Dr. Chris Atim – a short biography
Dr. Chris Atim is undoubtedly one of Ghana's accomplished scholars in his area of expertise. In writing this summarized biography of the humble Gbedema boy, former Ghana student leader, former Provisional Defence National Council government member, and today, health economics expert and cosmopolite, I think it is relevant to view him in the context of formal education in Bulsa, more specifically, the second generation of educated Bulsa. In this connection, he is a role model for students, politicians and aspiring academics not only in Bulsa and North Ghana, but in the whole of Ghana for that matter. Here, a brief account of the history of formal education in Bulsaland will help put the man in perspective, as someone whose outstanding achievement is worthy of emulation.
Chris Atim is a product of Bulsaland's pioneer teachers, men and women who together with a few civil servants, formed the very first generation of educated Bulsa. The pioneer teachers themselves were the products of the first formal schools in Bulsa, namely, Sandema Old Primary and Wiaga Saint Francis Primary School which opened in 1936 and 1937 respectively. By the beginning of the 1950s most of these men and women had completed what was termed Standard 7 (the equivalent of senior secondary school today) and had gone on to pursue careers in various professions in the civil and public services of the then Gold Coast, now Ghana. Until the introduction of formal education in the Northern Territories (North Ghana today) in the first half of the 20th century, little is known of educated Bulsa people. Records in the log books of Sandema Old Primary School mention only one educated Bulsa man, a man from Wiaga, the son of a colonial policeman and an Achimota-trained young man called Assibi Anyasuikbey who taught at Old Primary school from the time of the school's opening on May 12th, 1936 till his sudden death two years later in April 1938.
Older Bulsa who grew up in the 1960s and 1970s and know the history of education in Bulsa will agree with me that among the first generation of educated Bulsa, the teachers stand out tall. Among many whose names would fill this page, they were Leander Amoak, Robert Ayomah, Afulang Anisomnyaansa, John Atiriba Azantilow, Ayogsimwei Agalga, Adjabui, J. A. Salaam, Abu Gariba, Akantigsi Afoko, Bawa Akanbonsa, George Adansegri Asoalla, Edward Amaami Angabe, Akanyaaniung Adangabey, Ayuekanbey Adangabey, Awulley, Akalkame Asangalisa, Ayuekanbey Akanko, Fusheini Mallam, Angela Amaakabe, Amaaboro, Edmund Assibi, Thompson Azenab, Ben Anakpak, Cabbage Asaamoaning, Margaret Abaanankame Azantilow, Anoabeta, Alexis Anagela, Apinab Achumboro, Ayikoruk, Ben Abaakisi, Brown Abaakisi, Raphael Agriwan Adiita, Atatoo Kanbonaba, Baako Kanbonaba, Asueme, Akaboka Azenab, Eric Akanpaanab Ayaric, George Aseblanya Atim, Peter Anab.
The impact of the pioneer teachers on formal education in Bulsa and the legacy they left are immeasurable. In my personal estimation, that type of committed, disciplined and competent teacher comes only once in a life time. Coming from almost every Bulsa village, they were the intellect of the people in terms of the new developments that the colonial enterprise and formal education had introduced. They were the intermediaries between the bureaucracy and illiterate folk; they translated and wrote letters and official documents for their illiterate kinsmen and women, and they interpreted to them the world beyond the horizon of the illiterate mind and helped it to grasp the complex inter-relationships between the colonial set-up and traditional practices and way of life. They were the unofficial secretaries who accompanied our traditional chiefs to official functions and meetings. Above all, they were school teachers who played an important role in the early education of many of the second generation of educated Bulsa, many of whom have excelled in their areas of expertise, for example, Professor Sylvester Abanteriba, Professor Assibi Amidu, Martin Amidu (former Attorney-General and popular anti-corruption campaigner), and Dr. Chris Atim, to name just a few. The rest of this piece will focus on a brief biography of the latter.
