This speech was delivered on 5 November 2010. I wish to share some of the thoughts in there, especially for this year and our political discourse as a nation. I have added a few comments here and there, with some current examples.
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.
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 sometime in October 2010. 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 [Central Africa Research and Development] team in a meeting in October 2010 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’.
Three years 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, even two years after I gave this speech, our airwaves are still replete with such talk. You all have countless examples. We make mountains out of mole hills and treat the actual mountains as if they were less than mole hills. People would resort to insults rather than keep focus on the argument; and they do so when they have lost the capacity to debate intellectually.
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.
What is the overriding thought or idea driving the agenda for Ghana and Africa for the next decade for instance? As we move towards elections in December 2012, what are the key policy issues that will drive the public discourse?
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