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One thing that the oil money should have offered the nation is cheaper money for investment in agriculture – Dr. Abu Sakara Foster, Executive Chairman of Sakfos Holding



The Role of Agriculture in Economic Development

TVM: What is your general assessment of the current state of the Ghanaian economy?

ASF: Our economy in its current state is one in which the essential transformation of its nature has still not happened. It is still an economy based primarily on production and export of raw materials and not one predominantly described as a value added economy. The service sector has grown but not by servicing Ghana’s industrial sector; it is rather servicing imports. So the nature of the economy really has not changed much. However, in terms of the performance of the economy, what you are seeing essentially is a stabilization of the currency, the building of our reserves, which basically has contributed to the stabilization of the currency and steadying of the national inflation. All this not withstanding, bank interest rates (generally above 20%) are still too high for many primary producers and manufacturing industry to maintain and expand operations competitively in the domestic market. Also liquidity is very, very tight!

On the latter point,  recent enforcement of rules in the financial regulatory sector has meant an even tighter squeeze on the liquidity of funds. This action is however indeed good in one way because it will help bring interest rates down to a more realistic level as entrepreneurs progressively turn towards incentives to do more sensible business and turn away from more risky businesses. But in the short term these measures have dried up access to funds from banks, as they themselves have struggled to find money quickly to meet their obligations with the central bank.

So in terms of macro economy, there is a good turn around in terms of the fact that you have a stronger foundation for improved performance mostly from improved fiscal management. But when I say foundation, I’m relating to the performance of the economy, not the structural nature of the economy per se. By and large, it is a more predictable economic environment; but in terms of evolution from one kind of “creature” to another kind of “creature”, we are still where we are, an economy based on production and export of raw agricultural produce,  raw minerals, raw timber, raw fish, raw unconventional products and crude oil even when we have a refinery. This is where then major challenge of our generation lies.

TVM: Ghana’s economy has been predominantly agric-led for decades. For about two decades ago, there was a boom in the service sector and its continuous growth has seen agriculture over taken. What in your view might have accounted for this?

ASF: Of course the growth in the service sector naturally means that somewhere in the total GDP pie, some other portion of that pie must give.  The reduction in agricultural sectors’ GDP contribution relative to the increasing size of service and manufacturing industry and the mineral mining industry does not necessarily mean that agriculture is doing badly. After all in the final analysis, we want to have the agriculture sector reduced as a portion of it’s contribution to GDP if the manufacturing sector grows in return. We want to have the manufacturing sector grow because it is based on growth of domestic productivity growth and will most likely increase jobs and incomes more significantly. However the service sector can do grow without much domestic productivity increase in fact it may hurt domestic productivity growth and stall our competitiveness in our own domestic markets. That is not any guarantee that increased service sector growth in economies such as ours will increase the good paying jobs for any sustained period. Ultimately the wealth has to be created from somewhere and that in our situation is mainly from transforming the primary to secondary processed products.

In my view the service sector can grow but by only as much as the manufacturing sector is growing and it is servicing the domestic manufacturing sector. But if the service sector growth  is only servicing imports and the manufacturing sector is not growing very much, while agriculture sector is declining, then that is a problem!! Because it means that we are actually going backwards in terms of progressive capacity to have a home grown economy that is more robust and less susceptible to external pressures.

The increase in income from the oil sector has also brought about a new dynamic in terms of proportions of GDP contribution by various sectors, including agriculture. The impact of oil income on national GDP is not perhaps as big as one will imagine, but it has certainly influenced growth of the service sector because we had no previous history of a service sector for the oil industry.

All this recent growth means little if there is no evolution of the economy.  Metaphorically speaking if you are an eight-year-old child and that looks the like the size of a teenager, it doesn’t mean you’re grown yet, it just means you have only expanded in size. The evolution has not yet occurred. So we need to look more closely at how agriculture is contributing to transforming the economy basically from a raw material producing economy to a more value added agriculture. We must also closely observe the changes in all the technological innovations that comes along with investment in agro processing. It is happening, but too slowly. It needs to happen at a faster rate to effect that sorely needed evolution.


