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June 2010

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It’s been a while since I sat down to write. I’ve been quite busy sorting a few personal issues out. But through it all, I’ve also been enjoying the World Cup and making the world realize how much of a lousy ‘pundit’ I am.
So, now it’s official. Football punditry is not my forte.

Once again, the Black Stars have ensured that I’m being stuffed with sufficient humble pie to last me well into the next World Cup.

At the start of the World Cup in South Africa, I said they wouldn’t make it past the group stages and now they are in the quarter finals. They proved me wrong – for the umpteenth time.

Their last two matches at the tournament have been nothing short of spectacular. Against Germany, they played one of the best games I’ve seen of the national football team play since 1992. As I predicted, they couldn’t beat Germany. But they won my respect on the day.

That’s why I wasn’t so surprised that they beat the United to reach the quarter final stage.

And so now, I give up. I won’t make predictions against the Black Stars again. I can only wish the Black Stars well. They should be able to go as far as good luck and team work can take them at the World Cup.

I have a feeling that’s nowhere near the cup. But that’s not for me to say. Whatever happens, the Black Stars have made themselves proud and they deserve every bit of the adulation that awaits their return to Accra.

And people like me, who doubted them, well… we must to be pelted – not just fed – with all the humble pies we deserve.

For now, I quit. Seriously!

I am not going to make public predictions again. Even if I get an epiphany and it indicates a result that’s going to go against the Black Stars, I’d keep it to myself. I’ve had one humble pie too many and I’m fed up!

Oh, Lord, my God, I guess I need to come and see you in the inner sanctum to understand why governments in Africa most often do things that will not make sense to their counterparts in the other parts of the world.

A clear example is the decision by my government to sponsor so-called football supporters to South Africa to cheer on the national football team at the World Cup. It only makes sense when you come to the realization that most of the so-called supporters are ruling party foot soldiers who have been agitating for a long time for governmental goodies. The World Cup, therefore, provided an opportunity for the party to appease them and calm their agitated minds and hearts.

So far, we hear that about one thousand people have been sent to South Africa on government sponsorship to sing and dance for the national football team. Knowing the enormous folly in such an endeavour they are refusing to tell us exactly how much of the taxpayers’ hard-earned money is being spent on this senseless pleasure trip for ruling party foot soldiers.

So, God, I ask myself: if these so-called supporters are so intent on rooting for the national team every step of the way, why should a sensible government take it upon itself to pick up their bills.

And this is a government that is supposedly operating in the fifth gear of austerity to ensure that the ‘ecomini’ doesn’t skid out of control. Even the richest countries in this world – Japan, USA, England and Germany – wouldn’t do this. The true fans of these nations saved up for months (even years) to be able to make it to South Africa to be part of the global football fiesta.

The government tells us we are broke and for that our teachers can’t be paid what they deserve. They have even refused to pay contractors who have borrowed huge sums of money to execute government projects with the excuse that there is no money.

Yet, government which has been championing austerity and fighting profligacy is able to miraculously raise money to send football fans to South Africa.

Let’s do some Mathematics here. Let’s assume that the airfare to South Africa cost one thousand dollars for each of those who have been sent to the World Cup. Let’s also assume that what government says is true and that one thousand people have been sent to the tournament. This would mean that government has wasted at least one million dollars of our taxpayer’s money on this senseless venture. But that’s not all. The administration is also spending a great deal of money housing and feeding them in South Africa – not to mention the amount spent on their match tickets, food and local transport. The bottom looks quite hefty to me – at least two million dollars. That’s a lot of money.

Dear God, I know you are still in the business of performing miracles. But showering about two million dollars on a poor country to enable a few of its privileged citizens to go and watch football in another country is not exactly the sort of miracle you’d allow one of your apprentice angels to use for miracle practice.

I concede, however, that my ways are not your ways and so you might have performed some miracle I am completely unaware of. So if you are the one who made it possible for a poor wretched country like mine to send 1000 supporters to South Africa, I pray that you remove the scales off my eyes for me to see the sense in such an undertaking.

