Achimota School in Ghana, formerly known as Achimota College, was the school where Zimbabwe’s most iconic citizen, Robert Gabriel Mugabe, attended as a student-teacher to attain his certification to be able to work in newly independent Ghana.
But how many times can you say that Mugabe is arguably not even the biggest element in a given context, such as among alumni of a school? This is because Achimota’s alumni include none other than Kwame Nkrumah, Mugabe’s hero and an African political icon. Such is the pedigree of the school currently embattled over its refusal to admit to boys with dreadlocks.
The school’s authorities have said that the two students who had been placed there by a computerized placement system according to results from standardized nationwide exams, will not be admitted unless they shave off their hairs. Both sets of parents of the boys who identify as Rastafarians have committed to going to court for an interpretation of their religious liberties.
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The alumni association of Achimota has however issued a strongly-worded letter to the current management of the school to stand by its rules and regulations. This alumni association which includes some of Ghana’s most prominent people is thought to be the reason an earlier Ghana Education Service (GES) directive to the school headmistress to admit the boys was reversed.
That suspicion may not be entirely unfounded. As much as Ghana possesses its own competitive Ivy League rankings of senior high schools, Achimota stands above so many due to heritage, and no annual rankings would change that. Alumni of Achimota has been known to channel millions of dollars into running the school, even though it is publicly funded.
The school was established in 1924 as Prince of Wales College and School through the initiative of a colonial governor of the Gold Coast, Gordon Guggisberg, the20th century African educationist James Kwegyir Aggrey and Rev Alec Garden Fraser, an English Anglican priest and schoolteacher.
It has undergone radical changes including renaming and the introduction of mixed-gender learning in its nearly 100 years of existence. In post-independent Ghana, Achimota, along with other schools founded by Christian missionaries prior to independence and right after, became the preferred institutions for bourgeois Ghanaians.
Most of these schools were founded as colleges but became senior high schools. They have continued to represent upper socioeconomic class, taste, and ambitions, meaning that it is common to see members from well-to-do backgrounds in Ghana attend these schools, mostly through alumni privileges. But since the computerized school placement system was introduced in 2005, many more Ghanaians from underprivileged, if not un-esteemed backgrounds are gaining access to schools previously reserved for the affluent and the connected.
Coupled with the introduction of free and compulsory senior high school education, many more Ghanaians are expected to breach what has been an enclave of wealth and power.
Achimota, for one, has produced more than its fair share of Ghana’s powerful people and continues to do so. The school was just one of many missionary-founded and colonial educational institutions established by the 1930s that now are the academies of prestige.
Jerry Rawlings, the former coup leader-turned-president was at Achimota. So were his two vice-presidents, Kow Nkessen Arkaah and John Evans Mills – who later became president. Mugabe was not the only non-Ghanaian former president who was at Achimota – Dawuda Jawara, the first head of state of Gambia, was too.
The father of Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo, Edward Akufo-Addo, schooled at Achimota. The older Akufo-Addo was also a president of Ghana. All of this is not counting for more the hundreds with diverse achievements in academia, politics, law, science, finance, and technology.