1. Full Circle
Let’s begin with the idea of 360 degrees as going full circle. And here I acknowledge a great debt to one of our senior Akoras who has now gone to heaven, Professor Francis Agbodeka. If you haven’t read his book on Achimota, I strongly suggest you get ahold of a copy and read it. And if there is no copy in our library, I would be happy to look for a copy and donate it to the library. I learned a lot. As I went through the book, every day I became more and more proud that I went through this school. Our elders say “Enam dua so na hama hu soro.” Clearly, all of us Akoras owe a debt to this school. We climb to the sky, we see new vistas, because of this tree, because of this mother we call Achimota.
It is Friday, 28 January, 1927. Assembled in front of the Dining Hall are about 6,000 people.
This includes several traditional kings and their advisors, among them the Asantehene, Nana Prempeh the first, at the head of a 200-strong delegation. Also present is Nana Ofori Attah the first of Akyem. There are representatives from the new African elite, including the Cape Coast and Sekondi lawyers. Leading officials from the colonial administration are in attendance too, as are several representatives from the African and European communities in Accra. But perhaps the spotlight is on the students: the first Achimota students – sixty kindergarten children and 120 students from the Training College.
When Governor Guggisberg and his entourage arrive at the Dining Hall at 4:30 p.m., they are welcomed by the Principal, Vice-Principal, and the Bursar. The Governor inserts a gold key into the lock, turns it, and with the door of the Dining Hall now ajar, Achimota becomes formally open.
In his speech at the function, the Principal, Rev. Fraser, implores that Achimota be granted independence from government. In reply, Governor Guggisberg announces that Achimota would be an autonomous institution.
This means Achimota was permitted to function outside the jurisdiction of the colonial government’s education department. Fraser could recruit his own teachers and experiment with educational methods, as he and his team saw fit.
The new educational establishment faced many challenges, right from the beginning. We’ll recall only a few of these. The responses of Fraser and his team to these challenges demonstrated flexibility, sacrifice, and creativity.
Flexibility. The Founders’ dream was to prepare their own young people in the primary school to feed the secondary school. This was why the first young Achimota students were actually six little boys who were received into the kindergarten in August 1926.
But the African communities were restless. They wanted to see more action. In fact, during the opening ceremony, Nana Ofori-Atta the first, in his speech reminded the Colonial authorities of the resistance they had received in the past, as they sought to convince the Colonial government to promote African education.
In response to this pressure from African leaders, Fraser modified his plans and in 1929, upper primary and secondary students (taken from other schools) were recruited to Achimota. Among this group were the first girls to enter Achimota.
Sacrifice. The financial support Achimota received from Government was more than generous. By 1923 Governor Guggisberg had already ordered the government architect to commence work on designs for Achimota school buildings and grounds.
Achimota received “the Lion’s share” of the funds set aside for the Governor’s Ten-Year Development Plan (1920-30). Historians suggest something between 60% of the total, others assess it as amounting to 85% of the educational budget (Agbodeka, p. 47).
In 1924, the cost of Achimota was estimated at £640,000. Three years later Guggisberg announced that expenditure had already exceeded £607,000.
But starting from 1930, the world economy collapsed, this was the major downturn, often called the Great Depression. The economies of both rich and poor countries were shaken by the Depression. As a result of necessary belt-tightening by the Gold Coast administration, in 1930-31 Achimota returned £15,000 to government coffers. In 1931-32, £11,680 was returned.
By 1934, the government grant of £68,000 per annum had been cut to £48,000 per annum.
It was during this difficult time that the Achimota staff decided to forego their leave allowances. They also voluntarily initiated a levy on their salaries, thereby generating £4,000 per annum to support the School.
Creativity. A major challenge concerned how to maintain civility and discipline in the Dining Hall. Apparently students from some communities refused to eat food from other ethnic groups. At meal times, some wanted to share their tables with only members of their communities.
Fraser invited the students to a meeting and explained to them that it was this kind of ethnic hostility that sustained the slave trade. It is said that a leader of the ethnic separation movement, one Gyamfi of Asante royalty, found Fraser’s arguments so compelling that within two days he had convinced the other boys to give up their ethnic separation efforts. By the way, Gyamfi House is named after this student.
An additional creative approach to this food challenge was this. The kitchen staff deliberately prepared food favored by one group in insufficient quantities, so that the students had no choice, but to learn how to eat other people’s food.
Another challenge came in the area of “original sin.” Achimota was planned as a co-educational institution from the beginning. And as the number of older students began to increase, making this work in practice became a challenge. How does one deal with the proddings of original sin as young teenagers become older teenagers and the hormones start kicking in?. . .Achimota found a clever partial solution: they admitted sisters and brothers and cousins . . .
But here I think they sometimes went a bit too far. Remember one of our School songs:
From Gambaga to Accra
From Wiawso to Keta
We are brothers (and sisters),
And our Mother is our School…
Some of us took this song too seriously. And now many of our girls are married to non-Achimotans . . . But, I suppose some would argue that is all part of our mission to the nation.