How does one begin to reflect upon the life of a person as singular as a mother? The words just won’t flow easily; and when they do come they invite the teary eye. It is insoluble: the very idea that the person who blessed you with life has now ceased to be your living, loving force.
I needed an overture to celebrate Mrs Edna Swaniker, and who’d be better placed to offer that tone of sincerity than the iconic Maya Angelou.
Her poem, “Mother: A Cradle to Hold Me” rolled as follows: “You thought you were watching me/But I did hold you securely in my sight,/Recording every movement,/Memorising your smiles,/tracing your frowns,/In your absence,/I rehearsed you.”
When my own mother, Elizabeth Tamakloe, passed on in Kumasi, April 6, 2022, I noted that she was my most trusting and trusted friend, mentor, and a great source of inspiration and protection. I concluded that “It’s my hope that I did well by her”.
I was to receive an assuring response on WhatsApp from Reverend Mrs Naana Danyame of the Methodist Church. She wrote, “God richly bless your mother for the excellent work she did in you. We are all benefiting from the work of her hands.”
Mrs Swaniker’s gifts
The beneficial works that great mothers do was on display in the airwaves the first time. I heard Fred Swaniker in an interview with Bernard Avle on Citi FM, Accra. The discussion was most captivating. Fred and I met finally and evolved an affinity to this day.
Once, chairing the 2016 graduation ceremony at Faith Montessori School, Accra, the word “wise” was the adjective I found most fitting to use in introducing the guest speaker, Fred Swaniker.
I recall Fred inviting and hosting me as a distinguished guest speaker at African Leadership University (ALU), in Mauritius. At a breakfast meeting with him, he unpeeled his vision on how tertiary education ought to be re-imagined for Africa’s youth.
Afterwards, driving from the hotel to the temporary premises of ALU [then at the Beau Plan Business Park, Pamplemousses], Fred stopped the car, pointed at a site, and said to me, “This is where the construction will begin for the permanent site of ALU, Mauritius.”
That was an unforgettable moment! His grand mission was to produce 3 million young African leaders over the next 50 years. True to plan, the ALU in Kigali Heights, Rwanda, was inaugurated in 2017. I have plans to visit soon.
Fred recognised the importance of leadership and education while serving as 17-year-old headmaster of a secondary school his mother, Mrs Edna Swaniker, founded in Botswana.
In applauding Fred Swaniker for the 2019 TIME 100 award — in the category of “Pioneers” – Mo Ibrahim said, “Fred understood that the key to success was not about leading the youth along a preordained path, but allowing them to become authors of their own stories.”
It must take a great deal of courage and conviction for Fred to maintain that level of loyalty to his vision and to succeed with grace and energy. TIME magazine must have discerned those qualities when they listed him in their 100 most influential people in 2019.
In a keynote address at his alma mater, Macalester College, USA, Fred noted: “One unique aspect about African Leadership University is that we ask our students not to choose an academic major from a pre-determined menu. Instead, we ask them to declare a mission for their lives.
“They structure their learning not around academic disciplines, but instead around big problems they want to solve. These problems could be in healthcare, climate change, governance, education, gender inequality etc. They then design their own tailored learning experiences around solving these problems.”
A mother’s child
Later, I was to meet Fred’s elder sister Constance Swaniker, the founder of Design & Technology Institute (DTI), Accra. Constance is one of those shapers who can go from visualisation to actualisation. She possesses an intense curiosity and a need to make sense of things. Her uncommon independent thinking verges on rebelliousness, the need to dream big and unconventionally, with art at the center of her compulsion.
According to Constance, “The mission of the DTI is threefold: First, to become West Africa’s leading industrial job training and prototype manufacturing centre. The aim is to graduate over 20,000 students annually within 10 years. Second, to spread the reach of DTI skill training model to at least seven of the 15 ECOWAS countries.
Third, to advocate a conducive environment in West Africa to support research and industrial design.”
She noted, “In line with this change blowing across the continent, technical and vocational training must be rebranded to Design & Technology training.
These are two key words that should guide our next generation for our continent to advance technologically. Young Africans must be trained to see design and technology as critical enablers to the continent’s prosperity.”
In celebrating Mrs Edna Swaniker, we note that fruits do not fall far from the tree. A great educator and professional social worker in her own right, she helped set up the first day care centres in the markets of Accra for children of the market women.
In Botswana, she founded Mount Pleasant English Medium School north of the capital city of Gaborone. In 2014, she was awarded the Presidential Order of Meritorious Service by HE Ian Khama, the former president of Botswana.