Until then, Dear Lord, I don’t want to hear any minister saying we don’t have money to pay contractors and fix the potholes in our roads. I pray that any government official who dares open his mouth to speak about how broke we are suffers unmitigated constipation for five straight days.

And, please, to save us from further unnecessary expense, just make sure that the football team is eliminated from the tournament at the earliest convenience.

Thanks, Dear Lord, for answered prayers.

AMEN!

The Black Stars’ campaign at the World Cup got off to a good start in Pretoria, making me dread the possibility that I may just be forced to eat humble pie – yet again! It was a good performance against Serbia. Everyone in the team contributed their best.

Even Richard Kingson pulled up some brilliant saves to keep the Serbs at Bay. Asamoah Gyan, usually wasteful, took almost his chances, crowning it all with an emphatic penalty kick that ensured Ghana’s victory.

But in the end, the hero of the day, even from a Ghanaian perspective was not Ghanaian. I think supporters of the Black Stars should count Serbia’s Kuzmanovic as their hero of the afternoon, because he gave that silly penalty that Asamoah Gyan converted.

It was a well-deserved victory, nonetheless.

The Black Stars dominated play and they should have won by a bigger margin if Asamoah Gyan hasn’t been so unlucky. After the match against Serbia, Ghanaian confidence seemed buoyed and people started speaking again about the possibility that Ghana would win the World Cup.

But the wishful thinking was abated as Germany started to tear Australia apart. The Germans played the most purposeful football in the tournament so far to beat Australia 4-0. They have a well-oiled machine and it’s going to take a miracle for Ghana to even draw against them. The best Milovan Rajevac’s team can do is to strive to keep the score line low when the two sides meet in the last group match.

As for the Australians, they are wounded lions and they are going to aim for a victory over Ghana in their next game. They were not bad in their first game. The Germans were just too hot for them to handle. But against Ghana, the Australians can hold their own.

The race to qualify for the next round of the competition is still an open contest between Serbia, Australia and Ghana. The Germans are already through. For Ghana to join them, the Black Stars must necessarily beat Australia. If they even draw against Australia, they may just be coming home sooner than most Ghanaians expect – and my prediction would come true. There is no way on earth the Black Stars can beat Germany.

By NII MOI THOMPSON

Economic historians would tell you that the clash between technology and society is as old as mankind’s struggles over the millennia to meet his material needs. The inventor of the typewriter, for example, was violently attacked by calligraphers who felt their very livelihood threatened.

The list of such clashes is long and will continue to grow as the world moves into a new phase of rapid information-communication-technological development which challenges contemporary ways of thinking and doing things and alters, in a fundamental way, traditional social relations in ways that would once have seemed unimaginable, even taboo.

The debate over mobile phones in schools is only the latest such clash, and it has been going on in schools around the world long before students at Ghanasco and Navasco rioted over seizure of their phones by the school authorities. While the violence of the students must be condemned in no uncertain terms, the episode should also serve as a catalyst to begin a national conversation on “technology and (Ghanaian) society”: How best to tame the excesses of technology while embracing its potential for national development, including education.

Given that culturally we are more inclined to emphasize the negative side of things and act upon that only (or do nothing at all), such a conversation might itself require a revolution in thought and in our world view.

Whatever debate we’ve had so far, championed by the Ghana Education Service (GES), has been (mis)informed by a wanton disregard for fact and reason; a narrow and retrogressive conception of telephony; and a disturbing lack of appreciation of what the future world of information-communication technology holds and how we can take advantage of it. The following are aspects of the debate as it is now – and how it may evolve in the future.

Mobile phones are disruptive for students
: True, but they are disruptive in many other social situations, too, including driving, office meetings, and conferences. In all these situations, the proper response has been to regulate their use and punish those who violate the regulation – not outright bans. To raise responsible citizens, we must give our children responsibilities (for example, “if you bring your phone to class it will be seized”). Outright bans, at best, breed recalcitrance and rebellion, without addressing the underlying problem of indiscipline. At worst, they retard social and technological progress. The seizure of fountain pens and calculators from students in the past, ostensibly to improve education, only encouraged sneaky and dishonest behavior among students and ultimately left them technologically backward. Education standards fell. The wholesale ban on mobile phones risks repeating history.

