Thursday, June 30, 2016

The Significance of Republic Day Celebration in an Election Year

By Mawutodzi Kodzo Abissath

President John Dramani Mahama interacting with senior citizens last year
The wisdom of our ancestors is reflected in this simple Ghanaian proverb that says:  “One tree does not make a forest.”

One could imagine at the time our ancestors coined this particular proverb, a forest was forest indeed. But today, due to some human activities such as illegal mining “galamsey”, bush fires and illegal chainsaw operations, even our forest reserves are devastated. And the day the last tree will be gone, the last man on Earth will also be gone.

The objective to this article is not about the value of forests. It is an attempt to underscore the significance of the Republic Day Celebration.  The fact that this year’s celebration is taking place in an election year makes it even more crucial. Why? We are God’s chosen people, destined to serve as torchbearers for others to follow. So, we should never allow politics to divide us for any earthly reasons.

Perhaps, some of our compatriots, especially the youth, may want to know what brought about the celebration of the Republic Day in the first place. Well, on March 6, 1957, Ghana became the first tropical African country to secure her political independence from colonial Britain.  Despite that historic gesture, the British monarch still remained the ceremonial Head of State of the country for another three years.

It was on July 1, 1960 that Ghana’s colonial umbilical cord was completely cut off from the United Kingdom. On that day, the Queen of England who was the Governor General over Ghana for 100 years finally said farewell to us and went home to rest peacefully. And it was on that day that Ghana attained a republican status. It meant that Ghana was fully in charge of her own destiny. Ghana had the right to manage or mismanage her own affairs as our first President Osagyfo Dr Kwame Nkrumah was noted to have stated.

So, this year’s event is the 56th anniversary. This memorable day in the political history of our country has been designated as Senior Citizen’s Day. It is a day when our revered grandfather and grandmother pensioners are exclusively invited to dine and wine at the State House in Accra and to fraternise with the first gentleman of the land, the President.

A Chinese proverb says, “If you want to honour a man or woman, honour him or her while he or she is alive.” Ghanaian senior citizens must not necessarily die before funeral rites are held for them at the forecourt of the State House. This is why those whose fertile imagination gave birth to the concept of Senior Citizen’s Day to coincide with the Republic Day ought to be commended.  

The significance of the Republic Day Celebration is still being debated among some Ghanaians. Some are of the view that the day has lost its significance because of ravaging poverty, corruption, skyrocketing electricity bills and what have you?

Others think that despite everything, Ghana is an icon of political stability in Africa and has been enjoying peaceful co-existence with all manner of persons regardless of their   socio-economic, cultural, political and religious differences. This phenomenon is rare in some neigbouring nations on the continent, they argue.  

Ghana’s 1992 Republican Constitution guarantees freedom of speech and expression. So, every Ghanaian has the right to express his or her opinion on issues of national importance. Thus, everybody is entitled to his or her opinion. If for nothing at all, the fact that Ghanaians have the right to designate the Republic Day as Senior Citizen’s Day, is an indication that they are in charge of their own destiny, at least politically if not economically, though.  

The significance of making such a decision must not be taken for granted. If one considers the fact that for over 400 years (15th – 19th centuries) the transatlantic slave trade thrived on the African continent, of which Ghana was part. Then Ghana had to endure another 100 years of colonial domination.  Now Ghanaians can decide who should rule over them through democratic principles. And this year, come November, Ghanaians will use their “kokromoti” power through the ballot box and not the bullet to choose their leaders in general elections. This is no mean achievement at all of the Republican status of the country. For this alone some observers think strongly the Day must be celebrated.  

 While the debate on the significance of the Republic Day Celebration continues, for the purpose of this article, I would like to dwell a bit on the value of Senior Citizens’ Day and why priority attention must be given to our senior citizens. In fact, senior citizens can be characterised as the rock upon which sustainable development ought to be constructed for the benefit of present and future generations of the country.

First of all, it is my considered view that a nation that does not have viable youth cannot have noble senior citizens. In other words, if the youth of today are not well educated to become productive employees both in the public and private sectors of the economy then the nation is doomed forever. If the youth cannot contribute to the development of the nation, they cannot metamorphose into pensionable senior citizens in the future. Can you imagine the legacy a criminal or an armed robber senior citizen can bequeath society?

