Saturday, November 6, 2010

That Fateful Saturday

This was first written in 2005 after General Gnassingbé Eyadéma, Togo’s leader for 38 years suddenly died in office. In a surprising move, the head of Togo’s army announced Faure Gnassingbé, Eyadéma’s son as the newly appointed president.

Alas Saturday was that fateful day
The old man lies bleak alone at bay

Death wraps it hands tight around
Never again to allow tyranny to abound

Mother Africa leaped for joy
Togo felt lose and gay

Only to watch freedom slip away
No longer free to soar the skies of May

In his shoes was put his son to rule
O treason, the military display their fool

Courageous leader went to town aloud
Bush, France and Blair condemned aloud
Obasanjo joined the men and shout aloud

In silence timorous souls rest and gird their guard
Early crawls Gentle Giant to bed

Leaders and men are separated from boys and nerds

Zimbabwe cries aloud to God for a stopover
Mugabe grip tight on power and shows no shiver

Friday, November 5, 2010

Mugabe’s Dilemma

As a compromise for independence in 1980, Robert Mugabe signed the Lancaster Agreement which among other things said the pre-independence arrangements in Zimbabwe must not be disturbed. And so it was that Mugabe led his country into independence presiding over a country in which resources especially land, where disproportionately owned by the white minority in the country. The minority white people therefore controlled the commanding heights of the Zimbabwean economy and by the 1990s had succeeded in using their vast agricultural lands into turning Zimbabwe into the bread basket of Eastern and Southern Africa. However, in spite of the successes of the white farmers in Zimbabwe, the majority blacks had never forgiven the white farmers and their ancestors for forcefully and ‘illegally’ taking their most prized possession, their land from them. Mugabe faced two very important issues. First, should he allow the white farmers to keep the land and continue to provide food and much needed foreign exchange for the Zimbabwe economy? or second, should he take the land from the white farmers and give it to the majority black people and risk disruption in agricultural production? As you may rightly know, Mugabe chose the latter and with it brought serious consequences to his country. Both of the choices Mugabe faced can be defended depending on one’s moral decision making compass.
Faced with this dilemma, the Kantian will ask, do I wish to make it a universal rule that when a group of people have systematically disenfranchised another group of their priced possession is it right to let them keep the property even when the original owners want it back? Expressed in another way, is it right and just to keep another person’s dispossessed heritage and blame it on your ancestors. If you do not want to make this a universal law, then the Kantian will say that in spite of the consequences to the Zimbabwean economy Mugabe should choose to return the land to the rightful owners.
The utilitarian on the other hand will have a different set of reasoning. To the utilitarian, when faced with alternatives, one must choose the choice which gives the greatest good to the greatest number of people. Thus, the question is, will giving the land back to the original owners ensure the greatest good to the greatest number of people. What do the people of Zimbabwe need the most? Is it land they have to expertise to till or is it food, jobs and foreign exchange to modernize their economy. Taking the land from the whites will disrupt agricultural production, decrease investor confidence and eventually put the economy in trouble. However, the majority black people will continue to agitate for fairness for as long as the minority whites control the land.
As events in Zimbabwe have shown, Mugabe took the Kantian approach and is in the process of correcting all the wrongs that his people have faced over the years. However, in the process the economy collapsed and it is only now beginning to pick up. Nevertheless, it is not likely that the Zimbabwean economy will get to the 1980s and 1990s level anytime soon. Perhaps it is only the demise of Mugabe and the weakening of his ZANU PF party that will increase the pace of economic development.
There may have been a third choice that Mugabe could have taken: a pragmatist approach to resolve his dilemma. There is no doubt that the white colonialist had a bigger foot print in Zimbabwe and Southern Africa than the rest of Africa. The white minority stayed and continues to hold vast resources to the detriments of the natives. It is also obvious that white owned businesses make up a significant size of the economy of Zimbabwe. In addition, the white minority, although claim Zimbabwean citizenship continues to hold ties with their western ancestors. Thus any attempt at targeting their businesses which has the impression of a witch hunt will incur the wrath of their western allies. Furthermore once the western countries who control most of the world’s resources declare your country unfriendly to business you might as well close shop and go home. This is because nobody will be coming to do business with you. This is a scenario that confronts most of the countries in Southern Africa. However, instead of being ideological, countries like South Africa and Namibia decided to take a middle of the road approach – a pragmatic approach that has restored land to the blacks without dispossessing and disrupting the white businesses in the country. With this policy, South Africa set up a plan that will gradually transfer land and other resources to black families and tribes. Although both sides did not get all they wanted, at least there is some order in the process of land redistribution as oppose to the gangster-style redistribution policy being pursued in Zimbabwe. It is therefore refreshing to see success stories in South Africa and Namibia where families and tribes have negotiated with the white ‘land owners’ to keep the land and work on it while paying the black families and tribes a percentage of the profits from the land.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Public Disgrace and Private Apologies

