I am not certain if the World Bank chose the University of Ghana as its venue for the ‘Shared Prosperity Forum’ or it’s the other way round, that the University of Ghana invited the World Bank to host its #EndPoverty Campaign on its soil. Does that really matter? Yes?
I arrived at the Great Hall of the University of Ghana at 2:50pm on Friday 16th October 2015. The Program was billed to begin at 3:45pm and end at 5:45pm, a push ahead of October 17, which is ‘End Poverty Day’ a commemorative day observed by the United Nations.
As i sat, waiting for the program to commence, soulful Jazz rocked, just then, some questions flooded my mental space, one of which recurred over and over:
We were seated inside the Great Hall of Ghana’s Premier Higher Institution of Learning; the University of Ghana, being in the front lines, training people to solve problems. Graphically, poverty resembles that monster with weapons and ammunitions, ravishing homes and causing untold frustrations in alarming proportions. To this end, an army had gathered. A commander from South Korea with Generals from Nigeria, Ghana, Democratic Republic of Congo and Senegal. Let the war begin!!!
Participants filed into the Auditorium. I spotted some high level opinion leaders, Diplomats and Students. Slowly, it was getting filled but just about thirty minutes to the commencement, more people, especially students galloped in. Media houses kept busy positioning and repositioning equipment. Joy News, Live Fm, FTV et al.
At 3:44, I took another full scan of the Great Hall and it was filled to capacity with overflows outside. Mind you, this was a rare opportunity for anybody to listen to great minds and capture historic photos of Dr. Jim Yong Kim and his crusaders.
The mounted banner stretched from one end of the stage to the other, on it was printed the ‘End Poverty’ logo, interspersed with two globes. The ‘End Poverty’ logo was in different colours, which I believe signifies the fight to end poverty was happening in every continent. I was at the right place at the right time.
At exactly 4pm, Nhyira Addo alias the ‘rainmaker’; Host of Joy fm Morning show mounted the podium. ‘This aeroplane is air-borne’ I said to myself. ‘Welcome ladies and gentlemen to the World Bank Shared Prosperity Forum…..’ His delivery was impeccable; voice? Lively and musical, even finer than what one often heard on radio. Perhaps, radio waves steals some savoury in one’s voice. Maybe?
Nhyira Addo paused for half a second, took a half breathe, scanned the audience and delivered another powerful introduction. This time, It was to invite 2015 Ghana New Artiste of the Year, MsVee; the Natural Girl Dancehall Queen. MzVee is spotted in one of the ‘End Poverty’ T-shirts.
Opening her performance with Bob Marley’s ‘No wo man No cry’, she switched to her ‘Borkor Borkor’, ‘Natural Girl’, ‘Dancehall Queen’ tracks. Me? Was I dancing? (laughs) I had to restrain myself as the temptation to slalom on stage was high, rather, I nodded as she effortlessly cruised from one song to another. It was like one long song with many parts. While she was at it, the dignitaries filed in.
First, Professor Jane Naane Opoku-Agyemang, the Ghanaian Minister of Education at 4pm. Then, Dr. Jim Yong Kim and his Officials at the World Bank, Mr. Makhtar Diop, Vice President of World Bank Africa Region followed almost immediately. Dr. Kim was all smiles, nodding as MsVee performed. Oh such a bubbly man.
Next to arrive was one of Africa’s wealthiest Entrepreneurs and Philanthropists, Tony Onyemaechi Elumelu. Yes, Chairman of Heirs Holdings, The United Bank of Africa, Transcorp, Founder of the Tony Elumelu Foundation and one of 20 Most Powerful People in Africa according to Forbes. He wore a grey Suit with a red necktie and red socks to match. A minute later, the Prime minister of Democratic Republic of Congo was ushered in. Finally came, Mr. Akinwumi Adesina, President of African Development Bank.
As expected, the Vice Chancellor of the University, Professor Ernest Aryeetey had the honour of giving the first words and rightly so as head of the University. He walked onto the stage with such pride and urgency, offering his appreciation to all for coming. He could have chosen to hijack the stage to talk about himself and the university and what-not from the birth of Adam till the death of Jesus. He chose not to. In fact, His welcome address inspired hope yet did not last more than 120 seconds. Kudos Mr. Vice Chancellor.
Mr. Makhtar Diop was next on the bill. His task was to give an introductory remark. He was quick to express his delights at the strides being made by the University of Ghana in developing leaders for the world stage. The Senegalese Diplomat gave us more than we asked for. How? ‘That the Democratic republic of Congo was a shining example of an African country fighting poverty tooth and nails.
He quickly nailed down the fact that the Democratic Republic of Congo under the leadership of Matata Ponyo Mapon had kept inflation at 1% since 2013, which was at a staggering 53% in 2009, despite the fragility of the country’s economy. Who is this Matata Poyon Mapon?
Enters: His Excellency Matata Ponyo Mapon
Those who did not see the average-height man when he entered the Hall, due largely to the numbers around him (Understandable for the First Gentlemen of every country) waited patiently for this opportunity. Rounds of applause slapped the insides of the Hall as he made his way to the podium. Mr. Matata Ponyo Mapon speaking for almost half an hour explained that his government continues to implement tough economic reforms in fighting poverty and creating wealth. He backed his points with one statistic after the other.
‘Two roads diverged in the wood, and I –
I took the one less travelled by,
And that has made all the difference’
Robert Frost (The road not taken)
Referring to the above, Mr. Matata Ponyo Mapon shared his motivation in all he did. Hey, Big ups to all lovers of Poetry in Africa!