Born some 63 years ago in Gbedema, Chris Atim had his early education at Gbedema Local Authority Primary School and Sandema Local Authority Middle Boarding School respectively. He went on to Navrongo Secondary School (Navasco) where he obtained his General Certificate of Education (Ordinary level) in 1972 with distinction, being the best student that year! After partly doing his Sixth Form in Navasco again, he went on to finish his Sixth Form at Adisadel College in Cape Coast where he obtained the best A Level science results in his year. Adisadel College (Adisco), which opened in 1910, is Ghana's second oldest secondary school after Mfantsipim School. It is one of the best secondary schools in the country, and is known till today for its excellence in mathematics and the sciences. Adisco is the current holder of the championship trophy in Maths and Science after winning the 2016 edition of the competition. In the 1970s, it was common knowledge that in order to obtain admission to Sixth Form at Adisco, students needed to have a chain of “ones” (excellent grades) at the GCE ordinary level exams.
I've known Chris Atim since his secondary school days at Navasco in the early 1970s, when I was a student at Notre Dame Seminary Secondary. These were the only secondary schools in Navrongo at the time. I was a member of the Ghana United Nations Students Association at my school. Chris Atim was not only a member in the same Association at his school, but one of its active members, becoming its General Secretary while in Form Four and later its President in Sixth Form.
Whenever there was a GUNSA [Ghana United Nations Students And Youth Association] convention, and a number of the regional conventions took place at Navasco, he was always conspicuously present, organizing and coordinating the activities of the event. I remember one occasion when the then UPPERS INTERNATIONAL BAND, with Christie Azumah and Chester Adams as lead vocalists, was to crown the GUNSA convention with a live concert. The White Fathers who ran Notre Dame Seminary School had stated in categorical terms that their school participants in the convention (of which I was one), potential Catholic priests as they wanted to think of us, were to return to Notre Dame by six o'clock that evening, after the official GUNSA event. It meant we were not allowed to stay for the UPPERS concert. The band was the talk of the town, having taken the region and the whole of Ghana by storm. It was our chance to see their live performance, so we tried kicking against the decision of our school authorities. Angered and frustrated, some of us approached Chris Atim and asked him to try to plead with the priest who was to pick us up to allow us to take part in the event. Chris showed understanding for our situation but made it clear that as a student he wondered if he could influence the decision of our school authorities. Even though he didn't succeed in making our teacher (a white Catholic priest) to allow us to stay for the concert, we would recall Chris Atim's cool-headed manner of dealing with the matter. We also admired his eloquence and articulate English and talked about it several days after. In those days students who were very good, academically, were very popular and admired. Chris Atim was one such student, so it was an honour interacting with him personally because we all strove to be like him.
Apart from GUNSA, Chris Atim was also an active member of the Upper Regional Chapter of the African Liberation Committee set up by government. This was after he organised the whole of Navasco, even as a young student, to sacrifice one meal to contribute the money to the Africa Liberation Fund set up by the then Government. His interest in politics and world affairs and burgeoning progressive outlook manifested themselves clearly when he entered the University of Science and Technology in Kumasi where he obtained a Bachelor of Science Degree in Building Technology in 1979.
The late 1970s were politically turbulent years during which the student movement, led by the National Union of Ghana Students (NUGS), of which Chris Atim was Vice-President in 1978, emerged as a strong, respected and well-organised body characterised by philosophical idealism, with considerable leverage in Nkrumahism (the political ideas of Kwame Nkrumah) and scientific socialism in general. The student movement bore the signature of its leaders, broad-minded and progressive young men like Chris Atim, who were committed to championing the interests of the working class and the masses of the Ghanaian people in general. They drew inspiration from Kwame Nkrumah, Che Guevera, Fidel Castro, Amilcar Cabral, Samora Michel, Franz Fanon, Steve Biko and many revolutionary personalities. They dreamt of and saw imminent revolutionary change in Ghana in which the decision-making process involved the workers and masses of Ghanaians, and was not limited only to a few in government. This progressive posture was bound to lead to clashes with the government of Colonel, later General Ignatius Kutu Acheampong and his Supreme Military Council. Having been a student activist and member in many student leftist groups such as The Pan African Youth Movement, Chris Atim's leadership position as NUGS Vice President saw him organizing and leading student demonstrations against Acheampong's UNIGOV proposal, and later in support of the June 4 uprising led by Flight Lieutenant Jerry John Rawlings. Without the support of the junior ranks of the army and the student movement, the June 4 uprising would not have been possible.
