The Charge We Have to Keep:
The Role of Mfantsipim Old Boys in the Diaspora
A Keynote Address by Prof. Albert M Wright
MOBA USA Fund Raising Dinner Dance
May 27, 2017
Thank you, Brother
Ampah, for your very kind words. Mr. Chairman, Mr.
President and MOBA Executive, Distinguished Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen, and Fellow Mfantsipim Old
I consider it a great joy and honor for
me to be invited to deliver the keynote address at
this maiden event of MOBA USA.
this address, I have benefited from inputs from a
number of people and a number of sources. Foremost
among those who have encouraged and helped me all
the way have been my immediate family members,
adopted children from the School, friends, and some
Old Boys. To all of them, I am extremely grateful.
I have also relied on several published sources;
and the one on which I have relied the most is the
book on the definitive and authoritative history of
Mfantsipim School written by the late Professor Adu
Boahen, a former Professor of History at the
University of Ghana, Legon who was two years ahead
of me at Mfantsipim. The title of his book is “Mfantsipim
and the Making of Ghana”. It covers the period 1876
to 1976. It is a highly illuminating history of the
School which I would like to recommend to all Old
Mr. Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen, I
understand from the leaders of MOBA USA that this is
a fundraising dinner, and that you are hoping to use
part of the proceeds to support needy students at
Mfantsipim. This is a very noble and praiseworthy
cause which I hope to address in the course of the
Please allow me to thank and
congratulate the Executive of MOBA USA for choosing
as the theme of this “outdooring” event – “The Role
of Mfantsipim Old Boys in Diaspora”. What a great
theme! It is my hope that by the end of the event it
will be very clear to us all what that role should
My topic for tonight reflects this
theme. It also reflects a phrase I have adapted from
Hymn No. 578 in the Methodist Hymn Book. And it is:
“The Charge We Have to Keep: The Role of Mfantsipim
Old Boys in the diaspora”; but before addressing
this topic, I thought I should first share a story
The hero of this story
is John Mensah Sarbah.
It all began in 1876
when, at 12, he became one of the 10 founding
members of the first secondary school in the Gold
Coast, the Wesleyan High School. Two years later, he
was sent to England to study at Queen’s College,
Taunton in Somerset, England, matriculating from
there in 1884. He entered Lincoln’s Inn the same
year, and in 1887, he became the first person from
the Gold Coast to qualify as a lawyer after being
called to the bar in Lincoln’s Inn in London.
He then returned home to the Gold Coast to start
his legal practice. At age 33, 60 years before our
independence, he and others founded the Aborigines
Rights Protection Society or the ARPS in 1897. The
immediate purpose of this Society was to oppose a
lands appropriation bill that sought to place all
stool lands under British imperial rule.
was the successful opposition of the ARPS to this
Land bill that prevented the Gold Coast from going
the Apartheid way, and from going through the
experience of the Mau Mau struggle of Kenya. Their
success paved the way for us to gain our
independence when we gain it, and also put us in a
position to help freedom fighters elsewhere in
THE STRUGGLE FOR EDUCATIONAL REFORM
The ARPS was
established when most of the educated elite,
especially those that had been exposed to education
in Britain and America, had become dissatisfied with
the existing missionary education system. They saw
the system as Eurocentric, eroding African culture
and assimilating its people into western culture. To
reverse this trend, they attempted to establish
their own secondary schools. Some of them chose to
do so single-handedly and at the personal level;
attempts were made to establish at least two such
schools: and the evidence shows that these efforts
What John Mensah Sarbah did
First, he was opportunistic:
- Although the ARPS was
established for political purposes, Mensah Sarbah
and his colleagues in the Society saw it as offering
an opportunity for use also as the platform for
their struggle against the existing missionary
school system, rather than pursuing those goal in
their individual personal capacities. Consequently,
they included an article on education in the aims of
the constitution of the ARPS. It read as follows::
“To foster in the rising generation a knowledge
of their historic past, and to encourage the study
of the laws, customs and institutions of their
country to promote a sound national educational
policy with particular attention to agriculture,
scientific and industrial training, and generally to
facilitate the spread of industry and thrift in the
- With this as their
justification the Society was used by Mensah Sarbah
and his colleagues as the platform for the
establishment of Mfantsipim; in fact, it was the
ARPS that donated the land on which the School now
stands. Called Kwabotwe Hill, the area was named
after the original owner of the land who was called
Second, he was a visionary:
- He saw education, not
as an end in itself, but as a means to national
- He and his colleagues in
the ARPS hoped that Mfantsipim would eventually lead
to an ideological institute much like the Winneba
Ideological Institute of the CPP (Kwame Nkrumah’s
Convention People’s Party). As reflected in the
constitution of the ARPS to which I have alluded
above, it was the hope of Sarbah that the School
would create a new kind of educated African who
would be very conversant with the traditions and
customs of his ancestors. He was therefore hoping
that, in addition to the normal English curriculum,
emphasis would be placed on African history, African
languages, and African culture. Emphasis would also
be placed on agricultural and industrial training
that, would enable future generations to have a
vested interest in the development of their country.
