Commencement 2014 address by Kwaku Sakyi-Addo, 
CEO, Ghana Chamber of Telecommunications. 

21st June, 2014

I should thank you, President Awuah, for the privilege of having me as your Graduation Speaker on the 10th Graduation ceremony of Ashesi. I feel deeply honoured.

I have followed the “ashesi” of Ashesi – the beginnings of this college and its progress over these 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, 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 in the heavy-lifting – class by class, student by student, mind by mind, day by day to make this dream take shape.  It’s been a tedious, difficult and sometimes seemingly impossible project but I believe that it shouldn’t be long before you are 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. 

Congratulations! You made it! You are among a very select few who have this far! Only 80 per cent of children who attend basic-school stay to the end, according to the National Council of Tertiary Education. Of the 80, fewer than 20 per cent complete secondary school and only 2 per cent will subsequently enroll in a tertiary institution. It means over 4,000 of you finished basic school. However, only 1000 of you went on to complete high school, and of that it’s just a 100 of you who entered a tertiary institution. 

And, by the way, the grim statistics are only about enrolment. Quality is another story altogether. Half of the children in basic schools cannot read at all. In a study of 37,000 basic school children, only two per cent could read fluently and understand what they were reading. 

46 per cent – that’s close to half - of Ghanaian adults are illiterate. There are 10 doctors to every 100,000 people. Only a third of 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 Ghana Statistical Service, 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. Every day! Tonnes of it!

Combine all of this embarrassingly primitive toilet conditions with the lack of water, the absence of doctors and the illiteracy and ignorance, and you have a putrid, inflammable cocktail that manifest in funerals being a thriving industry. 

That’s why more than one in ten children born in the Upper East Region die before they are five. And that’s why your parents spend their weekends in black! The evidence of lack of access to quality basic and high school education is the young, hungry, desperate people in the streets; and the poor peasants you share these hills with; and those we blanketed in dust and the exhaust fumes our air-conditioned all-terrain capsules as they made their weary way to get another bucket of dirty water to drink. 

So well done [Class of 2014], but you have work to do. We, have work to do. Ghana, has work to do.

But if anybody can and must do it, if anyone can make things happen, then it’s you! It’s you because you didn’t drop out. It’s you because you are young and unencumbered and invincible. It’s you because you have been through Ashesi. And Ashesi has been through you.

And many of you are doing already. Take Leonard Annan; he’s initiated a project called Adesua Ye (Education is Good), an adult education programme which he is running here in the Berekuso community. 

Or George Neequaye with his “Pencils of Promise” project; they raise educational materials for deprived children in schools throughout Ghana.

If anybody can do it, if anybody can make things happen, it’s you, my young friends!

Ghana needs people with a heart! People like you.

Four years ago, MameHemaa, 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 and set her alight. And nobody has paid the price for this act of barbarism. And journalists aren’t interested because MaameHemaa’s family is too poor to be of interest to them. Her son is not a “wealthy” businessman, and her daughter is not 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 the destitution of people like Kwame Asare roam unfettered and unquestioned, and in arrogant freedom. 

In November last year, the Prime Minister of Latvia, Valdis Dombrovski resigned when the roof of a super-market collapsed and killed 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 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 have sacrificed our moral compass and lost our sense of outrage. Our society is sick and the cure is people like you!

Ghana needs people who will speak up for the poor; people who will be the voice of the eternally stooped sheanut pickers of the Savannah, the weary and worn cocoa farmers of the south, and the fatigued and forlorn fisher-folk of our fouled beaches.

Ghana needs people who will ask questions and challenge our norms. Question the government; challenge the opposition; tackle the DCE; confront the MP! Ask the Assemblyman to show you what he or she has 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 mug-shots of employees who have been named and shamed and discarded by employers under bold disclaimers for offences too embarrassing for the companies to utter in public. Our country deserves citizens with some sense of shame.

Our country needs people who are not just out to make a living but are living to make a difference. We need people who go to work, to work.Where work is not a noun, but a verb; a doing word, not a place! 

Ghana needs people like you; people who are interested in knowing and following instructions as they are in understanding them; people who aren’t interested in someone else’s instruction manual because they stopped thinking inside the communal box; in fact, you’ve built your own box and it’s shaped like no other. And you have simplified it so there is no need for instructions. Ghana needs people who will innovate. People like you. 

Because 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; medicine with chips that tell the doctor you have taken your medication.

There are already chip-embedded cars that tell the ambulance when it’s in an accident; it automatically directs the emergency health service to the relevant location. 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 continue to 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”. Anyone who has passed through Ashesi and through whom Ashesi has passed, cannot, and must not pass through life like just another blade of grass – unnoticed, indistinguishable and undistinguished, hardly deserving of a marked grave.

So get 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 commemorates its 20th graduating class, Ashesi will be spoiled for choice as to which one of you should be the guest speaker at the 2024 Graduation ceremony.

And, as Kofi Annan told a graduating class once, hey, don’t forget to have some fun along the way!