Mobile phones are responsible for falling educational standards:
In the Ghanasco case, students were said to have been spending long hours on their phones at night and showing up tired for class the next day, but it is disingenuous to blame this aberration for the age-old problem of plummeting standards in Ghanaian education. The 2008 Education Sector Performance Report tells us that “the percentage of trained teachers in public schools has decreased over the years both nationally and for the 53 deprived areas”. In fact, the percentage has been falling since the mid-1990s. The report also tells us: “…the official school year has 197 days, but effectively…only 39% of this was actually used for time on instructional task, one of the major variables affecting student achievement. Ghanaian students had the least number of contact hours with teachers” in a 4-country study quoted in the report, with “teacher absenteeism” listed as a “major cause of time loss”. When Ghanaian students, including those from schools that do not allow mobile phones, placed last in international science and math tests, it turned out that they were being taught syllabi that were 10 years out of date. It’s time our educational authorities took responsibility for their failings and stopped scapegoating students.

Mobile phones promote immorality among students:
A Daily Graphic headline of December 8, 1978, blared, ‘A School of 92 Pregnant Girls’ (out of 103). This was nearly 20 years before the first mobile phone was introduced to Ghana. Taking phones away from two students bent on having sex only defers the inevitable; teaching them the values of chastity, self-control and the dangers of premarital sex in the age of HIV-AIDS would serve them best for the rest of their lives.

True state of morality among our children:
Despite the loud lamentations about the immoral ways of the “youth of today”, research – not unsubstantiated outbursts – shows that the current generation of Ghanaian youth are actually less promiscuous than their peers of old (now their parents and grandparents). This is something we should be proud of and celebrate as a society, rather than use the transgressions of a few children to demonize all Ghanaian youth.

A 2003 USAID study of “adolescent premarital sex” in some 30 countries stated: Repeat surveys in Colombia and Paraguay reported increases of 18 and 12 points respectively. In contrast, levels in Ghana fell 19 points—nearly by half—between 1993 and 1998. The 2003 Ghana Demographic and Health Survey also noted: “Nine percent of women and 4 percent of men reported having sexual intercourse by age 15…. Sixty-one percent of women and 80 percent of men age 15-19 have never had sex.” The study looks at factors like education levels, urban/rural locations, and gender, which should interest policy makers and their moral crusader.

Real threats to our children’s morality: Based on recent news reports and loose media standards, mobile phones may pose the least moral threat to our children. The raping of school children by perverts posing as teachers has become so commonplace that some radio presenters even make sick and callous jokes about it. The proprietor of a secondary school who impregnated a student still prances around on television with other children – in plain view of the GES and an unconcerned society. During the trial last year of the proprietor, an anguished student from another school asked at a public forum: What do you do when the teacher standing in front of you has proposed to you? Beside actual sexual violence, one can only imagine the kind of emotional and psychological torture that these teenagers suffer at the hands these perverts in classrooms across the country. Our television screens and “mainstream” papers, too, are chuck-full of pornography. The list goes on. Where are the “moral phone” crusaders when you need them?

The future is here! Mobile phones and national development: Those opposing mobile phones in the hands of students appear stuck, subconsciously at least, with the outdated notion of the phone as a mere talk piece (“If you want to talk to your parents, do that through the House Master or Mistress”). Of course, the world of communication has changed drastically since these defenders of the old order went to school. Besides freeing us from the shackles of the conventional phone, the modern phone can also serve as radio, television, still and video cameras as well as mini-computers, all of which hold massive potential for advancing the cause of education and national development. Unlike conventional radios, for example, 10 students in a dorm can listen to 10 different radio stations on their mobile phones to upgrade their knowledge on any number of subjects without disturbing each other. If I were to type “Yaa Asantewaa war” or “history of DNA” into my phone, for instance, I’m likely to get more information to write a class essay than I would get from all the country’s secondary school libraries combined. This is something that would have been unimaginable only five years ago – and it’s going to get even better as the global ICT revolution intensifies.