These hopes are reflected in the Mfantsipim crest.
Third, he was strategic:
- His goal was to
establish a school that would be a rival to his old
high school which had by then been re-named as the
Wesleyan Collegiate School. But the establishment of
the school was not his first step he took.
- His first step was
rather to ensure that an educational goal was
included in the constitution of the ARPS even though
it had been established for political purposes.
- Next, he established
a Trust fund, the Fanti National Education Trust
Fund to help with financing the running of the
school which he hoped to establish; this done, he
invited chiefs and others to contribute to the fund.
- After this, working
through the Society, he established an education
company known as the Fanti Public Schools Limited.
- It was this Company
that took the lead in establishing the new secondary
school that was to be the rival of Wesleyan
- Originally, the
company wanted to adopt the name “Collegiate”; but
this was disallowed by the Missionaries; so, they
adopted “Mfantsipim” as its name.
- Not long after, the
two high schools were merged together under the
In effect, the School
that was being established by this company was only
the first step in implementing a farsighted
pan-African vision that they envisioned long before
pan Africanism became a popular political goal.
Fourth, he had a grand vision reaching out
beyond Mfantsipim to Ghana and Africa. His choice of
“Mfantsipim” as the name for the school gives us
some insight into this grand vision beyond the
- People have
interpreted the name of the school in a variety of
ways. Some have said that it means “a thousand
Fantes”; others have suggested that it means “a
countless number of Fantes; and still others have
said it means “the foundation of the Fantes”. A
common feature in the suggested meanings is that it
was meant to reflect the fact that it was a school
only for Fantes. Some have said that it was so
called partly because some of the members of the
ARPS believed that Fante could become a second
common language in the Gold Coast after English;
others have said that in those days, the term “Fanti”
appeared to be synonymous with “nation” or
“national”. A thorough review of the various
contexts in which the term “Mfantsipim” had been
used in newspapers of the time and by others shows
that the term had been used to refer to chiefs,
kings, and the people of the country.
- Furthermore, the
school crest, which Mensah Sarbah got his
brother-in-law to design, demonstrated that his
vision went beyond one school in Cape Coast.
- This crest looked the
same as it does today, except that the shield was
surrounded by two circles, and within them the
following were written: Asanti, Mfantsi, Wassaw,
Akwapim, Accra, Sekondi, Oguaa and Apollonia, a
place near Axim.
- A glimpse at the
broad reach of his grand vision beyond Mfantsipim
and the Gold Coast can also be gleaned from one of
the aims of the Fanti Public Schools Company which
was "to provide, found, build, establish, conduct,
carry on and endow in the Gold Coast and other parts
of Africa, schools, colleges, Universities ...".
Lastly, he was always thinking ahead:
- He was clearly always
thinking ahead. I am inclined to think that it is
this habit of thinking ahead that he wanted
inculcated in students at Mfantsipim School.
- The motto we know so
well, “Dwin Hwe Kan”, was proposed by him.
- In this motto, he was
inviting us to follow his example. He was inviting
us always to “think ahead”; to “think beyond the
present”; to “be forward looking and forward
thinking, not myopic”; in short, he wanted us to “be
strategic in our thinking”.
- This is the
approach he had successfully used in establishing
the School; and this is the approach he was inviting
us to follow;
- His motto – or
rather, our School Motto - is a perpetual call to
arms; through it, he was giving us a charge to be
strategic in our thinking.
- To the School
authorities, he was extending an invitation to work,
not on ad-hoc basis, but through strategic plans. He
is calling them now to be strategic about how they
should develop the School; and
- To MOBA, he is
extending an invitation to be strategic in
determining how best we can be helpful to our
Just us he started with a 19th
century Vision, he was and is still challenging us
to start the journey of this new MOBA by developing
our own 21st century vision. He was/is saying that
the actions we take today should not be stand-alone
actions that are meant only to serve immediate
needs. They should be the first steps in a series of
steps that will lead us to well-considered desired
future goals. We should have the future in mind as
we take actions today.
Fortunately for the
School, we are constantly pledging to do just that.
