PROFESSOR ALEX AMANKWAH REMINISCES ABOUT HIS CAREER JOURNEY AS A LAW LECTURER IN AFRICA AND AUSTRALIA

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WHEN I look back into my career journey as a law Professor, lecturing at several universities in Africa and in Australia, my memory zeroes back to when I became obsessed with reading my father’s documents at the age of 14.

As a civil servant in the Colonial Administration, part of my father’s work was to assist illiterate people in the Volta region of Ghana with documentation and presentation of petitions as well as preparation of court documents. Consequently, he often brought home neatly bound documents which aroused my curiosity by their sheer appearance of officialdom.

I really wanted to know what was written in those documents. So I got into the habit of going through my father’s papers whenever an opportunity to pry presented itself. I quickly became fascinated with the strange words I came across, such as equity, ex parte motion, evidential value, pro bono etc.

I guess the lawyer in me was beginning to take root even at that tender age. In a way, my mother, who was a full-time housekeeper as well as a trader, helped shape that aspiration by instilling in me; respect for other peoples’ rights and interests.

She taught me and my six siblings the cardinal societal norm enshrined in the Christian principle: Do unto others what you would they to do unto you.

Later, I would encounter the same principle in my study of the Law of Torts as expounded in the dicta of Lord Atkin in Donoghue v Stevenson [1932] AC 562; All ER 1 (House of Lords) as the corner stone of the law on negligence.

Even so, law was not my first choice for a career. My teenage ambition was to become either a teacher or a priest, probably due to the impact my teachers and church missionaries had on my impressionable mind.

My younger brother, Professor Ofori-Amankwah who is also a minister of religion, had however set his mind on a law career, and this probably swayed my thoughts in the same direction after I scored four distinctions in Latin, History, English Literature and Theology in the Cambridge Higher School Certificate.

Studying history generally opened my eyes to the intrigues, betrayals, vaunting ambition, treachery, ambivalence, duplicity and the twists and turns of politics.

Literature taught me valuable lessons about human nature and also aroused in me a profound admiration for the beauty of language, poetry and eloquence in speech.

In 1961 when I was awarded a government scholarship to study law, I joined the second batch of students to be admitted to the Faculty of Law at the University of Ghana. There followed five years of a rigorous regime of learning comprising Arts and Law, at the end of which we were awarded the BA and the LLB degrees.

Unlike the British system where there is a distinction between a Barrister and Solicitor, our course structure was similar to the USA which produces all-round lawyers. And given that our first Dean, Professor B. W. Harvey was an American, it was only natural for an American legal imprint to be the dominant culture in the system of teaching. Our examinations were also externally moderated to ensure that our standards were commensurate with international standards.

In 1967, a year after graduating from the University of Ghana Faculty of Law, I was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to study for the LLM degree at Cornell University, Ithaca, New York. This afforded me the opportunity to specialise in International and Comparative Law.

In 1968 I won the Rothstein International Law Prize and this led to a one year Internship at the National Life Insurance Corporation of Vermont where I assisted with research and general revision of the Statutes of Vermont.

I returned to Ghana in 1970 to take up a lectureship in the Faculty of Social Sciences at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Kumasi (Ghana’s second largest city) where I taught Land Economics and Valuation General Principles of Law and Property Law.

I went back to the US in 1976 to complete my doctoral studies at New York University School of Law where I was awarded the Judge Fuchsberg Fellowship under the tutelage of the renowned International Law professor the, late Professor Thomas M Franck who served as a special consultant to the United Nations.

After I completed my doctorate (JSD) degree in 1978, I became a universal academic, teaching in several Law Schools. My stints include the University of Zambia and University of Ibadan in Nigeria where I was also Head of the Department of Private and Business Law. I also lectured at the University of Papua New Guinea where I was the Dean of the Law School before moving to James Cook University and Townsville Queensland Australia where I became the Deputy Dean.

I will always treasure the memory of all the incredible people, including fellow academics and students I met and befriended throughout my career in different countries.

Among my former students I count luminaries such as Dr Melvin Mbao, Dean of the North West University, South Africa; Justice Ambeng Kandakasi of the Supreme Court of PNG; Justice Dudley Aru of the Supreme Court of Vanuatu, Late Major General Yohanna Madaki, Governor of Gongola State and later Governor of Benue State, Nigeria.

It give me tremendous joy to know that all the above mentioned and many others too numerous to mention, are playing pivotal roles in their respective countries and helping in the advancement standards of law practice across Africa.

However, it is unfortunately that the Eldorado vision of a United Africa which pan African leaders such as Kwame Nkrumah and Julius Nyerere envisaged during colonial times has yet to be realized.

The total disregard for accountability shown by many governments on the continent means that a substantial number of lawyers are engaged in fighting against human rights violations and abusive treatment of opposition parties by those in power.

My message to those lawyers is that they should be tenacious and persevere in the face of adversity, even though they sometimes risk being locked up themselves. Hard work has its rewards!

As William Shakespeare put it: 



Sweet are the uses of adversity,

Which like the toad, ugly and venomous.

Wears yet a precious jewel in his head.

And this our life exempt from public haunt,

Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks.

Sermon in stones, and good in everything.

Professor H A Amankwah BA, LLB; LLM, JSD retired in 2006. But he continues to produce academic work privately. His latest book is titled: Land Law and Use in Ghana Accra: Sedco/Longman Publishing Co (2016).

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