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paa.kwesi's blog

Akan Adwendwen - Mma mfa nwansena ho ebufuw mburu wo kur

Posted by paa.kwesi on Mon, 04/02/2007 - 21:56

Merekyima so na mekÉ”too nkuw yi:,

Ɔyɛ me yaw piinara sɛ hɔn a wɔte Zembabwe de wɔn din hyɛ dɛm ekuwekuw yi ase. Ɔyɛ a, nna hɔn werɛ efir hɔnho--dɛ hɔnnom a wɔrefrɛ obi ne mbogya no, hɔn nanom nte bea wɔrefrɛ bɔgya egu no. Wɔte beebi foforo, wɔda mpa foforo mu, wɔdi ediban foforo, na wɔsoɛr a, na wɔrepɛ asɛm de hɔnho akɔhyɛ mu.

Thinking in English : Dark days in Ghana, literally

Posted by paa.kwesi on Fri, 03/30/2007 - 15:45

OK, I couldn't resist.

But more seriously, the current energy crises represents a business opportunity, especially for some homegrown energy solutions.

After the criticism, let's our numbers together and provide some solutions. And I don't mean solutions for the minuscule urban populations alone.

Update: Check out

Thinking in English: Let's start with self-respect

Posted by paa.kwesi on Tue, 03/06/2007 - 08:04

On the occasion of 50 years of statehood.

So this year, I recommend that we all try to gain some self-respect, next year we can work on a new self-confidence. That is not to say most of us don't have self-confidence--indeed we do--except our self-confidence is not based on self-respect.

A quick checklist:
- What are the top 3 things you take professional pride in?
- Do those 3 things uniquely identify your contribution to the world as a Ga girl, Takoradi-raised person,  or you might just as well have been from Iceland?

Thinking in English : Standing on the shoulders of ... well ... ok, ... Ama

Posted by paa.kwesi on Sat, 02/10/2007 - 12:53

One of the things that I am teaching myself these days is to drop my too-known, I-will-start-afresh attitude to progress. I realize this attitude does not bring real progress because it discards the lessons of those who have gone before too easily. And the more I try to unlearn this bad habit, the more I realize it is so very prevalent around me. Every second person I meet has a bright idea, which is good. But ask them, "hey, I heard Ama is doing the same thing, or tried to do something similar" and the response is "oh, I don't even know who Ama is, but not that it matters".

Thinking in English - What will you give up?

Posted by paa.kwesi on Wed, 01/31/2007 - 10:59

In several conversations with many well-intentioned people who want to see "the end of poverty" I realize that we all probably do not appreciate the implications of such a wish. We must all be willing to give up everything in principle in order to see such a wish come true. Of course the economists can come up with arguments that show that we don't really have to give up that much--but that is beside the point.

Thinking in English: Pidgin "English"?

Posted by paa.kwesi on Sat, 01/06/2007 - 23:03

So this weekend I undertook a little thought experiment given my fascination with language. The question to be resolved? Is Pidgin English a type of English? (I was trying to decide which language group it belonged to in the kasahorow Dictionaries).

Short answer: no. Pidgin "English" in the south of Ghana is actually a type of Akan/Ga language.

Medium length answer: The following test sentences got me started.
English:          I am coming.
Akan:             Me re ba. (Mereba)

Thinking in English : JSS memories

Posted by paa.kwesi on Tue, 01/02/2007 - 21:05

Afehyia Pa! to everyone.

And, Master Annan! RIP. I was just writing up some notes today on how to do something and I remembered that you first taught me this method. Back in the day, I just memorized the strategy, but it's served me well.

Master Annan, my JSS General Science teacher taught: to describe an experiment, first list the materials required. Then list the steps taken in numbered order. At the end, you put down your observations, and then your conclusions.

In your exercise book, you neatly wrote out:

Materials required
1 beaker, a bottle of alcohol (at least 35% proof), a box of matches, a wooden table with a clean surface.

Thinking in English: Locally Productive Knowledge, I

Posted by paa.kwesi on Sun, 11/19/2006 - 09:26

One of the frequent questions I get asked roaming Aburokyire is whether I am going to stay or "go back home". The assumption behind the question is that, "look here you are with all these things you know--you could be useful to your motherland or something so why not go back". (OK, for the record, Ghana is not short of people with all sorts of qualifications and experiences more interesting than mine.) But for the most part, I think, my knowledge and skills are not "locally productive" (relative to Ghana). That is, my abilities are not really usable in Ghana, and hard as it is for me to admit it, I'm actually more productive outside Ghana (or when inside Ghana only in an environment that is akin to a glass tower of privilege) than inside it.