TVM: As a country, we’ve kept believing that agriculture is the back bone of our economic development. But then, unfortunately, the hypothesis has been disproved by the continuous decline of the agricultural sector’s contribution to GDP. Should we still continue to bank our hopes on agriculture as the basis for economic development?

ASF: The hypothesis has not been disproved at all; and we’ve not been believing. If we really believed, it would have happened. And that is the exact problem with agriculture. We say that agriculture is the backbone of the economy, but then when it comes to the allocation of the pie of the budget to it, sometimes it gets less than three (3) percent, or even a tiny little amount. You don’t need to go to Harvard Business School to figure out that in trading, the thing that is bringing you the most money is the thing that you have to spend your money on, in order to turn over more of it, to make even more money.


TVM: What in your view do you think are the main challenges confronting the sector from achieving its maximum impact.

ASF: There are three areas. The first is in the area of national policy which creates the medium within which everything happens including agriculture. The second area is the limits of knowledge base within the sector. Finally there is the service industry associated with the agricultural sector that provides it with inputs and marketing of its outputs. If we take these three areas, all of them have different kinds of challenges.

The main challenge in the policy area is a dysfunctional democracy that is not closely allied with the real things that matter in the economy. We can’t blame politicians alone. They have to get elected. So they respond in short term ways that the populace will appreciate but ultimately are ways that are detrimental to real growth of the agricultural sector. For decades people have called for a reduction of rice importation by any and all means possible. However the same people will scream to the high heavens if rice prices went up a pesewa because tariffs on imported rice were increased. Ghana has also seen the rise of “middle class political activism” that demands more accountable government and better balance of trade to reflect growth in made in Ghana products of which processed agriculture products should have the lion share. However policy makers have encouraged and boasted about the mushrooming of shopping malls filled with mainly imported goods that are consumed by the same “activist” middle class. It appears the need to win elections has dulled the capacity of governments to act more firmly in favor of the national interest to stimulate growth in the domestic agricultural sector.

The second issue associated with national policy is conviction by the leadership. There needs to be a very firm conviction among leaders that agriculture can indeed work sufficiently to give us the take-off we need the next phase of our national economy.  This will make us commit to it for long enough to make it work. Leadership needs to convince themselves and the populace that we can and will make it work!! Every country that has successfully transformed their economy from an agricultural base at the end of their colonial period did so with a very strong commitment and sometimes with only a single single crop. The Malaysians that we admire so much did it with only palm oil. And yet we have palm oil, yam, gold and so many other things. Mauritius transformed an agricultural economy based on only sugarcane to a modern value added economy.

Fortunately or unfortunately, because we’re blessed with so many good things, we have so many choices. We have consequently dissipated our efforts trying to exploit all of them at once as and when it dawns on us. It is like a drummer with too many drums in front of him and trying to drum all the drums at once. There has to be a coherent medium to long term plan and a focus beyond four year terms of office. In addition to a national focus and we need to learn to live according to our pocket, a good manager should always tries to live within their means. The country and its citizens are carrying too much debt. We need to renegotiate terms even as we  work our way out of debt. Our national debt is not insurmountable given our resource base and it is in our debtor’s interest to give us more conducive terms to work off our debt.