The ship called Ghana was sinking and Ghanaians were suffocating in the festering air of kalabule (the local name for corruption at the time). Something dramatic had to happen, and this took the form of the popular June 4, 1979 uprising which released Rawlings from military custody and imminent firing squad after his May 15th attempt to incite a mutiny against the senior ranks had failed. Out of that uprising emerged the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) with Rawlings as chairman. Despite its mistakes, the AFRC was very popular. The house-cleaning exercise it initiated brought some temporary halt to the downward trend in which the country was sliding. There was renewed hope that some sanity would be made to prevail in the way Ghanaians treated national issues. The trustee role for this hope was placed in the hands of the constitutionally elected government of the Peoples National Party with Dr. Hilla Limann as President of the Third Republic. The AFRC metamorphosed into the June 4 Movement which was to play a watch-dog role and ensure that Ghanaians didn't go back to their pre-AFRC nation-wrecking ways of doing things. Rawlings was highly admired and very popular with workers, students and junior ranks in the military. He maintained the chairmanship in the June 4 Movement, with Chris Atim as its secretary. Together with other progressive student leaders and university lecturers, they formed the intellectual backbone of the June 4 Movement, giving it direction and moving it away from the populist storm it risked becoming.
Chris Atim had graduated from the University of Science and Technology then and was doing his national service at the All African Students Union Secretariat. At the same time, he was editor of the NUGS newspaper ALUTA. In the same year he worked on the Weija Irrigation Project before joining the Architectural and Engineering Services Corporation (AESC) as a quantity surveyor. Multi-tasking is one of the man's strengths. During this period, I was a student at the University of Cape Coast, and whenever I was in Accra I stayed at Clement Akapame's home where Chris came to visit from time to time. His name was bigger than the humble and almost shy young man I came to know at the time. An avid reader, he always had a fat novel he was reading each time he came to visit. I got to know a man who was interested in politics and world affairs and was up to date with all that was happening in the world. I admired the way he expressed complex issues in very clear and simple language, and the passion with which he discussed these.
Dr. Chris Atim at the Morocco Conference
When Rawlings overthrew the Limann government on 31st December, 1981 and formed the Provisional National Defence Council (PNDC), Chris Atim was appointed a member of that government and in charge of political mobilization as head of the Interim National Coordinating Committee of the Peoples Defence Committees. The PNDC government comprised mostly young people who were barely thirty years of age, as in the case of Chris Atim and Sergeant Alolga Akata Pore. Rawlings himself was about thirty-six years at the time. Such young people at the helm of government affairs was a precedent in the country's political history. The contrast reflected in TV pictures of Chris Atim meeting the aging Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev in Moscow at the head of a government delegation is one that has stuck in my memory indelibly. The smallish looking PNDC member in his simple cotton shirt looked more like a Ghanaian student in Moscow than a member of government. The same contrast was evident in the pictures broadcast on TV of him meeting with Benin President Mathieu Kérékou in Cotonou.
Chris Atim is a very simple and humble person, a man of integrity. He's the first Ghanaian public official on record known who to have returned to state coffers all the per diem allowances he received for official travels abroad. In a country where most people tend to equate holding public office with financial gain, this was a very laudable act of selflessness.
Due to irreconcilable differences with Rawlings, Chris Atim resigned from the PNDC in 1982 and left Ghana for the United Kingdom, where he pursued and obtained an MA at the University of Norwich in 1984. In 1993 he got a PhD in economic development at the University of Sussex and followed this up with postdoctoral courses and training in health economics and financing at York University and in Belgium.
No better source of information gives us an insight into Chris Atim's work history than the following extracts from his employer's hire announcement do:
• Dr. Chris Atim is a Senior Program Director at Results for Development Institute where he served for one year as the health systems and equity advisor on USAID’s global flagship Maternal and Child Survival Program (MCSP). Now he is based in Accra providing health financing support to countries in the sub-region.
• Dr. Atim specializes in health systems with a particular focus on health care financing. Since 2009, he has also served as the founding Executive Director of the African Health Economics and Policy Association (AfHEA). He was the key brain behind the founding of the Association which aims at strengthening the capacity of African health economists and policy experts as well as to promote the use of the tools of health economics, financing and policy in African health sector decision making to improve health outcomes with a special focus on poor and vulnerable populations.
