A school in Ghana’s capital Accra will not allow two teenagers to attend if they do not cut off their Rastafarian dreadlocks according to school regulations that go back to the colonial days.
The Achimota School, one of Ghana’s most prestigious public senior high schools, turned away two sets of parents with two different students who had dreadlocks on Thursday, March 18. Despite arguments of freedom of religion made by the parents of the boys, the school’s authorities maintained that it could not allow the boys to start school.
Three-year senior high school education is free in Ghanaian government institutions. Contrary to the situation in many western countries, publicly-funded senior high schools and universities are preferred by most Ghanaians. This is as a result of a lack of expansive private investment capital at those levels, rendering private senior high schools and colleges/universities in Ghana expensive and/or under-resourced.
Ras Aswad Nkrabea, the father to one of the boys, took to Facebook to tell the story, the point from which the issue has become a national conversation on education, Ghanaian identity, and class in the country.
”Fellow comrades and friends, this morning, the school authorities of Achimota School claimed that their rules do not allow students with dreadlocks to be admitted…The school authorities denied two brilliant dreadlock students from being admitted after having been posted there by the Computer School Placement System,” wrote Nkrabea.
Nkrabea further stated that the denial of admission runs contrary to his son’s “right to his culture”, a fact stated in Ghana’s constitution promulgated in 1992. He maintained that if the school maintained its stance, “[w]e have no option but to battle against this gross human right violation” in court.
Initially, the Ghana Education Service (GES) which supervises public schools issued a directive for the headmistress and authorities at Achimota to take in the two students.
“We have asked her [headmistress] to admit the students. The student is a Rastafarian and if there is evidence to show that he is Rastafarian, all that he needs to do is to tie the hair neatly,” GES boss Kwasi Opoku-Amankwa said on Friday night.
But by Monday, the GES was singing a different tune. The body said it had to leave to the authorities at Achimota to deal with the situation, which was tacit support for cutting off the dreadlocks. But many Ghanaians believe the reason for the change in GES’s stance could be attributed to the powerful alumni association that funds a lot of the school’s activities.
Achimota’s old students include hundreds of eminent Ghanaians, including former presidents of Ghana. The association, at the weekend, issued a strongly-worded statement calling for the maintenance of the school’s rules and regulations. Now, the parents of the two boys say they are heading to court to seek interpretation on constitutional religious liberties.
So far, many institutions of power are not voicing support for the boys and their parents. Angel Cabornu, president of the influential National Association of Graduate Teachers (NAGRAT) has challenged the Rastafarians Council of Ghana to build its own schools and maintain its freedom of religion there.