The President of Ashesi University College, Members of the Governing Board, Faculty Members, Student Body, Graduating Class and Invited Guests.
First of all, I would like to express my immense and profound gratitude to the governing board for inviting me to be the Keynote Speaker for the 2015 Graduating Class Ceremony. I am greatly touched and honored by your kind gesture.
Today reminds me of my own graduation in 1970 at Pace University in New York. That was the time of intense student protests against the war in Vietnam, and civil rights protest for Justice and equality for African-Americans and other minorities in America. My graduating class was full of hope and idealism. This hope of freedom, Justice and equality was echoed on the shores of the African Continent. The Leaders at the time projected Africans as not being down trodden of mankind but as a people confident of themselves and certain of their future. We the graduating class saw ourselves as qualified people coming into the world of politics and industry to chart a new trajectory and lay the foundation for the new world economic order. Forty-five years on, we are still battling the system for change for the total reconstruction and development of the world economy as a whole.
America has gone through a stimulus package, Nigeria is in a peaceful transition, whilst Greece and the E.U. are fighting bankruptcy. The new super power China is exerting their power and influence all over the world on a touch and go basis without any constructive economic formula to emulate. Ghana like many other African countries emerging from colonialism, faces the brute reality of transforming their trading and raw-material based economies into value-added productive sectors bearing the superstructure of modern industry and agriculture.
When Ghana gained Independence in 1957, the government of the day was looking for Ghanaian businessmen to help them with funding to build a Ghanaian business class to spur the growth of the economy in indigenous hands. What they found was shocking. Every known Ghanaian businessman was a trader, storekeeper, and at best import–export merchant. There were no known local industries or industrialists. So to encourage local entrepreneurship and industrialist, the government set up Industrial Development Corporation (I.D.C.) as a Venture Capital Institution to provide funding to the so-called Ghanaian businessmen to establish industries and other service oriented entities. Most of the people who accessed the funding used the funds not for the intended purposes but to buy luxury cars, mansions, and acquire new wives and indulge in costly leisure overseas trips. Sounds familiar? Well, it seems we have not totally released ourselves from the clutches of the trading syndrome.
Many times, we the citizens of Ghana have passed the buck and blame the government for everything that is wrong in the country including our own psychological problems. I dare to say that the main problem facing Ghana is our own retrogressive mentality. The recent floods in Accra, which caused a huge tragedy is a case in point. People building in waterways against conventional wisdom are unacceptable and must be checked to prevent future occurrence of such disasters. The “pull him down” syndrome, lackadaisical work ethic, jealousy, superstition, some negative cultural norms, lack of discipline, laziness, can’t-do spirit, bribery and corruption. The leadership of the country can formulate the best economic policies under the sun, but if the policies are not adhered to by the people who are supposed to let it work as part of the equation, it becomes a fiasco.
For example, the government privatizes state enterprises into the hands of private businessmen with the view of empowering private Ghanaians to create jobs and to build a powerful business class to promote private investment. However the same businessmen who are being empowered by the scheme, just ran down the privatized entity into oblivion. So where do we go from here? Ghana needs to build strong institutions, which can stand the test of time and be respected by all manner of persons, high or low.
I think our educational system has a lot to do with the mentality of the students we produce. This is where Ashesi comes in. As we encourage the teaching of Liberal Arts Courses, our educational system must be reprogrammed to teach courses that are relevant to our current and future social economic progress and development. Students must be taught entrepreneurship, risk taking, business crisis management, current trends in business and ethics as part of their business degree program.
Ladies and gentlemen, despite our temporary economic challenges, the overall economic outlook for Ghana in the future is very bright and foreign investors confidence in Ghana is high. We are deepening democracy and maintaining a peaceful and stable country, where human rights and rule of law prevail.
We must build upon what we know best. Therefore, the government must create an enabling environment to formulate policies to promote the service industry in which we know best, in all spheres like tourism, outsourcing of data, shipping and aviation hub, African fashion and design, African cuisine and restaurants, hotels, traditional Jewelry, African crafts, financial services, clean beach resorts and the film industry. These must be operated and done to measure up to international standards.
The next area is modernization of agriculture. The agriculture industry must be transformed into a food business. This is a big multi billion-dollar industry. Our scientific and educational institutions are already involved in research and development with respect to derivatives from food crops. What is needed is for commerce and industry in linkage with private equity firms to make a pitch to the entrepreneurs including new graduates to develop their findings into commercial products for sale in both the local and export markets.
The herbal pharmaceutical industry can also be developed to international standard with proper testing and packaging for local and export markets like the Chinese are doing in the markets all over the world.
The biggest economic challenge in Ghana today is massive unemployment. Everybody is looking to the government or the few private enterprises for gainful employment. As fresh school leavers you must be bold, creative, and entrepreneurial in your thinking. Go and create your own job. Get into the agriculture-food business and the other service industry on your own, as I have already outlined to you. The secret of life is to have no fear. Every accomplishment starts with the decision to try. Don’t wait for some extraordinary opportunity to occur. Seize common occasions and make them great.
There are risks and cost with any action plan. They will attack your comfort zone, you may not know what the outcome will be but if you do nothing, there will be no result. Most people convince themselves with some reasons why they cannot do something, when all they need is one reason why they can. Every great dream starts with the dreamer, therefore develop the courage to dream big, to believe in you, to dare to do, to envision, to fight to work hard, and most importantly to achieve. You may have within you the strength, the patience and passion to succeed against the odds. Therefore go out there and reach for the stars and help change the world. Yes You Can, Yes You Can. Thank you for your attention.