by michael eli dokosi/www.blakkpepper.com/ghana
At 69 and not showing any sign of slowing, Ghana’s technological and innovation genius; Dr. Thomas Mensah has disclosed programmes and initiatives he has championed with support from friends to empower the Ghanaian youth to take their rightful place in society.
Dr. Mensah; one of four inventors of fibre optics together with Bob Marwah, Peter Schutz, and Dan Kirk managed to revolutionize the space.
“Fibre optics was developed and stayed in the lab for 50 years. The concept of sending Facebook pictures, Instagram pictures and YouTube videos became possible as my invention moved it from the laboratory into the commercial industrial place so the whole world can use it,” Dr. Mensah submitted to this writer at the Golden Tulip Hotel in Accra.
In 1985, the Kumasi born native would secure his first patent; securing more patents including for the submarine cable that links continents as well countries such as US to Africa, US to Europe and US to China.
Fibre optics is a laser based transmission system enabling the transmission of GPS data, cloud data, Facebook pictures all in the fibre optic glass with Dr. Thomas Mensah advancing it to the commercializing space.
According to the father of two: “When I did that, all the copper cables were replaced with fibre optic cables. That invention gave rise to companies like Google, Facebook. It wouldn’t have been possible with the copper cable technology,” adding “with fibre optic bandwidth information carrying capacity is so large that you can transmit simultaneously videos, pictures and Instagram making the ecosystem on the internet possible in a short period of time.”
On his “The Right Stuff Comes in Black, Too” book launch, Dr. Mensah stated with the America launch of the book some three years ago, it was now time for the Africa edition launch with the venue to be announced soon.
“At the US launch, there were pictures with Obama, Collin Powell, George Bush and others. The Africa launch will also see photos with President Akufo-Addo, Jerry John Rawlings, John Kufuor and Olusegun Obasanjo.”
Dr. Thomas Mensah who is the founder of the Silicon Valley of Ghana paired up with IBM and other related parties and trained 600 university students in software application to enable such youngsters work in big software companies after acquiring critical skills and done internships. The training session was sponsored by Stanbic Bank and the Hacklab Foundation.
He stressed, “It took three days to train the 600 students to acquire the coding and software skills in the hackathon. The hackathon begun with Bill Gates himself who stayed late coding and writing computer programmes. Training the 600 students in that short time marked it as the largest number to be trained in West Africa”
When it concluded, over GHc20,000 was won in prizes plus GHc100,000 in packages from sponsors.
Already some of the youngsters who gained the coding and software skill have started doing great things with some using the scholarship money to develop a solar powered traffic light in Kumasi.
Some Senor High School (SHS) youngsters were on hand during the hackathon and it’s a delight to see 18 year–olds talking software and codes the nanotechnology notable mentioned.
Although inroads are being made, Dr. Mensah mentioned together with like-minded people, the plan is to have 300,000 SHS students trained in IT related fields in 3 to 5 years. He stated while Dubai is training over one million of its youth in similar fields, Ghana cannot afford to fail.
Dr. Mensah says he’s developed a computer programme using a smart watch which can be used to control the light switches at home and offices, change TV channels all with the movement of the hand.
The Silicon Valley of Ghana founder set it out to be an innovation hub in the whole of Africa and its opened to Africans and others who can be in tune with the latest innovation by enrolling and getting trained at the hub at the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Centre (KAIPTC)
Dr. Mensah stated aircraft maintenance, artificial intelligence, bullet trains, augmented reality and related applications are all regular staples digested at the centre.
The Silicon Valley of Ghana presence in the country, Dr. Mensah believes made it easy for Google to move its AI lab in Africa to Ghana.
But where did all of this start?
Dr. Thomas Mensah began his molding process at the Wesley College Practice School. He would then move on to Adisadel College where he excelled in French and Science.
It is at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) that Dr. Mensah would spend the better part of 1970 to 1974 studying chemical engineering and he submits “on my graduation day I enplaned for France having won a scholarship to study at the Montpellier University where I secured a PhD in Chemical Engineering.”
A visit by his father to France will lead to a decision to head for the US for industrial experience where he acquired a certificate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Modeling and Simulation of Chemical Processes in 1977 for his post doctorate. Proving himself brilliant, he got to serve on the MIT board as well.
Mensah would then be recruited by Corning Glass Works also in the US where he got the chance to make a good deal of the inventions he is noted for. After the era with Corning Glass Works, Mensah served with AT&T Bell Laboratories with the global icon declaring “Corning Glass invented fibre optics and AT&T Bell Laboratories satellites.”
Thomas Mensah was birthed to John Kofi Mensah and Margaret Nyarko who are both deceased. “My dad was a cocoa merchant and business owner who was in the business of selling cocoa to chocolate factories in France and other countries. Even as a boy, I translated contracts from French to English for my dad because I was good with the French language.”
Dr. Mensah has four siblings spanning Kwame Owusu Gyemfi Mensah, Kofi Owusu, Owusu Gyemfi and Osei Kweku with two females joining the fold later.
As a family man, Dr. Mensah has Kimberly Mensah who is in the medical field while pursuing her MBA and the eldest, Michelle Mensah who is doing well in her chosen IT field.
According to Dr. Mensah he put together the 100 Day Agenda for Ghana in 2017 which listed programmes, projects and polices which must be pursued by the state to enable Ghana’s rapid industrialisation spanning the development of systems for bullet or high speed trains and delivery of medical supplies to remote areas using drones.
“I’m glad to see the deployment of medical supplies to villages using drones in the Eastern Region on a pilot basis. I made a case for it in the 100 Day Agenda. Zipline International provided same service in Rwanda so they have the experience,” he made known.
On his scheduled lecture at the 2019 Heritage and Cultural Society of Africa (The HACSA) summit set for August 5-11, Dr. Mensah noted he had followed the efforts of Amb. Johanna Svanikier; Ghana’s past ambassador to France & Portugal and Permanent Delegate to UNESCO and La Francophonie who is also the HACSA Founder on her efforts to promote the use of African heritage and culture for social and economic progress and development.
It was therefore easy for the Kumasi icon to agree to speak when asked by Madam Svanikier to do so.
“Mr. John Kufuor and Madam Rebecca Akufo-Addo are also on the bill and I will speak on innovation in Ghana. I shall also display my ‘The Right Stuff Comes in Black, Too’ insignia on shoes, shirts, smock (batakari) and other items at the summit which will attract locals and Africans in the diaspora,” Dr. Mensah disclosed.
Dr. Mensah is still going strong having earned an invitation from the Chairman of Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and Nigerian leader Muhammadu Buhari, to come over and offer insights on innovation and technology.