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Black History Month: Melody Millicent Danquah

Gaia Durante Mangoni, Third-year International Relations student, celebrates the first female pilot and squadron leader in Ghana. Hailed as an inspiration to generations of women, Melody Millicent Danquah is certainly a name within the field of conflict and security that you should know.

Think of an aviator. I hope the image that comes to mind is not of a white man with long trousers and a bomber hat. If that is the case, Melody Millicent Danquah (1937 – 2016) will probably accuse you of having a rather “restricted” and obtuse perspective on the security sphere and on the actors who played a crucial role in this field.

In 1963, six years after gaining independence from British colonial rule, the first President of the Republic of Ghana, Kwame Nkrumah, called on women to become pilots as part of a broader effort to build a new, efficient and robust army, and improve the aviation sector. Melody didn’t need to be told twice. She was selected and trained by the Ghana Air Force, together with three other female companions.

Melody rose to the top of her class and was admired by all her classmates who were in awe of her natural ability. Her expertise and confidence in the air led her to enrolment in the Ghana Military Academy, which allowed her to learn the basics of being in the military. The first flight she accomplished by herself was in June 1964, after being nominated Flight Lieutenant Cadet, an event that made her the first women from Ghana to fly solo (the aircraft was a de Havilland Canada DHC-1 Chipmunk).

Her determination and technical ability became crystal clear in October of that same year, when she was the only student pilot who obtained permission to execute a 10-minute-long solo flight during an Air Force Day in Takoradi (a city in Western Ghana). The public, closely following the performance, was enraptured by her precise and neat landing.

Because of health issues, Danquah was forced to abandon her career in 1984, after receiving a Long Service Award and the Efficiency Medal. Still, she remained very actively engaged in the administration of her country’s Air Force. The recognition of this heroic figure, a symbol of liberation and boldness, doesn’t stop there. In 2006, Melody was awarded the Companion of the Order of the Volta for her merit in the advancement of Ghana’s military, rewarding her bravery and innovative spirit.

Still today, she is an icon celebrated on many occasions, both at the national and international level, such as during a 2017 celebration for International Women’s Day, when the Ghanaian first lady Rebeca Akufo-Addo praised her for her courage and successes as an independent (military) woman. She is commemorated for having served as a source of inspiration to many girls and women, spurring them to follow their dreams. Her role as a pioneer in the field of security, air power and freedom, using her existence for the benefit of something bigger than her, will and should never be forgotten.

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