching out to sit behind my laptop to pound the keyboard to translate my thoughts was mere agony.
Thank God I did not transition to the other side.
I hope I am forgiven.
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Talking of transitions, I note with sadness that this country has lost three important stalwarts just this year: Prof. Atukwei Okai, Mr J.H. Mensah, and just the other day, Mr Kofi Annan. Of course, these men need no introduction.
Of the three gentlemen, Kofi Annan is the only one I had seen in person.
Not long ago, he visited the Ministry of Education to pay a courtesy call on the Minister.
Mission: to say thank you to the government after his successful tenure as Chancellor of the University of Ghana, and secondly to offer his encouragement on the Free Senior High School programme.
There was quite a flutter of excitement at the ministry as we all craned to catch a glimpse of this fine gentleman who had achieved so much and brought pride to us all.
He had such a spring in his step and a warm smile as usual. I should have sought a photo opportunity with him but I was shy.
The transition of these three distinguished sons of the land has set me wondering.
They belong to an era when public service really meant public service and no more; certainly not an avenue for enrichment of oneself.
On J.H Mensah, Ambassador D.K Osei is reported to have stated that “…he taught us how to love and serve this country…material things were unimportant to him.”
I know of many decent men and women who served in various important roles in public life and retired without much to their names beyond their dignity and integrity.
In the 21st century era of consumerism, materialism and the gradual erosion of time-tested values of honour and integrity, it is tempting to throw one’s hands up in the air and wonder whether from this current generation of youth fixated on the latest electronic gadgets, computer games, second-hand television soaps et al, we will ever raise a Kofi Annan, Atukwei Okai or J.H. Mensah.
My personal observation is that, over the years, we have grown into a more intolerant and divisive society, happy to pull each other down and destroy reputations at the slightest hint of any accusations − real or imagined − aided by a liberal, 24-hour media space with technology and proximity of social media to boot.
Sixty-one years after independence, our ethnic differences have become even sharper and have often been used like a ladder on the climb up the greasy pole of our messy politics. Our attitude towards maintenance is worse, and our railway, manufacturing and many other sectors lie in ruins as globalisation has taken over.
I do not think we have become a more compassionate society.
Of course, this is not to suggest a rose-tinted, golden age of yesteryear fondly referred to as the good old days, or that we live today in a savage jungle populated by lunatics slitting each other’s throats at the slightest opportunity.
Far from that. Because, in some areas such as life expectancy, telecommunications and political freedoms, we have made some progress. But any objective person who has been around for at least half a century will easily testify that the Ghana of today is not what it was in the 1970s, for instance.
I truly believe that there are enough selfless, inspirational and truly committed young people in this country to give us hope that, with the loss of Kofi Annan and his contemporaries, we still have something to hold on to.
It would, of course, be unfortunate and plainly ridiculous to lump all our young people together as drifters without ambitions beyond riding in the latest vehicles, sitting on loads of money and expecting to be worshipped by their fellow citizens.
I have been inspired by the remarkable story of a young man whose father is a peasant farmer and whose mother is a charcoal seller in the Western Region.
A brilliant student, he hawked gum, handkerchiefs and others in his junior high school days and gained admission to my alma mater, Opoku Ware School, where he excelled academically and gained a scholarship to the United States to study at the University of Pennsylvania.
He won a prestigious prize, the President’s Prize, worth $150,000.
Instead of probably buying a house for his parents back home or putting it in the bank or doing several other things that many young (and not so young) people would do with this money, Shadrach Frimpong decided to set up a school for girls back in his village, Tarkwa Breman to give young girls educational opportunities and enable them to exploit their potentials.
He put on hold his dream to enter medical school, relocated to Ghana after his degree and lived in his village to help ensure the smooth take-off of his project and is now back in the US for his medical programme.
I am sure there are many Shadrachs in this country who given the opportunity, would love to commit themselves to improving the lives of their communities rather than lust after a V8 or a house at the Airport Hills.
And for that reason, I do have hope for this country, that while the older generations have left and continue to leave huge voids with their passing, there is enough talent to fill the void.
But we cannot leave that to chance and to hope. We must make an effort to groom young people towards this.
And I think that as a nation, the noblest tribute we can ever pay to these three gentlemen and what they stood for, is not a grand, perfectly executed state funeral, or name monuments and buildings after them.
Let us create leadership and governance chairs in their memories to teach leadership skills that focus on the important values that come with it.
That way, we will be ensuring that their exemplary lives and what they stood for will be perpetuated and lived through further generations for many years.