There are some people who have a penchant for spewing hate and inciting passions. The least provocation set them off on the road of insults and insinuations. On that road, they shout on top of their lungs to whoever will hear them. They care not who listens or not. They will insult, speak half truths, cast insinuations, exaggerate and flat out lie to damage others hard earned reputation. Yet, they come back with their tails in between their legs to apologize privately. Such people are a menace to our society and one must be very wary when dealing with them. Once you identify such people, you have to do all you can to stay as far away from them as you possibly can. And if yoked with them such that they cannot be avoided, then keep matters as private as you can. When you find them on the road of insults and insinuations don’t try to engage them. How can you tell the wise from the fool when both are on the same road. In time people will come to realize the fool they are and pay them no attention.And when they apologize in private, treat it with all the contempt it deserves.

Reaching Middle Income Status With Investment in Teachers

Truth, I am not that old. In fact I am still in my 30s, but as far back as I can remember teachers’ strike has been an annual affair in Ghana. And in some instances, teachers’ strike has culminated in a disruption of the academic calendar. When I finished secondary school, I had to wait one year before going to college because a strike by university teachers had created a one year lag in the education system. Yes, there are some selfish teachers unions with lazy members in Ghana who will lay down their tools at the slightest provocation. However, on the whole we are just not taking good care of our teachers. We have been paying lip service to improving the lot of teachers for decades and decades. And yet we still talk about accelerating economic development and reaching middle income status. History teaches us that countries like the Malaysias, the South Koreas, the Singapores and the Indias that we love to compare ourselves to have all seen tremendous economic development through continuous investment in teachers and education. Teaching is the profession that makes all professions possible and yet we treat teaching like a hobby and therefore ‘undertrain’ and underpay teachers.
The Unites States is now no longer first in many of the things they use to produce almost exclusively. They are no longer the global leaders in innovation, technology and math and science education. Every expert argue that the US has fallen behind these critical areas because investments in teachers and education have stagnated while other countries like China, Singapore, India and co have doubled and in some cases quadrupled funding for education and teachers.
Our whole policy and attitude towards teacher education shows that in spite of the fact that we talk about reaching middle income status we are just not making the necessary investment to get us there. Controversial as it may sound, the truth is our current teacher training colleges are filled with second class students. Anybody who graduated from secondary school in the 1980s and 90s is a witness to this phenomenon. Majority of those who did not make it to our universities chose to go to the teachers training colleges. We therefore end up with student teachers who are either not our best candidates or candidates who see teaching as a stepping stone to their dream career. In any case, with the limited number of places at our universities it is not surprising that many secondary school graduates end up in teacher training colleges. In fact life is filled with many twists and turns that we may find ourselves in many places that we never intended. However opportunities in such places may line up with our goals and interests so much so that we may even wonder why we did not think about our current position in the first place. Unfortunately however this is not the case in the teaching field in Ghana. In fact even people who have had a lifelong dream of pursuing the call of teaching are easily discouraged right from the training school because of inadequate resources and by the time they get their first posting, they are already looking for the next profession. My brothers and sisters, it the teacher who produces the engineer, the doctor, the carpenter, the teacher, the nurse and all the professions we need to propel our economy into the middle income status we so desperately desire. Common sense therefore tells us that if we need quality professionals to help propel our economy into middle income status then we have to begin by investing seriously in our teachers. Our oil reserves can double or even quadruple but if we do not invest in teachers and education our middle income status will forever be a mirage. We have been selling gold for a long time and gold prices have been on the increase for some time now and yet we have not seen any significant increase in incomes in our country. It is time to put our treasure where are mouths are.