Ghanaian noble pensioners who contributed to the development of the nation must not only be invited to dine and wine at the State House on Senior Citizens’ Day. This celebration must take various forms for them on every blessed day all year round.  As a nation we must recognise the fact that senior citizens are made up of various professionals and experts in their respective fields of specialty.

Thus, Ghana abounds in retiree senior citizens who are medical officers, lawyers, engineers, communicators/journalists, soldiers, police officers, farmers, scientists, civil servants, religious leaders, traditional authorities with wisdom, market women, educationists, health professionals, drivers, kitchen caterers, University professors and so on.  

In some countries, retirees or pensioners are not abandoned to their fate at all. Their knowledge and expertise are tapped in various ways for the benefit of their countries as long as their physical strength will permit them until they cross the Great Sea. For illustration, I will cite only the case of Singapore and make some suggestions for the consideration of the authorities concerned.

In 2004, while on a short training course in Singapore at the then Nanyang Polytechnic, now Technical University in that country, participants were taken to one department of the University known as Knowledge Management Department. In that department only retired civil servants or engineers, or communication specialists and other experts are invited to share their knowledge, skills, experiences and expertise with students.

We were told that whenever the current lecturers were confronted with some technical challenges in invention or manufacturing of some machines, they would invite inventor, the original manufacturers or any retired professionals in that field of expertise to come and tell the students how they solved similar problems during their time.

What was more interesting about the Knowledge Management Department in Singapore was that people who were invited to interact with students did not necessarily have to be retired professors or educationists in the true sense of the word. They were interested in tapping the practical experiences of our senior citizens. Interestingly it was not only retiree professors who were invited for this knowledge management and experience sharing exercises.

 So, for example, the Department could even invite an “illiterate” cocoa farmer who had been very successful in his field to share his or her experiences with students. An old catering officer in a village somewhere could be invited to show students how to cook “apapransa” or any rare traditional cuisine that modern catering officers do not know etc.

By so doing, the senior citizens are kept active and they live longer while at same time adding to the stock of knowledge of their country. Can’t this strategy be adopted by Ghana? I hope some institutions might have been doing so already. But it must be institutionalised as a national policy. Sometimes we wait till doctors embark on strike action before we remember that we have some retired medical officers to fall on. Why?

It is suggested that besides the dining and wining sessions at the State House by senior citizens on the Republic Day, some avenue should be created to give opportunities to capable and willing senior citizens to exhibit and demonstrate their expertise to the public especially the youth, on the occasion or even periodically.   

For instance, a special exhibition or demonstration centre could be mounted at the forecourt of the State House on Republic Day to be dubbed as Knowledge and Experience Sharing Segment of the Day. This exhibition can be one of the pre-event activities leading to the D Day itself. This is where some senior citizens can put into practical application some of their expertise for the benefit of the youth.

  It is suggested that apart from what the state can and must do for our noble senior citizens, corporate Ghana, various professional bodies or associations can also come together and sponsor such events. It would boost the senior citizens’ morale. For all we know some of them who are well to do may even volunteer to offer their services gratis to the less fortunate among themselves for the prosperity of the nation. All they may need is recognition and appreciation.

 As we celebrate the 56th Republic Day Anniversary and Senior Citizens’ Day in an election year of 2016, lets ensure that our nation continues to enjoy peace and unity for development.

The author works with Information Services Department (ISD) in Accra

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

 Ghana goes digital for sustainable economic development
By Mawutodzi Kodzo Abissath
  From Analogue to  Digital  Television 
A simple African proverb advises:  “If your friend is more handsome than you are, admit it and praise him.” Both of you will be happy and support each other.

Once upon a time, there lived Hyena and Tortoise.That was even long before the sun started rising from the east and setting in the west. Hyena and Tortoise were neither friends nor enemies. But none of them appreciated anything good about the other.  
One day, Kweku Ananse who was the Governor of the animal kingdom, invited all dwellers of the kingdom for an international conference that would be beheld in his palace. Hyena and Tortoise were to attend this conference where very important issues relating to sustainable development were to be discussed. Otherwise their children would perish through hunger and starvation.

