THROUGH THE GATES OF THOUGHT BOOK LAUNCH
5 NOVEMBER 2010: TEACHERS’ HALL COMPLEX, ACCRA, GHANA
Madam Chairperson – Ms. Anna Bossman (Deputy Commissioner, Commission for Human Rights and Administrative Justice), Sam Dontoh (HR Director, Unilever), Kobby Parker who authored Gate 10 in the book, special invited guests, my family, my Ghana National College seniors, my classmates from secondary school and University, Facebook friends I am meeting in flesh and blood for the first time, friends and loved ones, today is auspicious in many ways, but most importantly it is the birthday of my best friend, the person who took the risk to proceed on a journey with me, when all I had to my name was a promised first degree. Interestingly, this book is dedicated to her and our children. And this year’s birthday is a special one, considering that it was nearly postponed forever. Will you kindly help me say “Happy birthday” to my wife Vivian Damoah!
My first book was released in October 2008, and launched in Ghana on the 18th of December, and I set myself a target of releasing another one within two years. I was able to achieve it in one and a half years. I am thankful to God and many of you here for the encouragement and support in diverse ways.
My loving and faithful mum is here with us this evening, and I want to specially acknowledge her. It is fitting that she features in Gate 1, in which I recount one of the many lessons she taught us. Mama, medaase.
I always find it difficult deciding what to talk about on such important occasions – too much to say, so little time. My boss, Sammy Avaala, told me a story of a young village boy who had been in Accra working as a house help (let’s call him Kofi), missing all the good food he used to eat back in his hometown. One day, the mum of his madam visited and brought some good yams – pona. Knowing that Kofi likes yam, Grandma gave him a good portion, and Kofi took it to the veranda to do justice to it. He looks at the yams on the plate and the stew by it, and remarked: “Pona paa nie, a, nanso, abom no sua!”, to wit, “wonderful yams, but the stew is too small!”
My first book was Excursions in My Mind and this current one is Through the Gates of Thought. Why do I focus on the mind, on thoughts, on reflective thinking? That is my over-riding passion with my writing. I am motivated by my desire to make my impact on my society, with my thoughts. To share my experiences, with the hope that I may be able to change even one mind. If I can change one such mind, I would have contributed to the agenda of building our nation, our continent, our world.
I spent a couple of hours on a Saturday morning with a mentor of mine a couple of weeks ago. In our discussion about how we can step-change the pace of development in our country and continent, he told me the secret is in Romans 12:2:
Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.
Yaw Nsarkoh, another mentor of mine, who is currently the Managing Director of Unilever East and Southern Africa, remarked to my team recently that “Africans have still not accepted that we can be as good as anyone else.”
In chapter four of my first book, I assert that many of us don’t spend quality time thinking, even though we worry. We are good at worrying about the present, the future, even about the past, which Agathon indicated even God cannot change. Is it because thinking is seen as hard work? Thomas Edison observed that “it is remarkable to what lengths people will go to avoid thought.” Thinking is an alien activity for most people, but if we are to be rich and prosperous, and not just in the value of your bank account but more holistically, the quality and quantity of your thoughts matter.
Each significant step change in the history of civilization has been brought about by thinkers, and of course, implementers of the thoughts. We usually quote this one definition of insanity: doing things the same way and expecting different results from what the same method has delivered – nothing! We talk of thinking out of the box, but we fail to ask whether we are even thinking within the box in the first place. You can only be able to walk on the moon if you can actually walk, whether under gravity or not.
The wealth of nations has been thought to reside under the earth or in the sea: gold, bauxite, diamond, crude oil; some of the wealth is grown on the earth: cocoa, coffee, corn. I aver that the best wealth of the globe resides in our minds, and the real capital is an idea, a stance which is collaborated by Harvey S. Firestone, who stated that ‘Thought, not money, is the real business capital’.
A year ago, I caused a flurry of comments on my Facebook page when I asked a question that was bugging me: “When will our media in Ghana stop discussing events and petty squabbles and start discussing ideas and thoughts?” As I write today, our airwaves are still replete with such talk. You all have countless examples. We make mountains out of mole holes and treat the actual mountains as if they were less than mole holes.
Or is it the case that we are proving Walter Lippman right, when he stated “Where all think alike, no one thinks very much?” I find that most Ghanaians behaving like untrained amateurs playing football – all follow the ball at the same time! What I choose to call ‘stomach direction’!
In Africa, we have had thinkers like Kwame Nkrumah and Patrice Lumumba, people who are usually described as being ahead of their time. Today, we have Nelson Mandela, who is also unique in the sense that he is a legend in his lifetime.
