By Anthony K. Kamara (Sr), Winnipeg Canada.
Fourah Bay College, West Africa’s oldest University, located on Mount Aureol is not just an institution on a hill top, but sub-Saharan Africa’s first University Institution founded some 188 years ago in Freetown, thanks to the benefaction of the Church Missionary Society (CMS) whose philanthropic initiative saw the emergence of the first University Institution that placed Black Africa in the educational map of the world.
The institution acquired such fame because the quality of her graduates serving at home and abroad, and the professors who sacrificed so much and gave their very best, that even before her affiliation to the University of Durham in England in 1876, Fourah Bay College had been likened to the Academia of Athens in Ancient Greece where some of the greatest western cultural and intellectual writers in history lived in this period. Hence Fourah Bay College was aptly described as “The Athens of West Africa”. Her students out of pride variously labelled themselves always as “Athenians of West Africa” and “Fourabites”. Present day students still very proud of these designations.
By the 1840s and the early 1850s, there was a great profusion in the literary output of the College particularly in the field of linguistics with the arrival of Rev Sigismund Wilhelm Koelle a German and another German Rev Charles A. Reichardt in 1852.
With these two men at the College, Fourah Bay College, a.k.a, the Athens of West Africa, was for the third time labelled internationally as “the literary and linguistic workshop of West Africa”. So many compliments were heaped upon this new born University College in Freetown that out of honor and in appreciation for the good work of the CMS Missionaries and the quality of her graduates. By 1945 after her relocation to Mount Aureol, her students again became “Aureolites” after the hill which came to be her permanent home. No University all around the world is known to have such a number of accolades for academic excellence. It is no wonder that Fourah Bay College is so internationally complimented much to the envy of younger and upcoming new ones in West Africa.
Fourah Bay College is a member of the Association of both African Universities (AAU) made up of over 347 Universities spanning from North to South and West to East of the Africa region, as well as the Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU) with a global membership of some 500 universities . Tom Gardner a Ph.D candidate at Oxford University recently described Fourah Bay College as the “Oxford of West Africa” by virtue of being the “First” in Black Africa which opened her doors indiscriminately to all English speaking West Africans as was Oxford University in the United Kingdom, the oldest University in the English speaking world ; Fourah Bay College products became Sierra Leone’s early Ambassadors serving as teachers, missionaries and medical doctors , Lawyers whose performance abroad magnetized West Africans to come to Freetown for higher education; furthermore an American academic Dr Daniel Paracka of the University of Kennesaw in Georgia also likened Fourah Bay College to “the Harvard of West Africa” , America’s first University in Massachussetts. All this plethora of honours made the “Athens of West Africa” the envy of other universities at home and abroad.
Three British Universities, Cambridge, London and Durham were considered as parent Universities for Fourah Bay College. In the end Fourah Bay College was affiliated to Durham University which found the greatest favour with the CMS largely because of her strong theological foundations. Writers on West African history have also likened Fourah Bay College to the Sankore University of Timbuktu in ancient Mali, Africa’s oldest Islamic theological University which was pillaged and sacked by the marauding and poverty stricken Moroccans during their invasion of the Songhay Empire of Gao in 1591.
So much has been done in these 188 years of her existence in spite of challenges along the way. When the College started in 1827 with only six students , five of them Sierra Leonean with only one foreigner, the Slave boy who became the first student to print his name in the College’s admission register and became the first Bishop of the Niger Delta, Samuel Adjai Crowther. The citizens of Freetown and indeed West Africa were in a celebratory mood on that Friday of February 18, 1827 as the institution formally took off in Clinetown in the East end of Freetown.
There is no educational institution in this Sierra Leone today where there are no ‘Athenians of West Africa’ helping out with the work of imparting knowledge including the new Universities.
For instance when the former Njala Training College unexpectedly got upgraded to University status in 1964 the new Institution as one would expect, was not just ready for the new task, in terms of teaching personnel and the right kind of students, Sir Albert Margai the Prime Minister at the time had to turn to Dr Davidson Nicol to lend a hand to the new College, and this led to a professor of Chemistry at FBC Dr Sahr Matturi being released to become the first Principal; in addition, Fourah Bay College also gave NUC Dr. Daniel Chaytor who became Deputy Vice Chancellor. Besides many of FBC’s Honours Graduates in English, went to teach at NUC and are still helping out to this day. Scholars like Late Dr Abdul Karim Turay, Late Dr Harry Turay (Geography) and subsequently became Principal / Vice Chancellor , Prof. Bob Kandeh Geography etc. In the 1970s, almost all of the lecturers in the Department of English were from FBC including Dr Matthew Sangova, and Dr(Mrs) Theresa Sangova, Late Ernest Cole and Mike Johnny, Hons English graduates etc taught in the Department of English Dr Wusu Sannoh, former Mayor of the city of Bo and FBC Honors Chemistry graduate also lectured at Njala. One can see that Njala owed so much to FBC to this day.
Fourah Bay College as a proud member of the ACU for over 60 years has a moral responsibility to assist our new, struggling Colleges in their areas of need. The ability and willingness to help younger institutions is what makes “the Athens of West Africa”, the leader to this day and will remain in that Leadership role at all times, because to be the Leader carries with it many responsibilities which fortunately FBC has not been oblivious of, but rather has been executing over the decades. For any African University to gain recognition on the global stage, must first and foremost try to acquire Associate membership at the regional level of AAU before ever considering membership of Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU) which currently includes a global membership of some 500 Universities scattered in all continents. With an internationally trained team of academics from diverse backgrounds, the College runs courses of study that are internationally marketable and in great demand beyond our borders.
