Dr Evans-Anfom: One of Ghana’s talented surgeons

BY: Enoch Darfah Frimpong

Dr Evans-AnfomWhen the Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital was built in 1925, the then Governor of the Gold Coast, Sir Gordon Guggisberg, had planned that it would become a medical centre for the training of doctors, nurses, pharmacists and other health personnel. The colonial government, after Guggisberg, however, did not find the need to train medical doctors in Ghana.  

Nearly four decades later, the idea was resuscitated. Osagyefo Dr Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana’s first President, initiated discussions with a group of American doctors to make the dream a reality. President Nkrumah went as far as concluding an agreement with the Americans to help in funding and managing the school. The assistance was to come mainly from the Temple University Medical School in Pennsylvania. A dean for the school, Dean Cross, was appointed.

Reports have it that the Americans started making demands (not pecuniary) on the Ghanaian government which was considered outrageous by  Osagyefo. So suddenly, without warning, Nkrumah cut all discussions with them and fell on a group of young Ghanaian doctors to start a medical school in Ghana.

Dr Charles Easmon, Chief Surgeon at the Korle-Bu Hospital in 1964 (later to become Professor), was charged with recruiting the best senior medical practitioners to teach in the school. The task of establishing a medical school was arduous because the facilities did not exist. The decision also put a lot of pressure on Ghanaian doctors because they were not prepared.

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One man, with 14 years experience then as a medical practitioner, however, envisaged that his help would be needed in that endeavour whether the school was going to be established by Ghanaians or Americans. He, therefore, left his busy schedules  in Ghana and went back to the University of Edinburgh in Scotland where he had qualified as a doctor in 1947 to study further and prepare for the task ahead.

So when Dr Easmon approached him in Edinburgh in 1963 to discuss with him the offer of a teaching appointment, he was ready. That man is Dr Emmanuel Evans-Anfom, undoubtedly one of Ghana’s living legends.   

As one of the great pioneers of the medical profession in Ghana and an outstanding university Vice Chancellor, a gentleman of many parts and varied accomplishments, Dr Evans-Anfom has lived a rich and fulfilling life. A brilliant surgeon, a talented hockey player in his youth, he brought to Ghanaian higher education,  a wealth of experience, vision and leadership amply recognised in the many local and international positions of honour and distinction that have come his way within his original profession of medicine and the general field of education since his  retirement as Vice Chancellor of the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST).

Now at nearly 94, Dr Evans-Anfom lives quietly in his residence, Leonora Lodge, in Accra and reminisces about the past and his contribution to Ghana’s development.

Birth and Education

Dr Emmanuel Evans-Anfom was born on October 7, 1919 at the Evans family house, High Street Accra. His father was William Quarshie Anfom of Accra, Shai and partly of Nzema origin. His mother was Mary Evans, daughter of William Timothy Evans, a well-known catechist of the Basel Mission Middle School, otherwise known as Osu Salem.

In 1925, he enrolled at the Government Boys School in James Town, right across the road from his family house. During the third year of starting school, his father got a job at Akuse as a cashier with the Basel Mission, therefore, yong Emmanuel and his brother had to live with their aunt, Mrs Ellen Buckle at Belmont House, close by.

In January 1928, he was promoted to the Government Senior Boys School in Standard One. At the time, the Senior Boys School had seven classes, Standard One to Seven. It was at Standard Seven that one had to take the Standard Seven School Leaving Certificate Examinations, later known as the Middle School Leaving Certificate examinations. In that same month, he was entrusted in the care of Rev. and Mrs Ludwig Lawrence Richter, the District Presbyterian Priest at the time. The foundation of discipline and character building had been laid with that single action by his parents.

In 1930, he secured a place in the Presbyterian Primary School in Osu. He joined the Standard Three class of the lower school, ironically called ‘boarding’ even though it was a day school. The headmaster of the school was Mr John Teye (later(later Rev John Teye) whose name has been immortalised by his son, Lawrence, in the founding of the John Teye Memorial School. He later entered the senior school known as Osu Salem which was a boarding school.

The organisation in the school was hierarchical. Boys in Standard Four were looked upon as the lowest form of animal life and indeed the appellation said so quite openly. The word ‘Odonkpo’ in Ga refers to a certain specie of rodents which have some destructive qualities and every Standard Four boy was expected, indeed, obliged to repeat loudly on certain occasions the phrase ‘Odonkpo kronkron ji mi’, meaning “I am a holy rodent.” This was perpetrated on the juniors by the seniors.

Emmanuel had aspirations of going to the Akropong Seminary and Training College to become a teacher after leaving school. One day, however, he saw an advert in a newspaper for a Cadbury Scholarship for Achimota College in which he became interested. Mr Carl Henry Clerk, the headmaster of Osu Salem, encouraged him to apply for it. He applied, wrote the examination and passed.

