SPEECH BY MR. KWAKU SAKYI-ADDO, GUEST SPEAKER AT ASHESI UNIVERSITY COLLEGE 10THGRADUATION CEREMONY FOR CLASS OF 2014.
JUNE 21, 2014.
Chairman, Dr. Patrick Awuah, founder & President of Ashesi University, Your Excellencies, Provost, Chair and Members of the board and faculty, Nananom, Parents, Class of 2014 students, Menuanom:
I understand the Ghana-Germany match is in eight hours. I’ll make sure that at least you can catch the second half! Because I think that’s when the goals will come!
I grew up in these parts, at Akropong, a few kilometres north-east of here. Indeed I spent a year at the Presbyterian Boys’ boarding school at Aburi. I was 11. We woke up at 5, and cut the grass for an hour to warm the body, because there was no hot water. A long and very supple cane was part of the classroom furniture and a Presbyterian teacher’s tool-kit, and it was applied to our buttocks generously and frequently. So ignore my resume; because the foundations of everything I’ve learned I owe to Aburi Boys.
I’d like to make this clear: I’m speaking in my personal capacity.
I should thank you, President Awuah, for the privilege of having me as your Graduation Speaker on the 10th Graduation of Ashesi. I feel deeply honoured.
I have followed the “ashesi” of Ashesi – the beginnings of this institution and its progress over the years. I had the privilege of speaking to students eight or nine years ago in your modest facilities in Labone, as well as on this refreshingly beautiful campus more recently. I even brought an old friend from Morehouse College in Atlanta to tour with his family earlier this year. It’s a lovely place. When I grow up, I’d like to be a student at Ashesi..
More significantly, the quality of graduates who have been through Ashesi are comparable to the top tier in many parts of the world. And this is not just because of what they studied at Ashesi, but who they have – and will – become because they came through Ashesi, and Ashesi went through them.
And so I say Congratulations to you personally, President Awuah and to your family for the personal sacrifices, including substantial financial resources, you invested right from the start to plant a seed whose fruits are people; these young people – leaders – for our society, for Africa, for the world, for today and for tomorrow.
I must also congratulate your board, your faculty and staff for buying into your vision and playing their part – class by class, student by student, mind by mind, day by day to make this dream take shape. I know that it’s been a difficult and, sometimes, seemingly impossible project. But I believe that it shouldn’t be long before you’re compelled by the success of this institution to change its name from Ashesi to Awiei: literally, The End, but in essence, The Fruition. The harvest.
Harvest. That’s what brings us here today — The 2014 Harvest of over 100 young men and women ready, poised, at the doorway of the world, to make the grand entry. It’s been four years of endless assignments and mind-twisting calculus and complex theories and tomes of literature (you cant have an easy ride if you land Drs. Lloyd Amoah & Esi Ansah as your lecturers!)
Congratulations! You made it! You are among a select few who have come this far! Because only 80 per cent of children who enroll in basic school stay through to the end, according to the National Council for Tertiary Education. Of the 80, fewer than 20 complete secondary school; and only two will subsequently enroll in a tertiary institution. It means you who are graduating today were among 4,000 who finished basic school. But it’s just the 100 of you who entered a tertiary institution and are graduating today.
And, by the way, these grim statistics are only about enrolment. Quality is another story altogether. A recent survey showed that half of the children in basic schools cannot read at all.
46 per cent – that’s close to half of Ghanaian adults are illiterate. There are 10 doctors to every 100,000 people. Only one of three Ghanaians have pipe-borne water; in the Upper East Region, only seven out of every 100 people do. (Ghana Social Development Outlook 2012 by the Institute of Statistical, Social and Economic Research – ISSER).
According to the GSS 16 million Ghanaians use unsanitary or communal latrines. We poo communally. Five million defecate in the open! And where we have flush toilets, we empty the solid waste untreated into the sea. Everyday! Tonnes of it!!
Combine all of this embarrassingly primitive toilet conditions with the lack of water and the absence of doctors and the illiteracy and the ignorance, and you have a putrid, inflammable cocktail that manifests in the funeral as a thriving industry.
That’s why more than one in ten children born in the Upper East Region die before they’re five. And that’s why your parents spend their weekends in black! The evidence of those education numbers is the young and desperate youths in the streets of our cities; and the poor peasants you share these hills with. And those we blanketed in dust and exhaust fumes from our air-conditioned all-terrain capsules, as they made their weary way to get another bucket of dirty water for cooking and drinking.
…..So well done! But you’ve got work to do. We have work to do. Ghana has work to do.
But if anybody can do it, if anyone can make things happen, then it’s you! It’s you because you didn’t drop out despite the odds. It’s you because you’re young and unencumbered and invincible. It’s you because you’ve been through Ashesi. And Ashesi has been through you.
