Permission to Work (An Autobiography)

BY: Daily Graphic
Permission to Work (An Autobiography)
Permission to Work (An Autobiography)

Author: Dr Oheneba Akwesi Akyeampong
Pages: 340
Printers: Type Company Ltd
Reviewer: Kofi Amenyo

It is not easy to write an autobiography. You must first convince yourself that your life is a story worth telling. Then you must also be able to tell it well. Oheneba Akyeampong, retired Senior Lecturer of the University of Cape Coast and Fulbright Scholar, does his utmost on both counts and largely succeeds.

What was his life? Born in Kumasi, coming from a poor family, he struggles financially through elementary school, Teacher’s Training College, the University of Ghana, and then joins the Agege train, goes to Sweden, where he bags a PhD and comes back to Ghana to teach for several years at the University of Cape Coast and goes on a one-year Fulbright Scholarship.

Becoming a member of the National Accreditation Board, he spends his last working years teaching at a private university from where he retires to write his life’s story.
In the telling, he touches on several issues that affect all commonly.

Work, Fulbright

He worked in Accra in his early days in the 1950s in Ghana and recounts attending the Teacher Training College later in the 60s and as a teacher, studying to get his GCE ‘O’ and ‘A’ level for admission to the University of Ghana (UG).

There, he becomes a member of the “Joromi fraternity” of former teachers on study leave. He teaches at Winneba Secondary School after that. His is a story many in his age group will associate with.

His story picks up when he leaves Ghana for Europe, Sweden, where he obtains a doctorate degree in Human Geography, while working full time and raising a family. The Fulbright year in the USA enables him to compare these countries with Ghana.

He points out the stark differences in the political processes in Sweden and USA on one hand and that of Ghana. He notes that there is no voter’s registration process in Sweden, yet no one complains of being unable to vote because he or she is left out of the voter’s register.

In Sweden and the US, election results are not declared by an ‘almighty’ Electoral Commissioner. The press calls the accurate results at all times.

Education

With most of his professional career spent in the education sector, the author shares his thoughts on the subject, which are some of the best parts of the book.

His most pertinent observations on the educational sector relate to university education, with his work as a panel member of the National Accreditation Board and his own University’s Academic Board giving him insider knowledge on the subject.

He complains of poor theses that are passed and honours students who do not merit the high classes they are given. Is there really grades inflation at our universities compared to his time?

These days, university departments are instructed to award first class degrees to a certain percentage of graduating students irrespective of the absolute level of performance.

In his time, there was no First Class in a graduating class if no one was judged to have deserved it!

From his story, examination malpractices have been common from time immemorial. He saw it at his village elementary school at Kwamankesse in the early 70s but they may have been rare occurrences at the time.

Now, they were common, occurring in universities too, where the problem was not so much leaked examination papers, but lecturers who, for various reasons, award grades to students who do not merit them.

Politics

Akyeampong dabbles in Ghanaian politics. He fails in his bid to enter Parliament on the ticket of the New Patriotic Party (NPP), — perhaps the one thing that his oft-mentioned dedication and commitment to duty did not enable him to succeed at.

He does not try again. He tells us he never joined the Ghana Young Pioneers in his youth because, even as a teenager, he abhorred Nkrumah’s policies.

Those of us who also lived at the time remember that, as teenagers, we did not decide such things on our own.

We took after what our parents and influential elders in society told us. Akyeampong, probably, did not join the Pioneers because the significant others in his vicinity were anti-CPP.

The author recounts the pull factors that attracted a lot of Ghanaians, including himself, to Nigeria in the late 70s and early 80s but he does not give similar weight to the push factors which were equally strong. The Nigerian oil boom coincided with the most difficult times in the history of our economy when even toilet roll was difficult to get.

There are a few inaccuracies in the narrative. Dag Hammarskjöld died in Zambia, not in the Congo. The incorrect spellings of well-known proper names cannot be excused. The Hall name in Legon is Akuafo, not Akuaffo.

The former President’s name is Kufuor, not Kuffour and the current President’s name is Akufo-Addo, not Akuffo-Addo. These things matter!

These minor faults do not detract from the full enjoyment of the book and the lessons it teaches Ghanaians about our history and the current state of our affairs.

Throughout his narrative, he is at pains to examine the extent to which we, as individuals, are in control of the things that happen to us in life and how others can affect that trajectory. It is a very human story.

There are many interesting, and often hilarious, anecdotes especially about his travails in the white man’s land — something that may be of interest to the many Ghanaians who are aspiring to reach there.

How do you survive once you find yourself there? His vivid evocation of life in the “good old days” makes a delightful read.

Perhaps the greatest strength of Akyeampong’s life story is that he has dared write about it defying the sorry state of publishing in our country.

We complain that our leaders do not write their stories and we are left the poorer for it. Akyeampong has done his part and, in an easily accessible language, given us a very rich account to contemplate about.

The book is available at the Legon Bookshop, Readwide, Kingdom Books and Stationary at the University of Education Winneba and the University of Energy and Natural Resources, Sunyani.