Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Letta to Osagyefo - Working for Ghana (GhanaThink)

My alter ego, Maximus Ojah, just blogged on GhanaThink about Ghanaian workers. I'll be featuring the Lettas to Osagyefo on this blog. Below is the full post.

Hello Osagyefo,

A lot has happened since I last wrote to you. Chief among them, the Beijing Olympics just ended over the weekend. I share in your disappointment; our beloved country failed to win a single medal. Either our athletes are not good enough to earn our national anthem some airtime on the world stage or we are not investing enough in various sports disciplines so that we can be counted amongst countries with medals. We went there to make up the numbers. But we didn't even have the numbers - our contingent was less than a score (Ha, always wanted to use this expression). In the meantime, our current president handed out a ton of medals recently to about 200 people who have served our nation in various ways. Each 18 carat gold medal cost 33,000 pounds. Here's a good debate Kwame: should we have spent this gold medallion money on our athletes instead to save face at the Olympics? Are the Olympics that important or we should rather cherish celebrating our national heroes?

I will not be dwelling on these 'medals' in this blog, it has gotten enough publicity. The last time I was in DC, I was talking to my cousin and a friend, and the issue of 'working' came up. This was in the context of working for someone you didn't know or your family/relative. Many of us work for someone else. We all can't be Kwabena Darko, Appiah Menkah or Alhaji Asuma Banda or the new school Mark Zuckerberg and the other entrepreneurial gems we can think of. Some of us have to earn our lifetime earnings being 'bossed' over. It's normal and it is what we are used to.

People complain that Ghana as a country doesn't take good care of its sportsmen. Even in football, we always hear of stories where our stars get into conflicts with the authorities over winning bonuses, air travel, amongst other things. Imagine our sportsmen who represent Ghana in the 'lesser' sports. An argument can be made that our sportsmen should take ownership of Ghana's sports and understand the financial trouble we are in, so that they can pay some more sacrifices. If that holds true for our sportsmen, it holds very true for workers all across Ghana as well.

Osagyefo, let's study the different types of workers in Ghana. Which group do you think takes more ownership of their work and firm? A lot of Ghanaians work in family businesses or in the public service. In the public service domain, workers are famous for not being enthused about working hard because "EyE aban adwuma, EnyE me deE" (it is government work, it is not mine). Those who work for themselves or their families work much harder, because they have control of the earnings and returns. But even there, there is a lot of room for complacency. In the private sector, even though it is better than the public domain, attitudes to work are not the best. The idea of "monkey dey work, baboon dey chop" is engrained in our psyche enough to prevent us from giving our all.

Let's compare workers in Ghana to those in America for a moment. Do you think Ghanaians working in America work harder than those in Ghana? Why is that? Maybe it is because for the most part, they don't know their bosses and their bosses have no sympathy for them. So even though they may hate their boss in America more often than they will in Ghana, they work harder for him/her anyway. The same thing happens in cases where you have foreign-owned companies in Ghana. One would argue that the rewards working for these foreign entities are higher, so I would throw the gauntlet down to our Ghanaian employers to produce more incentives for their workers. We must choose wisely here, or we'll face many more Kufuor-50 Cent stories.

One underlying factor though is the issue of discipline. Discipline is the foundation of many Ghanaian problems. Ghanaians are too nice sometimes and tend to tolerate a lot of nonsense. We tolerate mediocrity, we accept small glories, we wish upon stars and leave control of our lives and improvement in the hands of others. We need more discipline in the workplace, we need to discipline our brothers and sisters, our friends, our workers, and our colleagues. Kwame, interestingly, we know how to discipline, we swear on our last breaths that we will not be defeated by the noise about 'abuse and cardinal punishment'. "Me, my kids, I will beat them". And beat them he/she would. Do we not understand the tenets of discipline? We know how to use the rod but can't seem to use it for the right reasons or at the right times.

Kwame, we need better work attitudes in Ghana, across the board, in all industries, in all disciplines, and both in the public and private sector. We are able to do this and we should follow through for the betterment of our nation. We may not be rewarded with 'bling bling' but we'll build a better country which would support the kinds of lives we hope for and the dreams we aspire to.

Let's get to work,

PS: Listening to Nya Ntetee pa by Obrafour - http://www.museke.com/node/1
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