The Equiano Centre


William Essuman-Gwira Sekyi (Kobina Sekyi)

Philosophy student

William Essuman-Gwira Sekyi, known as Kobina Sekyi, was a Ghanaian nationalist, philosopher, lawyer and writer born in the 'Gold Coast' (Ghana) on 1 November 1892. He studied at Mfantsipin School, Cape Coast and U.T.C. London. He took the Matriculation Examination in January 1911 and studied at UCL from October 1911 taking a B.A. Honours in Philosophy in 1914.

In the introduction to his satirical work The Blinkards, J. Avo Langley states that Sekyi's first enrolled in English literature at UCL, but 'shortly after taking up the subject, however, he was persuaded by a fellow African student, Delo Dosumu, from Nigeria, to give it up and take up philosophy. Delo Dosumu, son of a prosperous Lagos merchant, had entered the university a year before Sekyi and was reading for an honours degree in philosophy.' Significantly, Sekyi was to advise the anti-colonial Ghanaian politician and philosopher Joseph Boakye Danquah to also take philosophy at University College, London.

Sekyi won a prize in the first year, history of modern philosophy and in 1913-14 he won prizes in history of modern philosophy and senior Greek philosophy. In 1911 he lived in Bloomsbury at 33 Bernard Street, off Russell Square. In 1915 he advertised in The Gold Coast Nation that he was 'ready to hold classes for the Matriculation Examination for the University of London at 8, Commercial Road, commencing on October 6th' recommending the following subjects: Mathematics, English, Latin, French, Logic.' He re-entered UCL in the academic year 1917-18 enrolling for the M.A. in Philosophy. During his MA he lived in Finchley, North London.

Sekyi had a successful student career at UCL, but student life also had it difficulties. He published articles and poetry in the Gold Coast Leader, one 1921 article reflected on his experiences of life in London as a Black person including while at UCL:

I remember that once at University College, London, in a narrow passage of rather slippery polished parquet, covered with a sarrow strip of carpet in the middle, leaving about two feet of uncarpeted floor on each side, I got off the carpet for a weak-looking, rather red-faced professor, whose pince-nez even appeared to be placed so as to exert the least pressure on his nose, and as I chanced to be going in the opposite direction, and came upon the professor suddenly as he got to the passage from a stair-case, and, not knowing that the rule of the road applied to narrow passages of slippery parquet, to get off the carpet on the wrong side apparently, all the thanks I got for what I considered an act of reverence for position and age, was a very indignant "Keep to your side, can't you!" from the rather irate professor! I there and then registered a vow never more to regard older white people in England in the light of older men here as my attitude towards them, and thence-forward to behave as much as possible in my intercourse with white people in England as my white fellow-students and friends did. Subsequently, on conversation on certain sociological points with a much better tempered professor, and on my referring to this incident, the latter pointed out that it was simply a case of misunderstanding, to which I mentally added that it was misunderstanding with an element of fury or annoyance at the sudden appearance of a black man, who seemed not to know the rule of the road as to narrow slippery parquet passages. It was undoubtedly a case of want of understanding of the motive of the apparent offender; but I think such want of understanding is possible in such a situation only where the person misunderstanding cannot appreciate the act of the person misunderstood.

Kobina Sekyi, 'Our White Friends', The Gold Coast Leader, 10 December 1921


University of London, University College - Abridged Calendar, Session MCMXVIII-MCMXIX, London: Taylor and Francis, 1918. p. 244.

Kobina Sekyi, 'Our White Friends', The Gold Coast Leader, 10 December 1921

The Gold Coast Nation, 18 November 1915

Sekyi, Kobina. The Blinkards, a Comedy: And, the Anglo-Fanti, a Short Story. Accra: Readwide Publishers/Heinemann Educational, 1997