By George Asekere

The death is reported in Accra of Emeritus Prof. Kwame Gyekye. The late Emeritus Prof. Gyekye died at the Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital on April 13, 2019 after a short illness at the age of 79. He spent 40 years of his lifetime researching and imparting knowledge to students at the University of Ghana.

Emeritus Prof. Kwame Gyekye was chairman of the Board of Directors of the Graphic Communications Group Limited from 2003 to 2006. He was also the coordinator of the Golden Jubilee Lectures as part of Ghana’s 50th Independence Anniversary in 2007.

Profile of Emeritus Prof. Kwame Gyekye, FGA

Emeritus Professor Kwame Gyekye was born in Akyem Achiase on 10th November, 1939. His illustrious academic career began with a Ghana Government Scholarship to Mfantsipim School in Cape Coast, after excelling in the Common Entrance Examination in elementary school in his hometown, Akyem Achiase.

He attended Mfantsipim from 1955-1960, where he became a foremost student of classics, obtaining the Cambridge School Certificate in 1958 and the Cambridge Higher School Certificate in 1960. After obtaining a Bachelor of Arts with Honours degree in History in 1964 from the University of Ghana, he went on a University of Ghana Postgraduate Scholarship to Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he obtained a Ph.D. in Greek and Arabic Philosophy on June 13, 1969.

Prof. Gyekye was appointed Lecturer in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Ghana in October 1969. He was promoted Senior Lecturer in April 1974, Associate Professor in June 1977, and Full Professor in April 1984. In May 2011, he was elevated to the status of an Emeritus Professor. For the forty years of his service to the University of Ghana until his retirement in 2009, he taught many different courses in Western African, and Arabic philosophies at undergraduate and postgraduate levels. He has also taught courses in Classics in the then Department of Classical History and Civilisations (which has currently merged with the Department of Philosophy to form the Department of Philosophy and Classics), the erstwhile Faculty of Law (now the School of Law), and the Department of the Religions (now the Department for the Study of Religions).

Additionally, Prof. Gyekye has had visiting professorships in several universities including the University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida; Howard University, Washington, DC; Temple University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA. He has served on editorial boards of academic journals such as the Journal of African Philosophy, Journal of Global Ethics, Second Order: An African Journal of Philosophy, The Responsive Community—Rights and Responsibilities, Journal of Value Inquiry and the Journal of Philosophy and Culture.

During his academic career, Emeritus Prof. Kwame Gyekye has studied several languages; Latin, Greek, French, Arabic, Persian (Farsi), and German. He won several awards, including the J.E.K. Aggrey Fellowship by the Phelps-Stokes Fund of New York, and the Edward W. Hazen Foundation of New Haven, Connecticut (USA), for graduate study at Harvard (1964-1967), and a Fellowship from the African-American Institute to complete graduate work at Harvard (1967-1969). On 16th December 2017, Emeritus Prof. Gyekye won the Kwame Nkrumah African Genius Award for Philosophy. This award was to celebrate excellence and to recognize his contribution to the making of African Philosophy and its ascendance on the global academic map.

During the 1993/94 academic years, in recognition of his ground-breaking scholarly contributions to Philosophy and African philosophy in particular, Prof. Gyekye was one of thirty-one (31) scholars selected from a pool of 301 applicants worldwide for a Fellowship by the prestigious Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC. This Fellowship enabled him to begin work on one of his several books, Tradition and Modernity: Philosophical Reflections on the African Experience. In 1998/99 Prof. Kwame Gyekye was given the most Distinguished Alumni Award by the African-American Institute of New York for his academic work.

Undoubtedly, Emeritus Prof. Gyekye belonged to the generation of eminent African philosophers who rose to prominence because they pursued the central Kantian insight that reason can be practical, and used it to illustrate that practical philosophy must have a public (i.e. social-political) function. Prof. Gyekye’s academic career and teaching has stressed the importance of critical examination for a meaningful life. This is embodied in two of his favorite dicta: “the unexamined life is not worth living” (borrowed from Socrates), which he elaborated as part of his inaugural professorial lecture on May 7 1987; and “a return to the past must be guided by critical examination.” By these dicta, the Emeritus Professor urges African philosophers to retrieve and espouse substantive value-commitments drawn from communal moral experience.

Prof. Gyekye was not only a brilliant philosopher, but also an exemplary teacher, whose wealth of knowledge has endeared him to hundreds of students over the years. His interpretive insights into the African experience are extremely powerful. He is the author of nine books on philosophy, editor of two scholarly works, sixty-eight journal articles and book chapters, and three books for pre-tertiary education.

He was also a marvelous academic institutional administrator and leader, as became evident in his positions of service to the University of Ghana. He served as Vice-Master (1979-1980) and Acting Master (1980-1981) of Akuafo Hall. He was Head of the Department of Philosophy for several years. In these years, he promoted the discipline of Philosophy, and the international visibility of the Department; and he augmented the staff strength by reviving the training of graduate students. He also served as Dean of the Faculty of Arts (1988-1991), and Dean of the School of Research and Graduate Studies (1996-2000). He was a member and later chairperson of the University Research and Conferences Committee and a member of the University Scholarships Committee. He was the founding Dean of Academic Affairs (in charge of postgraduate studies) of the Ghana Armed Force Command and Staff College, Otu Barracks, Teshie, from April 2001 to April 2005, where he instituted an MA degree program in International Affairs under the auspices of the Legon Centre for International Affairs and Diplomacy.

Elected a Fellow of the Ghana Academy of Arts and Sciences in April 1989, Emeritus Prof. Gyekye served as its Honorary Secretary in 1992/93 and Vice-President (Arts) between January 2003 and December 2006. He was a foundation member of the Dutch-Flemish Association for Inter-Cultural Philosophy, based at the Erasmus University of Rotterdam in Holland, and a member of the Council for Research in Values and Philosophy, headquartered at the Catholic University of America in Washington, DC, USA. In addition, he served as President of the African Chapter of the International Society for Human Values, based in Geneva.

Emeritus Prof. Gyekye was a foundation member of the Board of Trustees of the Unilever Ghana Foundation for Education and Development since its inception in the year 2000. From January 2003, he was also involved in the activities and programs of the National Forum on Research, Science, and Technology as a founding member and Vice-Chairman. Prof. Gyekye was an editor of the Proceedings of the First National Forum (held in Accra from 15 to 19 March 2004) published in 2005 under the title “Harnessing Research, Science and Technology for Sustainable Development in Ghana.” Between July 2003 and December 2006, Emeritus Prof. Kwame Gyekye served as chairperson of the Board of Directors of the Graphic Communications Group Limited. He was also the coordinator of the Golden Jubilee Lectures (January to December 2007) that were part of celebrations for Ghana’s 50th Independence Anniversary in 2007. He edited the sixteen lectures that were delivered during the anniversary, published under the title: “Ghana@50: Anniversary Lectures,” with a Foreword by ex-President J.A. Kufuor.

Emeritus Prof. Gyekye died at the Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital on Saturday 13 April, 2019 after a short illness, at the age of 79. He is survived by his wife, Mrs. Joana Dedo Gyekye, and their three daughters, Dr. Maame Adwoa Gyekye-Jandoh (Senior Lecturer, University of Ghana), Dr. Asantewa Gyekye-Kusi (Medical practitioner) and Nana Abena Gyekye-Milner (Pharmacist).

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