Back to all news
Written by:
Paul Holland
25 Oct 2022

In September a group of Graduands gathered in Trinity Hall’s Front Court, preparing to process to Senate House and return to College as Graduates of the University of Cambridge.

Among them was Gerald Arhin, who has been described (in an article in 2021,) as: having “trailblazed a path from a rural town in Ghana to the University of Cambridge for his MPhil in African Studies.”

His study area is “extractive resources” exploitation (fossil fuels, deforestation, mined mineral) and its impact on local communities: a subject close to his heart and that motivates his continued hard work.

Now studying for a PhD in Manchester the alumnus spoke to us about: his graduation; how being a Philomathia student at Trinity Hall has inspired him; his funding issues; Black History Month; and how he, the College and the University ensured his visual impairment would not be a barrier to his academic ambition.

First of all: what was it like graduating from Trinity Hall?

The feeling was simply indescribable! The thoughts of missing graduation ceremony and going through the college processes during the pandemic was emotionally unpleasant. You don’t have an idea of how relieved I was knowing I would have the opportunity to come back and graduate and, for that matter, get into Senate House! The moment was amazing!

What do you hope people do this month and moving forwards to best mark Black History Month?

I recommend people read The Wretched of the Earth by Frantz Fanon, which gives a picture of the decolonisation processes in Africa. The more important reason I recommend is to apply the thoughts in today’s life:

  • Understand that life is full of struggles and given that nothing can be known with certainty but death, we should always seek to overcome the obstacles, which admittedly, will not stop coming.
  • Remind African Leaders what their fathers and forefathers went through. They should not act in a way that re-enforce those ordeals.

In line with this, I also strongly recommend people to read How Beautiful We Were by Imbolo Mbue, a novel, though fictional, that gives a very good picture of the relationship between extractive resource exploitation and its impact on poor people, which is related to my work.

The challenges you’ve faced as a visually impaired student are well documented, having become blind at the age of six: how did you find your time at Cambridge and how did you make the most of it?

My experience in Cambridge gave me a practical and fuller understanding of the nature of the reputation built by the University. The Accessibility and Disability Resource Centre (ADRC), Trinity Hall (my college) and the Centre for African Studies provided the needed support to ensure my disability was not a barrier to my academic pursuits. Consequently, the required support, in terms of technological and other services were provided.

However, I don’t think I made the most out of Cambridge, thanks to Covid. The pandemic hit at the time when I believe one could build stronger networks through College organised events and that of other societies.

Still, I continue to have sweet memories of formals at the College and the periodic African studies seminars, which served as a useful avenue to socialise and network with both likeminded people and people working in other fields.

The Philomathia Africa Programme is committed to creating innovative research and teaching collaborations with African universities, scholars, and students. What did it mean to you being a Philomathia student?

It meant a lot to me. Philomathia is committed to impacting on society, especially on the African continent and liberating people from resource crisis. This is surely something I share in. Although I have always wished and acted in a way to benefit humanity, being a Philomathia scholar has increased this responsibility, given the core principles held by the body.

Funding has been a challenge at times: how have you overcome those challenges and what advice would you give to anyone else trying to fund their way through education?

I think the simple rhetoric, but difficult action, is this: ‘You don’t stop when you are tired, but when the job is done.’

There are many ways of getting funding but there are also many people looking for funding, making the competition very tight.

The ability to understand that we have a moral responsibility to serve humanity, in my opinion is a useful way to encourage one to continue searching for funding to realise your dreams. It is important to also state that benevolent organisations and philanthropists should target exceptional students whose academic success is threatened by financial constraints.

You’re at Manchester now doing your PhD: how is it going?

I am just beginning the third year of my PhD and I am in the writing process, having recently returned from fieldwork. It is going well and I am very hopeful that my findings, beyond the theory, will make meaningful impact on policy, which is the aspect that will be useful to the marginalised.

The Praelector, Dr Cristiano Ristuccia, said at your Graduation that a Cambridge education can bring success and fortune but that it should be used to serve others: how do you think your work serves the world?

I cannot but fully agree with Dr Ristuccia. It is against this backdrop that my work is focused on natural resource governance. Extractive resources are usually found in areas where the poor live, but little is done to translate those resources to benefit them. I am hoping that my work will influence policy making in a way that will tilt the governance of extractive resources to benefit the vulnerable and the subalterns.

And finally: How great is Clare Kerr (Postgraduate Administrator at Trinity Hall)?

Clare is absolutely wonderful and her compassion and willingness to help is beyond comprehension and unmatched. Honestly, I can write a whole article about Clare but to put it succinctly, from my experience, Clare is Trinity Hall and vice versa.

Meet the Ghanaian student who deserves PhD funding: an interview with Gerald Arhin | Varsity