On Our Work Ethic or Lack of it

Posted by By at 16 December, at 19 : 41 PM Print

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From the Presidential Letters Series by Femi Akomolafe


Fellow Compatriots, Greetings.

In my inaugural speech last week, I promised to engage with you weekly with very frank talks on how I think we, individually and collectively, can do our best to move the wheel of our nation’s progress forward.

In that speech, I also promised to tell you nothing but the honest, home and homely truth.

It is not for nothing that it is said that truth is bitter, so I expect that many of you will not like the frank manner in which I choose to speak the truth to you.

This is understandable, because for many years, leaders, for simply political expediency, have all shied away from telling citizens the truth that they found unpalatable enough to cost them votes.

I think that was and is wrong.

My firm belief is that citizens deserve nothing but the truth. I believe that you are all matured enough to handle the truth, however unpalatable.

If at the end of the day, you believe that it was a crime to tell you the truth, and decided not to vote me or my party back into power, so be it. My conscience would be very clear, and I will sleep easily at night. Will you?

I begin my address today with another frank assessment of what I see as a great shortcoming in our dear republic.

We all yearn for good services, good roads, excellent hospitals, and educational facilities.

These are very laudable yearnings; nothing wrong with them per se. It is the wish of every thinking human being to look for improvement in one’s station in life.

But since we all know that all the beautiful things we crave do not fall from the sky, is it not right to ask what we do, as individuals, to see to their actualizations?

What do we do as citizens to contribute our quota to the realization of the developed country of our collective dreams?

The last electioneering campaign afforded me the opportunity to travel the length and the breadth of our beautiful and great country.

We are blessed with a truly magnificently beautiful country; there is no doubt about that.

We should be thankful to the gods for their abundant blessings and for giving us such well-endowed land as our heritage.

But the poverty I witnessed in many parts of our dear country truly shocked me. It also left me with the question of what exactly is wrong with us as a people to make us accept this abysmal state of affairs.

Why do we not feel affronted that after over half a decade of self-government, many of our people are still deprived of access to many basic services that many people in other land take for granted? Why is the provision of treated water, electricity, nutritious food, decent clothing and affordable houses beyond our competence?

I know that many of us immediately jump to blame the government.

I have no quarrel with that

But I say that it is time we also take the time to reflect on what we, as individuals, can also do to pilot the ship of our nation to the desired destination.

The electioneering campaign took us to Kumasi, the capital of Ashanti Region. There I took time off to visit the main campus of our country’s premier institute of technology, the Kwame Nkrumah University of Technology, KNUST.

Just to see and assess things for myself, I went incognito, without any protocol or fanfare.

Strolling through the gates, I was shocked to the marrow to see the gardening staff using cutlasses and hoes and wheel-barrow to maintain the lawn.

This is the 21st century, for Christ sake!

Why does the irony of people using primitive tools in this age lost on the authorities of KNUST?

Our first president established KNUST to help with our technological advancement; how would he feel today to see that we have not moved beyond using hoes and cutlasses at our premier technical school when, in some primary schools in some countries, the maintenance of lawn is done by electric mower?

Assembling common lawnmower is no longer a daunting technical task as there are many Do-It-Yourself kits one can buy and put together.

We have two universities between Accra and Cape Coast. The stretch of the road between the two cities remains unlit. My entourage and I traveled in total darkness, except when we get to towns. This should not be so.

Why do we not question what all professors and lecturers at all our Universities and Polytechnics are doing to help solve some of the challenges that face our nation?

When we look at our capital, Accra, especially the Odaw River, why do we not ask ourselves why we have allowed that once beautiful river to be turned into such an eyesore?

Why do we blame president or leaders when we see people, grown-up and, apparently, with all their faculties in the right places, defecating in broad daylight in full public glare? We see these things as citizens and we do absolutely nothing as if it is not our business. We have accepted the abnormal as the trendy.