Thinkers. Looking around today in leadership, do you see a lot of such thinkers shaping the African agenda? We are where are today as a continent because of our thoughts, and the extent to which we will go as a continent will depend on the quality of thoughts that drive leadership. James Allens captures it thus: “You are today where your thoughts have brought you. You will be tomorrow where your thoughts will take you.”
Are we developing nations of thinkers? What would we rather give as a gift: a fish or a manual on fishing? Are we teaching our generation and the next, our youth, our children, the act of thinking? Of valuing ideas? During my time in Nottingham University, I had a flatmate, Mirza Cengic from Sarajevo, who was studying for his Masters in Critical thinking. I was intrigued by it, but that is what we need: the art of critical thinking.
We must write our thoughts and share them. We write wills and leave property, cash, etc for our children and benefactors. It is a sign of how we value thoughts and ideas that we don’t deem it fit to document these and leave for posterity.
What is the overriding thought or idea driving the agenda for Ghana and Africa for the next decade for instance? My wish for my nation and my continent and for all reading this piece is that we follow Blaise Pascal’s advice: “All of our dignity consists in thought. Let us endeavour then to think well; this is the principle of morality.”
As my friend Quophy Obirikorang puts it, “we need a rude awakening from our mediocrity and self pity.” Nkrumah declared that there was a new African, but frankly isn’t that African old now, as we are not thinking ahead of the game that much anymore?
Recently, the drilling of the world’s longest transport tunnel was completed, which connects Switzerland to Italy under the Alps. The 57km (35 mile) rail tunnel has taken 14 years to build and is not likely to open before the end of 2016. [The distance from Tema Oil refinery to Korle-bu Teaching hospital via the Motorway is 41.3km, so this tunnel is about one-and-a-half time that; from the Refinery to Nsawam via the Motorway and Achimota is 56.3 km] It is expected to revolutionise transport across Europe, providing a high-speed link between the north and south of the continent. Eventually, trains will travel through it at speeds of up to 250km/h (155mph), slashing journey times between Zurich and Milan by as much as one-and-a-half hours.
It has taken 14 yrs to get to this point and will take 6 yrs to open it; this project is taking 20 yrs, how many of our leaders think with 20 years from now in mind? Isn’t 4 years long-term here?
And when we do think and put thoughts into plans, how many times don’t these plans becomes what Andrew Ogutu, a trainer with Accenture, call SPOTS: strategic plans on top shelves? We need to accelerate the translation of thoughts and plans into action, for as James R Lowell said, “all the beautiful sentiments in the world weigh less than a single lovely action”.
Our generation is the game-changing generation for our country and continent. We cannot join in the chant of our predecessors; we cannot think at the same level, we cannot go at the same pace. We are the generation with the greatest exposure to what better conditions can be like – let’s replicate it here. We know what it a country that takes action looks like – let’s cut the long talk. We know not just the potential but the actual position this nation can spring to – let’s get working.
In the words of John Legend, in the song ‘If you’re out there’:
If you hear this message, wherever you stand
I’m calling every woman, calling every man
We’re the generation
We can’t afford to wait
The future started yesterday and we’re already late
I wish to thank both Damoah and Richardson families (and I want to acknowledge specially my Uncle Dada Appiagyei), Ms. Anna Bossman, our Chairperson for today, who surprised me when she turned up for my first book launch and has continued to give me amazing support; my friend Victor Adjei who provided money for the printing of the books; Ace Ankomah, my most enthusiastic cheerleader and mentor, pushing me to think more and do more, always raising the bar, Albert & Comfort Ocran of Combert – I continue to learn from you; Sam Dontoh, Stephen Larbi, Joseph Amuna, Mike Tyson and Ken Ansah – my consultants and guides on this project; Theo Yartey and the team at Business and Financial Times, Bernard Avle for your support and exposure, Francis Doku for the review and publication, Esther Eyra Doe of E-TV, my Ghanacoll seniors (Egbert Faibille. Jnr, George Sam Jnr., Harry Anane-Frimpong, Ebow Spio and the Beacon Books forum members; Henrietta Hammond and Akosua Steele-Dadzie (my Diasporan squad), the team that put this launch together (Egya Jallow, Mike Sowah, Joanna Micah, George Akanza, my sister-in-law Evelyn Dimado who did the nice wrapping of the books and decor, Colin Anno who provided the PA system free of charge, Papi Dadson who helped with the publicity, Ken the great musician has become a good friend), Executive, members and associates of Joyful Way and all the recipients of the Excursions series over the past six years (which is the bulk of you here) – this second book is a reality because of your support and input.
I thank you all for taking time off to celebrate with me. And I will covet your continuous support and prayer for the success of Through the Gates of Thought.
May the Good Lord preserve us and bless us all.
Nana Awere Damoah
Author, Through the Gates of Thought & Excursions in my mind http://www.nanaaweredamoah.wordpress.com