number 9 (spring/summer 1996)


By Stephan F. Miescher
University of Michigan

In December 1994, I visited Kofi Agovi, then Deputy Director of the Institute of African Studies (IAS) at the University of Ghana, to inform him about my return to the U.S. While we were sitting in his yard at Legon, enjoying the evening breeze and talking about our work, he asked me whether I knew about what U.S. universities would do with their surplus computers. I responded that probably they would either try to sell them, or throw them out. Kofi Agovi added that such computers would still be useful for graduate students at the IAS in their research and writing. Intrigued by the idea, I promised to make further inquiries upon reaching the University of Michigan. After starting working at the International Institute, I contacted Robert Wilke, the computer consultant, and learnt that there really was a room full of used computer equipment waiting to be disposed. University policy, however, did not allow the donation of surplus computers, but I was assured that I could purchase them for a small fee.

Of course I wondered whether it would make sense to send this older computer equipment to Ghana when soon Legon might be connected to the Internet. Further newer software on the market required faster machines with more memory capacity. After talking with colleagues of GSC and receiving another confirmation from the IAS that they were still interested in older machines, I decided to do a "trial-run" of sending two computers and a printer to Ghana. From Texas I heard that Brenda Blair and Larry Yarak were involved in organizing the donation of used dental equipment to Korle-Bu hospital in Accra. After much negotiation, they had secured the assistance of the Humanitarian and Refugee Affairs Office at the U.S. Department of Defense to ship their donation free of charge to Accra. I contacted the Department of Defense and was told that the computers could be included, if I managed to do the necessary paper

work such as information from the IAS about waiving customs duty. I would only need to send the computers to Texas where they would be packed together with dental chairs and other dentistry equipment.

Raising money to purchase the computers and ship them to the Texas turned out to be an easy task. Every U.S.-based scholar working on Ghana whom I contacted--their names are listed below--was happy to make a small financial contribution. More time consuming was the required paper work. When the computers, including a few AC-adapters for 220/240 volts, left for Texas, more bureaucratic hurdles were waiting. The volume of the whole donation was declared to be too small to be handled by the Department of Defense. After Brenda Blair and Larry Yarak managed to increase the volume, proposed budgetary cuts and a shut-down of the U.S. Federal Government caused further delay. But eventually the shipment left and arrived in Accra in late December 1995, and finally, in February 1996, I received a fax from the IAS acknowledging receipt of the computers.

What can be learned for future projects from this trial run? First of all, there are many U.S.-based scholars working on Ghana, as well as other dedicated people, who are eager to devote some time and support financially a donation of educational material to the University of Ghana. Second, U.S. universities are frequently replacing their technical equipment and are quite willing to part with their surplus material for a small fee. (I recently heard that the University of Michigan is exchanging all its older modems...). Third, there are also institutions, such as the U.S. Department of Defense, with funds and capacity to assist shipping such educational donations to Ghana (I never even approached private foundations), as long there is clear indication that the donated items are needed by the place of destination. Fourth, sometimes larger volumes are easier to ship than smaller ones. Fifth, the next donation to the University of Ghana, hopefully organized by the Ghana Studies Council, should be more ambitious. It could consist not only of computer equipment, but also of a variety of other educational material such as books, paper, and perhaps even a video camera/recorder.

The following individuals and institutions have supported this project: Emmanuel Akyeampong, Jean M. Allman, Brenda Blair, R. Lane Clark, David William Cohen, Roger Gocking, Stephan F. Miescher, Maxwell Owusu, Ebenezer Nii Quarcoopome, Victoria B. Tashjian, Robert F. Wilke, Larry Yarak, The International Institute/University of Michigan and the U.S. Department of Defense/Humanitarian and Refugee Affairs.

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