There goes Mariam Mann again, strutting along with that air about her; all self possessed and self confident, as if there’s something important the world is waiting on her to do. The truth of the matter is, in her time, there was something the world was waiting on her for. Mariam was part of that core of bright women hired by NASA’s precursor organisation; the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). They were subsequently maintained by NASA to continue doing men’s stuff in the segregated and black-hostile United States of America. She and colleagues like her formed a critical part of the intellectual prowess which enabled the US to gain an edge over the USSR in the space race. They constituted the human equivalent of a supercomputer in that age; a truth dramatized in the Oscar nominated movie, Hidden Figures.
Miriam Mann was black, 36 and had 3 children aged 6, 7 and 8; no, I’m not kidding. She heard about an opportunity to do maths related work for NACA in 1943. She took the recruitment exam, as she was qualified to do by virtue of her Chemistry degree, passed the exam and went on to do her Creator proud, if quietly.
Her daughter, Miriam Mann Harris, wrote in 2011: “My early memories are of my mother talking about doing math problems all day. Back then all of the math was done with a #2 pencil and the aid of a slide rule… She would relate stories about the ‘colored’ sign on a table in the back of the cafeteria. She brought the first one home, but there was a replacement the next day. New signs went up on the bathroom door, ‘colored girls’.”
Yet Miriam Mann was black. No, I don’t mean coal black, but black black; racially black, that is. So it doesn’t take rocket science to guess her ancestry, right? She was of Sub-Saharan African descent; born in 1907, only half a century after slavery’s abolition. She must have been of Ghanaian descent, right? Indeed, since she was Miriam Mann and not Akosua Gyima, she must have been Fanti; an Allotey from Saltpond in Fanti land in fact, because proficiency in maths is an identifying attribute of the Alloteys only and no other family or ethnic group in the world. Naah, I’m being deliberately facetious to illustrate a point and mean no offence to our Fanti cousins, nor indeed the Allotey family, who are wonderful people, I’m sure. Ingenuity and talent isn’t the sole preserve of any race, or ethnic group, or family, which is why its impossible to tell where Miriam’s ancestors came from by merely knowing that she was proficient in maths. That indeed, is the reason we ought to be welcoming and supportive of each other, irrespective of ethnicity.
Religious persuasion doesn’t fare any better either, when it comes to ingenuity and talent of the kind which changes the world for the better. Bill Gates was famously agnostic, during his years in Microsoft and Steve Jobs appears to have been atheist, or Buddhist all his years. Yet that didn’t stop God, working through nature, from endowing them with marvelous talents and remarkable ingenuity. Need I carry on with the roll of achievers of diverse religious persuasion to prove that no one religion has a monopoly over ingenuity and talent?
In a direct manner of speaking, unless you have evidence to the contrary from the scriptures, or from scientific and therefore verifiable observation, you have to admit that ingenuity and talent are not the sole preserve of any one extant ethnicity in the world today. Why deprive yourself of what others are endowed with for contributing to your well being? When you insist that your world be defined to include persons of your own ethnicity only, that in fact, is exactly what you’re doing. If you lie dying on a hospital bed and learn that Obnoxious I happen to be the only person on hand who is capable of preventing your imminent death, are you saying that you will gladly let your loved ones down by declining to take advantage of my services, for the only reason that I don’t share ethnicity, or religion or any other delineator of community with you? Oh come on, you’re better than that. God, acting through nature, isn’t discriminatory, or tribal in gifting humans with exceptional abilities for the benefit of all.
Your colleague who shares the office with you may not speak flawless Hausa, Nzema, Dagbani, Ewe, Ga, or Asante Twi, depending on what your mother tongue is, yet by nature’s dictates, she may be that one person who carries the talent needed to make Ghana Great Again (ahem). Give her the help she needs when she needs it. What she accomplishes will rub on you, because it will improve your quality of life in some way. Consider how much more informed you can be, if you choose to use your smartphone and data plan wisely. Yet the leader of the team which first offered us this package of technologies was of Syrian descent and not Grusi. Steve Job’s biological father was a Syrian immigrant to the US!
