Thursday I quizzed and quizzed Mutala on his multiplication tables. Just the day before I taught him how to use the distributive property and factoring. After he seemed to show that he knew how to multiply, I asked him a simply question, “Which is bigger? 3/8 or 3/7?”
He got it wrong.
Hearing his answer, I gave up on trying to have him help me with my trading stuff. It’s not my job to teach him nor anyone else how to do arithmetic, fractions, decimals, proportions. It’s really difficult entrusting someone who has insufficient math skills with any important role. He is welcome to visit the math.com website to learn what he failed to learn in primary and secondary schools. Until he can demonstrate a significantly higher proficiency, I cannot trust him with my work.
Unfortunately, I believe most Ghanaians cannot do math. No matter where they went to secondary or tertiary school, I believe no one can do math at a level acceptable to me. Sadly, this theory helps explain why there is so little innovation in Ghana. Counting, estimating, and weighing options is so fundamental in decision-making that I cannot imagine being an entrepreneur without these skills. Furthermore, Ghanaians’ inability to do basic math means that all industries reliant on math, science, engineering, and objective and/or logical reasoning, e.g. computer science, are stunted. All of these areas can help a country develop beyond agriculture and graduate to value added manufacturing and more complex services.
As for Mutala, I have reassigned him to helping me write posts for this blog. I hope he can help me gather research and do interviews with average Ghanaians. More importantly, I believe he can help me understand more about how Ghana works for normal people.
You might be asking why I just don’t sack him. That’s fair. Honestly, it’s because I’m a firm believer that I need a buffer between normal Ghanaians and myself. In 2011, before I hired any staff, I frequently became frustrated from daily interactions with Ghanaians. Ghanaians operate on an entirely slower and unhurried pace, they hardly understand my English, and they constantly feel justified in charging me more because I’m a foreigner.
For instance, last weekend Mutala scheduled an interview with a local celebrity. The man agreed to do it for free; however, when he met me, suddenly the interview involved a price to cover his “expenses.” His starting price was 400 cedis! Seriously?!
Or, just yesterday, the grounds keeper was driving me on an errand. We accidentally hit a wooden, fold-out signboard as we were making a right turn. The car was not damaged but the signboard had some small damage. The shop owner burst out yelling us to pull over. His overreaction suggested he was acting. When the grounds keeper spoke to the shop owner, they agreed that damages should be 20 cedis; however, about 20 minutes later when the grounds keeper went to deliver the money, suddenly the price went up to 50 cedis. Some shouting ensued and the grounds keeper accused the shop owner of raising the price because there was a “white man” in the car. At that, the shop owner began laughing.
Ghanaians insist on treating foreigners as targets. I’ve bemoaned this practice in a prior post. In short, if a country needs foreigners to bring capital and expertise to create jobs, then I wouldn’t treat foreigners as replaceable targets.
I believe it’s good for my sanity to keep one trusted Ghanaian around. Fortunately for Mutala that means he gets to keep his job.