In the mid-1980s, as a career military officer, I did an Armoured Reconnaissance (Recce) course in the United Kingdom, as part of my professional development.
At the same time, my classmate, Kwadwo, was in London as a medical officer. Mobile phones had not arrived. We, therefore, communicated by letters.
At the end of my course, I arrived in London on my way back to Ghana. Ghana was then transitioning from the black-and-white television to colour.
Like many young men at the time, acquiring a colour television was my dream. This was also a period of the video-deck and cassettes for showing movies.
On my shopping list, therefore, I earmarked a colour TV and a video-deck. However, I had limited funds.
Samsung vrs JVC
Kwadwo picked me on a Saturday morning to assist with my shopping. At an electronics shop, my limited finances luckily could buy a TV and a video-deck.
Kwadwo encouraged me to go for that, but no! The name/brand was Samsung, which was new on the market. I wanted a known name like Philips, JVC or Grundig.
Meanwhile a JVC video-deck was selling for the same price as the Samsung TV and video-deck together. I remembered my basic Economics concept of Opportunity Cost. I had to forgo one for the other!
Against all the dictates of commonsense, I decided to buy the JVC only, not the complete set of Samsung TV and video-deck, to Kwadwo’s amusement or annoyance!
On my return home, my JVC sat in my wardrobe for a year, as I continued watching my old black-and-white TV, until I could afford a colour TV.
This reminded me of the philosopher Voltaire who said, “man is rational in that he can think, not in that, he thinks!”
Otherwise, how could I explain my unreasonable decision of just wanting a name/brand? Why this recollection of a London incident which happened about 40 years ago?
Years later, a young university graduate sought my opinion on a choice of employment offer between a known reputable company and an unknown little company.
After an analysis of the prospects, we both agreed on the choice of the little unknown company, because he could rise faster in the small company as it grew.
Somehow, he finally decided to go for the bigger company! I was disappointed with his decision. But my brain quickly recalled Kwadwo’s disappointment in London, when I decided against logic and went ahead to buy a JVC video-deck only, when the same amount could buy me a Samsung TV/deck.
Isn’t it said that what goes around comes around? Morally therefore, I could not protest. Eventually when I told him my story with Kwadwo, he only smiled.
I realise some decisions are made not on rational basis, but on emotions, and sometimes to impress others! Ghanaians love big names! Recently, someone bragged that he ate lunch of whiskey and salad at Kempinsky Hotel!
Rolex was the crème de la crème of wrist watches, while Mercedes Benz was the king of cars, when we were growing up.
Indeed, a friend said when he congratulated an uncle on his retirement car of a brand new top-of-the-range Toyota in the 1960s, the uncle mournfully said in Twi “hmmm! M’awie ni o!”
In effect ending life with a Toyota, and not a Mercedes was painful to him. Toyota was new and did not have a name.
But should a name or brand supersede functionality, especially when one is constrained by funds?
A History professor once asked his Level-100 class what human beings learn from history. After amusing himself listening to all the theories his students propounded, he told them “what we learn from history is that, human beings never learn from history!”
Indeed, a young man who was fed up with his father’s pieces of advice told him “Dad, allow me to make my own mistakes, suffer the consequences, and learn from them. I don’t have to learn from yours always!”
According to the professor, this is why we keep re-inventing the wheel, instead of using others’ lessons as springboard for progress.
Today, all electronic gadgets in my home are Samsung, a clear case of the stone which the builders rejected in the 1980s becoming the cornerstone of the 2000s!
The Toyota my friend’s uncle looked down on in the 1960s, produces the famous Land Cruisers now used by the UN in operational areas.
Let us “cut our coat according to the size of our cloth.” That way, we don’t have to live beyond our means and steal to buy big names to fuel corruption!
More importantly, let us “think out of the box” and take initiatives. For, eventually, it is new thinking/new names that have sent others to space/moon and back, that grow into the established names we all seek.
Fellow Ghanaians, wake up!
The writer is a former CEO, African Peace Support Trainers Association, Nairobi, Kenya and Council Chairman, Family Health University College, Accra