Re-naming of University of Ghana: is the debate necessary over J. B. Danquah’s role

“A nation that does not honour its heroes will not long endure.” – Abraham Lincoln

J’ai la nostalgie du lycee. Sure, I miss my University days. As President of the Legon Debating Society, we were once hosting the University of Ibadan in a debate. The topic does not matter now. What does is the existence of the fraternity between the two great universities, and the reciprocal visits by the Debating Clubs. Both universities cherish ‘free speech’, and as a keen debater, I believe that there are always two sides (perhaps three, four, five) sides to a story.

The President must have stirred up a hornet’s nest with a statement at the launch of the University of Ghana Endowment Fund at the Great Hall on 7th May, 2018. “… it will be wholly appropriate and not at all far-fetched to describe Joseph Boakye Danquah as the founder of the University.” This has received a backlash from a number of people, among whom is Okudzeto Ablakwa. Honourable Okudzeto writes: “… As Prof. Agbodeka recounts in ‘A History of University of Ghana – Half a Century of Higher Education (1948 – 1998)’, Dr. J. B. Danquah played an important fundraising role but even in that capacity, his other colleague from the Legislative Council, Professor Christian G. Baeta played an equally prominent fundraising role to help secure the £897,000 seed capital which was generously donated by cocoa farmers as presented by the Cocoa Marketing Board on their behalf. It is rather curious that Prof. Christian G. Baeta, having played a similar role as Dr. J. B. Danquah, has been conveniently forgotten by our President as he touts his dearly beloved uncle as the Founder of the University of Ghana.”

Many societies, clubs, groups and persons are mentioned as having helped to ‘found’ the University of Ghana. These included petitions from the Advisory Committee on Education, Achimota Council, Gold Coast Bar Association, Rodger Club, Gold Coast Teachers’ Union, the Standing Committee of the Joint Provincial Council of Chiefs and the Asante Confederacy Council. Nor can one forget the role of the Asantehene of the time, Otumfuo Osei Agyemang Prempeh II.

At that time, the colonial government sought to establish only one University for the whole of West Africa, in Ibadan, hence the agitation by the Gold Coasters. The Asquith Commission, headed by Walter Elliot accepted the other view of establishing the Ghanaian University, beginning from Achimota till the students moved into the new halls of Legon (for the locals); Akuafo (for the farmers); Commonwealth (for the whole Commonwealth); Volta (for the big river) and Mensah – Sarbah (for the great Ghanaian).

At that time, J. B. Danquah was called ‘Akuafo Kanea’ (The lantern of the Ghanaian Farmer), and important also in this campaign was Sir Arku Korsah, and Mr. David Mowbray Balme who became the first Principal in 1948. The website of the University of Ghana reads: “… the people of Gold Coast led by scholar and politician, J. B. Danquah, urged the Gold Coast government to inform the British government that the Gold Coast could support a university college…”

Ever since the debate erupted about the founding of Ghana, I have always got haunted with the mention of the word “founding”. Who founded Ghana? And you will get people defending to the hilt, the idea that Dr. Kwame Nkrumah single-handedly ‘founded’ Ghana. What! So we disregard the role of all the other politicians at that time: Call the “Big Six”, and people do not want to hear the mention of this appellation. They will tell you they know ‘History’ and ‘Political Science’ better. If you are not lucky, they would rain insults at you.

Going back into Ancient History, one can recall the attribution of the founding of Rome to Romulus in 753 B. C., who after killing his twin brother Remus, named the city after himself. (This contrasts with another legend that attributes the city’s name to Roma who travelled with Aeneas and other survivors from Troy after the city fell. Or take America which is supposed to have been ‘discovered’ by Amerigo Vespucci, the Italian explorer, financier, navigator and cartographer. In his words, Amerigo Vespucci noted: “… concerning my return from those new regions which we found and explored… we may rightly call a new world…”. But didn’t Vespucci meet people on these lands? Who discovered Africa? Who discovered the Gold Coast (now Ghana)? Who founded them?

Talk of the founding of the University of Bologna (Italy) in 1088; the University of Paris (associated with Sorbonne in 1150); the University of Oxford in 1167. Had there been controversies surrounding their establishment? Or talk about our own Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology. What particular contribution did Nkrumah give in its founding to earn his name on it, being erased after the 1966 coup and then getting it revived by a later regime. After its establishment in 1952 as the Kumasi College of Technology, it has now adopted the worldwide universities strategy of veering into the social sciences, arts business and law – in addition to the science, technology and engineering courses.

I may be naïve; but how do personalities get their names covering monuments and abstract objects? How come the late Burkina Faso leader Thomas Sankara had a circle (now flyover) named after him? Why do we have our Airport in Accra named after Kotoka? What about street names: Agostino Neto, Patrice Lumumba, Jawaharlal Nehru, George Bush. So when it comes to J. B. Danquah, he must demonstrate that he founded the University of Ghana before his name is linked to it? What would have happened if President Nana Addo had not mentioned J. B. Danquah as the ‘founder’ of the University of Ghana and yet the University Council had nominated him? Pa Grant has sufficiently been accorded recognition at the University of Mines and Technology, Tarkwa; Dr Hilla Limann is mentioned for Wa University College. Good.

We are building Ghana, or we are supposed to be doing so. This generation may stand accused if we do not help right wrongs which had been committed in the past. I shall not debate with anyone about Danquah’s alleged CIA connection, but are his contributions to nation-building sufficiently chronicled? His incarceration and sorrowful death under Nkrumah’s regime in Nsawam? What about Kwame Nkrumah’s one party state which sought to snuff out every opposition?

Let us cherish democracy. Let us allow ‘free speech’. Let us tolerate the opinions of one another. We may belong to different parties because of our parental traits, but CPPists or NPPists (UPists) now living have passed through labyrinthine and convoluted political journey, requiring of us to be fluid in our political thinking, just as Mark Twain says: “The very ink with which history is written is merely fluid prejudice.” Psychologists call this ‘fluid intelligence’, using inductive and deductive reasoning, as against ‘crystallised reasoning’. The paradoxes and idiosyncracies that shape our thinking bolstered by our self-interest must give way to objectivity. Some will say I am making sense; some will say otherwise. Free speech!

Columnist: Africanus Owusu – Ansah

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