Professor Albert Adu Boahen

Albert A. Adu Boahen is Emeritus Professor at the Department of History, University of Ghana. He is Ghana’s most renowned historian, also noted for both his political activism and international role as a visiting professor to universities throughout the world, and as a consultant to UNESCO.

The late Professor Boahen was born to Evans Adu Amankwah and his wife, Dora Afua Kissiwa, on 24 May 1932 at Osiem in the Eastern region of Ghana. Amongst his many books and papers on modern and colonial history, he is author of the monographs Mfantsipim and the Making of Ghana: A Centenary History 1876-1976, for which he won the Noma Award for Publishing in Africa in 1997. He was also editor of UNESCO’s eight volume History of Africa series.

Boahen was very jovial and wrote a humorous column under the sobriquet “Kontopiaat” for The Legon Observer, the periodical founded by Legon dons after the 1966 coup.



The young Boahen attended the Presbyterian/United primary school from 1938 to 1942, and from 1943 continued his education at Asokore Methodist School when he relocated from Osiem to live with his maternal uncle Charles Boadu at Juaben in the Ashanti region.

At Asokore, Adu distinguished himself as a brilliant student. It was not surprising that he won a scholarship to one of the leading secondary schools in Ghana, Mfantsipim, in 1947. At Mfantsipim, Boahen was drawn into nationalist politics, and he participated in a students’ protest in 1948 against the detention of the ‘Big Six’, the nationalist leaders of the United Gold Coast Convention blamed erroneously by the colonial government for masterminding the February 1948 riots.

Boahen graduated from Mfantsipim in 1950, and, after an intermediate Arts programme, read history at the University of Ghana. He obtained his BA with high honours in 1956

After his first degree from the University of Ghana, Boahen proceeded to the UK to pursue a Ph.D. in African history at the SOAS (University of London). There he studied under Roland Oliver, a pioneering historian of Africa. On graduating with a Ph.D. in 1959, Boahen took up an appointment as lecturer in the Department of History at the University of Ghana, at the young age of 29. He was promoted to associate professor in 1967, becoming chair of the History Department from 1967 to 1975



He was appointed full professor of history in 1971. He served the university in various capacities, including as dean of graduate studies from 1973 to 1975, and as a member of the University Council.

He was made Professor Emeritus of History in 1990. Boahen was a prolific scholar and, as a historian in a new nation, he was called upon to write textbooks on the history of Ghana for teaching at the secondary and tertiary levels. His Topics in West Africa’s History (1966) and (with J. B. Webster) West Africa since I8oo: the Revolutionary Years (1967) have become staples in Africa and the West and have gone through subsequent editions. Ghana: Evolution and Change in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries (1975) remains the textbook for the teaching of Ghanaian history in Ghana. Boahen resigned from the University of Ghana in 1985, dismayed at the intervention of the ruling military Provisional National Defence Council regime in the appointment of the vice-chancellor of the University.

His scholarly productivity reached new heights. African Perspectives on Colonialism (1987) came out based on the James S. Schouler Lectures he gave at the Johns Hopkins University in 1985. His February 1988 Ghana Academy of Arts and Sciences’ J. B. Danquah Memorial Lectures appeared in book form the following year. Boahen would situate his alma mater in the process of nation-building in his book on Mfantsipim and the Making of Ghana: A Centenary History, 1876-1976 (1996).

This book was published by Boahen’s own publishing company, Sankofa. Boahen’s distinguished scholarship brought him national and inter- national recognition. In acknowledgement of his erudition, Boahen had been made a fellow of the Ghana Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1968. He became its honorary secretary from 1983 to 1985.

Visiting professorships took him to the Australian National University in 1969, Columbia University in 1970, Cornell in 1990, the State University of New York at Binghamton in 1990-1 and many other universities. Professor Boahen was appointed president and consultant for the UNESCO scientific committee that oversaw the publication of the multi-volume General History of Africa between 1983 and 1999.

The seventh volume of the UNESCO series edited by Boahen, Africa under Colonial Domination 1880-1935 (1985), is a major landmark in the writing of the history of colonial Africa. His book on Mfantsipim won the NOMA Award for Publishing in Africa in 1997. In 1999 he was awarded the UNESCO Avicenna Silver Medal for his out- standing contribution to the General History of Africa. Boahen was a member of many learned societies, such as the Historical Society of Ghana, and the Royal African Society (UK).



