George Benneh is confirmed dead at the age of 86.
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George was best known as a Ghanaian academic administrator and politician.
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George Benneh FGA, OSG (6 March 1934 – 11 February 2021) was a Ghanaian academic and university administrator who served as the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ghana, Legon from 1992 to 1996. He was a professor and later an emeritus professor of Geography and Resource Development at the same university. Between 1979 and 1981, Benneh was also the Commissioner and Minister of Lands, Natural Resources, Fuel and Power. He also served as the Finance minister from May to December 1981 under Hilla Limann during the Third Republic.
1 Early life and education
2.2 Foray into politics
3 Other activities
3.2 National Boards and Committees
3.3 International appointments
4 Awards, honours and authorship
6 Personal life
Early life and education
George Benneh was born on 6 March 1934 in the small town of Jamdede, about a kilometre from Berekum in the Brong-Ahafo Region of Ghana. His father was Isaac William Benneh, a Convention People's Party politician during the First Republic under the Nkrumah government. During his childhood, he spent his school vacations helping out on a cocoa farm his family owned at Prusu. On the way to the farm early in the mornings, he and his family stopped along the way to have a palm soup meal as the journey was long.
Raised a Roman Catholic, Benneh had his primary and middle education at the Berekum Catholic Primary and Middle Schools from 1941 and 1949, culminating in the Common Entrance Examination towards the end of 1949. Benneh studied at Achimota School during his secondary years from 1950 and 1956 where he obtained the GCE Ordinary Level (1954) and GCE Advanced Level (1956) certificates. At Achimota, his nickname was “Anago”, an allusion to his athletic prowess. At the age of 14, while in Form Three, he led the Achimota Athletics Team to compete with Kings College, a notable secondary school in Lagos, Nigeria. He also won the 800 yard-race during the Inter-College Games at the Accra Sports Stadium.
In 1957, he was among 4 students who were awarded the Shell Ghana Independence Scholarship for university studies at the University College of Ghana, then a constituent college of the University of London where he received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Geography in 1960. At Legon, he captained the University of Ghana Athletics Team from 1958 to 1959. Between 1961 and 1964, he did his postgraduate studies at the London School of Economics, from where he received his PhD.
At the beginning of his career, just before his doctoral studies, he taught geography at Achimota School in 1961. Benneh was appointed a lecturer in the Department of Geography at the University of Ghana, Legon in 1964, Senior Lecturer in 1973, Associate Professor in 1976 and Full Professor in 1989. As a university administrator, he served as the chairman of the Department of Geography and Resource Development, senior tutor of the Commonwealth Hall, Dean of the Faculty of Social Studies and Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Director of Population Impact Project funded by the USAID. Benneh was appointed at Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ghana in 1992 and retired in 1996. Benneh became an emeritus professor of Geography and Resource Development after his stint as a vice-chancellor. He stated that in his academic career, he largely self-funded his own research projects.
Additionally, he was a visiting fellow at the Institute of Geography, University of Copenhagen, Denmark in 1973, 1983 and in 1996. In 1982, he was a Senior Fulbright Hays Visiting Professor at the Department of Geography at the University of Pittsburgh and also, Visiting Professor, Department of Geography and Research Associate at the Centre for Research on Economic Development, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.
He was a distinguished visiting professor and guest speaker at the 50th Anniversary of the Fulbright Hayes Fellowship Anniversary Conference in Atlanta, in 1996. In 1997, he was the John Cadbury Fellow at the Centre for West African Studies at the University of Birmingham, and a Visiting Lecturer, Department of Geography, University of New England, Armidale, New South Wales, Australia.
Foray into politics
George Benneh was appointed the Commissioner for Lands, Natural Resources, Fuel and Power from 1979 to 1981. Concurrently, he was the Minister of Lands, Natural Resources, Fuel and Power. Between May and December 1981, he served as the Minister of Finance and Economic Planning. After the June 1979 and December 1981 coups d’état, both led by Jerry John Rawlings, he was jailed without trial by the military junta on allegations of corruption. He spent a total of ten weeks in prison before being set free. In an interview with the national newspaper, Daily Graphic, he described his prison experience as humiliating, adding that “If you have not been deprived of your freedom, you will not appreciate what freedom is.”
George Benneh consulted for many international organisations including the World Bank, United Nations, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, UNESCO, United Nations University in Tokyo, UNFPA, Catholic University Louvain in Belgium, Moscow State University, Russia, and the Centre for Development Studies, Trivandrum, Kerala, India. Benneh was the Team Leader of UNFPA Population Review and Strategy Development Mission to the Republic of Tanzania in 1991, member of the United Nations University Feasibility Team for the establishment of Research and Training Centre at Lucerne, Switzerland in 1998, and member of the United Nations University International Feasibility Study Group for Research and Training Centre on Nature and Human Security in Bonn, Germany in 2000.