Talking about the knowledge base, we have to have a system where we start looking at the variety of crops that fit our farming systems rather than the mono crops we relied on during the colonial economy that is still with us in great measure. The truth of the matter is that we know a lot more than we are actually applying because our researchers have come up with different varieties that fit many more farming systems, crop patterns and types of farmers. This sometimes leads farmers to make the wrong choices by opting for technologies that they cannot sustain. It’s like choosing a BMW car over a Volkswagen car but you can’t drive faster than 60 km/h because you lack the skills and experience. In spite of that you still want to join in groups talking about the pros and cons of a Ferrari versus a Ducati.  Farmers need to be educated to choose the right technologies for their level of capacity and at the same time take advantage to upgrade their investments to match their capacity through extension and farmer to farmer learning. Farmers that opt for high end technologies beyond their capacity can be likened to ordinary drivers that choose to run a Ferrari car but do not have enough fuel, a good road to race on and also lack the skill to control a fast car in the first place. Just because collapse of farms are not as dramatic as car crashes does not mean that they have less of an important effect on the national economy.

Our operators themselves (the famers and value chain actors) need to assess their capacity and know-how relative to the investments that they can make. I don’t think our farmers are ignorant, they know a lot and they’re quite experienced. If a farmer is not using a particular technology, it is not always because he hasn’t heard about it, sometimes it is because he/she has figured out that it doesn’t make any more money. This is because our marketing system does not always give them sufficient incentives. Also, the transaction cost are so high that sometimes they leave significant portions of the products in the bush.  We need to resolve that through development of farm track roads and greater use of appropriate rural transport to reduce the costs of the first aggregations and homesteads and subsequently at village markets.


TVM: In this age of technology, how crucial is agriculture to our economic development

ASF: Agriculture is still very crucial because it must form the platform that serves as a foundation for take-off of our industrial and manufacturing sectors. Agriculture is also where we have the greatest comparative advantage.  However three things need to happen to establish this foundation in sufficient measure. First, we have to intervene to turn our comparative advantage in agriculture to a competitive advantage. We cannot go and start competing with producers of space technologies and all of that very high end stuff. We don’t have even have comparative advantage for that yet.

In Ghana, especially the northern part, we have in abundance arable land, surface and ground water and a varied climate suitable for many crops and livestock.  With good climate it is a question of choosing the right combination of crops, applying the right technology both in terms of the physical equipment and inputs, and also the management know-how. Then we can be competitive in the market place. If Usain Bolt was sat in his lazy chair all the time, he could have never been a world champion in spite of his great potential. He has to go out and train to realize the potential is already there. Our policy makers profess our great potential all too often but what are we doing to realize even a little of that great potential?

This is basically where we have to make more effort and a very deliberate effort at that!  Beyond effort in agriculture, other parts of the economy have to be tuned to support the agriculture sector as the main point of thrust for the economy. When we do that for a consistent period, we get to a stage where we lift the whole economy and then other sectors can then start growing to then exceed agriculture in their contribution to the economy.

TVM: Do we need to reinvent the wheel as other developing countries are doing by focusing on agricultural development as a basis for economic development?

ASF: I don’t think we need to reinvent the wheel. The matter is we haven’t pushed the wheelbarrow far enough to the stage where economies can take off. So we need to push the wheels more and faster to get to the stage where it agriculture becomes a foundation for other sectors to take off organically in synchrony and yielding the greatest synergies. The other Countries like Malaysia and Mauritius did not forget about agriculture and then come back to it. Instead they rode on the back of Agriculture. They developed agriculture first and then it formed the foundation for their investment in other sectors. Also we have to remember that one of the key things that we use for development is human resources. So we need to empower and retool the people for productive engagements. That is another important reason agriculture must come first, it helps build the technological innovation skills needed for the other industries. We have to build agriculture as a foundation first.


TVM: But then, the government has rolled out several policies to revamp the agricultural sector with the flagship of Planting for Food and Jobs. What is your take on this and do you see this programme succeeding in the long term?

