The appointment of Mrs Mary Chinery-Hesse to the highest position in Ghana’s premier university, the University of Ghana, as the Chancellor might have come as no surprise to many who have followed her exploits from the early 1960s to date.
The first female chancellor of the university was robed at an investiture and swearing-in ceremony led by President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, to swear the Oath of Office and Secrecy respectively on Wednesday, August 1.
The first-ever woman Mrs Chinery-Hesse was the first-ever woman Deputy Director-General of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), the first African woman to attain the rank of Under Secretary-General of the United Nations (UN) in the history of the organisation.
She was the first female product of the University of Ghana to have been awarded an honorary doctor of law by her alma mater in 1991, the first-ever African woman to have been appointed the Resident Coordinator of the UN Systems and Resident Representative of the UNDP, serving in New York, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, the Seychelles and Uganda.
Mrs Chinery-Hesse, who succeeds Mr Kofi Annan, the Former UN Secretary- General, who retired this July after serving two terms (from 2008 to 2018) as the Chancellor, is the first African woman to have received the prestigious Gusi Peace Prize for International Diplomacy and Humanitarianism, referred to as the Asian equivalent of the Nobel Peace Prize.
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And so, the tradition goes on, she is the first-ever female Chancellor of the University of Ghana since its existence 70 years ago, a position that had been the preserve of males.
Mrs Chinery-Hesse, therefore, takes up the chancellorship position, bringing her wealth of experience to bear on the dayto- day running of the university, as well as putting the university on a higher pedestal as she accepted the position, “cherishing more the associated responsibilities than any inherent privileges”.
What she brings to the university
She promised not to be a ceremonial face but to put all the skills she honed from the school of life and the extensive network developed in the process at the disposal of the university.
Mrs Chinery-Hesse further promised to bring to bear, as the chancellor, “the formidable skills I have garnered in my many international interventions to throw oil on troubled waters to stem conflict and even death.”
Her vision for the university is to see an institution rooted in Ghanaian and African realities, authoritative in its research on Ghana and Africa at the highest level of quality by any international measure and a home to scholars of international standing from all over the world.
Dedication to womanhood
She described the investiture as an “event that marks one more instance of a woman smashing the glass ceiling in our public space,” and dedicated her position to the Ghanaian womanhood.
Mrs Chinery-Hesse commended the university for making significant strides in its gender composition and listed some of the achievements in that direction to include the revision of basic laws and statutes, gender ratios in its current enrolment and admission patterns, the successful launch of sexual harassment policies, the establishment of a centre for Gender Studies and Advocacy.
She said in spite of all those strides, the university still had a long way to go, citing for instance that while the proportion of undergraduate students who were female had grown appreciably, particularly in the humanities and social sciences, “the sciences and postgraduate studies still need to make progress in this regard.”
“The university has to work hard to reach a point where ‘firsts’ will be a thing of the past and women’s leadership at the university becomes routinised and taken as given,” she told the fully packed Great Hall during her inauguration.
Known among her family as Née Blay, Mrs Chinery-Hesse has had a distinguished career profile in Ghana's civil service and at the United Nations and in other numerous organisations, where she discharged her responsibilities with distinction.
An ardent defender of human rights, particularly women’s rights, Mr Chinery-Hesse is also an advocate of African imperatives, conflict resolution and mediation.
In her youthful days, she was the Senior Principal Secretary (Chief Director) of the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning in Ghana and a member of the National Council for Higher Education in the 1970s.
She was also a member of the Council of African Advisors of the World Bank and on the Eminent Persons’ Advisory Panel of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), which crafted the strategy to convert the OAU to the African Union (AU). Her activities took her to the highest position of the chairman of a high-level panel to review progress in implementing the programme for least developed countries.
Mrs Chinery-Hesse was a member of the Zedillo Commission of Eminent Persons on Financing for Development and the UN Blue Ribbon Panel of 16 wise world leaders on Threats, Challenges and change, tasked to rewrite the global security architecture and reform of the UN, especially the Security Council.
She was also a member on the board of the prestigious Global Humanitarian Forum in Geneva, Switzerland, with several Nobel Peace Prize Laureates.
A chairperson of the Goodwill Ambassadors of the Kofi Annan International Peace Keeping Training Centre, Mrs Chinery-Hesse is also the chair of the Board of the Centre for Regional Integration in Africa.
Currently the Board Chair of the Zenith Bank, Ghana, she has received several prestigious awards and decorations, both nationally and internationally to include the highest National Award, the Order of the Star of Ghana.
A hot cake
Mrs Chinery-Hesse is currently a hot cake and highly sought for even in her retirement age and it, therefore, comes as no surprise that her advice continues to be actively sought and valued by many governments and international organisations on a variety of themes.
Mrs Chinery-Hesse, an alumna of the Volta Hall, called for the creation of favourable conditions and conducive environment for female students and the faculty to thrive at the university.