He was awarded the scholarship and entered Achimota College, then known as the Prince of Wales College, after he had passed the Standard Seven School Leaving Certificate Examinations with distinction.

On the second Friday of January 1935, he was admitted at Achimota College to Form Three of the secondary department. In those days, with a Standard Seven certificate and a distinction, one was admitted to form three.  In January 1939, he enrolled in the inter-preliminary course of Science. He covered a lot of grounds in Physics, Chemistry Botany and Zoology. In 1941, he was awarded a medical scholarship to study in Edinburgh in 1942, he sailed out of the Gold Coast to Scotland to pursue that interest.

Emmanuel qualified as a medical doctor in 1947. After a post graduate course in Tropical Medicine and internship, he returned to the Gold Coast in 1950.

Back home in Ghana, Dr Evans-Anfom worked at the Korle-Bu teaching Hospital, Dunkwa-On-Offin Government Hospital, Tarkwa Government Hospital, the Kumasi Central Hospital, Tamale Government Hospital and Effia Nkwanta.

Call to other service

Sometime in May, 1967, Dr Evans-Anfom’s phone rang. The voice on the other side was that of Dr Alex Kyerematen, who was then Commissioner for Local Government in the National Liberation Council (NLC) government (present day minister) and Chairman of Council of the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST).

He made him aware that the position of Vice Chancellor had become vacant and that his name had come up in several circles as the most suitable successor of Dr R.P Baffuor, the distinguished first Vice Chancellor of the university. After holding extensive discussions with his wife, Leonora, Dr Evans-Anfom decided to accept the position.

After meeting with the council of the university, he was informed that the then Head of State and Chairman of the NLC, Gen. Ankrah, had requested to see him. Dr Evans-Anfom had known Gen.

Ankrah since they were both very young. The Head of State was under the impression that Dr Evans-Anfom was being co-erced into accepting a position he was not interested in. But after explaining that everything was happening with his knowledge, Gen. Ankrah became convinced and gave his blessings.

When Dr Evans-Anfom took over from Dr R.P Baffour as the Vice Chancellor, there were a lot of skeptics who thought he would fail because he was not an administrator. They thought once a doctor, the only thing he was capable of was treating patients. Some actually wished he would fail. He proved them wrong.

Ministerial Appointments

In 1978, a week after General Ignatius Kutu Acheampong had been removed from office, Dr Evans-Anfom was approached by Major Gen. Odartey Wellington who persuaded him to accept either the position of Commissioner for Health or Education in the Akuffo administration. He chose Education.

However, nothing was heard from Gen. Odartey Wellington again on the matter and just as he had begun to think that “these people are not serious,” he was invited to meet General Fred Akuffo himself. The next day, he got a letter appointing him Commissioner for Education. He was sworn in shortly thereafter.

On one of his inspections of educational institutions in Tamale, his orderly, a military man, informed him that the Akuffo government had been overthrown by the other ranks in the army. It was reported that civilian members of the Akuffo administration should report to the nearest police station or military barracks. Dr Evans-Anfom complied and reported at the Tamale Police station where he spent some days at what is popularly referred to as “counterback”

When he finally returned to Accra, he was asked to meet Flt. Lt JJ Rawlings, the leader of the coup, who said: “Doctor, I have heard so much about you.” He wondered what the young Flt Lt had heard but when he retired to his home later, he remembered that Nana Konadu Agyeman, Rawlings’ wife had been a student at KNUST when he was Vice Chancellor. Also Nana Konadu’s father, J.O.T Agyeman, had been his senior colleague at Achimota.

Three days later, he heard on the radio that he had been re-appointed Commissioner for  Education and that the portfolio of Health had been added.

“ A few days after we had assumed duty, we heard of the execution of Acheampong and Utuka. About a week after, there were six further executions: General Akuffo, General Afrifa, Air Vice Marshall Boakye, General Kotei, Rear Admiral Amedume and Colonel Felli.

All of the civilian commissioners were greatly disturbed. “We did not know what was going to happen. It looked as if law and order had broken down and we were not ready to be part of a government that behaved in that way. We, therefore, protested vehemently and threatened to resign en bloc.

When the message got to the Chairman of the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC), he invited us to a meeting at the Air Force Base one evening. We were all present at the meeting. All the AFRC members were also present. It fell upon me to be the spokesman for the civilian commissioners to register our protest.

I expressed our displeasure at what was happening and let them know that we were all Ghanaians and we did not think that killing people corrected mistakes. I tried in a most diplomatic and courteous but firm language to convey our feelings and let them know that if there were any more killings, all of us would just down our tools and resign. We came away feeling that the message had gone home, and to cut a long story short, after that there were no public executions,” he recalled.

Marriage and Family Life

Dr Evans-Anfom has been married twice. His first wife Leonora Evans, an American of West Indian origin, died in 1980. He had four children with her. He lives with his second wife Elise Henkel, whom he married in 1984.

By Mark Anthony-Vinorkor

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