Hyena and Tortoise had to travel for three days to reach the conference venue. At that time the only means of transport available was “AD One, One” that is, walking.  There was no horse, no bicycle, no car, no ship, let alone an airplane.

Because Tortoise knew that he was not fast enough in walking, he set off four days before the conference day. He knew it would take him three days to get to his destiny and needed at least one extra day to take some rest and prepare himself very well for the main event so that he would not dose off and snore during the conference session.  

On the other hand, because Hyena also knew that he could run faster than all the animals in the kingdom, he waited and set off two days to the conference. On the way, he saw some delicious carcass and said to himself: “Let me sit down for a moment and enjoy this delicacy before I continue with my journey.”

Just as Hyena was about devouring his feast, another Hyena appeared from nowhere. Then another, and another and they started fighting over the meal. Hyena spent the entire day fighting but could not even get a morsel of the meat to eat. He became so exhausted by the time the fight ended that he could not get enough energy to run as fast as he could have done. Hence, Hyena could not to reach his destination before the conference started. The doors were locked when Governor Kweku Ananse entered the conference hall. Sometimes, over confidence does not pay.

The object of this article is not to tell a story to children by the fire side. But to commend the Ministry of Communications, (MoC) the National Communications Authority (NCA) and the Digital Broadcasting Migration Committee (DBMC) for officially launching Ghana’s Digital Migration Publicity Campaign recently.

It is imperative to underscore the fact that, Publicity Campaign for such a crucial national event cannot take place without a broadcasting policy. Such a policy then becomes the rock upon which the entire broadcasting structure must be built for national development. As a developing country, Ghana cannot and should not allow the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) revolution that has reduced the entire world into a miniature community to pass by.  

In fact, Africa as a whole must no longer sit down with hands in lap, staring into the empty air for the Information revolution to pass by as the industrial revolution did a couple of centuries ago. This time around, posterity will not forgive the Continent for negligence of responsibility.  It is against this background that the formulation of Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) Broadcasting Policy before the launch of Digital Migration Publicity Campaign was in the right direction.

It is relevant to enlighten Ghanaian youths that it is over 80 years since broadcasting started in Ghana. It was precisely in July 1935 when our colonial master, the British, introduced a British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) relay station in our capital city Accra. That station was code-named radio ZOY.

There was nothing like the now defunct Radio Eye, established by Dr. Charles Wereko-Brobby aka Tarzan, Joy FM, Radio Gold, Peace FM, or what have you?  At that time broadcasting in Ghana was mainly radio, and Radio Ghana was the champion. The Ghana Broadcasting Corporation (GBC) was the only and supreme broadcasting station in the country, monopolizing the airwaves.

It was only the state that owned and controlled radio stations. The word competition did not exist in the broadcasting dictionary in the country. As for television broadcasting, it is a baby industry. It was born as recently as 1965. That was, eight solid years after Ghana’s independence in 1957. So, even those who were born a year after independence were older than television broadcasting in Ghana.  Television broadcasting at the time was in black and white. Colour television was introduced in 1985 and most of the children born in the 1990s may not have watched black and while images on a screen before.

Since 1965, what is technically referred to as “Terrestrial Television broadcasting in Ghana has been in analogue.  Records show that it was in 2008 that a pilot terrestrial Digital Video Broadcasting system (DVB-T) was installed by GBC here in Accra.

As narrated in the story above, Ghana knew that she could not technologically run as fast as some advanced nations (Hyena), so she started gradually but steadily as (Tortoise).  Ghana set off on the journey from analogue to digital broadcasting destination slowly. In 2010, GBC launched a DVB-T transmission network in Accra and Kumasi. That was how Ghana started the process of migration from analogue broadcasting to Digital Migration Television (DTT).

Various Governments since independence were cautious and prudent but progressive in this regard. One of the objectives is to ensure that the DTT process was well coordinated and organised systematically. To this end, a committee of experts known as Digital Broadcasting Migration Committee (DBMC) was set up. Through the work of this committee, Government hit the ground running with DVB-T2 transmission in 2013. There is no doubt that, like Tortoise, Ghana will slowly but surely reach the digital television-broadcasting destination before the appointed time.  

