Hide something from an African?

Put it in writing.

This article is part of a series of guest blogs, in which we ask experts from the water sector to share their views on innovation and on the work of VIA Water. This blog addresses the difficulties VIA Water has been having with developing our online community into a lively place to share knowledge – from an African view. 

To hide something from an African, put it in writing - Barnabas Apom

This saying that we use in Ghana is very common and many of use believe there is some level of truth in it. Given that this statement is true to a certain level my question in this post is: why? Why don’t most of us like reading and writing and especially when the topics are a little complex? In this post, I will discuss a few viewpoints that I think contribute to this mental laziness ánd to the inactivity on the VIA Water community.

Most of us acquire our reading and writing skills from school and considering the challenges in our current educational system, it stands to mean that this has a drastic impact on our willingness to read and write voluntarily. We have an educational system, were the teacher to student rations are so high that most teachers find it very difficult to give and mark assignments. Higher educational institutions are still teaching courses that were introduced by our colonial masters, with a focus on the student’s ability to memorize and recall what was taught and not necessary encouraging thinking and innovativeness. It is very common to find students who go through a four-year course in a university and never had the opportunity or the confidence to ask a single question in a class.

'On the trotro you can get an hour or two of silence to read. Unless a pastor uses it as the place for preaching their word of God'

Un-enabling environment
The second reason why most people don’t like reading can be attributed to our un-enabling environment. We live in a country where making noise has no limit. If you live in a privileged community like East Legon, Cantonments or Trasco Villa you are blessed and might cultivate some reading habits. But if you find yourself in a noisy environment like Lapaz, Nima, Asiaman and the popular places where people can only make money by making the loudest noise; there is no way you can cultivate any reading habits. Speakers are found in every corner of the streets treating people to loud music ranging from my favorite Amakey Dede Odukrumusua to Shatta Wale-song Mahama Paper. Not to talk of the food joints, phone sales and preachers.

Occasionally, you can see other wannabe-readers trying to read on their way to work in trotro, the commonest means of transport. This is where you get an hour or two of silence to read. But this silence is not always available as some pastors also use the trotro as the place for preaching their word of God.

Fear of failure
The third problem is the fact that, in Africa, everything that is put in writing is believed to have consequences. Especially if it relates to ones work or career. This also includes the updates that project owners will have to place on the VIA Water Community: many of the project leaders will need time to review a piece of writing over and over again before publishing. Because most of the project leaders don’t want to send in projects updates with typos, bad grammar and loosing face, they will prefer to stay away from committing themselves especially if they are not very good writers.

Lastly, of course reading and writing is a skill that needs to be acquired with some level of effort. Some people are good at it after years of practice, some are naturally gifted and some are not just born with it. It is therefore very common to come across people who don’t read their email attachments before coming to meetings, and people who find it difficult to share updates on the Via Water community on a regular basis. People find the art of putting something in writing difficult. Not because they don’t know it is the right thing, but they find it difficult. You find a lot of informal sector business owners who don’t do any form of book keeping, People not recording their experiences or keeping dairies or keeping active personal blogs.

Observing all these clearly – and sadly – still testifies to the statement that if you want to hide something from an African, put it in writing.

Barnabas K. Apom (barnabas.apom@gmail.com) is a consultant in the water & IT-field in Ghana. In 2016, Barnabas started at the Ghana Netherlands Business and Culture Council (GNBCC) as part of the Young Expert Programme (YEP). At GNBCC he focuses on water related projects, acting as a local liaison for VIA water amongst others.