ASF: I think it is going in the right direction. Of course, there are teething problems with it and there are major challenges. It’s success is contingent on the determination to ensure that the fundamental things that have normally failed previous programmes don’t fail this one. So we must all resolve not to let it fail. If there is a threat that there will be no funding for it, policy makers should to sit round the cabinet table and raise the money for it by taking cuts from elsewhere, it is as simple as that. Why? Because agriculture is what is driving the economy and it must take precedence over consumptive expenditure that does not bring immediate income.  That is the kind of leadership direction that we need for initiatives such as PFJ to succeed. The fundamental thing that it is addressing is the availability of seeds and fertilizers at farmers’ doorsteps, using our own local seed producers and fertilizer distributors. Of course some seed is still are being imported, but we hope that will change in time in favor of locally produced seed. It doesn’t just change overnight, nor will it happen without persistent effort and investment in local seed producers and seed systems. We don’t yet have the domestic capacity to meet our full seed requirement. We have to build seed production capacity alongside growth of effective demand to ensure that the seed business is financially viable. For a viable seed system the seed produced must be sold. If it is not bought, producers will reduce seed production and some seed growers may get out of the seed business altogether.

We must strengthen the seed distribution for farmers to be able to buy seeds at their door steps. This means that seed dealerships between seed producers and farmers must be tackled effectively as a national priority and maintained as a national asset. The incremental gains that will accrue as a consequence of the dealership system will exceed its value for access to seed and inputs alone. It can also serve as a point of interface for output markets and evolution of the remaining agro-industry. We need to make these seemingly simple things happen for our agricultural system to work sufficiently well to support interventions and programmes like PJF sectors to succeed. I believe we can do this and already the early signs of success are showing. PFJ will succeed if we don’t blow it by taking things and people for granted.


TVM: In Ghana, the old folks practice subsistence farming. Being the executive director of the Rural and Agricultural Development Associates, how can the rural folks be empowered to turn the woes of this sector into fortune.

ASF: I think first of all when you describe our agriculture; it is a composite of different types of farmers. You have the small scale farmers who are subsistent farmers. You have the emerging medium scale farmers that are people who have determined that agriculture is where they are going to make a living and extra money from. Then there are the commercial scale farmers who have decided that they are going to put their lives to it for big time returns to investment. So our agriculture has a spectrum of farmers like an accordion. It is not a one single thing or type of farmer.

Now, it is true that small scale farmers in the past have formed a large majority of where we get our food from and are also the majority in numbers. Together small scale farmers make more money than the medium and large scale farmers. This trend will not however stay as it is in future. If agriculture evolves as we expect it to, then as numbers of the medium and large scales farmers grow, small holder farmers’ numbers will decrease. Small-holder farmers won’t be eliminated all together. Instead the remaining small-holder farmers will become more efficient. Even if they are still on small-holder allotments, they will become more productive and efficient. What we expect to see is that the medium scale grows significantly and maybe the large scale will also grow in a highly specialized market driven manner. Irrespective of the variations and specializations of different types of farmers there exists a relationship between them. That relationship and interdependence will grow stronger through linkages to market networks so let us not divide them artificially.

TVM: You spoke about you knowing older people that started farming and they falling out, so how do we now get the youth to be interested in this? How can the state make agriculture appealing to the youth?

ASF: Agriculture has to be appealing to everybody. If it is not appealing to the old people, it will not be appealing to the youth. And the greater appeal about agriculture is not as a hobby. It is as a business. No one has ever asked how we can make shop keeping appealing to the youth. If you have the capital, you go there and you make your money just like any other business.

Agriculture is however not an easy business like sitting and selling in a shop. Agriculture involves a certain level of difficulty because of its specialized knowledge and physical involvement, especially when one does not have the right equipment and tools. So one of the ways we can make farming more attractive to people starting is to have service centers for tools, equipment and specialized know-how. This applies not just for the youth but also for other farmers and value chain actors because it reduces transaction costs for ownership of equipment and use of services. It also makes service providers more accessible to farmers and value chain actors in rural areas.

TVM: A few years ago you cautioned the nation to focus on the soil not the oil. Can you explain why you did say that?