Dr Edward Omane-Boamah, Ghana’s Minister for Communications who officially launched the DTT Broadcasting Policy recently, informed the nation that Ghana’s migration from analogue to digital broadcasting would be carried out in phases, “with the ‘switch on’ of digital transmission, preceding the ‘switch off’ of analogue transmission on September 21, 2017.” The policy document can easily be accessed on the Ministry’s website

The 1992 Republican Constitution does not allow any institution to do things as they please. The Ministry of Communications and its Agencies cannot wake up one morning and dictate to Ghanaians how the DTT Broadcasting Policy must be implemented. “Kpaooo!”

Legal and Regulatory Framework had to be put in place first. This is one reason why sometimes people with revolutionary spirit feel a bit frustrated. According to the Policy, certain existing laws, policies and regulations that must guide the effective implementation of the digital policy ought to be amended accordingly.

The DTT Policy document identifies the following among other things:  
The Ghana Broadcasting Corporation Decree, 1968, (NLCD 226); the National Media Commission Act, 1993, (Act 449); the National Media Commission Policy, 2000; the National Media Commission Broadcasting Standards, 2000; the National Media Commission Guidelines for local language broadcasting, 2000 and the National Communications Authority Act, 2008 (Act 769).

The rest are the Electronic Communications Act, 2008 (Act 775); the Electronic Transactions Act, 2008 (Act 772); the Electronic Communications Regulations, 2011 (LI991) and the National Telecommunications Policy, 2005.  As you can see, democracy goes hand in hand with patience. This is why, as a nation that has adopted democratic principles, sometimes, we should not be too harsh with ourselves.

Another major objective of the DTT Policy as underlined in the policy document is to guarantee the availability of all existing terrestrial analogue television stations in digital formats in at least their current existing coverage areas. In other words, when the policy is fully implemented, no television stations will be denied or deprived of extending its broadcasting services to its current coverage areas. That is my layman’s understanding of that objective.

The objective that fascinates me most states: “To free up relevant spectrum of economic value from the broadcasting service for telecommunication and other services of value to the state. If I understand this objective right, then Ghana should be better off economically with the implementation of the DTT Policy.

As a developing country, Ghana must ensure that all  available natural resources including all factors of production,  be it land, sea, air as well as “relevant spectrum” are put to productive  use for sustainable economic development for the prosperity  of present and future generations of our beloved mother and – Ghana.

The author works with Information Services Department (ISD) in Accra.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Ghanaian Scientists and Journalists brainstorm on Biotech/GM Crops for sustainable development

By Mawutodzi Kodzo Abissath

A sample of genetically modified crops 
Do you remember this popular adage that: When two elephants fight it is the grasses that bear the consequences?”

Well, journalists and scientists may not be seen to be elephants physically but when they clash ideologically on issues of livelihood, woe unto society. In recent times, there seems to be an increasing agitation over genetically modified (GM) crops, especially food crops globally. In Ghana, what can be characterised as “Anti-GM Movement” activists are gaining consciousness and if care is not taken to come to some consensus Ghana may be the loser to the detriment food security and sustainability of the country.

On Thursday, 26 May 2016, Ghana’s Council for Scientific and Industrial Research Plant Genetic Resources Research Institute (CSRI-PGRRI) organised a workshop for Ghanaian Science and Environmental Journalists at Bonsu in the Eastern Region of the country. The occasion was also used to formally launch what was dubbed as Global Status of Biotech/GM Crops.

Dr. Lawrence Aboagye, Director, CSIR-PGRRI, delivered a thought-provoking address on “The threats to Food Security in Ghana” and the role his Institute could play to save the situation. Professor Walter Sandow Alhassan, Consultant and former Director of CSIR made a presentation on 2015 Global Status of Biotech/GM Crops and launched the event.  Since the workshop was meant for journalists, a Media Consultant Ama Kudom-Agyeman presented the media perspectives, prospects and challenges of Biotech/GM Crops.

