Robert Nii Arday Clegg: Africans Must Step Up To The Plate!
It was a very cold afternoon in January of 2014. Our International Commercial Arbitration class had ended barely ten minutes earlier. I stood by the exit doors, occasionally peering through the thick transparent glass, as though such a ritual would make the outside temperature warmer when I finally stepped out into the wintry conditions.
I did not pay much attention to the hordes of students who milled past but I could not miss her gaze as she sauntered towards me. In a moment, she flashed a smile almost as radiant as her glassy eyes and said,“I hear you’re going back to Africa after graduation”. My response was spontaneous,“Yes, I am”. Her retort was even quicker, “If you want to live in Africa, why then did you come to Harvard?”
“The opportunity to study at Harvard places a greater duty on me to go back. Ghana or Africa for that matter needs me more than America does. If the Africans who gather knowledge and expertise from here go back home, we would lift the great continent from the doldrums”, I argued. “Even I am not going back home although I am from a leading European country”, she shot back, breaking the short silence that had punctuated our conversation.
She gave me another smile, not quite as broad as the previous one, and waved me good-bye. I watched her lithe frame moving briskly away from the Wasserstein building down the sidewalk on the Massachusetts Avenue and wondered whether her parting smile was out of pity, appreciation of my effusions or neither. Moments later, I braved the cold, comforted by the warmth of my thoughts, to Harvard Square for an early dinner.
At the Annual International Party two months later, I delivered a presentation on behalf of the African students with immense preparatory support from my fellow African students, particularly Godwin Dzah and Justice Srem-Sai. It had taken me quite a bit of effort to convince some of my African colleagues that we ought to use our slot during the event to showcase the greatness of our continent to the American and international students. For eight minutes or so, backed by images of Africa, we showed students from over 75 countries of the world the rich history, natural resources, tourist attractions, developing infrastructure, diversity and future of the continent.
I flew back home a day after Commencement in May 2014, in the company of my wife and two sons who had come over to celebrate the moment with me. I hoped to return to the United States, the country that had given me the best education, for tourism or educational purposes. I was delighted to return to my one true domicile in the quest to join others to make things better.
As we neared touch-down at the airport in Accra, the reality of what lay ahead was not lost on me. The aerial view was not as picturesque as the one we had left behind across the Atlantic Ocean. On our drive home, the nondescript and insalubrious aspects of the scenery roused my senses to the enormity of the task ahead.
The challenges with electricity supply and its attendant downside effects on doing business give me jitters. The heart-rending inadequacies of the tenor of the times gnaw at my cravings for results-oriented leadership.
Every now and then that brief chat with my classmate on that cold winter afternoon comes back to me. It shows me how much work remains to be done on the African continent to win the respect of the rest of the world. It leaves me wishing that as many skilled Africans as possible who live abroad would come back home to contribute their efforts to uplift our portion of God’s earth. It pushes me to challenge them to come and participate in the construction of the conditions out there that attract them to those lands. It gets me to tell them and the ones who already live here that if those who have superior abilities do not take over the reins of our most pressing affairs, the less capable would perpetually step into the arena of control and keep on churning out less than desirable results. I urge them to shun the path of least resistance.
In education, services, political direction, infrastructure, energy, aviation, media, manufacturing and sports, Africa is beckoning with opportunity. The continent is rising, but the contribution of Africans in this re-birth is not overwhelming. Africans must step up to the plate!
Sometimes I hear sound bites of my radio interview with Prof. Ali Mazrui in 2007 playing in my head. In that encounter, he explained to me his writings on the 6 paradoxes of Africa. He also adumbrated the factors that push out Africans to foreign lands as well as those inviting elements that pull them into lands thousands of miles yonder. Whenever those compelling forces send an invitation my way, I sharpen my resolve to resist them, be they centripetal or centrifugal.
These days I do not find myself watching the wintry handiwork of nature through a glass door. I just step into the warmth on my onward march to be “living water to a thirsty land”.
Robert Nii Arday Clegg is a co-founder of the Law & Business Advocates and the Managing Partner at Clegg& Everett. He holds a Master of Laws (LL.M.) degree in Corporate Law, Finance & Governance Concentration from Harvard Law School with cross-registration in Boards of Directors & Corporate Governance at Harvard Business School. firstname.lastname@example.org