National Boards and Committees
1969 – 1971 - President of the Amalgamated Sports Club of the University of Ghana
1972 – 1974 – Member, Board of Directors of Graphic Corporation of Ghana Chairman of Lands Commission
1974 – 1978 - Member, Sunyani Diocesan Catholic Laity Council and the First Secretary of the Ghana National Catholic Laity Council
1980 – Co-chairman of Planning Committee on the Papal visit to Ghana by John Paul II
1982 - President of Ghana Tae Kwan Do
1988 – 1992 – Chairman, Board of Directors of Bank of Ghana
1993 – Member of National Development Planning Commission
1997 – 2002 – Chairman, Ghana National Population Council
1997 – 2002 – Chairman, National Council for Tertiary Education
1997 – 2002 – Chairman of Board of Directors, Ghana Broadcasting Corporation
2000 – Chairman, Technical Advisory Committee on the 2000 National Population and Housing Census
1974 – First President of the Federation of African University Sports (FASU)
1993 – President of Association of African Universities
1993 – Member of the Board of Trustees of Population Council, New York
1996 – External Member of the Council of the University of Swaziland
1997 – First Chairman of Africa Regional Council of the International Association of University Presidents
1998 – Chairman of the Experts Advisory Committee on Population, Environment and Food Security, United Nations Economic Commission for Africa
2000 – Vice-chairman of Board of Directors of the African Population Advisory Committee
2001 – Member of Board of Trustees of the World Wildlife Fund
Awards, honours and authorship
George Benneh authored over 13 books and booklets and 70 other publications in Geography, Environment, Land Tenure and Land Use, Population, Education and Public Administration. Some of his books include A New Geography of Ghana (1970) and Technology Should Seek Tradition: Studies on Traditional Land Tenure and Small Holder Farming Systems in Ghana (2011).
He participated in over 60 International Conferences, Seminars and Workshops including the International Workshop and Rural Poverty Eradication in the 21st Century held in Tokyo in 2000, and the AAU General Conference held in Nairobi in February 2001. George Benneh received the United Nations Global 500 award at the first Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 1992 for his contribution to teaching and research in the fields of Population and Environment. He was named the Man of the Year in 1997 by the American Biographical Institute. He was a Member of the New York Academy of Sciences and a Member of New York Academy of Science. He was also a Member of the Academia Europaea (European Academy). He received several state awards from his native Ghana and other states: Grand Officer De Ordre Du Lion, Republic of Senegal, 1981, Companion of River Gambia, Republic of The Gambia, 1981 and member of the Order of the Star of Ghana, 2006.
He was also awarded honorary doctorate degrees (Doctor of Letters – honoris causa) by a number of universities including University of Copenhagen, 1998, Longwood College, Virginia, USA in 1995, University of Tokyo in 1996 and University of Ghana, 2002 and the University for Development Studies, Tamale in 2003 for the role he played in setting up the institution.
The University of Ghana, Legon named a roundabout in honour of George Benneh.
He launched his autobiography, 'My Time, My Nation' in 2017. In the book, he recounts his childhood, school years at Achimota. There are also chapters of his life as an African postgraduate student in Britain and his encounter with racism in the United States. He gives a systemic account of his academic and political careers and how he survived serving under different political regimes and military interventions in the country.
Benneh also donated a 257 multidisciplinary collection of books from the personal library to the Balme Library of the University of Ghana. Some of his books include Fighting For Freedom, Energy And Ghana’s Socio-Economic Development, Technology Should Seek Tradition, Gender: Evolving Roles And Perceptions, Harnessing Research, Science And Technology For Sustainable Development In Ghana, Women And Development In The Third World, European Review, Ghana @ 50 Anniversary Lectures, Philosophy and Human Geography: An Introduction To Contemporary Approaches, Population Dynamics of Kenya.
To bridge the research-policy gap and to bring science and technology to the doorstep of every citizen, Benneh initiated the convening of a National Forum on Harnessing Research, Science and Technology for Sustainable National Development in 2004 and was the chair of the planning committee.
He set up a project on ICT for the youth at his hometown in Berekum. Together with his siblings, he donated land at the Benneh Estate for the ICT project saying “education is so important for one’s livelihood” in order to equip the youth with employable skills as a way to solve youth unemployment in the area.
He was married with six children, three sons and three daughters, and has 16 grandchildren.
George Benneh died of natural causes at his home in East Legon, Accra on the 11 February, 2021.
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