Looking Beyond The Stars – By Kofi Akordor

There is a wise counsel that you cut your coat according to the size of your cloth. The lesson is very simple. When nursing any ambition you should not lose sight of your capabilities both in terms of resources and capacity.

That should not give room for mediocrity. In other words we should not shy away from setting ambitious targets whether as individuals or as a nation.

In 1961, the late President John F. Kennedy addressed the US Congress and charged that before that decade came to an end, the US should be able to land man on the Moon and return him safely back to the Earth.

The US had previously been beaten to it by the Soviet Union, its Cold War rivals, when the giant communist state on April 12, 1961 launched the first human being in the person of Yuri Alexeyevich Gagarin into outer space.

That achievement fuelled the urge in the US to do more than the then Soviet Union. President Kennedy was not unaware of the daunting nature of the task he set for the US scientists.

He knew putting man on the Moon was not going be like taking off at New York International Airport, which was later named after him, and landing at Dulles International Airport in Washington DC.

President Kennedy’s challenge, therefore, was for a purpose – to re-establish the might of the US in space exploration and to affirm its position as a superpower not only in international politics but also in science and technology – and he knew it was achievable.

President Kennedy did not live to see the end of that decade, having been killed by an assassin’s bullet on November 22, 1963, in Dallas in the state of Texas. He did not know that on July 20, 1969, the first human being – Neil Armstrong – a US astronaut, set foot on the Moon.

All the countries that have made it, and continue to make it set for themselves ambitious targets which were pursued with religious fervour.

It is not enough to aim for the hills and streams when you can target the stars and the mighty oceans. Ghana’s first President, Dr Kwame Nkrumah, was not a man of low ambitions. Even at a time when some people thought the country was not ripe to break the chains of colonial rule, Dr Nkrumah felt there was no need to remain a day longer under British colonial rule.

After independence, President Nkrumah set off an ambitious programme to transform Ghana and to make it a symbol of independence and development not only on the continent, but internationally.

The President’s agenda encompassed all fronts – agriculture, education, science and technology, commerce and industry.

There were people in this country in those days who felt President Nkrumah was moving at too fast a pace and criticised most of the projects as grandiose and unnecessary.

Some were critical when the idea of constructing a hydro-electric dam on the Volta at Akosombo was mooted. They claimed the diesel generating plant serving Accra at the time was still under-utilised and, therefore, there was no need for a huge project such as a hydro-electric dam.

Anyway, Akosombo Dam was built, but today, not even the additions of the Kpong Dam and the thermal plants could provide for Ghana’s domestic and industrial needs. It means the man was seeing deep into the future.

At a time nuclear energy was not on the table of many countries, President Nkrumah set up the Atomic Energy Research Station at Kwabenya near Accra to exploit the research benefits of nuclear energy and possibly for power generation.

More than 40 years after President Nkrumah’s demise, we are still promising ourselves the development of nuclear energy for power generation. Incidentally those who took the lead in this regard are revising their notes and closing down some of their nuclear stations.

The giant silos that were never completed all over the country have made nonsense of any claim that we are committed to food security when we have not made provision for storage, processing and preservation of our agriculture produce which were the ambition of President Nkrumah as far back as in the 1960s.

Today, thanks to our oil and gas find and the expansions witnessed in the economy, the country’s two ports in Tema and Takoradi are coming under severe pressure, whereas years earlier, the idea of an additional port at Tema was criticised.

A section of the population even questioned the educational policy of President Nkrumah which made basic education virtually free because to those people, it was like robbing them to pay others who did not deserve it.

President Nkrumah’s big dreams and mission were truncated when his administration was overthrown on February 24, 1966. Some said we were better off with that military coup. History is still unfolding.

Unfortunately we have not, as a nation, been able to set for ourselves any ambitious targets. Our development plan is without any bold and calculated targets. We have become a nation of sceptics.

When Professor John Evans Atta Mills, while campaigning for the presidency, pledged to build two new universities in the Brong Ahafo and Volta regions, the chorus from the other end was that we do not have the financial resources for such projects.

Some argued in favour of expanding the facilities in the existing universities instead of starting fresh projects. What we should note is that universities are not only centres of learning; they are avenues of opportunities. This is because they have the potential of creating new townships and offering all the services that are required for a township.

The locations of these universities are bound to experience positive transformation when they are developed fully.

One of the contentious issues engaging politicians on the campaign trail is the promise by the New Patriotic Party (NPP) flag bearer, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, to provide free education up to the second cycle level.

His opponents including the National Democratic Congress (NDC) and some civil society organisations are very emphatic that this is a mirage. Some are saying we should forget such an idea for at least another 20 years.

The proponents are defending their position by saying that the country has enough resources which can absorb free education up to the senior high school (SHS) level if we are committed to the idea.

One voice which was quite loud and clear on this side of the argument was that of Prof. George Benneh, a former Vice Chancellor of the University of Ghana, Legon. His argument was that the nation has the resources, what may be lacking is the commitment and determination.

This is campaign time so we should expect that the discussions on the subject will lack any objectivity.

Many Ghanaians have lost interest in promises made on political campaign platforms. Even those documented in party manifestoes are hardly fulfilled and, therefore, have very little to do with voter decision.

Getting close to election in December, we should expect promises and counter-promises without any objective analyses, politicians knowing Ghanaians would not bother to do so.

So whether free SHS from the mathematics point of view is possible or not, we should as a nation begin to think big not only about education but about everything. We must begin to set our sights deep into the skies instead of looking a few metres ahead of us.

Countries such as Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea and China that have become examples of economic success did not see themselves crawling but galloping. Our problem is not essentially about lack of resources but our priorities and how we utilise our resources.

We can build this nation with positive thinking and the ‘CAN DO’ spirit instead of giving up easily and running to others for support at the least opportunity.

The writer can be contacted at fokofi@yahoo.co.uk