The future is here, and in that future computing would literally be reduced into the palm of our hands, if news from Japan is anything to go by. Over there, laptop ownership is declining in favor of smart-phones, which are used for everything from education research to monitoring one’s home for intruders (while at the office) to switching your house lights on or off from anywhere in the world. This is all part of the exciting concept of “internet of things” (Google it and take a peek at the future), where a stalled car on a highway in Germany, for example, could be repaired by a mechanic in Zabzugu, Ghana, using nothing but a smart phone.

Invariably, the issue of cost and affordability comes up in matters like this and, invariably, we begin to whine, “Oh, but we are a poor country. How many parents can afford expensive phones for their children? blah, blah, blah”. The excuses are endless, but true visionaries are never deterred by the cost of their dreams; they always find a way out. Imagine if the two penniless student founders of Google had let financing constrain their dreams. And imagine if we had written off mobile phones in the late 1990s, when only a handful of rich Ghanaians could afford it. It wasn’t long ago that the wrist watch was the preserve of the rich, and the vast majority of Ghanaians could only dream of owning a television. Mankind has indeed made much material progress in a single generation.

Let’s be bold and progressive. If we want to be part of this amazing technological revolution, the old ways of thinking and doing things must give way to the new and the visionary. Leadership – true leadership – is about solving problems not accommodating them through coercion and excuses. Between the Ministries of Education, Finance, Communication, services providers and the private sector generally, we can join this revolution in an affordable, equitable and safe manner – not just for students but for the larger Ghanaian population. That’s the strategy; now let’s put out a plan. If others can put a man on the moon as a matter of will, the least we can do is make smart phones affordable for all Ghanaians, as a matter of policy.


Dear God, what is this I hear? She also wants to be president? What have we done to deserve this, my Lord?

You know, I am all for women empowerment and emancipation. I believe that our first female president would end up being our best leader, yet I hope to live to see a woman become president of this wretched republic.

But, Good God, I hope it’s not this woman. I’d rather die – or at the very least, resign my citizenship. If she comes anywhere near the presidency, I’d go to Bunkprugu Yonyoo and make my way towards one of the refugee camps in Togo.

If her party loses all appetite for power, and they choose her as presidential candidate, that would be their cup of tea because I know that her candidature will spell great doom for the party.

Not only is she bad news for her party. Having her run for president will be a national tragedy.

A vote for her will amount to a vote for the raving loon who led us nowhere for almost two decades. And, God, you know how vindictive they both are. With their false sense of grievance, they will go all out to avenge every perceived wrong done them and by so doing they will lead this country down the path to national self-destruction.

Merciful God, let this cup pass us by.

You know a vote for her in any national election will also be a vote for unbridled evil. For that’s what she is. What sort of woman will proudly speak about how security officers gave her daughter’s estranged boyfriend an ‘identification haircut’. Only two women I know will do that: Jezebel and her.

Above all else, I know, dear Lord that she and her husband have no vision. They have no plan and they have no idea how to take this country out of its misery. In fact, they don’t care about this land. For almost two decades most of us looked on helplessly as they run this country into a lurch, ruining our educational system as their children were educated in elite schools abroad, ostensibly under the sponsorship of so-called friends.

They are a self-absorbed couple who care about only themselves and their cronies. If they come back, they will only take us closer to the abyss from where you so graciously saved us. What we have is not the best but what they offer is definitely the worst. We don’t want it.

I pray the campaign that has apparently just begun to get her to contest the 2012 elections crashes before it actually takes off. Oh Lord, let this cup pass us by.

Thankfully, we hear she has not made up her mind – not yet! Oh Lord, help her never to make her mind. Whatever you do, please keep her leading her ragtag band of red-beret women to continue frying ‘gari’ and scooping palm oil – while nursing her husband’s eternally bruised ego.

Amen!

A bus of politicians is driving by a farm where a man lives alone. The bus driver, caught up in the beautiful scenery, loses control and crashes into the ditch. The man comes out and finding the politicians, buries them.