• Dr. Atim has taught for many years in the health economics masters course at the West African Regional Institute of Higher Management Studies (CESAG) in Senegal. For over five years starting in 2009, he was a senior health economist with the World Bank based in Dakar, Senegal, where he led the World Bank’s health financing support tea to a number of countries in the region.
• Between 1999 and 2004, he worked as a senior health economist for Abt Associates Inc. and served as the West and Central Africa Regional Advisor for USAID’s Partnerships for the Health Reform (PHR) Project. In that role, he led and supervised technical assistance for PHR’s program on community-based health insurance schemes in West and Central Africa.
• Between 2004 and 2009, Dr. Atim worked for a number of international organizations in the areas of cost-effectiveness and evidence-based decision making in introducing new technologies in GAVI-eligible countries; costing of HIV/TB/Malaria programs; analyses of the international aid architecture, aid effectiveness, global health initiatives as well as fiscal space issues for low-income countries.
• From September 2015 to September 2016, Atim chaired the Blue Ribbon Presidential Technical Committee for the Review of the Ghana National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS). A key career highlight, besides CESAG, AfHEA, NHIS Presidential Committee, is being one of the pioneers of the health insurance movement in Africa, starting with community-based health insurance schemes or mutual health organisations (MHOS).
• He is currently supporting the Nigerian Government and several states in that country with the design and implementation of various health financing, including social health insurance, schemes.
He is married and has two children.
Dr. Chris Atim has the following publications to his credit:
1. Towards Synergy and Collaboration to Expand the Supply of and Strengthen Primary Health Care in Nigeria’s Federal Context, with Special Reference to Ondo State, World Bank’s Health, Nutrition and Population, 2014. http://goo.gl/TwMkvN
2. The 2nd Conference of the African Health Economics and Policy Association (AfHEA): “Towards Universal Health Coverage in Africa”, Conference report for Expert Review of Pharmacoeconomics and Outcomes Research, June 2011. http://goo.gl/WKv4Nn
3. Slavea Chankova, Chris Atim, and Laurel Hatt, May 27, 2009. Evaluation of the National Health Insurance Scheme in Ghana. Abt Associates Inc.
4. Chris Atim, Lisa Fleisher, Laurel Hatt, Steve Musau, Aneesa Arur, Health Financing in Africa Today: Challenges and Opportunities, USAID, Wash. DC., May 2008.
5. Health Financing in Africa - Further Thoughts on Abuja. World Bank’s Health, Nutrition and Population. Africa Economic Viewpoint for August 2006; see web site: http://web.worldbank.org/Africa/hnp
6. Financial Factors Affecting Slow Progress in Reaching Targets on HIV/AIDS, TB and Malaria in Africa; Background Paper for the African Heads of State and Government Summit on HIV/AIDS, TB and Malaria. Abuja, Nigeria. (DFID Resource Centre, March 2006).
7. Bart Criel, Robert Basaza, Pierre Blaise, Maria Pia Waelkens, and Chris Atim, "Editorial: Community Health Insurance (CHI) in Sub-Saharan Africa: Researching the Context", in: Tropical Medicine and International Health, volume 9, No. 10, pp. 1041-1043, October 2004.
8. With Steve Grey, Patrick Apoya, Sylvia J. Anie, Moses Aikins, A Survey of Health Financing Schemes in Ghana (Abt associates Inc, Sept 2001).
9. (Directed and edited) – Training of Trainers Manual for Mutual Health. 10. Organisations in Ghana, (Abt Assocs, Bethesda, September 2000). http://www.phrplus.org/Pubs/hts1.pdf
10. Chris Atim and Madjiguene Sock, Report of External Evaluation of the Nkoranza Community Health Insurance Scheme, Ghana, 2000
11. ‘Social Movements and Health Insurance: a Critical Evaluation of Voluntary, Non-profit Insurance Schemes with Case Studies from Ghana and Cameroon’, in: Social Science and Medicine; volume/issue: 48/7; pp. 881-896; February 1999.
12. The Contribution of Mutual Health Organizations to Financing, Delivery and Access to Health Care: Synthesis of Research in Nine West and Central African Countries (Abt Assocs, Bethesda, 1999).