The 'mob' historian and Africa's need for specialists in contemporary history

I spent some time at a friend’s place this evening and ended up watching a number of documentaries on YouTube about the American mob. Although the stories about the mobsters themselves were intriguing, the character who stood out to me was … the one who was not even a mobster, that is, the mob historian. This historian was a man in his eighties who looks like he dedicated his life to following, studying, and collecting data and stories from and about the mob families. This led to me thinking about a conversation I had with my two girlfriends late this afternoon: the need for data in our market.

While there are think tanks and other multinationals who collect data in our market, the information that is shared with the public is inconsistent and not up-to-date at best. We talked about the need for relevant, live-data like the monthly U.S. consumer/job reports.

We talked about conferences such as Republica. Republica was one of the more well organized and interesting conferences my friend and I have attended since we moved to Accra. While we applauded the initiative, we were cynical that the event was merely a benevolent gesture from the German government to foster dialogue among Ghana’s innovative class.

My friend’s perspective was much more realistic: that the gathering was an especially creative way to “spy” and efficiently collect data on the happenings of the Ghanaian market. As my friend explained, “everyone who is doing anything useful in Ghana was at Republica and if the German government wants to know where to position themselves to disrupt the market, they now have the information to do so”.

My friends and I also talked about how data would help us contextualize and quantify what works for our economy. For example, some official public data about what December in Ghana 2018 meant for the economy would make a huge difference in policy making and advocacy.

We talked about the fact that in this age of information and technology, the person who owns the data in our market will ultimately OWN the market.

Ghana/Africa needs someone/s like the ‘mob historian’ for different interests/industries. It is an especially costly business for one person or group to take on because the pay for running a public good service is very low, at least initially. So perhaps our governments and public institutions will take the need seriously before foreign governments and businesses come and take ownership of this area as well.