And many of you are doing already. Take Leonard Anang: he’s initiated a project called Adesua Ye (Education is Good). He and other colleagues and friends offer an adult education programme here in the Berekuso community.
George Neequaye has his “Pencils of Promise’ project. They pool educational materials for deprived children in schools throughout Ghana.
Michael Quansah, president of the students’ council, used his position to raise money to build a new eating facility for students, and in support of Ashesi.
If anybody can do it, if anyone can make things happen, it’s you, my friends, it’s you!
Ghana needs people with a heart. People like you — to seek justice for Maame Hema.
Four years ago, Mame Hemaa, a 72-year-old woman, from Gomoa, travelled to Tema to find her son. She lost her way, and ended up in a house whose owner and her pastor concluded that she was a witch. They poured fuel on her and set her alight. And nobody has paid the price for this act of barbarism. And journalists aren’t interested because Maame Hemaa’s family is too poor to be of interest to them. Her son is not a “wealthy” businessman. And her daughter isn’t a big politician.
A couple of months ago, Kwame Asare, a 23-year-old man, was jailed 30 years in hard labour for stealing a mobile phone, a hand-bag and a piece of cloth – total value GhC180!
Yet, those whose actions are at the root of the desperation and destitution of people like Kwame Asare roam unfettered and unquestioned, and in arrogant freedom.
In November last year, the Prime Minister of Latvia, Valdis Dombrovskis resigned when the roof of a super-market collapsed killing 54 people. He said he took political and moral responsibility.
In Germany, Christian Wulff, resigned from the high office of President in 2009 because his friend was alleged to have paid for his hotel room and his food — total value of 700 euros! He’s on trial for corruption!
In our country no one takes responsibility for anything. And so we plunder to the accompaniment of brass-bands, and pay the victims to dance. We’ve lost our sense of outrage. Our society is sick and the hope for a cure lies with people like you.
Ghana needs people who’ll speak up for the poor; people who will be the voice of the sheanut pickers of the Savannah, the weary & worn cocoa farmers of the south, and the fatigued and forlorn fisher-folk of our fouled beaches.
Ghana needs people who’ll ask questions; and challenge our norms. People who will question the government; challenge the opposition; tackle the DCE; confront the MP! Ask the Assemblyman to show you what he or she’s done for you and the community lately. Question your chiefs! Question your pastor. Why does he live in obscene opulence when members of the congregation wallow and rot in penury? Whilst Pope Francis washes and kisses the feet of the homeless and the destitute?
We need people like you with more than just a high IQ. We need you because you have a high EQ too — Ethical Quotient. Everyday, our newspapers are littered with the mug-shots of employees who’ve been named and shamed and discarded by employers under bold disclaimers for offences too embarrassing for the companies to say in public. Our country deserves citizens with a sense of shame.
Our country needs people who are not just out to make a living but who are living to make a difference. We need people who go to work – where work is not a noun but a verb; a doing word, not a place!
Ghana needs people like you; people who’re not as interested in knowing and followinginstructions as they are in understanding them; people who aren’t interested in someone else’s instruction manual because you stopped thinking inside the old box; in fact, you’ve built your own and it’s shaped like no other. And you’ve so simplified it there’s no need for instructions. Ghana needs people who will innovate. People like you.
The rest of the world is getting on with it; researching and developing and introducing new technologies and frontier-breaking applications that are over-turning the way we live and learn, and the way we work and play. The Internet of Things is imminent: smart phones that turn on the lights at home; fridges that will alert you when you run out of eggs and milk; medicines with chips that beep the doctor to let him know that you’ve taken your medication.
Already there’re chip-embedded cars that tell the ambulance when it’s been in an accident; it automatically directs the emergency health service to the relevant location to save lives. Several manufacturers are testing driverless cars. There are cities in the UK and America that are ready to have them on their streets in 2015.
We have to be part of this brave new world. Berekuso, Hohoe, Gushiegu have to be connected too. We must work to prevent these two worlds from growing in parallel. We need them to converge. And you, our digital natives, are the bridge between the yesterday in which we currently wallow, and the tomorrow in which others have already settled and live.
You are our hope. Don’t settle for half-done. With the investment your parents have made in you, you cannot leave here and be an “also-run”. No one who has passed through Ashesi, and through whom Ashesi has passed, must go through life like another blade of grass, – unnoticed, indistinguishable and undistinguished, hardly deserving of a marked grave.
So go out and, like Maya Angelou or whoever your hero is – go out and leave your signature, your imprint, indelibly on the rocks of Time. And maybe ten years from now when this college holds its 20th Graduation, Ashesi will be spoiled for choice as to which one of you should be the guest speaker at the 2024 Ceremony.
And, as Kofi Annan told a graduating class once, hey, don’t forget to have some fun along way!