African Engineers: Professor Frank Kwami

By | July 3, 2022

When Professor FO Kwami was appointed Vice Chancellor of Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST), Kumasi, Ghana in 1982, the School of Engineering lost the services of an exceptionally talented engineering educator. A German-trained engineer and natural teacher, Frank Kwami was a natural choice for rapid promotion to full professor and then vice-chancellor. If the rumor-mongers had grumbled about a political appointment of a fellow tribesman by the recently self-proclaimed head of state, Flight Lieutenant Jerry John Rawlings, they would have had a hard time naming a better-qualified candidate. Nonetheless, his achievement at the top of the university was less memorable than that of his three respected predecessors, and suggested a mildly modified form of Professor Parkinson’s well-known law that able people tend to be promoted to levels of lesser competence.

KNUST was best known internationally for its Technology Consultancy Center (TCC): an independently funded organization that ran an extensive program of grassroots industrial development projects. Vice Chancellor Dr. E. Evans-Anfom founded the TCC in 1972 and his successor, Dr. E. Bamfo-Kwakye, was instrumental in raising financial support for the TCC’s Intermediate Technology Transfer Units (ITTU) at Suame Magazine in Kumasi and Tamale in the North Region.

Frank Kwami had unsuccessfully run for the post of first TCC director in 1972, and when he became vice chancellor a decade later, one of his first moves was to gain control of the TCC and its foreign funding support. This led to a four-year conflict that attracted the government of Ghana and international donors, and resulted in the TCC retaining its independent status. It was unfortunate that this personal matter interfered with Frank Kwami’s tenure as Vice Chancellor.

Frank Kwami presided over the affairs of KNUST during a time of exceptional political and economic turbulence that was reflected in life within the university. At the time there were frequent power outages and working three days a week, KNUST’s Catholic pastor was shot and wounded at a roadblock and professors were called over early morning radio bulletins to report to the head of state in Accra. When Flight Lieutenant Jerry Rawlings first came to power in 1979 he was popular with university students but during his second coming in 1982/3 he lost popularity by closing universities and sending students home to get through work to help the farms feed the nation. Food was scarce and academics waited in long lines for a chance to buy a few “necessities.”

Frank Kwami’s tenure as Vice-Chancellor may not have been marked by a significant expansion of the university’s range of services, but at the time it was a worthy achievement to preserve the institution. After retiring from high office, he returned to the School of Engineering as Professor Emeritus of the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering. Here he not only resumed his regular teaching duties, but also took part in an innovative program that kept his memory alive in circles outside the university.

From 1994, Intermediate Technology Ghana (ITGhana) started a survey of about a hundred small engineering companies, mainly in Kumasi, Accra and Tema, but also in Tamale, Takoradi and Sunyani. The aim was to identify technical weaknesses that could be strengthened by short training courses at KNUST during the semester breaks. Frank Kwami became director of a series of two-week on-site courses for owners and technicians selected by engineering firms that participated in the survey. Courses covered topics such as interpreting and working from engineering drawings, computer-aided drafting, and foundry-based manufacturing.

The base engineers welcomed the opportunity to study at the university and be taught by respected professors. Frank Kwami earned the enduring respect of these men and women, who greatly appreciated his ability to present complex issues in clear and simple terms they could understand. What impressed them most was Frank Kwami’s willingness to bring his knowledge up to their level and also his effort to apply this knowledge in the work of their companies. In this way, Frank Kwami shared with his illustrious predecessors a worthy record of supporting Ghana’s industrial base development.

Thanks to John Powell | #African #Engineers #Professor #Frank #Kwami

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