Prof. Emeritus George Benneh turns 80

BY: Kobby Asmah / Daily Graphic / Ghana

As an athletic champion, they called him “Anago” because at a young age of 14 in form three, he led the Achimota Secondary School Athletic Team to compete with Kings College, a famous school in Lagos, Nigeria.

On one occasion, he won the 800 yards race and it was published in the Daily Graphic. “In those days, when we used to have inter-Colleges at the Accra Sports Stadium, Achimota boys and girls would sit near the finishing line to cheer us up shouting “Anago” to inspire me to finished hard,” he recalled with pride. 

Achimota is a good school for socialising and I do miss my ‘gari’ and beans and fried plantain, a lot. 

He further recalled life at the University of Ghana, Legon as another experience worth going through. Each student had a room and a balcony. We had excellent meals and we were served by stewards. Once a month or so, we had formal dinners where prominent personalities were invited to join us have dinner and they shared real-life-encounters with us.


These are some of the fond memories which are engrained in the mind of 80 year old Professor  Emeritus George Benneh as a child growing into adulthood.

Philosophy

Sharing in the philosophy that today’s leaders must develop tomorrow’s thinkers, the emeritus professor Emeritus, throughout his public life as an academic, researcher, university administrator, cabinet minister, sports administrator and lay church leader, has inspired others through encouragement and mentoring to achieve great heights.

For over four decades, Prof. Benneh has also preoccupied himself with issues concerning knowledge gathering and dissemination, focusing particularly on population, poverty alleviation, environment and land tenure and management.

Upbringing

Sharing his life with the Daily Graphic, he declared that he had his strength from the farm work that his mother used to let him do around Berekum and its environs. “I remember we used to get up at the first crow of the fowl since we all had no watch or clock at that time. Travelling to Prusu where our Cocoa farm was located was interesting encounter. Midway into the journey, I remember we stopped to eat palm soup meal, since it was a long journey.

I was born in a small town called Jamdede, a kilometre away from Berekum on March 6,1934, and was educated at the Berekum Roman Catholic Primary and Middle Schools. 

In 1949, I sat for the Common Entrance to enter Achimota Secondary School in 1950 and finished the Ordinary Level in 1954.

In his social life, Prof. Benneh has made significant contributions. He captained the University of Ghana Athletics Team (1958-1959) and was President of the Amalgamated Sports Club of the University of Ghana, (1969-1971). He was a member of the Sunyani Diocesan Catholic Laity Council (1974-1978), the First Secretary of the Ghana National Catholic Laity Council (1974-1978) and the President of Ghana Tae Kwan Do Association (1982).

Appointments

He has served in various political capacities. Among his highest political appointments are Commissioner for Lands, Natural Resources, Fuel and Power (1979-1980) and Minister of Finance and Economic Planning (1980-1981).

He also served at various times on National Committees and Boards including a member of the Board of Directors of Graphic Communications Group Ltd (then Graphic Corporation of Ghana in 1972-1974, Chairman, Board of Directors of the Bank of Ghana, 1998-1992, member of National Development Planning Commission in 1993 and Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation in 1997-2002, among others. He was also the Chairman of the National Council for Tertiary Education in 1997-2002), and Chairman of the Ghana National population Council in 1997-2002).

On International appointments, he was elected the first President of the Federation of African University Sports (FASU) in 1974, President of Association of African Universities in 1993, and served as the first Chairman of trustees of the World Wildlife Fund, 2001. 

 Prof Benneh and Wife, Adelaide, sharing a happy moment.

Awards and Honours

He has also received the United Nations Global 500 award at the first earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 1992 for his contribution to teaching and research in the fields of population and environment. He received a number of state awards including Grand Officer De Ordre Du Lion, Republic of Senegal, 1981, Companion of River Gambia, Republic of Gambia, 1981 and member of the Order of the Star of Ghana, 2006.

He has also been awarded honorary doctorate degrees by a number of universities including University of Copenhagen, 1998, Longwood College, Virginia, USA in 1995, University of Tokyo in 1996 and University of Ghana, 2002 and University for Development Studies, Tamale in 2003 for the role he played in setting it up.

