Thursday, June 18, 2015

Ghana’s University of Environment and Sustainable Development:  Rescuer of Our Present and Future Generations

By Mawutodzi Kodzo Abissath
A Ghanaian proverb admonishes: “If your grandmother gives you a piece of information, you don’t tell her you are going to crosscheck the veracity of it from your mother.” The wisdom of our ancestors in preserving the environment is translated in some taboos that forbid people to enter rivers and forests on certain days of the week. So, you can please yourself if you refer to such ancestors as “primitive”!
On Monday, June 1, 2015, a noble Ghanaian wise woman, in the person of Dr Amoako-Nuamah, a former Minister of State and the convener of the Committee for the establishment of the University of Environment and Sustainable Development was the one who presented the report to President John Dramani Mahama at the Flagstaff House here in Accra. Some observers think the establishment of a public university for Sustainable Environmental Studies and Research is long overdue. But as the French will say: Mieux vaut tard que jamais – that is, better late than never!
 Even though this author has no access to the full content of the said report, Dr Amoako-Nuamah was reported to have told the President that: “While the first part of the report concentrated on recommendations for the establishment, the second section concentrated on the requirements that would create a blue print for the institution. She said most of the recommendations were based on Food Security, Climate Change, Agricultural Impact on the Environment and the Engagement of Young Graduates in Job Creation.”
This writer does not want to pretend to be an expert in sustainable development, though.  But having studied Agrarian and Environment Studies (AES) with Sustainable Development as his specialization at the International Institute of Social Studies (ISS) of Erasmus University Rotterdam, The Hague, The Netherlands, he is tempted to commend the Committee that was charged with the responsibility of developing, organizing and supervising the implementation of a programme for the university for good job done.
 The fact that the Committee under the chairmanship of Professor Raymond Bening, a former Vice Chancellor at the University for Development Studies, stated that their recommendations were based on “Food Security, Climate Change, Agricultural Impact on the Environment and the Engagement of Young Graduates in Job Creation,” was an indication that the committee members knew their left from their right. In fact, should I have the opportunity to meet them personally, I would tap them on the shoulder. But I must hasten to politely refresh their memory that ‘when you kill a snake you must cut the head.’ In other words presenting such a magnificent report to the Commander-in-Chief of the Republic is one thing, but seeing to its implementation for the benefit the present and future generations in another.
There is nothing new under the sun, so goes the adage. Before Ghana’s University of Environment and Sustainable Development there were other similar universities globally. For example, the International Institute of Social Studies has been in existence for over 60 years now and is acclaimed to be one of the best development universities in Europe, if not in the world. The courses that that institute runs, especially the Agrarian and Environmental Studies AES which was recently upgraded to Agrarian, Food and Environmental Studies (AFES) is a course that every developing country like Ghana must embrace. Those who will develop the curricula and pedagogy for Ghana’s University must consider comparing notes with the course content of AFES of ISS which is now part of Erasmus University Rotterdam in the Netherlands ( Some of their course contents include, Land grabbing and Food Security, Political Economy and Ecological Economy, Global Environmental Politics as well as Sustainable Rural Alternative Livelihoods etc. Ghana does not need to reinvent the wheel but must be innovative and look outside the box, so to speak.
Furthermore, I wish to suggest that apart from taking look at the course content of AFES of ISS, it will not be out of place for Ghana’s new University to consider establishing a kind of exchange programme with ISS where some Professors of AFES can be invited to share their rich experiences in the fields of Agrarian and Environment Studies and Research in terms of practical teaching and learning with their Ghanaian counterparts.
When we were studying at ISS, I observed that most of our AFES Professors were always  globe-trotting. Universities in the United States of America, Canada, China and others were always fighting over our Professors in Europe. Why? Their value is beyond compare. In fact, one of our AFES Professors is serving on multiple governing councils of agricultural and environmental related universities in Asia and America. Another one was always ‘hijacked’ by universities and research institutions in Latin America. It appears African Universities are not able to attract such premium professors perhaps due to lack of financial muscles. So, I will suggest that if we want  our  yet to be established university  to produce quality students then our country must be prepared to pay for the services of quality professors as well. These are some of the issues that must engage the attention of our Parliamentarians as they debate the report for parliamentary approval to obtain legitimacy to the establishment of the University.
 On Friday, June 12, 2015, The Ghanaian Times, on its page 12 carried a story headlined: “Eastern University bill generates controversy.’ In the said story, Yaw Kyei reported that, “when the bill was taken through the consideration stage, members of the House were divided over whether the university’s campus should be sited at Somanya or Koforidua.” Ghanaian politicians almost always seem to take delight in jumping at each other’s throat for the sake of argument. Some times when they over do this kind of jaw-jaw gymnastics just to demonstrate who speaks better English langue, they tend to dilute the essence the issue at stake.  
It is my considered view that the location of the university’s main campus whether at Somanya or Koforidua or Donkorkrom should not matter so much. The most important thing is that there is a public university is in the Eastern Region of Ghana. However, if I had the chance to advise the President, I would recommend that the main campus should be sited at Somanya in the name of decentralization.
 Nevertheless, whichever location the experts deem it fit, I am glad that at long last, Ghana, our beloved country has a university that would guarantee sustainable development so that the present generation will be able to take care of their needs without compromising the ability of the future generations to ensure their own survival.
The author works with the Information Services Department (ISD) in Accra.