Brian Moyo profiles the former Ghanaian MP and Minister of State who set up a private university after walking away from the corridors of power
MUCH has been said and written about the shortcomings of African politics, stretching back to the early 1960’s when a handful of countries started gaining independence from their colonial masters, to the present day when the continent is being held up as the next Eldorado.
Broadly speaking, there is a widely held view in Africa that political leaders are in the game to enrich themselves, their families and close friends, and that they distaste transparency and accountability.
Kojo Yankah, who was a Ghana member of Parliament for Agona East between 1993 and 2008, takes a dim view of politicians who feather their own nests, to the detriment of those they purport to serve.
He insists that when he held the post of Central and Ashanti Regional Minister and Deputy Minister of Information, his aim was to make things “better than he found them.”
One of his pet projects was introducing the first intranet in regional administration – linking the regional capital with all the districts under his constituency.
He also initiated the ‘Read-a–book-a-Week’ campaign in schools, in order to enhance the standard of education, designed an airport to serve the region’s tourism sector and introduced websites to attract investors and tourists.
“African leaders MUST lead by example – demonstrating that knowledge is power, dealing harshly with corruption, encouraging ideas that create jobs, enlarging their vision to encompass the whole continent of Africa, and growing more role models,” Yankah says.
I can almost hear multitudes of young African entrepreneurs nodding approval to Yankah’s proclamation, because while most of their startup business ideas are mothballed for lack of funding, African governments continue to spend millions of dollars every year on luxury cars, such as Mercedes Benz, for their own benefit.
Even as Africa’s prospects are being talked up by the world media, economists and all manner of investment analysts, there is palpable resistance by some political leaders on the continent, to hinder the efforts of emerging African entrepreneurs and technocrats with stifling taxation laws and other regulatory regimes.
“Young Africans are facing high levels of unemployment, declining educational standards, corrupt morals and lack of motivation,” says Yankah.
How does he evaluate his own performance when he was in the corridors of power?
“I look back with great pride to the opportunity I had to serve my country because I introduced innovations which impacted on those I served,” Yankah says. “I enjoyed working with the communication tool I possessed and freely exchanged ideas with those I came across. I have no regrets at all leaving government, because I consider that the experience I gained enhanced my vision for the future.”
Yankah’s first job after obtaining his first degree in English from the University of Ghana, was in teaching.
He spent two years teaching English and Current Affairs in the upper classes of Adisadel College, a prestigious secondary school in Ghana. But at the back of his mind, he knew it was not going to be his last job; he had set his mind on becoming a writer, much to the chagrin of his father who was a teacher himself and had hoped his son would stay in the profession.
Years later, Yankah realised his ambition to be a published writer of merit. Of the seven books, he has published, he says the three titles,Proactive Public Relations; Osei Tutu the King on the Golden Stool and The Trial of JJ Rawlings, gave him the most joy to research and write. The Trial of JJ Rawlings alone has to date sold over 10,000 copies.
It comes as no surprise that Yankah has been involved in a number of entrepreneurial and job creation projects since leaving government.
He says the African University College of Communications (AUCC) which he set up in 2002 was born out of his desire to see an African communication institution producing graduates from all corners of the continent, “to drive business and general development.”
AUCC is now recognised by UNESCO as a Centre of Reference (or Potential Centre of Excellence) in journalism and communication education.
Starting with only 60 Ghanaian students in 2002, AUCC now has around 1,800 students in its campus. They come mainly from 16 African countries, including Nigeria, Togo, Mali, Niger, Chad, Gabon, Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire and Congo.
The university churns out around 400 graduates every year in Journalism, Communication and Business studies. New courses, such as ICT and Information Studies are being introduced next year, while Masters degree programmes have been earmarked for the beginning of 2015.
Besides being founder and board chairman of AUCC, Yankah is also the chairman of Ghana Heritage Conservation Trust a non-governmental body dedicated to the preservation and conservation of the country’s historic monuments and sites and biodiversity of national and global importance.
His public spiritedness and work ethic has been applauded by people who have worked with him. Phillipa Otchere describes Yankah as a very determined “goal getter and a great manager, while Kukua Aggrey-Arthur describes him as a “very honest and reliable gentleman.”
Yankah, who was born in the small town of Agona Duakwa, in the Agona Swedru district of the Central Region of Ghana, attributes his achievements and veneer of respectability to the values instilled in him by his father: hard work, honesty, neatness, pursuit of excellence and discipline.
Besides reading and surfing the Internet, he enjoys taking long walks in the countryside.