We do so whenever we sing the School Anthem. In it,
we pledge to EMBRACE and WORK with his charge of
thinking ahead that is enshrined in our School
Motto. In effect, we are constantly committing
ourselves, saying that we have a charge to keep.
This charge is to think and act strategically.
SO, WHAT COULD BE THE ROLE OF MFANTSIPIM OLD
BOYS IN THE DIASPORA?
Given this background, what
should be your role today?
octogenarian, I am passing the torch to your
generation to lead the charge in thinking
strategically about how to help support our alma
In so doing, I will not leave you
without offering a few words of advice for your kind
You are currently thinking of
helping the School in two different ways. One is to
contribute to the Endowment Fund; the other is to
support needy students. These are great ideas.
However, given the charge to be strategic, can you
say that these two areas in which you plan to help
are part of a strategic plan or not?
imagine that the support to needy students may be a
pressing need that cannot await the formulation of a
strategic plan; but the contribution to the
endowment fund is less urgent. It could, therefore,
very well be taken up within the context of an
overall strategic plan. This would be my suggestion.
But the decision is yours to make and own.
Meanwhile, the experience from the history of
Mfantsipim School and from the recent experience of
other schools suggests that, in the absence of a
plan, one of the best ways to help a school would be
to help it to attract and retain good quality staff.
This calls for providing some incentives and
training to all levels of staff, including the
headmaster, retirees, and the administrative staff.
For this reason, a high priority may be given to
providing support for staff, using competition,
where appropriate. As a matter of fact, one of the
many things that John Mensah Sarbah did was to
establish a fund at Mfantsipim to pay the salaries
of staff when the school ran into financial
difficulties. We too could do something similar
Next to providing support to staff
would be the provision of support to students. Here
too, I would not limit myself to supporting needy
students. I would also consider introducing
incentives for academic excellence, introducing
something like MOBA USA Scholarships for which
students in their first years can compete.
Finally, I would encourage the introduction of
programs for overseas visits by staff and students
who win MOBA USA awards. I would also encourage
sponsoring accomplished people to visit the School
to inspire the student to greater heights.
THE LEGACY OF JOHN MENSAH SARBAH
John Mensah Sarbah will
always be a shining example of an Mfantsipim Old Boy
who developed the vision of Mfantsipim which we are
called to fulfil. His accomplishments have been
vast, and go beyond Mfantsipim and even Ghana. They
have been acknowledged not only by Mfantsipim
School, but also by the University of Ghana and by
the Ghanaian public as a whole. He has been
described as: one of the most illustrious sons of
Ghana; a pioneer in the struggle for independence
from British rule; a philanthropic lawyer; a lay
clergy; and one who made his mark on national life
in politics, education, and law; as an educationist,
he was deemed to be dedicated to the promotion of
education in his country as a whole.
he was: opportunistic, visionary, strategic, had a
grand vision beyond Mfantsipim, and was always
For these accomplishments, he
has been recognized in various ways, including the
He was elected twice
to the Legislative Council of the Gold Coast – in
1901 and in 1906.
He was accorded
British Royal recognition: In the first birthday
honors of King George V of England, John Mensah
Sarbah was recognized with the award of the Most
Distinguished Order of St. Michael and St. George in
1910, a few months before his sudden death at 46.
He was recognized by
Mfantsipim: In 1925, 15 years after his death, one
of the then three dormitories at Mfantsipim School
(previously given the alphabetical letters of X, Y,
and Z) was named after him – the remaining two being
named after Freeman and Balmer; and;
He was recognized by
Ghana’s premier university: In 1963, over 50 years
after his death, the University of Ghana at Legon
named one of its Halls of Residence after him for
his contributions to education in Ghana.
Based upon the
foregoing, my suggestions for the way forward would
be as follows:
1. Help the School to
prepare a strategic plan
2. Prepare a strategic
plan of your own
In the interim:
1. Provide Staff
Support, including support for staff retirees, where
2. Provide Student Support along the
lines such as those suggested above.
forward, please remember that you have a charge to
keep: Remember that in the School Anthem, you
promise to embrace this charge, make it your own,
and work with it.
Above all, remember to be
strategic and forward thinking in all you do for the
Fellow Kwa Botwe Old
Boys, you have been called to arms by this
illustrious son of ours.
Through our motto
and the School Anthem, he is inviting you and me to
follow his example and keep the charge; and I hope
that we will be up to the task!
Dwin Hwe Kan,
always! Think Ahead and be Strategic always!
This is the charge you have to keep!
Bless You! God Bless Mfantsipim! THANK YOU.
Dr. Albert Wright
Washington DC, May 28,