Fourah Bay College has also provided two Principals at the MMCET: first was the Late Solade Adams, first Sierra Leonean since 1965, and later succeeded by U. S. A. Kargbo. Also First vice Principal of the College Late J .T. Harding, the author of “Primary Mathematics for Sierra Leone Schools”
In the fields of politics, “The Athens of West Africa” has given Sierra Leone two political leaders as Heads of State and Government, with Sir Milton Margai from the Clinetown campus being not only the first and Founder of the SLPP but also the first Protectorate Graduate from FBC. Next current President Ernest Koroma is second product of the Athens of West Africa (of Mount Aureol breed) to lead this country. He did not found any political party, but inherited Siaka Stevens’ APC and is the current leader of the A.P.C . The Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) was founded by Sir Milton Margai in 1951 and to this day two other FBC products have led the party, including John O Benjamin, and current leader PC Somano Kapen. In all a total of five FBC products have become leaders of political parties in Sierra Leone including Late Thaimu Bangura of the P.D.P. (Sorbeh) and Amadu Jalloh’s party from Koinadugu.
In this present government, the present House Speaker S.B.B Dumbuya is of Athenian breed of the early 1970s from Mount Aureol. One of the Presidents’ advisers Ambassador Dauda Kamara was the first student leader in 1968 to cause a political earthquake in FBC students’ politics when for the very first time in the history of the College, contested and won the presidential elections of 1968 with nearly 90% of the votes cast, thereby becoming the first Provincial student leader ever to accomplish such a feat on the Hill above Freetown. Since then the history of students’ politics on Mount Aureol has never been the same except for the brief interruption in 1969 when a Gambian Marcel Tomasi was elected president.
In the Diplomatic field, current A.P.C Secretary-General Ambassador Osman Yansaneh is still officially Ambassador to Ghana, Ambassador Ibrahim Sorie in Brussels, and Ambassador. Bockarie Stevens in Washington to name a few.
In municipal administrations, so far most Mayors of municipalities in Sierra Leone are FBC products including the current Mayor of the Makeni Municipality Mrs Sunkari Kabba Kamara who is also the first woman mayor not only of the Sierra Leone hinterland but also from Northern Sierra Leone, the former Mayor of Bo, Dr. Wusu Sannoh; in Freetown, almost all Mayors have been Fourah Bay College educated. Lest we forget, the first Mayor of Makeni was the Late Sylvanus F. Koroma, father of current President Ernest Koroma, himself a Fourabite since 1947 at the former Teacher Training Department at Mount Aureol where he studied for the Teachers’ Certificate (TC). He was one of the early students at Mount Aureol after the relocation of FBC to the Hill in 1945 after her six years of exile at Mabang. The country’s Public Service is dominated by FBC graduates as are corporate organizations.
Today the country’s best Lawyers are FBC trained including Dr. Abdulai O Conteh, Professor Henry Joko Smart, Prof. Tuboku Metzeger, Dr Bu Buakei Jabbi, the Late Terrence Terry, Kabba Koroma, Justice Abdulai Charm to name a few.
In the media world, Fourah Bay College can boast of having produced some of the best journalists this nation can be proud of today. In the history of journalism in Sierra Leone, we may ignore those of the old school as journalism was not yet a discipline at Fourah Bay College, but today Mount Aureol can boast of her products of Mass Communications and these are simply the best among Sierra Leonean print media and include Umaro Fofana the BBC stringer, Late Lansana Fofana, Sylvia Blyden of Awareness Times Newspaper, Philip Neville of the Standard Times, Gibril Koroma of the Patriotic Vanguard online newspaper, Pastor Kabbs Kanu of Cocorioko newspaper, Sorie Fofana of the Global Times etc.
With such exemplary service in the field of education in West Africa in nearly 200 years of existence Fourah Bay College has done all that is expected of her to the full satisfaction of her benefactors, the Church Missionary Society (CMS). To these philanthropic missionaries, the descendants of this famous West African University will ever remain indebted.
Finally the good news for Sierra Leoneans and in particular, all descendants of the “Athenians of West Africa”, is the arrival in Freetown of the new edition of the latest Fourah Bay College history, “From Clinetown to Mount Aureol, Fourah Bay College 1827-present”. The book is available in two locations: The EPP Bookshop at Mount Aureol and the Sierra Leone Diocesan Bookshop at 3 Gloucester Street Freetown. This edition includes all Fourah Bay College political leaders and their photos, including Sir Milton Margai, President and APC Leader Ernest Koroma, John Oponjo Benjamin former SLPP leader and current Leader PC Somano Kapen of Mambolo.
The book also includes Fourah Bay College principals and their photos like Rev Edward Jones, Dr. Davidson Nicol, Rev Harry Sawyerr, Professor Eldred Durosimi Jones, Professor Victor Strasser King, Professor Aiah Gbakima, Professor Jonas Redwood Sawyerr and Professor Sahr Gbamanja. The last chapter includes the full list of all Fourah Bay College Principals since 1827. This is a publication no one can afford to miss.