Opinions of Wednesday, 24 October 2018
Columnist: Manasseh Azure Awuni
Dear Vice-Chancellor of the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST),
I bring you greetings from Copenhagen, Denmark. Having flown thousands of miles away from home, I should have been cut off from happenings in our murky and agitated republic and enjoyed the serenity, beauty and sanity of this well-organised and orderly community. However, thanks to the innovation of young people who were about the same age of your students when they carried out technological breakthroughs, I am closer to home than the physical distance between Kaneshie and Odorkor.
I have followed the disturbing slideshow of violence on your campus for days now. I have also followed the massive condemnation of your actions by some of the most level headed people I know, follow and respect on social media. A few people whose views do not really matter have attempted to fault the students, but my letter is not to fault the students.
I am writing this letter to condemn you and your administration for attempting to convert the all-male and almighty University Hall, popularly known as Katanga, into a mixed hall. The disturbances that have led to the closure of the university are because of this fatal decision. The students have raised allegations against the university, which we should investigate. But we all know the recent unrests are fuelled by the conversion of Katanga into a mixed hall, which the students and alumni of the hall warned of consequences if the decision was not reversed. That decision appears to have the support of the Minister of State in Charge of Tertiary Education, Prof. Kwesi Yankah. I will deal with him shortly, but let me first address why I am opposed to what you have done and the violence which the decision has sparked.
Sir, my main reason for condemning your action is the fact that you have attempted to break an age old tradition. As a Ghanaian, you ought to know that traditions, whether good or bad, must not die. KNUST, the University of Ghana and University of Cape Coast (UCC) all have traditional male halls that are untouchable. I am talking about the University Hall in KNUST (Katanga), the Casely Hayford Hall (CASFORD) of UCC and the Commonwealth Hall (the Vandals) of the University of Ghana. Many years ago, these halls were into terrible things but these days they have reformed remarkably and now embark on very productive ventures. Any attempt to dilute them by turning them into mixed halls is an act of sacrilege and will definitely provoke the wrath of the nation.
In the past, these halls were noted for evil deeds. They used to be notorious for leading students to oppose bad regimes and policies at both the university and national levels. They were very dominant in the days when university students were the fourth estate of the realm, when the media in Ghana was still shackled by oppressive regimes and when civil society was alien to us. Those were the dark days of such halls. Had any Vice-Chancellor or university authority tried to disband them at that time, it would not have faced the stiff opposition you are confronted with.
However, times have changed. And so have these halls and what they stood for. For some time now, these halls take turns to be in the headlines for the right reasons. Because I have, for the past six years, been working in a media house that does not miss the major headlines, I remember these stories very well. With the help of Google, anybody can check them up.
One of the noblest and commendable activities of these halls you are seeking to destroy is the training it gives to fighters. In these days when terrorism is a global virtue, these halls have trained students to attack, maim and vandalise properties. A coward like me would shiver when I hear of destruction of school property. When I hear about stabbing, I shudder. But these halls have taken turns to be in the news for fighting with rival halls, which often results in the destruction of school property, injuries and sometimes deaths.
These days, members of these halls are so advanced that they move beyond the rival halls on their campuses to cause destruction in other universities.
One such act of commendable bravery happened at the University of Cape Coast in March 2017. Students of Unity Hall in KNUST and Commonwealth Hall in the University of Ghana reportedly attacked students of Oguaa Hall of the University of Cape Coast. These students had been invited by ATL Hall in UCC for their hall week and, as usual, they wanted UCC to feel their presence. They reportedly stripped naked and wanted to enter Oguaa Hall. When they were stopped, violence ensued. Vehicles were destroyed. The hall building and other properties of the school were not spared.
The attackers also stabbed some students of the hall. One student who had gone to study and was returning to the hall was stabbed. He became paralysed and his future turned upside down. He has become a burden to his family and society would forever miss the potential he had to offer. It might beat one’s imagination what would motivate students to carry knives along, but that is not new. It is tradition.