Lerato Mbele, the South Africa Journalist who works with the British Broadcasting Corporation had been billed to moderate the Panel discussions davos style. She invited the Panellists, Dr. Kim, Mr, Adesina, Professor Opoku-Agyeman and Mr. Elumelu.
Lerato laid grounds rules. Panellists were encouraged to give short straight-forward answers. Participants were urged to clap in solidarity with opinions from the panellists and to keep a ‘straight face’ when they disagreed with panellists.
Lerato punched the Ghanaian minister with the first question ‘What do you understand by poverty and who are the most vulnerable to poverty?’ The Minister in response believed women and children were most vulnerable. She reminded us of Kwegyir –Aggrey in 1923, who said that ‘If you educate a woman, you educate a family’.
Dr. Kim who heads the World Bank Group; a Physician and Anthropoligist by training, is such an exceptional brain. His economic insights and ability to speak in a clear understandable manner is enviable. On which groups of people were more vulnerable to poverty, he said:
‘I think it’s the poor child living in and around rural areas between the ages of 0-5’
‘It’s the height of unfairness to relegate children under age five to never being able to learn’
‘Children have to be able to learn anything and quickly we have to dedicate a huge portion of our operations to the achievement of this objective.
Addressing students, Dr. Kim said ‘This is the most important thing i can tell you, the Korea of 1959 is now the Africa of 2015, we talk about Africa Rising but in quiet conversations we hear all kinds of talk about impossible, you know what we hear from the prime minister about DRC lots of people were saying that’s impossible, don’t ever believe and certainly don’t believe it by yourselves’
Mr. Adesina, was more concerned about the essence of agriculture, arguing that, agribusiness and technology is Africa’s best bet at reducing poverty. We were all thrown into laughter when he joked that even doctors advised patients to take their medication after meals, hence the unavoidability of agriculture.
‘65% percent of all the arable lands in the world are not in Asia, Latin America, right here in Africa, great sunshine, great water, cheap labour, you thrown anything up, it comes down, it grows’.
‘Today, Africa, Ghana, Liberia, Cote d’ivoire, Cameroon produce 75% of all the cocoa in the world but we get only 3% of a hundred billion dollar market. I went to Belgium one day and I went to a store and picked up a chocolate, and it was written on it, manufacturers, we’ve been in business since 1863. So I asked the person, do you want to know what i really think, Africa has been doing the wrong thing since 1863’
Mr. Tony Onyemaechi Elumelu
Easy talking Mr. Elumelu agreed that agriculture and agribusiness was the way forward adding. Lerato sought to suggest that young people had less interest in agriculture. Tony disagreed and posited that actual statistics proved otherwise. He then advanced that thirty percent of applicants to the Tony Elumelu Foundation entrepreneurship Program actually needed support to grow their agribusinesses.
‘In recent times, African investments in Africa have now surpassed foreign investments in Africa’
Lerato: How did you get out of poverty to wealth? Five factors?
Tony: Hard work, enabling environment. Discipline, Culture of saving, Long term thinking, Align with people with similar perspectives. And it is the combination of these and more that accounts for my success
Trust me; it’s very difficult, almost impossible to limit the likes of Elumelu.
The night had been largely a mastermind sharing of ideas. Lerato had hinted by her line of questioning that she was drawing the curtains down. The Ghanaian Minister, being the only woman panellist knew how to make her presence felt when the question fell in her area of expertise; education. She took the bull by the horn when Lerato asked her about a child who doesn’t want to study mathematics because he prefers to be an Artist and still make a great contribution, throwing her fellow panellists and audience into rapturous rounds of applause
She argued that the manner in which science and mathematics has been taught has been the challenge, adding that it formed the foundation, adding the language uses to instruct students have been another barrier.
‘It is those who have taught it who have not taught it well and let me tell you that my ministry has since 2013 retrained almost 2000 science and mathematics teachers across the country’ …
‘let me use a very practical example, of a child whose mum processes palm oil, from the farm to the oil, if this is not science, then I don’t know what science is’
(Audience charge, giving rounds after rounds of applause) She continued:
‘Take the seamstress who sews for example, she uses a scissors. The scissors is a scientific instrument and the way she cuts her materials is mathematics. If this is not mathematics, then I don’t know what it is’.
(The Hall becomes smaller as the cheers intensify. Dr. Kim and his colleagues can’t hide their excitement)
‘Nothing stopped Korea from using their language, by using their language; it didn’t stop them from making the fridges and phones that we import, because Koreans were taught in a language they understood, the equation picked up. Because we are teaching our children in a language they can’t even follow, we are drawing them back’
*Sweat profusely*—*Wipes brow*—*Drinks water*
The Ghanaian Minister better be ready to answer more questions because the local media landscape and social media will gruel her ideas the hardest way they can, pass it through the magnifying glass and test its strength. Is her proposition on local language as medium of instruction of learning feasible? Now or Later?
As for Lerato, she knew she had reached the climax and that there was no better time to end the conversation than now. Lady and gentlemen, your final comments on how we can end poverty?
Dr. Adesina: ‘Just end it’
Mr. Elumelu: ‘create employment and embrace local value industrial activities
Dr. Kim: ‘Listen to young people and listen to the women’ Smart Kim. (Audience erupt again)
Honourable Opoku-Agyemang: Focus on quality education delivered in the right medium.
Diplomats are guarded out
Photography and Exchange of pleasantries
I stepped out, hopped on a bus and returned home. Thank you for your time. #spidup