And there is another reason why it makes a lot of sense to offer your colleague the help and support she needs, rather than attempt to snuff out the light she brings to your immediate community and to humanity. Just focussing on the smartphone we’ve most of us grown so dependent on; the portable devise we use for accessing information and staying in touch with family and friends … avoid giving your number to your boss, if you can help it. Just revisiting the smartphone for a moment, we’ve come this far in telecommunications technology by the incremental contributions of many designers and engineers, not by the efforts of a single individual only.
The architecture for the first iPhone was framed by a group of visionary designers working to meet Steve Jobs’ poorly articulated hope. Once he’d agreed the form and functionality of the package, it was the responsibility of engineers at Apple to work out the technical solutions which would make the package work as desired. Of course, they didn’t themselves invent all the technologies needed to achieve that goal. Apple made legal use of many patented technologies, besides what it developed in its own labs, to arrive at an affordable and viable solution. An example of third party technologies embedded in their solution is the scratch resistant and sturdy, but thin gorilla glass cover developed by scientists at Corning Glass over a 48 year period.
In other words, great strides in human endeavour are accomplished by incremental contributions from many. We share a proverb among a number of ethnic groups in Ghana which says it pithily; if you won’t allow your neighbour to cut the ninth, you shall not cut the tenth. Be supportive and help your colleague make the progress she’s working hard to accomplish. (Yes, you read right; I deliberately include the other and much neglected 50+% of our talent pool). Her feat just may be the step needed to create an opportunity for you to achieve something great too; perhaps by building on her gains, like Apple did with the iPhone. Don’t be preoccupied with who gets the credit for the progress made today, or you’ll miss out on your own turn tomorrow.
Celebrate the accomplishments of your neighbour. That’s the way great societies build themselves up and achieve remarkable feats. They pool and exploit their most valuable resource; the talent of their people, to great advantage in addressing the challenges they face. Social scientists refer to it as the capitalization rate; how efficiently a group makes use of its pool of talents. Great societies don’t get where they do by their members tearing each other up and destroying whatever is good and commendable about each other, or by simply selling whatever they can extract from their surroundings; which includes our neighbour, in our case; to properly characterize our role in the hideous and tragic Trans-Sahara and Trans-Atlantic slave trades. Don’t deprive Ghana and all humanity of the benefits your neighbour is gifted to impart, because of your pesemkuminya or ahuoryaa. Success isn’t a zero sum game in which your neighbour’s gain is your loss. Members of successful societies add to, or leverage what their neighbours achieve, to reach higher levels of accomplishment than they could otherwise reach individually and then the sum of the whole society’s effort far exceeds the sum of each person’s.
There’s in fact, incontrovertible evidence of the benefits of such corporation in the scriptures. Here’s what the Hebrew scriptures say about ancient man; Then they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They had brick for stone, and they had asphalt for mortar. And they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top is in the heavens; let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.” But the LORD came down to see the city and the tower which the sons of men had built. And the LORD said, “Indeed the people are one and they all have one language, and this is what they begin to do; now nothing that they propose to do will be withheld from them. (SOURCE: Gen 11:3-6; NKJV).
Nothing which we purpose to do corporately and by incremental effort shall be impossible for us while we remain one. By corollary consideration, we can accomplish little while we remain divided; which perhaps explains why we’re unable to build truly corporate business entities, or make remarkable technological and social progress. (Rwanda is famously reported to have studied our earlier practices in cleaning up urban communities and improved those practices, even as we characteristically discarded them). For 60 years, we appear to have been living to undermine our neighbour, interfere with his progress in whatever way we can, spread evil reports about him, discard or destroy whatever good surrounds us and betray each other for immediate, often paltry personal gain, or the sheer thrill of being disruptive. As we move forward beyond 60, let’s try something different; let’s surprise our Creator by taking advantage of the benefits of good neighbourliness (if its at all possible to surprise Him).