  • Britain, the Sahara, and the Western Sudan, 1788-1861,Clarendon Press (Oxford, England), 1964.
  • (With J.B. Webster and Michael Tidy) The Revolutionary Years: West Africa since 1800,Longmans (London, England), 1967, new edition, 1980, also published asHistory of West Africa: The Revolutionary Years, 1815 to Independence, Praeger (New York, NY), 1970.
  • Ghana: Evolution and Change in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries,Longman (London, England), 1975.
  • Clio and Nation-Building in Africa: Inaugural Lecture Delivered at the University of Ghana, Legon, on Thursday, 28th November, 1974,Ghana Universities Press (Accra, Ghana), 1975.
  • (Editor) Africa under Colonial Domination, 1880-1935,University of California Press (Berkeley, CA), 1985, abridged version, 1990.
  • (With J.F. Ade Ajayi and Michael Tidy) Topics in West African History,Longman Group (Burnt Mill, Harlow, Essex, England), 1986.
  • African Perspectives on Colonialism,Johns Hopkins University Press (Baltimore, MD), 1987.
  • The Ghanaian Sphinx: Reflections on the Contemporary History of Ghana, 1972-1987,Ghana Democratic Movement (New York, NY), 1989, 2nd edition, Sankofa Educational Publishers (Accra, Ghana), 1992.
  • Mfantsipim and the Making of Ghana: A Centenary History, 1876-1976,Sankofa Educational Publishers (Accra, Ghana), 1996.
  • (Editorial contributor) Joseph Boakye Danquah, The Ghanian Establishment: Its Constitution, Its Detentions, Its Traditions, Its Justice and Statecraft, and Its Heritage of Ghanaism,Ghana Universities Press (Accra, Ghana), 1997.
  • Ghana: Evolution and Change in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries,Sankofa (Accra, Ghana), 2000.
  • (Editor and contributor, with E. Akyeampong, N. Lawler, T.C. McCaskie, and I. Wilks) Otumfuo, Nana Agyeman Prempeh I, “The History of Ashanti Kings and the Whole Country Itself” and Other Writings,Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 2003.
  • Yaa Asantewaa and the Asante-British War of 1900-1,edited with editor’s note by Emmanuel Akyeampon, Sub-Saharan Publishers (Accra, Ghana), 2003.
  • Africa in the Twentieth Century: The Adu Boahen Reader,edited by Toyin Falola, Africa World Press (Trenton, NJ), 2004.




He also taught his fellow Ghanaians by example that it was not enough to know that one’s history was full of heroic deeds, but that people must let their knowledge of their glorious past spur them on to accomplish great deeds in their own lives.

Though Boahen’s political life is often dated to his Danquah lectures in 1988, which broke the culture of silence and propelled him to national prominence, and his flag-bearer position for the New Patriotic Party in the 1992 election, his political activism long predated these momentous events. He had campaigned actively in the I970s against the military regime of Acheampong, who sought to thwart popular demands for a democratically elected government through a Union Government (UNIGOV) scheme.

Boahen was a founding member of the People’s Movement for Freedom and Justice in 1978, which opposed UNIGOV, and had been imprisoned for his role.

As presidential candidate for the New Patriotic Party (NPP) in 1992, he lost a controversial election to Rawlings. In 1998 the professor lost his position as flag-bearer of the NPP to J. A. Kufuor, but rallied to support Kufuor in a gruelling election campaign that witnessed the triumph of the NPP and the election of Kufuor as President in 2000.




Though elected to the Council of State, ill-health prevented Boahen from taking his seat on the esteemed council, as he suffered two strokes in 2000 and 2001. He spent the last four years of his life at 37 Military Hospital in Accra.

After Boahen’s first stroke in 2000, he made arrangements for the publication of some of his finished works. In 2003 he came out with two books. The first he edited with Emmanuel Akyeampong, Ivor Wilks, Nancy Lawler and Thomas McCaskie: Asantehene Agyeman Prempeh’s The History of Ashanti Kings and the Whole Country Itself (2003); the second was his monograph on Yaa Asantewaa and the Asante-British War of 1900o- (2003), edited by Emmanuel Akyeampong.

He did not complete the long-awaited history of Juaben for which he had collected materials for years, or his history of Ghana from the earliest times. The late Professor Boahen is survived by his wife, Mary, and five children