In this article the writer does not intend to play to the gallery on the pros and cons of Biotech/GM Crops. Rather, the workshop revealed that Ghanaian scientists are doing a magnificent job in terms of the protection and preservation of some food crops and plants for sustainable development of the country. Some of the things our scientists are doing to ensure food security for the present and future generations is my concern here.

Unfortunately, it seems to me the efforts of our scientists are receiving little attention in terms of resource allocation to enable them to do more for the nation. It was so disheartening to learn that some of the rare plant discoveries and products created by Ghanaian scientists are not registered for lack of funds for the nation to own the copyright or patent of such products. Why? What is our priority as a nation?  I suggest immediately that Ghana’s Parliament must take a critical look at the laws of the land with particular reference to copyright and patent laws. Some specific Fund like District Assemblies Fund must be created for Scientific Discovery for the nation.

Dr Aboagye of told journalist at the workshop that Ghanaian scientists have made it their business to embark on what is technically referred to as “Collection of germ plasm.”  This is a big word for nothing. It simply means the assembling of a wide range of plant species. It is normally undertaken when field surveys show that a particular plant is being threatened with extinction. For example, in Ghana those who know “brobe” a kind of big cocoyam that grows very well in swamping areas. This delicious tuber, which can be used for “mportorpomtor” seems to be vanishing among our food crops.  But, now Ghanaian scientists have genetically engineered this food crop so that farmers are going to get the seedling free of charge to cultivate.

This is commendable as far as food security is concerned. In fact, in Ghana in the past whenever yam and cocoyam are out of season it was this “brobe” that prevent hunger and starvation until new yam season emerged again. And our hardworking women engage in the frying of this “brobe”.  School children and adults alike consumed it like no man’s business. Sometimes we Ghanaians take some of our own inventions for granted.

Because I am a layman, I do not want to pretend and use scientific and technical jargons in this article at all. For example, sometimes when we hear words like “genetic” then we jump to conclusion that it’s some chemicals that are pumped into food crops to kill us.  Dr Aboagye says when scientists refer to terms like “Plant genetic resources (PGR) they are talking about those plant materials containing actual or potential values. It has nothing to do with chemicals.

He explains that those are the basic raw materials for “crop improvement today and for the future”. So, according to the scientist, genetic resources of plants could be found in wild and weedy relatives, landraces, of plant of pre-scientific agriculture, known as bred varieties, which are no longer in use. So, the advanced varieties that are in current use as well as genetic stocks are obtained through “mutation” or DNA. I am still trying to break down the language for our Junior High School future scientists to understand.

In mass communication, when the student understands you then the Professor will understand you. But if the Professor understands you and the student does not, then you have not communicated at all. This is the difference between a scientist and a journalist. A journalist does not necessarily have to be a scientist to write about scientific matters.

 And if scientists fail to communicate to the understanding of ordinary man in the street, society will not appreciate the great work they are doing. That is why politicians may allocate some funds for other things while vital research materials are gathering dusts to the detriment of society.

Still talking about germ plasm as explained above, Ghanaian scientists do no only restrict themselves to local environs. They chase other valuable plants particularly to places of origin where broader diversity is envisioned. For example, if they want to introduce materials from other countries to augment their local genetic stock, they have to go there physically.

And in collecting of this vital foreign germ plasm, the have to use what is technically referred as “passport data” which is the basic information on the plants concerned. This can be in the area of agronomy, ecology or name it. Sometimes, they have to adopt local name usage of this plants as well as indigenous knowledge for documentation purposes.

 This means that Ghanaian scientists do not underrate or look down upon our own traditional plants. That is why in Ghana there are clinics and hospitals like Mampong
  Herbal Research Center.

In fact the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology is training doctors who specialise in the application of traditional medicine. So, apart from food crops like cassava, yams and others, to ensure food security, Ghanaians scientists are also researching, documenting cash crops such as cocoa, sheanuts as well as genetically engineering medicinal plants for sustainable development of our beloved country.

It is therefore, suggested that the nation must make available to Ghanaian scientists all the necessary financial and logistic resources to enable them to contribute to the economic prosperity of our motherland Ghana.

The author works with Information Services Department (ISD) in Accra