Which brings us to the fourth and final attribute advocated here; the Delta CORE attribute, the demonstration of neighbourliness towards fellow Ghanaians at all times, because that’s what we, being Ghanaians, pledge ourselves to do. It ought to be that important to us; a defining part of what it means to be Ghanaian, if we are to make meaningful progress in building a secure and supportive homeland for ourselves:
I promise on my honour to be faithful and loyal to my fellow Ghanaian.
I pledge to defend his right to remain different.
I pledge to uphold his constitutional rights at all times.
I pledge to treat him justly and equitably at all times.
I promise to assist him in every legitimate way, in his pursuit of life, liberty and happiness.
So help me God.
So there you have it; four attributes we can make and maintain as the CORE of our Ghanaianess. For 60 years we’ve been trying to relate with the abstraction called the nation-state without notable success. Its an idea introduced from a foreign culture and using equally foreign tools. If we’d had a common ancestry like the Jewish people, it shouldn’t be this hard to build a nation together. If we’d had a common deity, perhaps it mightn’t have been this hard. If we’d had a common monarch, we might swear allegiance to him or her, like citizens of the United Kingdom and then get on with it (well … they too have their moments, because of unresolved injustices and inequities).
We don’t have any such natural advantages for nation building, but we do have our selves and our ingenuity. (Oh, by the way, I have it on authority from an unimpeachable source that, when President Paul Kagame attended the funeral of the late President John Atta Mills, he was so affected by our unity in grieving the demise of and honouring our President that he remarked that if Rwandans had a fraction of our unity, they would have made impressive progress. Perhaps we should carry on as if we were everyday grieving and honouring the passing on of the Gold Coast … just saying. Hey, hey, don’t carry on as if we’re kindergarteners and I’d just insulted the memory of your grandmother).
It is of course, standard Ghanaian fare to ask who the hell this writer is; what are his credentials, to be calling for a change of the National Pledge? What is his pedigree? Which political party or political tradition does he align with? What’s his ethnicity anyway … and on and on. That’s been the Ghanaian way hitherto and its gotten us quite far in developing a coherent, stable and prosperous nation, or (ahem)? Rather than do same and yet expect different results, take a moment to consider the merits of what I’m suggesting here and ignore tempting thoughts about who gets credit for what and so on. If this vessel for change looks and feels like it can sail, then its worth a try, rather than clinging to the rudderless, leaky boat we’re trapped in.
Let’s do differently in building our nation and wow the world around us, as we’re perfectly capable of doing when our crablike nature is in remission. (You know how crabs in a basket behave, right)? Let’s pledge to each other and hold each other accountable to plant our feet where our tongues go. Then, we can reasonably expect a different outcome from what we have gained from 60 years of effort and we will be able to relate with each other more meaningfully, irrespective of ethnic and other differences. If you agree with me on that, then for starters, take about two minutes to read and sign the online petition below. It requires that our President, being the servant of we the people and not our monarch, offer us his service in this regard, by completing whatever steps are necessary and at the earliest opportunity, to change our National Pledge to conform with the one proposed above (and let Parliament beware; we the people are watching):
As we require this of our President, may we the people likewise offer our services to one another by sharing this link to the online petition liberally and encouraging as many as we can to sign it. Let’s build community together in love, or we stand to lose the benefits of what nature has invested in our neighbour. Remember, Lom na va, otherwise Onaapo. ©
Pesemkuminya : Akan word for an attitude of selfishness and malice. The attitude is summed up in the phrase, what cannot come to me must not go to my neighbour;
Ahuoryaa : Akan word for malicious envy; an attitude of envy, resentment and jealousy expressed in malevolence towards the subject, purposely to undermine or disrupt his progress.