The next day, the police are at the farm questioning the man. "So you buried all the politicians?" asked the police officer. "Were they all dead?"

The man answered, "Some said they weren’t, but you know how politicians lie."

 

*Thanks to Pastor Tim for this*

 

Dr. Nii Moi Thompson must have been having a terrible day when he granted a radio interview to comment on the decision by the Ghana Education Service to ban the use of mobile phones on secondary school campuses.

His thoughts on the matter seemed distressingly porous.

He said the ban was unnecessary and amounted to a deliberate failure to “take advantage of technology”. He suggests that instead of an outright ban, the GES must encourage authorities in the various secondary schools to “regulate” the use of mobile phones by, for example, getting the students to be “checking in” their phones in order not to disrupt academic work.

Those suggestions coming from a man with a doctorate degree, threw me into a labyrinth of depressing disappointment.

Because of my limited education, I am quite wary of arguing with people with PhD holders. I never thought that there would be a time when I’d dare challenge someone like Dr. Nii Moi Thompson. But on this issue, I think I just might as well give it a shot.

The Ghana Education Service hardly takes sensible, well thought-out decisions. But on this issue, the service is right. And people like Dr. Nii Moi Thompson are dead wrong.

I have heard some people put up the spurious argument that secondary school students should be allowed to use mobile phones on campus because they need to keep in touch with their parents and the mobile phone is the best way to do that.

Before mobile phones, when the likes of Dr. Nii Moi Thompson were in secondary school, how did they communicate with their parents and guardians? Through letters and public pay phones. That’s what I did. The secondary school students of today should do the same.

Mobiles phones cannot be allowed on campuses because they are an unnecessary distraction. Imagine classes are in session and suddenly a phone rings. What’s the owner to do? Pick up the call and ask to be excused from the class?

Imagine that it’s lights out in the dormitory and whiles almost everyone is trying to catch some sleep, some few students decide to take advantage of the technology of free-night calls. You can be sure that those free night calls will not be to their parents.

Finally, if all students were allowed to bring phones to school, how are they going to recharge their batteries, at what cost and who picks up the bill? I can imagine the scramble for power sockets and I can also see parents fuming at the suggestion that they should contribute a little more money towards paying off the electricity bills.

Dr. Nii Moi Thompson’s suggestions that there should be a mechanism to allow students to bring phones to school and check them in whiles classes are in session is untenable. It won’t work. School authorities cannot (and should never) be compelled to use scarce resources to build phone check-in stalls and hire people manage them – all in an effort to it possible for students to take advantage of technology to engage in cyber-truancy – they are in class, but they are also on facebook.

When I was in secondary school, we were barred from bringing radio cassette/CD players to school. They were also useful technologies we could have argued helped us to keep abreast with the latest news and information. But we didn’t. Those who dared to bring radio sets to school were punished and the equipment seized. So the argument that banning mobile phones on secondary school campuses amounts to a technological deprivation is as weak as it is false.

Like millions of other Ghanaians I just finished watching the Black Stars lose miserably to the Netherlands in an international friendly in Rotterdam.

It was an embarrassing 4-1 trouncing.

It’s the worst score line in recent friendly matches for any of the teams preparing for the World Cup in South Africa. It underlines the team’s weaknesses and clearly points to a possibility that Milovan Rajevac’s players could be the whipping boys in South Africa.

If this is the team we are sending to the World Cup then I am considering taking a hefty bank loan to bet against them.

Stephen Appiah moves with all the speed of a loaded articulator truck. Quincy Owusu-Abeyie played like a baker in a surgical theatre. Derek Boateng seemed to be more interested in making friends with the Dutch players. Young Adiyiah threw petulant tantrums and months of warming the bench at Wigan and the over-consumption of ‘kalypo’ seems to have finally taken a heavy toll on Richard Kingson: he appears to have lost all his reflexes.

In summary, this is a very beatable squad. Against world-class opponents, they will be smashed to smithereens. It’s all good that most Ghanaians expect nothing but the best from them. But everyone should be well advised to prepare for the worst.

Call me a doom-monger, if you may. But I can see a footballing disaster waiting to happen in South Africa.