Watch the finger…

I had dinner with two great sons of Ghana today. Well, let me rephrase. I had dinner with four great gentlemen today, but the Ghanaians took over the conversation and all we could talk about was the sad state of our country. These are very vibrant achievers, both soon to be graduates of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), One of the best, if not the best Tech. Schools in the World. Our friends subsequently became spectators. I’m interested to hear their thoughts later, but for now, let me focus on the conversation that ensured. Several things stood out. First, that these gentlemen were very passionate. Second, that they were both extremely intelligent. Third, that they had strong opinions of how Ghana should be lead and where it should be going; the corruption and the inadequacies of those at the forefront. They painted a very good picture of the doom and gave predictions of the catastrophe that awaited the country if the leadership of the country didn’t change drastically.  Most importantly though, what stood out to me was their hesitation to enter politics. I can’t say I was surprised. I have had many such conversations and they have somehow become typical.

Countless smart and highly educated individuals who could perchance make a difference, but who stay out of politics and leadership roles because it is dirty and will corrupt them. One of my fine friends during the conversation made a very good point. Quoting him ‘ you can’t put garbage in and get apples out, the Chinese understand this’. I wondered if he heard himself speak? and then he went on to say ‘sometimes I cry for Ghana’ to which our non-Ghanaian friend responded (bless his soul) “staying in Boston and crying isn’t going to help!”

I must say that I feel like crying for Ghana when I come across all these great people who are ‘too good’ to enter into the arena to help play the game in the favor of our nation. The men and women who know all the answers and can give you a history lesson as well as a lesson in best governance from around the world. They are experts in global, local politics and economics and understand what must be put in place to ensure sustainable development. Yes, they are experts in talk. To their credit, some try, but at the very possibility of their ‘good name’ being challenged, they quit (interestingly, the ‘bad guys’ can give them a lesson or two in tenacity!). This brings into the dynamics another question around where can one effect the most change and whether one must compromise ones values to some extent for the higher purpose? Does the end justify the means or does it excuse it? This is another subject for discussion on another day entirely…

You must admire the ‘corrupt’ politician for one thing though, at least he is in the ring fighting and unless you are actually in the ring, you have no idea what the fight is about. Who are the people exercising real leadership in the system and making a difference quietly? what are the various factions and interests in the system and what is driving them to fight to either maintain the statues-quot or change it? why are things the way they are? what are the global triggers and determiners? who are the puppet masters and what are the trade-offs? what strengths are being leveraged and which ones are being underutilized? et cetera, et cetera … Guess what, if you are a good business man and you refuse to enter into politics, people who don’t know the first thing about business strategy will determine what environments affect your business. If you are a master in strategic management and you leave yourself out, people who haven’t managed anything in their lives before, including themselves, will manage you. If you are the best negotiator, but are not at the table when the country negotiates with our strategic foreign partners, you can’t blame anyone when you end up with the short end of the stick. The world has changed significantly and yet, individuals who probably don’t have a Facebook account themselves or understand the ecosystem and where the rest of the world is going may be determining our future. It is OK for that to happen, but they do need the support of those who know how to at least help put together policy issues with a good understanding of how the next 10 years may look like, because all other things being equal, they will definitely be alive and capable of partaking in it, don’t you think?

The most interesting comment I hear these days, especially since I graduated from the Kennedy School of government is “Juliet, you guys have to change the system’. I don’t mind this comment. After all, even before coming to the Kennedy School, such issues occupied my thoughts. What I mind is the continuation of the thought that someone will make it better. There is a saying ‘ be the change you want to see’ Who should make the world a better place for you? You are satisfied with being  a spectator in your own life? be my guest…

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