Lessons from Nsawam

He told the Daily Graphic “if you have not been deprived of your freedom, you will not appreciate what freedom is.” The Professor  Emeritus recounted his experiences at the Nsawam Prisons after the June 1979 and December 1981 coup d’etat.  At prison, he recalls that the prison guards lock up the cell at 6p.m. till the next morning at 6a.m., when the prison cells are opened again. A prisoner, according to Prof. Benneh, was compelled to do everything within the confines of that small prison room. “You can imagine if you had a tummy upset in the middle of the night and you had to visit the loo,” he recounted.

He said 10 weeks in prison was long enough and remembers that the food was not good and was served pretty cold.He stated that however hungry one found himself, just a look at the food served and you would immediately lose appetite. It is a real humiliation to find yourself in prison, he recalled.

One experience I would never forget, he recalled, was when he was almost asked to strip naked during registration but for God’s divine intervention. They had asked of my particulars including my height and whether I was circumcised and they wanted evidence for that. I was, therefore, asked to strip before everybody as part of the humiliation of serving one’s country loyally.

Throughout my prison life, my strength was prayers. I believed in the Almighty God and my motivation was that I had not committed any offence, was not corrupt and so I knew I will eventually be set free and indeed I was set free.

• Prof George Benneh and wife, Adelaide Mary with their children. From left: Adelaide Benneh-Prempeh, Nana Dwemoh Benneh, Antoinette Benneh-Ansah, Paa Kwasi Asiedu Benneh, Dr Amma Benneh-Akwasikuma, and Kwadwo Benneh.

George Benneh Foundation

A major concern of Prof. George Benneh in recent years has been to bridge the research-policy gap and to bring science and technology to the doorstep of every citizen: in other words, making science a way of life of every ordinary person. It is towards the realisation of this dream that he initiated the convening of a National Forum on Harnessing Research, Science and Technology for sustainable National Development in 2004, the planning committee of which he is still chair.

According to the Professor, “one may not succeed in changing the world all by himself or herself. But, by inspiring others and acting as a mentor to younger ones, it is possible to change the world view of others, and thereby influence their behaviour and conduct. Although this might appear imperceptible, it has the potential of leading a total transformation of a system, a country or even the world through individuals or groups.”

This has been the philosophy of the man in whose honour the foundation was established by a number of friends, former colleagues and some alumni of the University of Ghana.

According to the Professor emeritus, Ghanaians have skills but, regrettably, these skills are not being handed over from one generation to another. 

He also called on those in the  academia to do more research that could contribute to the development of Ghana. Research is a self motivated activity, he argues, but called on the universities to provide funds. He said individuals could also begin a research work through their own funds. “My own research work is largely funded from my own resources. The good thing about research is that the more you do it, the more you are acknowledged globally. If research is useful, you become a consultant: I did a lot of research funded project from the World Bank, FAO, UN, University in Tokyo and it is from these resources I built my present house.

Research can be rewarding,”

He also called on the government to encourage research by identifying areas which needed to be researched and identify individuals to support them and make use of the results of these researchers. He also argued that research findings must be implemented and not kept on shelves.

What do you want to be remembered for?

As a patriot who by God’s grace has been able to maintain his integrity, honesty in public office and mentor young people to achieve excellence in what ever field they find themselves, what is missing in all of this is service to community. He said it was the reason why he was initiating a community inspired project on ICT for the youth at Berekum. In this regard, he said that his brothers and sisters had donated land at the Benneh Estate for the ICT project saying “education is so important for one’s livelihood.” He said many of the youth at Berekum were unemployed and trusted that on completion of the ICT project, it would equip the youth with employable skills. “If I am able to do that then I will feel honoured and have served my community as well,” he stated.

Status

With all his status, Emeritus Prof. Benneh comes across as a true academic, Christian, mentor and conscious of his integrity and honesty. He is married with six children, three sons and three daughters, and 14 grandchildren.