‘Family and friends,’ meritocracy or ‘ethnic/familial balance’?

Thursday, November 9, 2023

I was in primary school in Kumasi. I must have been nine years old. Our school was organising a ‘cultural festival’ that required reciting poems and other performances. We were selected from different classes in the school for this. I was given something in twi to learn and recite on the day. It was easy for me. It took me a few days. I was ready. My younger brother (three years younger than me) even learned it.

During rehearsals, the teachers were impressed. I had learned my part quickly. I told them it was easy. My younger brother could recite it. One teacher remarked: “Really? Call him for us.” I called my younger brother. He recited it perfectly.

Then the surprising thing for me happened. The teachers told me they believed our guests for the occasion would be happier with younger people performing so my brother would perform. I could go back to my class. I wouldn’t be part of the cultural group.
I was disappointed.

I had this ‘crush’ from another class who was also in the cultural group. It was an opportunity to meet her when we went for rehearsals. By giving ‘my’ part to my younger brother and having to leave the group, it meant I couldn’t meet this young girl at rehearsals.
I regretted:

1. teaching my younger brother my recitation.

2. telling the teacher that my younger brother could recite my part.

While some people felt it was unfair to me, that the least they should have done was to find another role for me, others thought it was not good to have siblings in the group when there were so many pupils to choose from.
Life went on… A few days to the programme, the teachers called me. Someone in the group was still struggling with his part. They asked me to do it. I learned it in less than two days and performed on the day of the programme with my younger brother.

For many years, I have heard the use of ‘family and friends’ in Ghana to denote nepotism. When someone is given a position in an organisation or government, many assume that if another family member is added, it means there is favouritism or nepotism. I disagree. People think others (from other backgrounds, even from different tribes) must be given the opportunity. For them, competence does not matter. There should not be two or more members of the same family in an organisation or in government. Opportunities should be given to other people, even other ethnic groups, to ‘strike a balance’, even if there is nobody better than the family member.

I have seen how unfair this can be. When you find yourself in a family with brilliant siblings, you will appreciate this. Does it mean I cannot win a Nobel Prize no matter how hard I work if my family member wins this prize?

We must be careful about the criteria we set for ourselves. Sure, we must fight nepotism but in doing so we should not exclude competent people from vital positions just because their family members (who are also competent) have been selected. We need the best people in all positions no matter where they come from, for rapid development.

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