This is very frustrating for me--here I am, a modestly successful at my exploits in Aburokyire. I land in the motherland, and am praised with all sorts of appellations. (It is an exhilarating experience to return to Ghana as fairly regular activities conducted in Aburokyire count as achievements in Takoradi.) Given that I am certainly not the first Takoradi boy to have had an Aburokyire experience, I would imagine I can make some limited generalizations over my own experience.

The reality (as made evident by the performances of those, who were like us, who have gone before) is that in fact we are actually very unfit (practically speaking) for doing anything in the fatherland. Indeed the most transferable of our experiences is perhaps our outside-looking-in perspective. Almost without exception foreign-educated women and men have performed poorly at their jobs in Ghana the longer they have been at it. This can be explained by the hypothesis that the circumstances of Ghana are so local (naturally) that being unprepared for it, their lack of preparation has always shown through after sufficient time has passed. Most frequently, the excuse I have heard (and previously believed) for non-performance is that "the facilities are not available", availability being measured relative to what one would have were they to be working wherever they were trained in Aburokyire. This reason sounds so  obvious that those who have been the primary victims of our collective local incompetence proffer it without our encouragement. Indeed, it is perhaps because they need us to be heros, and heros must have been hampered by extenuating external circumstances whenever they fail. Their failure then has nothing to do with their heroic nature.

But perhaps this pattern of failure is to be expected for after all our Aburokyire experience trains us to be productive in Aburokyire, not Ghana. Indeed, so does going to school in Ghana. A 100% Ghana-trained professional also makes the same excuse that "there are no facilities" using the same Aburokyire referent, real or imagined, for the same reason that a Ghana education is so far removed from local reality. I judge the net worth of such an education to be negative to Ghana since it prepares us to be more useful in Aburokyire than in Ghana itself (and mind you, the current form of our education is definitely more relevant to Ghana than it has ever been thanks to a series of educational reforms undertaken by several governments before and after independence). But unfortunately still, Ghana education rewards you more for knowing as little as possible about Ghana, encouraging us to generalize about Ghana from the outside in (we try to measure "GDP" when our economy is not as monetized as that of Adam Smith's making it much harder to measure value in monetary terms) instead of generalizing about the world from inside out (trying to understand the world with the languages that we express our first emotions in). Unfortunate, because, the evidence suggests that it is easier to generalize from the inside out--take for example Kwame Despite's PeaceFM. It soundly defeated JoyFM on all the relevant metrics (listenership, profitability) in fewer years of operation, prompting JoyFM's parent company to start AdomFM just to compete.

I have been trying to understand this pattern for the longest time, and I now have some sort of one-sentence summary for what I am trying to understand: what makes knowledge (of which we have plenty certificates claiming such) productive in a particular location (Ghana)?

Thinking in English : Hometown Identification Project (HIP, HIP, HIP?)

Posted by paa.kwesi on Sun, 10/22/2006 - 20:59


I don't know about you, but I do get frustrated each time I'm filling in some web form and I'm asked for ZIP or Postal Code. Now, being from Ghana, everyone knows there are no such things as zip codes. Some web forms are designed properly enough to not require zip codes when you select Ghana as your location, but most others are not.

So when I stumbled across a public domain database of longitude and latitude pairs for most towns and cities in Ghana (and in fact Africa) it occurred to me that zip codes could be generated quite easily from these unique numbers. After using them for several months, now let me share the love--Accra's zip code is 43F 8E3. And for kicks, the state is the country code GH.

Thinking in English: Globalization is not for Us

Posted by paa.kwesi on Thu, 08/24/2006 - 16:59

So one of the very peculiar problems I've been looking to solve--to no avail is this:

How do you participate in the global economy when you are in Ghana?

Let me give a specific example.

A young web design firm in Accra run by one of my friends is doing good business but they have a fundamental challenge. This is the challenge they have: their clients--mostly mid-sized Ghana-based entities--want to put up business-card websites. You would think that was an easy thing to want but a close look at the steps involved makes it obvious that it isn't so easy.

