This is not the first time we have matriculated students at Ashesi, but this is our first formal ceremony. It is our first because we have always believed that appearances don’t matter, decisions do. I want to share with you, something that is very topical in Ghana today. How many of you are following the news in Ghana currently? How many of you are aware there is a scandal brewing in our judicial system?
Let me talk to you about the Judiciary in Ghana. These are the people who are among the most esteemed in our society. When you go to their court, you refer to them as “my Lord”, even though we don’t have a monarchy. They have many years of education; they have gone through primary, secondary and university education. They have gone through the Ghana Law School, served as lawyers and have become judges. They took an oath, to serve justice to our society, and the work that they do is among the most important in our land. Why?
Without justice, you risk conflict. Conflict comes about when social competition is not well managed, and the judicial system is there to help prevent that. Without justice, you don’t have safety in a society. When the rule of law breaks down, a lot of other things also break down in society. And our esteemed judges, our lords, went through a process that culminated in taking an oath, not unlike what you just took, to uphold justice. They wear nice gowns, and in our country, they even wear wigs. These things, supposed to make us respect them more, are just appearances. What matters more are the actions that they take, and the decisions that they make.
What a disgrace and a very sad moment for our country, that we have a video, which I have not seen yet, allegedly showing some of these most esteemed people taking bribes. What a disgrace. What a disgrace. What an awful disgrace.
Yet what is happening in Ghana is also happening all over Africa. We have had independence for years, yet we continue to be disgraced in front of the world. Why? Because people who have taken oaths and made promises, to be the leaders and guardians of our society, instead have disgraced us. This is why we need to care less about appearances, and care more about what we do. This is my message to you today: don’t make so many oaths easily; but act honourably, easily. Act honourably always.
We are here because we need to see Africa transformed. I quit a career in technology to do what I am doing today because I saw in news around the world, an Africa that was in decline. Wars raging and corruption rampant, as one of our graduation speakers said, to the drumbeat of a marching band. We were a disgrace before the world. So Ashesi is here, and you are here, because we need to see this continent succeed. We are here, because we want to be the agents who will change this land. This, is why we are here.
In the 1950s, and 1960s, Asia was poor. There were wars raging on that continent, and if you were Asian living in Western Europe or North America, you were discriminated against. Asia is different today, because a generation of leaders stood up and decided that they would make it so. As recently as 1980, the average Ghanaian was wealthier than the average Chinese citizen. Today China is different, because a generation of leaders decided to make it so. Development will not come because we make oaths and promises; it will come when we make a decision that we will stand before the world with our heads held high. That we will stand, not in disgrace, but with honour.
That is my challenge to you this afternoon. I know that every year, statistically, some students cheat on an exam, even though every single one of you just made a promise not to. It will happen. My challenge to the rest of you is that if and when it happens, you will not let it stand.
It is a disgrace, that the judicial service did not clean up itself. That it has required a journalist – a civilian with far less power – to do this work. It is a disgrace that Ghana’s security services were not the ones to uncover this rot in our judiciary. I am asking you, do not become a disgrace. I am challenging you to hold each other to the promise of honourable conduct that you just made. I am challenging you to be the generation that will restore Africa’s honour, and help change this continent.
Thank you very much.