African Engineers: Dr E Bamfo Kwakye

Many people were surprised when Bamfo Kwakye was appointed Vice Chancellor of Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) in Kumasi, Ghana in 1975. Prior to his promotion to the university’s top post, Bamfo Kwakye was Head of the Faculty of Electrical Engineering and Dean of the Faculty of Engineering, but his academic status was still that of Associate Professor. The appointment of Bamfo Kwakye, who overtook full professors at other faculties, seemed destined to stir up jealousy and discord, but hindsight shows that he was a worthy successor to his respected predecessors and a difficult but significant period in the university’s development presided.

Short, dark, bespectacled with a small moustache, Professor E Bamfo Kwakye possessed a sharp mind partially obscured by a characteristic pause that often preceded his response to any question or statement, almost as if each new issue revived it a little surprised. Wide-eyed behind thick glasses, Bamfo Kwakye wore a perpetually startled look. Although he was an intellectual through and through, his reserved demeanor was more suited to the role of a backroom scholar than that of a vice chancellor. Perhaps he lacked the presence and charisma of Dr. Baffour, or the urbane sophistication of Dr. Evans Anform, but Dr. Bamfo Kwakye always knew where he wanted to go and successfully achieved most of what he set out to do.

Soon after taking office, Bamfo Kwakye was tasked with preparing a five-year development plan for the university. This plan was to include the establishment of a north campus for the university at Tamale in the north region. As an integral part of the north campus, the Technology Consultancy Center (TCC) proposed the establishment of an Intermediate Technology Transfer Unit (ITTU) to promote local small-scale industries such as the ITTU to be established in Suame Magazine in Kumasi. However, by 1975 neither the Suame nor Tamale ITTU projects had attracted financial support and Bamfo Kwakye used the full authority of his office to support the TCC Director’s appeals to the Government of Ghana and international development agencies.

After lobbying for support from the Ashanti Regional Government, the Ministry of Industry, the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning and the Asantehene (King of the Ashanti), the university finally received financial support for both projects in 1979. The Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) provided foreign support to the Suame ITTU, and the ITTU in Tamale was part of a larger program supported by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

Bamfo Kwakye presided over the formal opening of Suame ITTU in February 1981, an event attended by four government ministers, the Canadian High Commissioner and other dignitaries, as well as hundreds of artisans who made their living in Ghana’s largest informal industrial area. Work at Tamale was slower and by the time the Tamale ITTU was completed and officially opened in April 1988, Bamfo Kwakye had retired as Vice-Chancellor.

Bamfo Kwakye’s second major mission was to start a medical school at KNUST. Again he fought to win the support of the Government of Ghana and international development agencies. The World Health Organization (WHO) assessed Komfo Anokye Hospital in Kumasi as unsuitable as a teaching hospital, and numerous issues were raised by members of the Academic Council and University Council, but the energetic and far-sighted Vice-Chancellor was undeterred. Bamfo Kwakye had the satisfaction of seeing Ghana’s second medical school firmly established in Kumasi before his tenure ended in 1982.

Bamfo Kwakye’s accomplishments would have earned him enduring recognition at the best of times, but these were, in many ways, the worst of times. Ghana’s economy was distressed to varying degrees during his tenure, and four changes of government and three military coups occurred in 1978–81. A defining moment for Bamfo-Kwakye’s vice chancellorship came shortly after Flight Lieutenant Jerry Rawlings’ first coup in June 1979, when the young Air Force officer addressed several thousand KNUST students and staff on the university’s athletic field.

Standing on the roof of his SUV, the leader of the revolution asked the Vice Chancellor to join him. Never was Bamfo Kwakye’s startled look so obvious as when he stood high on that precarious pole. He bravely endured the agony while his companion denounced the corrupt managers and professionals who allegedly abused their authority in all public institutions, including the university. The sun was setting and dark shadows were draping across the athletic field, so the beleaguered vice-chancellor made up for his descent to solid ground by suggesting that the gathering meet again in the Great Hall.

Bamfo Kwakye was happier when his feet were firmly on the ground and he gave the university a firm foundation. He preserved KNUST’s identity and independence through severe political and economic storms, including invasions of the campus by the army and by miners from the Obuasi goldfield, and an attempted takeover of the university by a Workers’ Defense Committee (WDC). ). By successfully expanding and diversifying KNUST’s role during such turbulent times, Bamfo Kwakye ensured that his vice chancellorship will be fondly remembered and a source of inspiration to academics and students in more peaceful times.

Thanks to John Powell | #African #Engineers #Bamfo #Kwakye

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