His work in Congo won him admiration from many on the political left as well as leaders in newly independent African countries. Among them was Kwame Nkrumah, president of Ghana, who talked Mr. O’Brien into the vice chancellorship of the University of Ghana.
But the former Irish diplomat famously left Ghana in disgust after three years. He had clashed over academic freedoms with the economically and politically embattled Nkrumah, who was also the university’s chancellor.
Mr. O’Brien said in 1965 in announcing he would leave the university: “A strange and erroneous idea has grown up that encouragement of criticism and independent thought is a colonialist or neocolonialist scheme, whereas enforcement of intellectual conformity is anticolonialist and conducive to freedom and unity of Africa.
“The reverse of this is surely true,” he added. “Colonialists were never friends of critical and independent thought, and the neo-colonialists are not either.”
And some people still haven’t figured this out.