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African Engineers: Dr E Bamfo Kwakye
Many people were surprised when in 1975 Bamfo Kwakye was appointed Vice Chancellor of Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST), Kumasi, Ghana. Prior to his promotion to the university’s top job, Bamfo Kwakye had served as head of the electrical engineering department and dean of the engineering faculty, but his academic status was still that of an associate professor. Surpassing tenured professors from other faculties, the appointment of Bamfo Kwakye seemed destined to foster jealousy and discord, but in retrospect one can see that he was a worthy successor to his distinguished predecessors and presided over a difficult but significant phase of the university development.
Short, dark, bespectacled with a small mustache, Professor E Bamfo Kwakye possessed a sharp mind that was partly hidden by a characteristic pause that often preceded his response to any question or statement, almost as if each new problem took him a step further. bit by surprise. With big eyes behind powerful lenses, Bamfo Kwakye wore a permanent surprised look. Although quite intellectual, his withdrawn manner suited the role of a behind-the-scenes scientist rather than that of a vice-chancellor. He may have lacked the presence and charisma of Dr. Baffour or the urban sophistication of Dr. Evans-Anform, but Dr. Bamfo Kwakye always knew where he was headed and managed to complete most of his plans.
Shortly after taking office, Bamfo Kwakye was tasked with drawing up a five-year development plan for the university. This plan was to include the establishment of a North Campus for Tamale University in the Northern Region. As an integral part of the North Campus, the Technology Consulting Center (TCC) has proposed to establish an Intermediate Technology Transfer Unit (ITTU), to help promote small local industries like 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 back the TCC Director’s appeals to the Government of Ghana and international development agencies.
After lobbying for support from the Ashanti Regional Administration, the Ministry of Industries, the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning, and the Asantehene (King of Ashanti), the university finally won a financial support for both projects in 1979. The Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) provided overseas support to ITTU Suame, and ITTU Tamale was part of a larger program supported by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
Bamfo Kwakye presided over the official opening of the 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 the largest informal industrial area in Ghana. Work in Tamale progressed more slowly and by the time ITTU Tamale was completed and officially opened in April 1988, Bamfo kwakye had retired as Vice Chancellor.
Bamfo Kwakye’s second major mission was to establish a medical school at KNUST. Again, he cruised to win support from the Government of Ghana and international development agencies. The World Health Organization (WHO) has deemed Komfo Anokye Hospital in Kumasi unsuitable as a teaching hospital, and many issues have been raised by members of the academic council and university council, but the vice -energetic and far-sighted chancellor was not discouraged. 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 achievements would have earned him lasting accolades at the best of times, but these are in many ways the worst of times. Ghana’s economy was in varying degrees of distress throughout his tenure, and the years 1978 to 1981 saw four changes of government and three military coups. A defining moment of the post of vice-chancellor of Bamfo-Kwakye came shortly after Flight Lieutenant Jerry Rawlings’ first coup in June 1979 when the young air force officer addressed to a crowd of several thousand KNUST students and staff on the university sports ground.
Standing on the roof of his 4×4 vehicle, the leader of the revolution asked the vice-chancellor to join him. Never was Bamfo Kwakye’s startled gaze more apparent than when he stood high on this precarious perch. Bravely, he endured the ordeal while his companion denounced the corrupt executives and professionals who were said to exploit their authority in all public institutions, including the university. The sun was setting and dark shadows swept across the sports field, so the beleaguered Vice-Chancellor made his way down to dry land by suggesting the gathering should meet again in the Great Hall.
Bamfo Kwakye was happiest when his feet were firmly on the ground and he provided a solid foundation for college. He maintained KNUST’s identity and independence through severe political and economic storms which included invasions of the campus by the military and by miners from the Obuasi goldfield, as well as an attempted takeover of the university by a Workers’ Defense Committee (WDC). By successfully expanding and diversifying the role of KNUST in these turbulent times, Bamfo Kwakye ensured that his position as Vice Chancellor will be remembered with honor and be an inspiration to scholars and students in more peaceful.
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