The following was written by Prof. Seth Ayettey, Brenda MacLeod and myself. KBNF’s vision for the Neuroscience Hospital Centre of Excellence is following in the footsteps of the passion of Sir Frederick Gordon Guggisberg.
The Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital is one of several monuments in Ghana representing the outstanding contributions of Sir Frederick Gordon Guggisberg (1869 — 1930). A Canadian born, British colonial administrator, he served as Governor of the Gold Coast from 1919 — 1927. Sir Gordon Guggisberg invested his life fully to lay a solid foundation upon which Ghana has been built. His contribution to the economic development of Ghana is unparalleled in the history of Ghana; in this he stands tall and without equals. His vision and passion for Africa inspires all who seek to be a part of the crusade to rebuild the continent of Africa. For this reason, we share with you a brief account of his life and work, as we also invite you to become part of the Neuroscience Centre of Excellence Project for Ghana and West Africa, bringing life and hope to many.
Gordon Guggisberg was born in Preston, Ontario, Canada. At the age of nine his widowed mother remarried and his stepfather, English Admiral Ramsey Dennis moved the family to Great Britain. Guggisberg was subsequently educated in Britain and served in the colonial administration, rising from the rank of Second Lieutenant of the Royal Engineers to that of Brigadier General. While having served in Singapore, Nigeria and Guiana, his greatest achievements of historic importance and international relevance were in the 14 years he worked in the Gold Coast (Ghana), including first as a Surveyor (1902 — 1908) and then as Governor (1919 — 1927).
As a surveyor, Guggisberg bequeathed the country and the world with an accurate map of Ghana. This arduous and treacherous assignment required extensive travel throughout the length and breadth of the country bringing him in close contact with the chiefs and indigenous people and therefore to the culture of the African.
Returning to Ghana as Governor 11 years later, Guggisberg focused upon building an infrastructure that would promote growth of the economy and give Ghana a competitive advantage in the world market especially in the area of the cocoa trade. He consequently invested resources in the building of a seaport, in the construction of extensive networks of roads and railways, in the strengthening of education, in improving the health of the people and in the advancement of the African people, through a 10—year development plan. In 1925, he was privileged to welcome, also for the first time to the Gold Coast, an heir to the throne of Great Britain, the Prince of Wales, sharing his vision for this colony.
In retrospect, as the country developed economically, the focus of government power gradually shifted from the hands of the Governor and his officials into those of Ghanaians. This transition resulted from the gradual development of a strong spirit of nationalism and was to result eventually in this the first African nation to gain independence.
Major A. H. Selormey, Commissioner for Health in 1973, recalls that at a time when few Europeans would recognize the worth of the African, reducing the African to the worst of servitude, denying him the basic things of life and showing him as incapable of looking after himself, Sir Guggisberg created conditions for the African to acquire some confidence in himself. He was considered a rare breed of colonialists who, even though essentially serving the interests of Britain, operated in such a way as to bestow benefit upon the people of the region. Guggisberg believed that the interests of British colonialism would be better served by promoting better social services for the nationals ultimately strengthening a greater sense of loyalty to the British Crown. Pursuing a policy, which was essentially revolutionary from most of his administrative cohorts, he created a situation that worked to the utmost benefit of the people of Ghana and West Africa. The release of Nana Edward Prempeh Kweku Duah (Paramount Chief of Ashanti) in 1924 after 28 years of exile under the British administration exemplifies Governor Guggisberg’s love for the people and his belief in their traditional systems and their abilities.
To improve public health, Guggisberg focused on sanitation and on a pipe-borne water supply for Accra, Sekondi, Winneba and Kumasi. The population of Ghana at that time was 2.3 million people with 44,000 people living in Accra. Guggisberg extended medical services to other areas to provide care for the indigenous population, but concomitantly recognized the primary need for a large, modern hospital fully equipped for the care of the sick and for training of local health personnel for the health services. The outcome of this need was the building in 1923 of the Korle-Bu Hospital then known as the Gold Coast Hospital. The new hospital claimed to be the finest in Africa with room for 200 inpatients. Before Guggisberg, the few hospitals in the country were located in the bigger towns having substantial European populations. Indeed, some of these were built exclusively for European patients, and right up to the eve of Ghana’s independence were referred to as “European Hospitals.”
Korle-Bu became the “general” and model hospital for the entire nation, to which very serious cases needing skilled, specialist treatment were referred. It brought so much relief to the sick that for many years the people expressed their appreciation in this improvised song in Ga:
“Korle-Bu, Korle-Bu, Korle-Bu Oyiwala donn”
Meaning: “Korle-Bu, Korle-Bu, Korle-Bu how grateful I am to you!”
Guggisberg envisioned that Korle-Bu Hospital would one day become a foremost medical school training young men and women as doctors in their own land, instead of going abroad. Nearly 160 acres of land in the vicinity were subsequently secured for future expansion. After gaining national independence in 1957, the Medical School and other health institutions would be established at the Korle-Bu site.
At the 50th anniversary of Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital in 1973, the Health Commissioner shared that: “It is appropriate that at this juncture we should pay tribute to those men and women through whose vision, determination and efforts these improvements in the health service have been made possible… the greatest tribute we can pay… therefore is to make Korle-Bu truly the greatest medical institution in Africa and one of the greatest in the world… It should be our aim to make anyone entering this hospital feel that he is within the confines of a unique and historic institution. We must create a new confidence in our people that in Korle-Bu we have the finest source for the restoration of good health to our sick people.”
With the strong foundations laid by Guggisberg, 80 years later Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital (now 1,300 in-patient beds) continues to expand its services with the establishment of institutions for specialist care. These include the National Cardio Thoracic Centre built by Professor Kwabena Frimpong Boateng and the Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery as well as the Radiotherapy Center established by the former government. The addition of a Dental School, a School of Public Health and a School of Allied Health Sciences expanded the resources of the hospital, while also establishing a University for Development Studies including a Medical School in the northern sector of the country. As a teaching hospital with research culture, Korle-Bu is linked to the University of Ghana through the College of Health Sciences that comprises the Medical and Dental schools, School of Nursing, School of Allied Health Sciences, School of Public Health and the Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research.
One man’s vision and deep passion for Africa has made a lasting impact in the building of a nation. Sir Gordon Guggisberg was, and still is, much loved by the people of Ghana and his memory is deeply cherished. Two memorials erected in his honour by chiefs express the debt that Ghana owes to Sir Frederick Gordon Guggisberg. One is located at the Joint-Provincial Council of Chiefs assembly hall at Dodowa, near Accra and a marble headstone marks the Governor’s grave at Bexhill, England.
A new vision has been birthed by fellow Canadians, igniting the passion of many worldwide. Since 2002, a group of Canadians and Ghanaians have explored opportunities to strengthen the foundation of health services in Ghana and West Africa with plans to establish an 80-bed Neuroscience Hospital Centre of Excellence at Korle-Bu Hospital delivering world-class neuroscience care. Through the Neuroscience project, there is opportunity today for you to fulfill Governor Guggisberg’s dream of giving the people of Ghana a hope and a future.