WAVES International 101 Gala Night

Mr Chairman, His Excellency, the SA High Commissioner, Togbewo, Mamawo, Nananom, Nii Mei, Naa Mei, Patrons, Executives and Members of WAVES International, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen: It is indeed a great honour and privilege for me to be invited to be the Guest Speaker at this very special occasion which brings together our future leaders and our current political and business leaders.

I want to commend the members of WAVES for their shared vision of empowering young people of Africa to become successful through effective mentoring. I guess the ultimate objective is to develop in the members the capacity, not only to succeed, but to contribute to the socio-economic advancement of our continent. I think this goal is laudable in view of our collective responsibility for ensuring that Africa does not continue to remain a problem for the rest of the world.

I also salute the sponsors for putting a lot of their time and other resources into this adventure.  They deserve praise for making it possible for WAVES to thrive.

I would like to seize the opportunity presented to me this evening to share some thoughts with our younger compatriots about certain values that I believe are essential for success, and which I believe should guide them as they reach for their goals. But if I may, I would first of all want to establish the context of what I have to say by stating the obvious, the fact that development that brings enhanced standards of living and happiness is what every African desires. Development, and particularly economic development, that brings hope for the future underpins peaceful societies.  It is no coincidence then that the most developed countries are the most peaceful.

Also obvious, is the fact that poverty is not God's desire for any race.  We are all endowed with the human and material resources that are necessary for success.

So we need to ask ourselves: Why is it that no country that is completely controlled by black people has been able to lift itself from poverty to a developed country status?

Let us take the examples of Haiti, a country of majority black people, and the Dominican Republic, which is majority white. Both share the island of Hispaniola, but while the Dominican Republic is prosperous, Haiti's poverty is similar to what one finds in Africa.

Now let us look at our own country, Ghana. At the time of our independence, we were at about the same level of development as South Korea. But today, the average South Korean is thirty-five times better-off than his Ghanaian counterpart.
We as a nation have failed to build on the accomplishments of the generations that came before us.  While we proverbially stand on the shoulders of these generations, we have failed to see farther than they did.  We have failed to change with the times.

Against this reality, it probably is no wonder therefore that given the opportunity, most young Africans would relocate to virtually any other continent. Unfortunately, Africans appear to be the most undesirable immigrants everywhere.

It was reported recently that the Swiss government and the EU were funding TV adverts against African migrants. The ads depict Africans begging and being arrested in Europe and are aimed at deterring would-be immigrants.  And a conference is ongoing in Ghana now aimed at finding ways to stem the flow of illegal migrants into Europe.

So the important question is: How can the younger generation become the agents of change that Africa so desperately needs?

Among others, we need to take our education more seriously and understand that its purpose is to provide us with knowledge and to develop our intellect and our capacity for critical thought. It is not about mastery of facts, neither is it about the acquisition of certificates or degrees.

We also have to recognize that education is a never-ending process. As humans, our richest gift and endowment is our ability to change our minds, our preferences, and our dreams. Historian, Will Durant, once wrote: Sixty years ago I knew everything; now I know nothing; education is a progressive discovery of our own ignorance. I look at education as a process of creative destruction, where new knowledge renders past truths or knowledge obsolete.

Every situation is an opportunity to learn. The only way to keep pace with change and exercise the required dynamic flexibility is to be able, and particularly willing, to think and to know that all things around us are dynamic. So an educational system that presents information as dogmas that must be passively consumed will not help our cause.

In a time of drastic change, it is the learners who inherit the future.  The learned, or those who think they know all there is to know, find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists.

As future leaders, therefore, we must pursue the kind of education that liberates our minds, and equips us with creative and innovative skills, lest we become smart conformists and custodians of the status quo, instead of the agents of change that Africa desperately needs.

We also need ambition and a strong desire for excellence.  If we are to be successful, we must aspire for the best in whatever we do.  We should not be satisfied with mediocrity.

Success also requires hard work and absolute devotion to our chosen careers. We should understand that the greater the effort one puts into his work the more likely he is to succeed.  Praying for divine guidance and intervention does not assure success. Many of your mentors and others who you see as successful have the willingness to do more than is required of them. And they worked very hard and from humble beginnings.

Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose movies I believe many of you enjoy, was a thin and bony little boy in his native Austria.  Even his parents thought his pursuit of body-building was a joke.  But he became a champion body-builder, a movie star and then, today, Governor of the State of California.

So success also requires positive thinking and perseverance.  The road to success is not an easy one. It is rough because we do not live in a perfect world. This is why those who do not give up in the face of difficulty are the ones most likely to succeed. As we were taught when we were kids, if you try and do not succeed try, try, and try again.

We should also develop a sense of responsibility.  We should accept the fact that ultimately, we are responsible for what we become, and so, we are responsible for our own happiness. When faced with failure, a successful person would most likely ask: Where did I go wrong? Remember always that your own actions are the only things that are under your control, and therefore are what must engage your critical evaluation.

Self-confidence and a sense of independence are also vital for success. We should believe in ourselves, and avoid being overly dependent. Dependency has become a cultural problem - while the individual is looking up to one relative or the other, various groups are looking up to government, which itself is looking up to donor support.  Both as individuals and as groups, we can do more for ourselves than any one can.

Success also requires discipline and the absence of the word forget from your vocabulary; and so should the expression African time there is nothing like that. Let us remember that excuses are not productive, and we should avoid having to make them.

Success in public or private life also requires that one pursues the path of strictest honesty. My word is my bond was the motto of the London Stock Exchange in those days when bargains are made with no exchange of documents and no written pledges being given. If you would not vary a hair's breadth from the path of the truth, your reputation will ultimately become your collateral.

Honesty is necessary if we are to avoid, for example, the examination leakage scandals and the forgery of certificates that have become prevalent in our educational system. The same goes for corruption that has been undermining our development efforts. As I have said before, corrupt officials are like termites at the woodwork they eat at the very foundation of our progress.

We need to eschew selfishness and to appreciate that altruism is the best form of egoism.  In other words, selflessness is the best form of selfishness. This is consistent with the biblical teaching, 'Do unto others as you would like them to do unto you'.  So let us willingly give back to our communities instead of always seeking to receive. As observed by Albert Einstein, The value of a man should be seen in what he gives and not in what he is able to receive.

When we are called upon to contribute financially towards the development of our areas, even the most endowed feign poverty, while others invent the most ridiculous excuses.  If you pretend to be poor, you are very unlikely to attain your full potential financially because you scare potential business partners away.  This is why the bible implies that the rich will get richer and the poor poorer.

We need to appreciate and take pride in what God has given us our land, our skin, our language, etc. It is by the Will of God that one is who he is.  Thus, ignorance is the only reason why some people would not like themselves, who they are, their skin, etc. If you do not like yourself, you are unlikely to have the self-confidence that success requires.

Excessive materialism is threatening to become part of our culture, and they are distorting our priorities. Let us distinguish our needs from our wants so that we can save for the future. Our poor savings habit has more to do with our attitudes than with our low incomes. While our Asian counterparts are saving and investing, we are busily consuming buying more shoes, more clothes and more electronic gadgets.

It is also important that we are able to focus on the things that matter. Successful people are able to determine the things which matter most, and therefore are able to prioritize and maximum the rewards of their efforts.  They do not take pride in their titles, but in their genuine accomplishments. They also know that the important thing is not where you come from.

To enhance our chances for success, we also need to be tolerant and show respect for others so that our professional, cultural and ethnic diversity will enrich our lives, our experiences, and our opportunities.  For example, the important thing is not where our work colleague comes from, but whether he knows his job; and not whose idea it is, but whether it is good idea. So we should embrace and take advantage of our diversity.

All said, we need a sound and peaceful environment to succeed, and such environment requires, among other things, harmony among our various groups. We all have a role to play, so let us eschew apathy.

As citizens, it is important that we constantly question our own commitment and contribution to the development of our communities and our country.  We must perform our civic responsibilities, we must show interest in government, and we must all participate in the electoral process. As said by Edmund Burke: All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.

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