To get a website up and running you need two things:

Thinking in English : Re: Teach English Language at an early age

Posted by paa.kwesi on Thu, 08/03/2006 - 19:52

From the archive. Rejoinder written for the Daily Graphic.

I read with appalled disbelief the claims about the “need”
to indoctrinate our children with the English language (and by extension,
culture) through our educational curriculum in the Daily Graphic article of Wednesday,
July 20, 2005. If anything educators are the best placed to inform the general
public about the established wisdom of teaching a child to appreciate the world
through the language that she can find the most support for in her environment.


Thinking in English : Lights On!

Posted by paa.kwesi on Fri, 07/28/2006 - 13:20

Original Story
One up for The Lady!

“The switching on today is symbolic. It symbolises our journey from darkness to illumination.”
- President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf of Liberia.

Dramatic words, but forgivable in the euphoria of the moment--euphoria I totally share.

"Johnson-Sirleaf (The Lady), promised when she took office in January that she would work to
restore power to the seaside capital within 150 days". The timing is right on!

Thinking in English: Throw Open The Borders! Please...

Posted by paa.kwesi on Sun, 07/02/2006 - 18:00

We need open borders on the continent.

People need to be able to move across the continent to trade their energies for the highest compensation in the country of their choice. It is frustrating enough to move capital across borders (even within ECOWAS for example--you need to fill export control forms to transfer money from Ghana to Nigeria, and don't count on using your Nigerian Ecobank ATM card in Ghana, even at an Ecobank ATM. In contrast you can withdraw cash from any Barclays ATM (Europe, Africa) with a Bank of America (USA) card with no fees.

Now while it is worthwhile to promote capital investment into our economies, what we do have to trade, is our labor, not physical capital. And if the AU, currently meeting in the Gambia, want suggestions on things to accomplish urgently, I say please throw open the borders!

Thinking in English: Yam and Corned Beef Stew Globalization

Posted by paa.kwesi on Thu, 06/15/2006 - 01:53

Having just arrived in Beantown from Accra, I was craving some good old yam and corned beef stew. I don't know why this particular combination suggested itself to my stomache but there it was and I knew nothing else could satisfy my hunger.

And I thought, "Oh, hopeless hope, corned beef stew perhaps, but how in the world can you find yam?" I've heard rumors that a shop exists in Dorchester that may likely stock yam, but that's too far away anyways to get there and back again before nkakae are about.

2 hours later, I'm sitting behind my computer, yam and corned beef stew on hand and thinking what a world! The nearest Stop-and-Shop had yam in stock. The cash registered showed "yucca" but it looked yam enough to me. And truly here I am grinning in self-satisfaction.

Thinking in English : Wedding Irregularities

Posted by paa.kwesi on Mon, 05/15/2006 - 14:50

The past two weekends I've been attending church weddings, after a very long absence(I've just been in the wrong places when the right people were getting married). They were truly educational experiences apart from the fun Fanta-and-chips part.

1. The priest (who is unmarried) said to the couples, some of whom had been "married" a long time and were greying:

Today, you have come to make things right. Your situation until today has been like "running a race outside the tracks", or like "farming without God's consent".

My thinking is that there's some subtle irregularity here. The couples obviously believed they were married which is why they went ahead to live together, had children (some of whom I met), and generally lived married lives. On the other hand, they felt insecure enough about their marriage that they consented to come into a church to be subjected to the preachy advice of an inexperienced (I've heard worse said better) priest. On further reflection with other minds, it seems this is what the irregularity is: Though there is the "modern" (understood as "Christian") notion that a valid marriage is one held in a church, there is also the "traditional" (understood as "the proper way") notion that a marriage is not valid unless the families have agreed for it to take place in the same spirit the ancestors did it as far as the memory can recall. How it plays out in practice is that both the traditional marriage and the modern one are held in order to gain legitimacy before the ancestors/family and the modern world. In other words, there must be an "engagement" and then a "wedding". Don't be fooled, the "engagement" is a full traditional wedding! And so if you fall for a non-Ghanaian and you give/receive an engagement ring, free advice, don't say you're "engaged" and believe that the Euro-American meaning registered. Your Ghanaian audience will feel left out of a party to put it mildly.