Fellow Compatriots, I know that these are not the type of messages you like to hear from your leaders, but I say that if we want to accomplish anything, it is time we shorn hypocrisy and tell ourselves some home truth.

The job of building nations cannot be left to leaders alone.

Let’s consider our attitudes to work.

It is no longer a secret that we spend over seventy percent of our budget on paying salaries. Yet, like Oliver Twist, our workers clamour for more.

Do we need not ask ourselves how we ended up with such sad state affairs and, more importantly, how we expect to develop our nation when we have only thirty percent of our income to build the desired schools, hospitals, roads and the other things we need to propel our nation into greatness?

It would not be such a terrible thing if our clamour for high pay and good living is matched by quality productivity.

But, the honest truth is that the rise in our salaries is not matched by commensurating higher productive.

If anything, the rise in salary has also witnessed a decline in productivity.

I can illustrate this with a very simple example with which many of you will be familiar.

A few years ago, for between 15 to 20 cedis our masons come to work at 7 am. They work until about 5 pm and lay between 250 to 300 blocks. Today, they come to work whenever they like, stop work at 3:30 pm, lay about 100 to 120 blocks and their payment has risen to 60 to 70 cedis.

Those who have engaged the services of our tradesmen will attest to the fact that I tell the truth when I say that both the quantity and the quality of their work has declined tremendously.

A few years ago, when I first entered politics, I made a round of some construction sites, to get a good account of the accurate picture on the ground, I traveled incognito and mixed with every stratum of workmen.

What I found absolutely shocked me.

While the Chinese and other foreign workers were willing to work long hours – putting in twelve to eighteen hours, Ghanaian workers stopped work at 4 pm. They claim that it is against their union rules to put in an extra hour without double pay.

I was aghast.

If foreigners come to our land and are prepared to work long hours to help us build the roads, the bridges, the dams, the houses and the other projects we still cannot build for ourselves, methinks the least we can do is to try and match their productivity.

Yet, when we look around we see foreigners making it good in our country, we complain. We become envious, jealous and resentful.

But rather than blame the foreigner, or lambast the president or complain about government, why do we not try and put in the extra efforts that will help us to help ourselves?

We tend to have forgotten our parents’ admonition that the only antidote to poverty is hard work.

My compatriots, these are times for straight talk and, as I promised, I will try to tell you nothing but the truth.

It is good and proper to yearn for the good things of life, but we should be prepared to work for it?

When we see the Chinese, the Lebanese and the other foreigners in our country living big whilst we remain mired in great poverty, rather than become covetous and aggrieved, their success should spur us to re-arrange our mental attitude to life, change our work ethics, learn a few things from their success stories and apply their methods in our lives.

When we look at the Lebanese and the Chinese, we see only the result of their success, we do not see the efforts they put in to produce the glittering results. We see the big four-wheel jeep the foreigner drives around, we do not see the punishing hours he and his entire family put into building the business that today allow him to drive the car and live big. We do not see the hard labour expended on building the business. We do not see the thrift, the deprivations the foreigners suffer so that they can build the success stories we see and resent.

We can learn a lot by observing the work ethics of the Chinese, for example. Coming from a poor background, he starts with little. He had a business idea and he is prepared to work for it. He and his family put in ungodly hours in the service of the business. They deprive themselves of all worldly luxuries and save every pesewa they made. They do this year in year out until they know that the business foundation is solid and they can afford to spend little on their comfort.

In contrast, we start our business and manage it helter-skelter. We do not trust family members sufficiently to employ them, so we employ people and pay them poor wages. The first hint of profit sends us into a dizzying spending spree.

Rather than plough profit back into the business, we think it’s time for a new wife, new girl-friends, the biggest car on our streets.

Of course, our elders say that the house built with spittle will be fell by dew. The badly-managed business will not survive and will collapse in a few years and we are back to ground zero.

And we cannot claim not to know that many of us, especially the menfolk spend inordinate hours at drinking bars during working hours. We cannot claim to be ignorant of the numerous youth who play every manner of games all day. We cannot pretend to be blind to all the lotto kiosks and the betting shops that deface our villages, towns, and cities.