ASF: When the oil started flowing we were all dreaming and salivating about how this oil was going to change the whole economy. I’m glad you’ve raised that question. We’ve seen the oil sector come and stay. So what has changed?  Not so much and that is why I said at that time, focus on soil not oil. It was on the basis that if we were to see a big transformation then what ever income was coming from that oil, should go into the soil! At least the interest from the saved oil income should go into the soil to address all these challenges we’ve enumerated above to give us that quantum leap we expected from a completed foundation in agriculture.

“One thing that the oil money should have offered the nation is cheaper money for investment agriculture.”

It should be used to make sure that we have the range and volume of seeds and equipment needed to make productivity higher on a big scale. We should not be relying on donor funds that may have their own priorities, areas of focus and limit on the scale of investment.  With sufficiently expanded scale of intervention in agriculture, would come many fold increased incomes from agriculture. Concurrent scale of investments of the cheaper money in improved agro processing would have also pulled up price incentives to sustain the production because higher profits from the added value goods can be shared as price incentives to sustain flow of raw materials to factories. Currently, operators have mills that are not getting enough rice because cost of financing operations greatly limits their capacity to share slender profits. The price structure of commodities across the entire value chain must be scrutinized to ensure a strong incentives for operators either as producers, farm service providers and aggregators. There are many jobs in agriculture apart from production.

The second thing I meant by that was, when you focus on the oil, how many people will be employed into that sector? How many towns can be touched by that sector? If you are not in Takoradi, you won’t know that there’s oil in Ghana. You don’t feel anything. But if we invest those monies in the soil and there’s soil everywhere in Ghana, the impact on people’s lives will be far more pervasive and we would have all felt it by now.

At the time, I said categorically that the best way of managing that money was to pretend we did not have it. In other words, all of it, not one drop should have been brought into the normal economy. All of it should have been kept out of the economy in an investment fund. And we only use the interest from that fund to reduce our rate and cost of borrowing. We could also fund specific turn key projects that are arranged in a hierarchical order of priority setting and they feed into each other. It would have helped us know just how much we take each year taking as chunk of money. In return for that money we must see at the investment period its end product and its value for money on the ground. For example if it is a railway we want to build to reduce transportation costs, we take the chunk of money and build the railway. We would not borrowed the money from anywhere and the railway is in place.


The Personality profile segment

TVM: When I started the interview, I did say a lot about who you are and your personality. When you go onto the internet you can read a lot about yourself but then it is always best to hear it from the horses own mouth. So who is Dr. Abu Sakara?

ASF: Well, I’m a family man.  I have been married for 36 going on to 37yrs with the same woman and I have four grown up children. The eldest is 35 years, the next is 32, then 29 and the last is 28yrs old. They are now adults, three ladies and one gentleman. We basically are a very close nucleus family and I’m also close with my extended family too. I come from a family of 22 children and 5 wives. We are the first generation of truly monogamous people but marriage in our culture is still predominantly polygamous.

I had initially had a village upbringing. I was born in Damongo but lived in Kpembi near Salaga for the first 6 to 7 years of my life. I grew up in my great grandfather’s house (the Sinbung royal household of Kpembiwura  Lanyor I). I learnt so much form the village life and my character benefited immensely from their culture of sharing and caring. Above all it left me with a strong identity and high self esteem.

My first crossover happened when I went to live with my father S.S. Sakara, the then Distrct Commisioner for West Gonja in Damango. Living with him in his European style bungalow with European accoutrements and affectations was very restrictive. I liked my freedom in the village  and felt like a prisoner in the bungalow life. But of course it had its benefits for learning academically and struggled to learn how to sleep in the afternoon, siesta!.

Then I went and visited my other cousins in Western Gonja who taught me the differences in culture between Western and Eastern Gonja, so I learned to become a cultural hybrid with capacity to cross over in accent and names of things. Capacity for cultural crossing over has been a major theme in my life. I have  lived between cultures both East and Western Gonja, African and European culture and Eastern and Westen Africa.

