The worst of times; the best of times : Kwaku Sakyi-Addo’s commencement address at Ashesi

BY: Anis Hafffar

There are easy tips to be learned from penalty shoot-outs in championship football games to help create winning formulas in Ghana. For example, by being seen waving arms in jubilation to celebrate each successful kick, the scorers inspire the other teammates to score too. The thrill of victory is a spark for emulation, but the agony of defeat is incapacitating. 

The earlier we yank the youth out of that agonising predicament through models of triumph, the brighter the sparks for the future of Ghana. The land itself is profoundly rich, except for the inability to add exceptional and ethical value to our human resource capital to grow the nation in leaps like other serious nations do.

A nation that faces persistent traumas prompted by a legacy of leadership and management failures through bungling, greed, and mediocrity deserves to see examples of resolute people who shine brightly in their own corners. In that vein, positive role models like Kwaku Sakyi-Addo of the Telecoms Chamber and Patrick Awuah of Ashesi University are blessings indeed for emulation, especially by the youth. All is not lost; we live to see a brighter day!

One quiet evening, I was brooding over the hardships from the ever rising cost of living caused by the daily depreciation of the cedi and the various demonstrations in the country. I recalled also the demise of a great many bona fide Ghanaian state enterprises - such as the Black Star Shipping Line, the Ghana Airways, the Komenda Sugar Factory, GIHOC Pharmaceuticals, and the recent death of Ghana Telecom. While seething over the great opportunities lost to this nation, I got a lively call from Kwaku Sakyi-Addo. He was preparing a commencement address he was to deliver at Ashesi University’s graduation ceremony (2014) and sought to confirm some figures relating to some trends in education.

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Commencement addresses, of course, are the preserves of the brightest intellectual and hands-on elites in any society; and the best ones defy the test of time. The definitive addresses by the likes of Maya Angelou, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Barack Obama, Oprah Winfrey are timeless pieces.

The themes of the best addresses focus on quality and ethical leadership, courage, selflessness, honesty, and the can-do spirit: all the virtues that Ghana needs today to leapfrog from a poor self-induced third world victim into a first class nation. It was on that note that I wished Sakyi-Addo well, being an ace patriot with the pedigree of our beloved late brother Komla Dumor.

Starting off from Achimota School and the University of Ghana, Sakyi-Addo’s continuous growth has led him to places including Berlin (Germany), and Macalester College in the United States. He served as a journalist with the Ghana News Agency (GNA), BBC, and Reuters. He hosted the TV series “Kwaku One-On-One”, and a weekly current affairs programme on Joy FM, receiving the Ghana “Journalist of the Year Award” twice.

With such a rich repertoire behind him, it was refreshing when I finally read his speech. (Now available on the Ashesi University website, it is a model for all to download, read and reflect). The themes were so elating that I used the gist of the address for my discussions on XYZ FM 103.1 radio soon thereafter.

“Ghana needs people who’ll speak up for the poor … people who’ll ask questions; and challenge our norms.  People who will question the government; challenge the opposition; tackle the DCE; confront the MP! Ask the Assembly member to show you what he or she’s done for you and the community lately.  Question your chiefs!  Question your pastor.  Why does he live in obscene opulence when members of the congregation wallow and rot in penury, while Pope Francis washes and kisses the feet of the homeless and the destitute?”

“We need people with more than just a high IQ.  We need (a) high EQ too -- Ethical Quotient. …  Our country deserves citizens with a sense of shame. 

Our country needs people who are not just out to make a living but who are living to make a difference.  We need people who go to work – where work is not a noun but a verb; a doing word, not a place! Ghana needs … people who’re not as interested in knowing and following instructions as they are in understanding them; people who aren’t interested in someone else’s instruction manual …  Ghana needs people who will innovate,” he charged. 

In his role as the first CEO of Ghana Chamber of Telecommunications, Sakyi-Addo observed, “The rest of the world is getting on with it; researching, developing and introducing new technologies and frontier-breaking applications that are overturning the way we live and learn, and the way we work and play … smart phones that turn on the lights at home … medicines with chips that beep the doctor to let him know that you’ve taken your medication.  Already there’re chip-embedded cars that tell the ambulance when they’ve been in an accident.”

His advice to our youth, “You are our hope.  Don’t settle for half-done. With the investment your parents have made in you (don’t) go through life like another blade of grass – unnoticed, indistinguishable and undistinguished.” 

To grow and celebrate champions in Ghana, Sakyi-Addo and Patrick Awuah are men for our season, pricking the nation’s conscience. They represent the winning formulas for emulation by our teeming youth. May God bless them both.
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