We see all these things, but we do nothing. Rather for us to lament our shortcomings and personal failures, it is time for us to blame bad government and lambast Mr. President.

No, compatriots, I do not excuse those who have ruled us. The gods know that they have taken many wrong steps that have been detrimental to our national well-being.

But in honesty, our problems do not emanate from bad government alone; we also have made poor false steps that have crippled our personal advancement. Any number of employers will tell you that the lackadaisical attitudes of workers rate very high among the headaches of doing business in our country. They will tell you that they spend more time managing their personnel than they do on running the business. They will tell you stories of people coming to work late or not coming at all because it rains! These foreigners will tell you that their parents worked upwards of 80 hours a week to build their prosperous economies. They will tell you that in their own countries, rains or snow are no excuses for workers to turn up late for work.

My Compatriots, this is the time for real hard talk. We cannot continue to run away from confronting our shortcomings. We cannot continue to bury our heads in the sand.

By being born here, we started with advantages the foreigners do not enjoy, but we do not take advantage of our good fortunes.

What I urge here today is that we all go back to the drawing board, take a hard and critical look at where we went wrong, and resolve to apply the necessary remedies so that we can begin to make the personal progress that will redound to propel our great nation to the desired prosperity.

My dearest compatriots, I thank you, once again, for lending me your ears.

May the ancestors continue to guide and protect us and also our motherland.

Until next week, goodbye.


About the Author 

Femi Akomolafe is a passionate Pan-Africanist. A columnist for the Accra-based Daily Dispatch newspaper and ModernGhana, and Correspondent for the New African magazine, Femi lives in both Europe and Africa and writes regularly on Africa-related issues for various newspapers and magazines.

Femi was the producer of the FOCUS ON AFRICANS TV Interview programme for the MultiTV Station.

He is also the Man and Machine Coordinator at Alaye Dot Biz Limited, a Kasoa-based Multimedia organization that specializes in Audio and Video Production. He loves to shoot and edit video documentaries.

His highly-acclaimed books (“Africa: Destroyed by the gods,” “Africa: It shall be well,” “18 African Fables & Moonlight Stories” and “Ghana: Basic Facts + More”) are available for sales at the following bookshops/offices:

  1. Freedom Bookshop, near Apollo Theatre, Accra.
  2. WEB Dubois Pan-African Centre, Accra
  3. Ghana Writers Association office, PAWA House, Roman Ridge, Accra.
  4. Afia Beach Hotel, Accra

Where to buy them online:

On Lulu Books:

18 African Fables & Moonlight Stories https://goo.gl/Skohtn

Ghana: Basic Facts + More: https://goo.gl/73ni99

Africa: Destroyed by the gods: https://goo.gl/HHmFfr

Africa: It shall be well: https://goo.gl/KIMcIm


Africa: it shall be well

on Kindle books: https://www.createspace.com/4820404

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on Lulu Books: https://goo.gl/SQeoKD

Africa: Destroyed by the gods

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18 African Fables & Short Stories: https://goo.gl/s9tWAf


on Amazon books: http://goo.gl/1z97ND

on Lulu Books: http://goo.gl/KIMcIm

 My Lulu Books page: http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/FemiAkomolafe


Get free promotional materials here:

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A FREE Chapter of ‘Africa: It shall be well’ can be downloaded here: http://alaye.biz/africa-it-shall-be-well-a-free-chapter/

  1. Africa: Destroyed by the gods (How religiosity destroyed Africa) http://alaye.biz/africa-destroyed-by-the-gods-introduction/

A FREE Chapter of ‘Africa: Destroyed by the gods’ can be downloaded here: http://alaye.biz/africa-destroyed-by-the-gods-free-chapter/

Read a review here

Femi’s Blog: www.alaye.biz/category/blog
Websites: www.alaye.biz ; www.akogun.tv
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