19 May 2009
On Monday, 18 May, former President of Ghana, Jerry J. Rawlings, visited the library, prior to delivering a lecture on ‘Democracy and Security in West Africa’ in the evening. Rawlings, who was Head of State and subsequently President from 1983 to 2001, is unusual amongst African leaders who have seized power during a military coup in having later overseen a transition to democracy, and then stepped down to make way for his political opponents after losing a democratic election.
President Rawlings began his visit at Rhodes House, where he was received by John Pinfold, former librarian of The Bodleian Library of Commonwealth and African Studies at Rhodes House. John had previously met the President during a visit to Ghana. After a tour of the building, the President was showed a number of documents relating to Ghanaian history from the Library’s collections. These included plans of two of the Cape Coast castles dating from the eighteenth century, the letters of Philip Quaque (1741-1816), who, after becoming the first African to be ordained as a minister of the Church of the England, served as a missionary on the Cape Coast for forty years and founded the first school in what is now Ghana, a collection of photographs of Ghana dating from 1914-1919, and sets of the President’s own speeches whilst in office. Seeing the latter, he commented that these have now become extremely rare in Ghana itself, and expressed great interest in the possibility of digitizing both these and the rest of his personal papers, which are currently in storage and inaccessible.
Afterwards, the President was given a tour of the old Bodleian, being shown the Divinity School and Duke Humfrey’s Library. Throughout the visit he showed himself to be keenly aware of the issues of conservation and preservation, and of exploiting the possibilities offered by digitization to make key texts more widely available, especially in developing countries.