Three years ago today, on a bright London morning in spring, I returned a call to my brother, Eric, only to be greeted by the words: “Ol man die”. It was the end of an era for us – J.K. Nsarkoh, in life and death a man never constrained by anyone’s convention was gone. Four days before this, he had – in a phone conversation – convinced me in a very strong voice, that he was very well and that I should focus on my work and my family and not be disturbed by any reports of his being unwell. Those with him in Ghana at the time, I was later told with much hilarity, had been excoriated with any strength that remained in his weakened body for bothering me with reports that he was unwell. He had done his bit and would go when he would go.
It was not sorrow I felt at his death for he was not really a man who wanted to be mourned. If I did not mourn him then, I cannot really mourn him now. But on days like this, I remember again, that I am the grandson of peasants. Only one life-time, that of my parents, separates me from extreme poverty.
Of the 4 generations that make up the genealogy I came into contact with – my grandmothers to my children – I remain fixated on the vision of my grandparents. How it came to be that peasants, living in mud houses, laboured and laboured to take their kids to the best secondary schools in Ghana. And then gave those kids sufficient training and values to make it to the best Universities in the world remains a profound mystery to me. Yet, my story is quite typical – this happened so often in our land. And social mobility that made it possible for the very poor to make it out of poverty, through access to good education, coarsed through our nation.
Today, as our fractious debates on education take place within a partisan claw, may those of us who make up the middle class remember where we have come from. I wonder anew, whether a boy born to a woman who sells kenkey leaves in Akrokerri, Adansi, like my father was, will ever make have access to the opportunities that my father did. Would he end up with the children of the rich in a school like Mfantsipim through sheer industry and then end up in work life just like them or better? My mother’s story, from Bechem and Effiduase to Achimota School is no different. In both cases, I have visited the mud houses they were born into. And I know for many who read this, similar stories can be told.
In what remains of my productive life, may God help me to realise, that a society which condemns people to poverty because their parents are poor is a society with no future. A society in which the children of peasants are likely to forever remain peasants, is a society that will rapture when it will rapture. And with explosive social consequences.
Realising this, may I stand firmly on the side of any who are determined to make education a reality for the poor and disadvantaged. The promises and pretenses of policians in Ghana seldom impress me. But I regret that a matter as important as education, is now also trounced by partisanship! It makes no sense, none at all, for tax payers resources to be spent to educate the children of the rich. The rich can and must pay. Yet, for those who will otherwise be left out of the coach of social progress, our society and us all, must stand up and be counted. It is through quality education, more than most, that a society moves forward.
I fit no ideological strait-jacket. But I have not yet come across a persuasion that denies education and job creation are the twin blades of development. Ideas are important but they must then deliver increased prosperity or wither. Was it Amilcar Cabral, in a book my father handed to me, who said that people do not simply follow ideas – they follow ideas that yield material gain?!
May the generation of our parents and grandparents – fast disappearing from this earth, whatever their shortcomings were as a collective, be remembered with some honour. They did their bit.