Over the weekend, I bumped into an old friend from Cape Coast called Hagan. I met him when I was a teenager. He was a few years older than I was, and had recently graduated from Cape Coast Polytechnic.

Hagan loved computers. He didn’t own one, but you would see him every day, at the computer centre, just waiting for the workers to give him a few minutes with the machines. Even then, they only allowed him access to the faulty computers.

Hagan didn’t seem to mind though. He would simply fix the fault, and use the computer until the end of the day. By the time he returned the next day, the computer he had repaired would no longer be accessible to him, and he would have to fix himself another broken one.

Some of my friends used to laugh at Hagan. Like typical teenagers, they had a cruel sense of humour that caused them to ridicule my poorly dressed, unemployed friend, who was always hovering around, looking for a job from people who looked down on him.

Whenever I spoke to him about it, he would say, “I’m not unemployed, Kojo. I’m becoming an employee as we speak”.

Hagan never got the Computer Centre job. Instead, he was employed by a “Comm Centre” in town, as a technician.

This was a dream job for Hagan, because it meant he had unlimited access to the computers all day long. Whenever I stopped by to see him, he would tell me about all the exciting things he was learning from tinkering with the machines.

He had a dream of pursuing a professional career in ICT (back then, it was referred to as Computer Science), so I asked how he was going to achieve that without any formal training.

With his usual smile, he would say, “I’m not untrained, Kojo. I’m becoming qualified as we speak.”

Hagan never saw himself in terms of what he was. He only saw what he could become. He often started sentences with “what if…” or, “can you imagine…” He cared not about how things were, but how things should be.

He reminded me of a verb. He was always doing something, going somewhere, becoming something. Today, Hagan is the Director of Tech Research for a South African company.

Now, in that same comm centre was another guy named Bondzie, and Bondzie was very different from Hagan, He would always join in on our conversations, but his perspective was different.

He would say things like, “I am a father of three. I can’t just leave my family and go to school”, or, “Majority of Ghanaians are barely literate. This computer thing will never catch on”, or, my favourite, “I just work here. I don’t own the place”.

Bondzie placed a lot of stock in how things are. He often started sentences with, “let’s face the truth…” or, “you can’t escape the fact that…” To him, things were the way they are for a reason, and there was no point trying to change them.

Bondzie reminded me of a noun. He was always defining his circumstances and sticking to them. Today, he is still in Cape Coast, working at the same comm centre. It’s called a business centre now, and they have added photocopying to their menu of services.

My dear friend, for most of us, 2020 has been a challenging year, to put it mildly. And let’s not kid ourselves; the worst might still be ahead of us. We can either approach these challenges with the Hagan, or the Bondzie mind-sets.

We can either decide that we are what we are, we have what we have, and “leave it to God”, or we can look at our circumstances, refuse to let them define us, and start doing something to change them. We can either be nouns or verbs.

Are you jobless? Is your business failing? Are you still unmarried? Have you tried and failed several times for a baby?

Well, either you give your problems a name and let that name define you, or you ask yourself “what if”, and let your problems propel you into seeking solutions. So what’s it going to be – noun or verb?

As a nation, we faced epic challenges this year. The economy took a beating in 2019, and this year, it came into an even bigger battle against Covid-19 with already broken bones. 

The cedi has somehow managed to limp along so far, thank goodness, but the banking crisis has stripped our coffers. The virus has decimated businesses, resulting in so much unemployment, and many people will march to the polling stations in December hungry and jobless with not much to choose between, by way of leadership.

There have been health issues, education problems, security difficulties, democratic dilemmas, governance cock-ups, sanitation headaches, and on top of all that, every time it rains, we will all tremble with fear, asking ourselves who is going to die tonight.

So what are we going to do as a nation? Are we going to look at our label as a Middle Income country and say, “well, we can’t do much, so let’s just be grateful we have peace? Or are we going to cast our eye over our challenges and see the infinite opportunities to raise revenue and create jobs, just from solving them? Will we sit still or will we keep moving – are we nouns or are we verbs?

My name is Kojo Yankson, and I won’t just be, when I can do.