BRAINS DEVELOP A NATION, NOT RESOURCES
Speech delivered by Ace Anan Ankomah, Guest Speaker, University of Ghana Congregation, Great Hall, Saturday 9 November 2013
Mr Chairman, Professor Vice-Chancellor, Professors Pro-Vice-Chancellors, esteemed members of the University community, graduands, ladies and gentlemen,
26 years ago, as an incoming student, I was going through registration, right in this Great Hall. As we waited in line, I struck a conversation with one Lawrence Mefful (who later became a Major in the Ghana Army, and a lawyer, and unfortunately died in combat working for the United Nations in Afghanistan not too long ago). Lawrence had been my senior in Mfantsipim, and was working as one of the registration assistants here. As we chatted, he offered a piece of unsolicited, yet life-changing advice that struck a chord, and stuck, with me throughout my stay here. He said: “don’t just go through the school; let the school go through you.”
In Legon, you have had positive and negative experiences. You have also had experiences that fall somewhere between positive and negative. These, and how you dealt with them, will have an impact on what you do in life, from here. One of my favourite writers, who goes by the simple name of Paul, wrote, many years ago about how ALL things must work together for your good. This revelational writing finds its way into the Bible, and the key point is not that all things are good. He says that the good, bad and in-between things, ALL THINGS, must work together to produce good. Ladies and gentlemen, the way you dealt with that difficult roommate here, will tell on how you deal with that difficult co-worker at your office when you leave here. The lecturer who did not like you, was probably just preparing you for the boss who will give you a tough time on your first job. In what way has Legon prepared you to deal with those situations? If all you take from here is a degree, then I suggest to you that you have short-changed yourself. The big question is whether the school gone through you, or have you merely gone through the school?
Before I got to Legon, I was fascinated by sayings and mantras. I still am. My best, before I got here was “failure has no breeding grounds where discipline and dedication lie.” That is still true. But discipline towards what? And dedication to what? This is what brings me to my main theme today, which I heard just a couple of days ago from my friend and classmate in Legon, Professor Francis Botchway, now Professor of Law at Qatar University: “BRAINS DEVELOP A NATION, NOT RESOURCES.” And to that, I add “resources are not…, they become…” One of my most favourite comparisons of countries is between Ghana and Switzerland. I am certain that Switzerland earns more money from chocolate and cocoa products that we earn from selling cocoa. I am also certain that the closest cocoa tree to Geneva is in the Ashanti Region of Ghana, as the crow files. We got the resource, they got the….. [you said it, not me]. The manufacturer in Ghana of easily the most favourite chocolate drink in Ghana, Milo, is a company called Nestlè. Guess what? Nestlè is a Swiss company. We got the resource, they got the… [you said it again!]
I am always reminded of an African proverb, which says that “a man/woman has to hold his/her mouth open for a VERY LONG time before a roasted guinea fowl flies into it.” Often, that is our problem. Life is not waiting for us. “The future started yesterday, and we are already late,” sings John Legend, the musician.
Alvin Toffler writes that “the illiterates of the 21st Century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot LEARN, UNLEARN AND RE-LEARN.” That is what this institution is supposed to turn you into: not just a degree holder, but a person with the ability to learn, unlearn and learn again. It is all about the mind. That is why the late Robert Nesta Marley (more popularly known as “Bob Marley”) famously sang that “none but ourselves can free our own minds.” You are what you think you are. If you think that you are a grasshopper, you are a … [now you are giving my speech.] But if you think that you are an achiever and a giant, that is exactly what you are. It is said in the Good Book, again, that “as a man thinks in his heart, so is he.” It is that thinking, the developed brain, that will develop this nation. :Resources are not…, they become…”
I am of the firm belief that the solutions to Ghana’s problems are in Ghana. Many of them are hiding right here in the various faculties and archives of our universities. Why do I say that? Every year, literally hundreds of students engage in supervised project work, theses and dissertations, all of which identify and actually solve, at least on paper, many of the problems that confronts us. Loads of research have been conducted in, for instance, our Bio-Chemistry and Engineering faculties. These should feed industry; but there are no linkages. We have to start digging out those archives and bringing to life, for us to learn, unlearn and relearn that vast wealth of solutions that are presently in hiding. It is the mind that develops a nation, not resources.
Paul, my favourite writer also boasts about “one thing” that he does, which he particularises into three – yes, three, wrapped in one. He says that (i) he “forgets the things that he has achieved,” (ii) he “reaches forth towards the things that are ahead”, and (iii) he “presses forward.” Yes, those three constitute just one thing – LIFE. You build on what you have experienced as a basis for aiming, and then moving forward. Your university degree is the foundation. Today, you must be in that “forget” state, and start reaching towards new things, and then pressing towards them. Look, life is not impacted by those who have merely touched or tickled it. Achievers PRESS and PUSH towards the mark.
Ladies and gentlemen, I do not believe in coincidences and so I particularly identify with this graduating class. This is because a few years ago, I was the Chairman of a scholarship scheme run by an organisation called Changing Lives Endowment Fund, which offers scholarships to help some students through second-cycle and tertiary education. It is significant that two of our very first beneficiaries have graduated today as part of your class, and I would want to take this opportunity to salute Miss Paula Duah and Miss Rejoice Okai.
Ladies and gentlemen of the 2013 graduating class, I salute you and welcome you to life. There is no end to this journey. We have to break bounds and expand territories. That journey begins and continues in the mind. The journey is the destination. But you must always remember, that there is a God who rules in the affairs of men, and who says, through the same Paul, that “it is not of him who wills, or of whom who runs, but The Lord who shows mercy.” Yes, be geared to the times, but don’t forget to be anchored to that Rock.
You are who we, Ghana, has been waiting for. We have been waiting, for a long time, for your brains arrive and develop this country. Do not disappoint us. I welcome you to life with another of my mantras:
When others sit, you must stand.
When others stand, you must stand out.
When others stand out, you must be outstanding.
And, when they become outstanding, you must become the standard.
May God bless you and us all.