The all-male halls in the universities in Ghana have in recent times been involved in acts of violence
Professor Vice-Chancellor, the good thing about these halls and their recent achievements do not seem to please university authorities like you so you think the only way to break that tradition is to convert them into mixed halls. But I must say you are not helping the nation. As I stated earlier, terrorism has become so important in the world that if the university produces more than Ghana can accommodate, we can export some to Syria or any of the parts of the world where their services are needed. It will help us to rake in foreign exchange, which will in turn provide a solid pillar for Dr. Mahamudu Bawumia’s weak economic fundamentals. Every progressive Vice-Chancellor must know this.
This is what Professor Kwesi Yankah must realize. He must realize that times have changed. I bought his book, “Ogyakrom: The Missing Pages of June 4th”, and while reading the gripping, intellectually stimulating and excellently written pieces he published in the heat of Rawlings’ revolutions, I could not bring myself to reconcile the depth of the work with the fact that the writer was just a young man of about 27 years. At that age, he shaped society with his intellect and the military regime shivered when the mighty strokes of his pen hit the newsstands.
But he should know that times have changed. Wisdom no longer rules. Intellectual capabilities are now weaknesses, not strengths. Professor Yankah should know that when university students strip naked and dance and chant and drink and fight and maim and get all the accolades for vulgarities, it prepares them to fit well into the challenging world of scarcity of jobs, where innovation and technology travel faster than the speed of life. So don’t let the good old professor deceive you into destroying the future of the youth.
Sometimes they argue that Ghana is in crisis and the future is bleaker than our present and past so students have to be sober and find ways of navigating this endless and complex maze of hardship and hopelessness. They may be right in a way. While at the university, I occupied my spare time with reading and writing and taking internship opportunities. Since I left school eight years ago, I have never applied for a job. But times have changed. Unemployment is no longer a problem in Ghana so university students should be allowed to drum, sing and dance away their future. After all, that’s how we solve our problems here.
When we are happy, we dance. When we are mourning, we dance. When we are protesting, we dance. And when KNUST students are destroying school properties in the presence of armed police and journalists are filming, some of them have the presence of mind to dance to the camera without masking their faces.
(The police calmly persuaded them out while some of them were still breaking and destroying any property in sight. Had the police applied force, the story would have centred on brutalities of students and not the noble portrayal of animalistic instincts by the “future leaders” of Nkrumah’s Ghana.)
These are the traditions that have made the Oxfords, the Harvards, the LSEs and other universities around the world enviable. If we want to be the best, we should learn from the best and allow our students to keep their traditions.
Finally, before I conclude, let me leave you with this stern warning, Professor Vice Chancellor. You must rescind your decision even if what you did was right. The students and alumni of the hall took the matter to court. But while the court was yet to rule on the matter, they resorted to violence to get redress. You must change your decision and allow the students to have their way. In that way, violence will have. And you will set a good precedence. Students in other universities will in the future abandon negotiation and the rule of law and result to vandalisation of state and private property to seek redress. Besides, you will also please those who see this as an opportunity to make political gains.
One of the placards held by a protestor warned you not to run KNUST like your “personal property.” There may be many meanings but one meaning is clear of public office holders in Ghana. Ghana’s property is nobody’s property, so don’t lose sleep when things are going wayward. Those who are entertained by the actions of these students would not be proud to have them as their sons. After all, everyone loves a fool, but no one wants him for a son.
But like the property that has been destroyed, the students are not your personal property so don’t worry so much about how the ritual destruction, violence and stabbings from the halls you intend to neutralize will affect them. Very soon, such nasty inter-hall fights will enlist the use of heavy arms and deadlier weapons. Just sit and watch and let us have peace.
Don’t interfere with traditions.
This is a passionate appeal from a distant observer who has the nation and its youth and its future at heart.
Manasseh Azure Awuni.