African Engineers: Professor Frank Kwami

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When Professor F O Kwami was appointed Vice-Chancellor of the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST), Kumasi, Ghana, in 1982, the School of Engineering lost the services of an exceptionally gifted engineering educator. A German-trained engineer and a natural teacher, Frank Kwami was a natural choice for rapid promotion to full professor and then to the vice-chancellorship. If the rumour mongers muttered about a political appointment of a fellow tribesman by the recently self-appointed Head of State, Flight Lieutenant Jerry John Rawlings, they would have been hard pressed to name a better qualified candidate. Even so, his performance at the head of the university was less memorable than that of his three distinguished predecessors and suggested a gently modified form of Professor Parkinson’s well-known law that able people tend to be promoted to a level of lesser competence.

KNUST was best known internationally for its Technology Consultancy Centre (TCC): an independently-funded organisation that operated a wide-ranging programme of grassroots industrial development projects. Vice-Chancellor Dr E Evans-Anfom had founded the TCC in 1972 and his successor, Dr E Bamfo-Kwakye had been instrumental in gaining funding support for the TCC’s Intermediate Technology Transfer Units (ITTU) at Suame Magazine in Kumasi and Tamale in the Northern Region.

Frank Kwami had applied unsuccessfully for the post of first TCC director in 1972, and on becoming vice-chancellor a decade later one of his first moves was aimed at gaining control of the TCC and its foreign funding support. This led to four years of conflict that drew in the Government of Ghana and international donors and resulted in the TCC retaining its independent status. It was unfortunate that this personal issue placed a blot on Frank Kwami’s term as vice-chancellor.

Frank Kwami presided over the affairs of KNUST during a period of exceptional political and economic turbulence that was reflected in life within the university. At this time there were frequent power cuts and three days a week working, the KNUST Catholic Pastor was shot and wounded at a road barrier and professors were called on early morning radio bulletins to report to the head of state in Accra. When Flight Lieutenant Jerry Rawlings first seized power in 1979 he was popular with the university students but during his second coming in 1982/3 he lost popularity by closing the universities and sending the students home to help feed the nation by working on the farms. Food was scarce and academics joined long queues for the opportunity to purchase a few item of ‘essential commodities.’

Frank Kwami’s term as Vice-Chancellor may not have been distinguished by any significant expansion of the university’s range of capabilities but at this time to preserve the institution was a worthy achievement. On retiring from his high post he returned to the School of Engineering as an emeritus professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering. Here, he not only revived his regular teaching activities but took part in an innovative programme that kept his memory alive in circles remote from the university.

Starting in 1994, Intermediate Technology Ghana (ITGhana) began a survey of about one hundred small engineering enterprises, mostly in Kumasi, Accra and Tema but also in Tamale, Takoradi and Sunyani. The aim was to identify technical weaknesses that might be strengthened by short training courses held at KNUST during the university vacations. Frank Kwami became the Director of a series of two week residential courses for proprietors and technicians drawn from engineering firms included in the survey. The courses covered topics such as interpreting and working from engineering drawings, computer-aided drawing and foundry-based manufacturing.

The grassroots engineers warmly welcomed the opportunity to study at the university and receive instruction from eminent professors. Frank Kwami earned the lasting respect of these men and women who greatly appreciated his skill in presenting complex issues in clear and simple terms that they could understand. What impressed them most of all was Frank Kwami’s willingness to bring his knowledge down to their level and also his concern for applying this knowledge in the work of their enterprises. In this way Frank Kwami shared with his illustrious predecessors a worthy record of assisting in the grassroots industrial development of Ghana.


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