March 28, 2023
Dr. Letitia Obeng was a pioneering Ghanaian scientist who achieved a remarkable career in her field, broke down gender barriers, and made significant contributions to the advancement of science in Ghana and beyond. She was the first female scientist in Ghana, and her contributions to the field of science have had a significant impact on Ghana’s development. Her remarkable accomplishments spanned decades and inspired generations of young women to pursue careers in science.
Dr. Obeng had her secondary school education at Achimota School from 1939 to 1946. With a government scholarship, she went ahead to pursue a bachelor’s degree in Zoology at the University of Birmingham where she was the only African female student studying the programme. Letitia Obeng was the first Ghanaian female to be awarded a Bachelor of Science in Zoology and Botany (1952) a Master of Science degree in Parasitology (1962) and a PhD in Tropical Medicine (1964).
Upon Dr. On Obeng’s return after completing her bachelor’s degree in Zoology, she lectured at the University College of Science and Technology now Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology from 1952 to 1959. There she trained many of Ghana’s early pharmacists, agriculturalists, and doctors. She moved on to the National Research Council now Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) where she was the first scientist to be recruited. She went on to establish the Institute of Aquatic Biology for the Ghana Academy of Sciences where she later served as a fellow and the first female president. She co-managed the Volta Research Project where she addressed environmental issues affecting the Volta Lake. In 1974 she began work as an Officer at the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in charge of water and soil, in the Global Environment Programme. She moved on to become the Director of UNEP Regional Office for Africa.
Dr. Obeng’s achievements are numerous, and a testament to her determination, intellect, and passion for science. In 1997, she was the first female to be awarded the CSIR Award for Distinguished Career and Service to Science and Technology Award. The CSIR Laboratory was named the Letitia Obeng Block. A meeting room at the Novotel in Liverpool’s Padding Village is named after her. Dr Obeng was awarded Ghana’s highest honour: Order of the Star of Ghana, in 2006. She was an affiliate member of several organisations and institutions including New York Academy of Sciences, the Stockholm Environment Institute, Africa Leadership Forum, among many others.
Dr Letitia Obeng was the daughter of the Very Reverend E. V. Asihene, the 13th Moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Ghana. Her brother was the late Professor E. V. Asihene, a former pro-vice chancellor of the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, architect and first dean of the College of Art of the university. She was the younger sister of the late Madam Theodosia Okoh, who designed the Ghana flag. She was married to the late George A. Obeng, Lecturer, School of Art at the University College of Science and Technology with 3 children all of whom are highly respected professionals in their own fields.
Dr. Letitia Obeng’s legacy lives on today through the many young women she inspired and the countless lives she touched through her work. Her legacy continues to inspire generations of women in science in Ghana and beyond. She broke down barriers and paved the way for women to pursue careers in science, and her contributions to the field will be remembered for many years to come.