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Dr Nii Moi Thompson attained education the hard way

BY: Augustina Tawiah
Dr Nii Moi Thompson
Dr Nii Moi Thompson

Our personality for this week would not have become an eminent economist today but for the bold and risky decision, he took when he was only 16.

Dr Nii Moi Thompson was compelled, at age 16, to leave his home in Kumasi for Liberia, and later Sierra Leone, in order to fulfil his dream of obtaining secondary and also higher education, if possible. 

Before that, he had, on two occasions, sat and passed the Common Entrance Examination, and just like any other child, was desirous of pursuing secondary education. But on both occasions, his father dragged his feet about sending him to secondary school. His mother then asked him to assist her in her jewellery shop at the Kumasi Central Market.

Initially, he accepted his mother’s suggestion, but after careful consideration, he concluded that because he was very good academically, it would not be the best to cut short his education that way. For that reason, he later packed a few belongings, including some books, and left for Accra, hopeful that from there he could make his way to Liberia, where his elder brother lived.

He had no money and so he stayed with a friend at Osu, while exploring his options. Luck smiled on him when he met another Ghanaian who was about to travel to Liberia and offered to assist Young Thompson.

“It was a desperate decision and I haven’t regretted it,” Dr Thompson, an economist and Director-General of the National Development Planning Commission (NDPC), said.

“I’m sitting where I’m today because of that singular decision to leave Kumasi and Ghana. I had to make something of myself before I wasted away,” added the NDPC boss, whose full name is Isaac Bannerman Nii Moi Thompson. 

Liberia

In Liberia, he lived with his brother for a while before, in search of his “independence”, he moved in with a friend.  But the friend was soon evicted by his landlord and Young Nii Moi soon found himself homeless. 

He found temporary shelter in the home of a Good Samaritan, who put him in a spare room whose floor was treading water because of a weak foundation.

“I had to lay blocks in the water and place some wooden planks on them as my bed. My books served as my pillow.  But my friend’s father, who lived across town, didn’t know that he had given the room to a stranger. So every time the father visited, I quickly moved my things from the room,” he recalled laughing.  

One day while walking the streets of Monrovia trying to figure out what to do next, Young Nii Moi saw an artist making a sketch of an image on a billboard. As he too was very talented at drawing, he noticed straight away that there was something wrong with what the artist was painting and pointed it out to him.

The artist challenged him to climb up and do the drawing. The artist was so impressed with Young Nii Moi’s work that he employed him as his assistant. 

All that while, Young Nii Moi was studying on his own at home.

In Liberia, there were classes held at night for high schools and so he planned to take advantage of that opportunity.

Sierra Leone

According to him, after about a year’s stay in Liberia, a friend informed him of educational opportunities in Sierra Leone and so he left for that country. After a brief stay in one of the provincial towns in Sierra Leone called Bo, he left for Freetown, and on his second day in that city, he was fortunate to gain employment as a “reporter in training” with a newspaper called We Yone, which means Our Own in Krio.

Dr Thompson was only 17 then and he believes his love for reading, especially newspapers, as a child back in Ghana contributed to his securing the job, for which he had to submit a writing sample. He was initially assigned to the courts as a reporter, but he later covered general stories. 

After a year in Sierra Leone, he returned to Liberia and continued to work as a journalist while attending school at night. 

At 21, he applied to be a reporter for a daily newspaper, but he did so well during the interview that the publisher offered him the position of sub-editor instead, thereby effectively becoming deputy to the editor-in-chief and in charge of all other editors who were much older than him.

“Our newspaper was the most popular in Liberia, very critical of the military dictatorship at the time. This explains why Sgt Doe later closed down the paper and threw us into jail,” Dr Thompson said.

After four years of journalism, he left for the United States, where he successfully obtained his first degree in General Economics from the City University of New York – Brooklyn College, a master’s in International Economics from the State University of New York, Albany and finally a doctorate in Development Economics and Public Policy from the University of Pittsburgh.

Work experience

He later worked as a senior economist at the New York State Bureau of Fiscal and Economic Analysis in New York City, before returning home in 1997 – after a 21-year absence.

He would go on to work for himself and a number of local and international organisations, including the United Nations Development Programme, for which he served as a senior economic advisor in South Africa, before returning home again to join the government of Ghana in 2013. 

Early childhood

Dr Thompson was born at Bantama, Kumasi, to Isaac Bannerman Thompson Snr of the Cocoa Services Division of the Ministry of Agriculture and Madam Esther Addoley Allotey, a housewife. 

When his parents divorced, his mother sent him to live with an uncle, an Anglican priest, at Nkawie, near Kumasi, where he attended the Ahenfie Primary School.

He later moved to Accra before joining his father and his new wife at Agona Swedru. That explains why, even though he is Ga, he speaks both Fante and Twi fluently.

Childhood hobbies include Football and Reading.