The Big Man

Written by Dan Twimasie (dkt), Ghana.

A defining characteristic of the African personality is the notion of self-importance. It can be so pervasive in our societies that an inquiry into the degree of entrenchment is wasteful.

Even in the Church, we are humility-challenged. From the tycoon-prophet to the sashed-usher, we wear that ubiquitous “do-you-know-me” disposition, just beneath the surface.

Perhaps our patriarchal chieftaincy systems, over generations, have contributed to a deeply hierarchal society.

Domestically, rampant poverty, gaping literacies and dizzying income gaps have promoted an underclass who must worship mortals to eke out a living. Professionally, woe unto a career if you do not learn to kiss that ass-royale before you with a pat smile. This status quo thrives because it serves the climbers, the established, and those in between.

But then, how well is governance served when a “big man”, not attuned to the powers of listening from below, is expected to change the discourse with new ideas, to jump-start a flagging agency or economy? When Juniors or perceived minnows are expected to listen and applaud, not contribute to the debate.

At the height of a business career, I had long observed how positively dependent one could become on the input of others who were apparently learning from you. By probing and engaging the best minds – often younger – we could churn out compelling creatives for advertisements. Interestingly, the applauds came right back to the boss!

What then is it about the “big man” syndrome here, especially within our public sector, that blinds men to valuable input from any quarter. What are they so busy about, when they have precious little to show today by way of innovation? Why are we so insecure about a junior’s probable excellence, so that we don’t listen or encourage them to do better than ourselves?

On occasion, one may meet some “big man” of state for the first time in a relaxed, non-threatening social setting. In this instance, there was the added benefit of being introduced to this exclusive group by a respected Professor colleague of theirs. And this time it wasn’t just the “big man” public official, but the Ivy-league educated lot present, showed next to no interest in what a new-face entrepreneur may have had to offer on a subject that was right up “my alley” – local rice production! So you promptly pick up the cue, adjust your cognitions, listen and politely nod to their often inconsequential approaches.

No doubt these local elites by virtue of education, experience would have earned their stripes with distinction. My observation though is, what they possess by way of historical and situational knowledge, they often lack in creative and innovative approaches. Approaches that would otherwise emerge from practitioners, the youth or folks of an entirely different discipline.

Now, may the current crop of politicians especially, and public sector appointees, from traditions steeped in “do-you-know-me” elitism, learn to shed egos by opening up to others who may know something they are professionally unfamiliar with.

IMAGE: istockphoto

Dan Twimasie is a successful businessman, resident in Ghana, with specific expertise in international trade. He can be reached at