My appointment is humbling; Professor Nana Aba Appiah Amfo

BY: By Efia Akese
Professor Amfo, Vice-Chancellor, University of Ghana with her husband Mr Frank Amfo, and their children, Yoofi (middle), Maame Araba (left) and Efua Benyiwa
Professor Amfo, Vice-Chancellor, University of Ghana with her husband Mr Frank Amfo, and their children, Yoofi (middle), Maame Araba (left) and Efua Benyiwa

Before I set off to interview Professor Nana Aba Appiah Amfo, the Vice-Chancellor at the University of Ghana, I had spent hours reading the journey of her career on the university’s website.

“What an impressive journey!”, I said to myself as I went through her 20-year journey which she started in 2001 as a lecturer in the Department of Linguistics. From her profile, it is evident that she has worked hard over the years to climb the academic ladder and eventually become the Vice-Chancellor at the university.

Professor Amfo is the first female to be appointed to the position in the history of the University of Ghana.

She told The Mirror in an interview last week that her appointment was humbling as this was not the first time a woman had put herself up to go through the process to be considered for the position.

“As I mentioned in my induction speech, four other women had tried but it was during this time that mine was accepted. I believe I have built on the efforts of others and the time was just right for this to happen. It’s humbling and exciting as there has been an outpour of congratulatory messages and a show of commitment and support. I’m confident that I will move along with the support of people and many organisations to make a difference and to see greater success in all areas of our operations,” she said.

Prof Amfo seated at her induction ceremony as the 13th Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ghana

Professor Amfo’s (Prof.) “CV” became a public document when her appointment was announced earlier this year so when this reporter (EA) had the opportunity to interact with her at her office, the focus was on how she prepared for the role, juggled family with her career and her life out of academia.

Below are excerpts of the interview:

EA: How did you prepare for this role?

Prof: When I came to this university 30 years ago as a first-year student, being the vice-chancellor was certainly not part of my dreams.

Even when I came back 20 years ago to start my career as a lecturer, I was looking forward to having a successful career as an academic but I was not thinking about becoming the Vice-Chancellor.

Prof Amfo ( arrowed) with some members of the women fellowship during her induction thanksgiving service

As I went through my career and got involved in administration, I became more interested in participating in the governance system of this university.

I built up experiences as I went along and also availed myself for beyond my disciplinary training and for training in higher education management administration.

I realised I was good at administration and performed creditably in all the roles I found myself in.

With time, those leadership and administrative skills became apparent so I will say it’s an accumulation of all these activities I had done in these years that prepared me for this role.

EA: Did you see it coming at any point in your career?

Professor Nana Aba Appiah Amfo

Prof: From the beginning it wasn’t something I had my eyes on but as I built my academic career, as I developed my administrative competencies, and with the inputs and support of others I worked with, at some point I convinced myself that when the position is vacant I will give it a shot.

EA: What are some of the challenges you faced, and how did you overcome them?

Prof: Women are the primary caretakers and caregivers at home thus combining career and family is a major challenge for most of us.

I will say I have been blessed in many ways as I started my family life before my career.

I started my Master’s when my first child was four months old so while I was studying, I was raising him.

And this was out of Ghana so I didn’t have my mother or auntie to support me in raising him, which made it difficult.

While I was doing my Master’s I had my second child.

I grew along with them all; my career came to meet them.

Easy going moment

I developed coping strategies as I went along.

Women must be good at multitasking and planning.

When I started lecturing here, my son was three years old and my daughter was one. Later I had my third.

I planned everything, including my menu.

Anytime you enter my kitchen you will see a menu indicating all our meals throughout the week and that helps if someone had to take over when I had to travel for work.

Even for people who have helped me at home over the years, I always had a schedule for what they had to do each day.

I must add that I was blessed with the right mentors.

My Master’s supervisor, Prof. Thorstein Fretheim of Norwegian University of Science and Technology, taught me how to be an academic.

Directly and indirectly, he guided me on how to succeed in this field.

Guidance is also very important.

Flashback to 1998 in Bergen, Norway with her husband Frank and Yoofi their son

Sometimes we work so hard but without the appropriate guidance, our efforts are not rewarded.

Here at the University of Ghana, I looked up to certain female academics: Professor Akosua Anyidoho who hired me into the department; Professor Florence Abena Dolphyne, first female Pro-Vice Chancellor of the University of Ghana, and many other female academics in the university who had achieved so much in their respective disciplines.

These women showed that it is possible to succeed despite the many challenges.

We have been socialised in such a way that we don’t expect to see women at certain places.

When women try to climb higher or go further, people think they are “doing too much” and they become uncomfortable.

Women in leadership must be assertive without being overbearing.

They should know what they are about and what they are entitled to.

EA: How have you been able to juggle your social life, work and family?

Prof: I am a daughter, mother, auntie and wife.

All these roles come with many responsibilities.

I also have other social responsibilities as well.

At every point in time, you must have priorities; you will do other activities such as going to church, funerals and social activities.

However, if you don’t prioritise, you will face challenges.

There are some social events you can’t avoid but there are many others you can miss for a period.

That is how I have coped.

I also recognise that I need help.

I can’t do everything on my own so I go for help, either paid or family and friends.

When I see women trying to do everything on their own, I get worried as they may break down.

I have been fortunate to have help at different times.

From  left:  Prof. Clement Appah, Dr Yvonne Agbetsoamedo, Dr Jemima Anderson, Dr Francesca Digarbo, Prof. Nana Aba Amfo and  Dr. Samuel Atintono, Principal of Accra College of Education at the 12th International Pragmatics Conference at the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom  in July 2011

Sometimes I paid for help, or family assistance.

As a lecturer, I teach, mark scripts, research, participate in the governance system of the university, be part of committee work, etc. and I can’t do all of these if I don’t have support at home.

EA: That's such a loaded schedule. Do you make time for leisure?

Prof: Yes, I do. At different stages in your life, you do different things.

There were times that I went swimming with my children.

When they were younger, I travelled with them to conferences and add a day or two to spend time with them.

At one point, they looked forward to my conferences out of Accra.

EA: From their current pictures I know they are adults now and wouldn’t want to tag along.

Prof: Yes, the youngest is 18.

They have their different interests.

Currently, I walk every day except Sunday.

I also like hanging out with my girlfriends.

We also plan family vacations from time to time.

In the past I was involved in church activities, women fellowship particularly.

Some of these events also help with relaxation.

EA: Which church?

Prof: Praise Community Church at Adentan.

We do a lot of activities such as cooking and learning other fun stuff.

EA: Your final words to young women aspiring to take up leadership positions.

Prof: The future is bright for women.