I  left for the UK when I was 12 years old. I went to school and grew there so I had to learn to live in that environment. When I became older I started travelling to other parts of the world like Latin America. My experiences have shaped who I am, because life is a sum of all our experiences.


TVM: You are one the few celebrated personalities in your field of endeavor. Was this what you always wanted to do?

ASF: When I was younger, I was very active. I was always dong one thing or another.  I initially struggled academically because I wasn’t paying enough attention but one day I was sat down by my foster parent and I learnt  and fell in love with the art of reading and that changed my world.

When I was in England I started doing a lot of sport and I got very much involved in judo. I rose very quickly through the belts and I won the England school boys at 15 years old. Later on I served the national judo team for the u16 and u18 at the same time. And when I was a bit older I was in the u18 and u21 men’s team at the same time. So that took a lot of my attention and at that time I thought my career was going to be in professional sport.

Unfortunately for me I tore a cartilage when we were at the Junior European championships in Bad hamburg, Germany in 1977 and I was required to take some time off and it came just at the right time because I was between 6th form and the university. As a matter of fact, I tried to overcome that and my attempt to get back quickly splitted the stitches so it took a longer time to recover. Thw long lay-off helped me make up my mind to actually go to the university because at the time, though I had a university placement at Reading, I hadn’t quite made up my mind to go yet.

I got into agriculture not because I made a deliberate decision in terms of career choice. It was simply because I had the sciences under control and that was the course that gave me an intercalated year abroad. So I was looking forward to this year abroad because when I saw the brochure, it was somewhere in the Philippines.   I thought if I do this course, I’ll get to go abroad for one year. So I chose the soil science course, only after the second year to find out that I had to win an award scholarship first.

I initially lost hope of going abroad because I didn’t think I had a fat chance of getting that Scholarship considering a student population of more than 18,000 at University of Reading at that time. But, my tutor was very insistent so he went and brought the forms and asked me to fill the forms and bring it back. I filled the forms and on the appointed day went to sit the examination for the scholarship. After leaving the examination hall I just took if off my mind because of the multitude of students that sat the examination.

It was a few months later when the result came to my surprise and I won it. The Dean called me to his office and asked me where I was going with the award? I wanted to go to the  Philippines but he advised IITA in Nigeria because he had been working in Nigeria as a researcher. So I after my seconds year at University I went off to Nigeria for one year as a research scholar.

When I came back to England, I was completely sure that I wanted a career in International Agricultural Development as a Scientist. So may career choice did not happen in a day. It took a period of two years. But by the end of that two-year period, I had submitted my research work and people had gotten to know me and I knew what international agriculture was about. After graduation, I applied for a post graduate training awards with ODA and went off to do my masters at Wye College London University and then off to Mexico for another year that turned out to be three years and  Ph.D. Since then I have been travelling with my work until I arrived in Ghana from East Africa via Washington.


TVM: You sought to become the president at some point in time. Given the opportunity for you to assume that position or that portfolio, what key things would you want to do as a president that would change or transform this country.

ASF: The way I’ll approach it is to ask: what can I do as an ordinary person? And then, what can I do as a president that I can’t do as an ordinary person? I will then as a President address those things that I cannot do as an ordinary person.

As an ordinary person, I’m within the policy environment created by others. All I can do is to try and do my best to make whatever I’m doing work well within the limits set by the policy makers. But as a President I can change the limits set by policy makers. This is especially true for developing countries where institutions are weak and policy is still maturing and not well defined. There is obviously less room for maneuver at ministerial level than at the presidency level where the President has the greatest influence toset that policy environment for everybody else.

We have institutions in Ghana and we shouldn’t belittle them because there are  in countries where they are almost non-existent. So I have great respect for our country and what we have achieved as a democracy of sorts. But nonetheless, we are a developing country, not a developed country. Sixty (60) years in the life of a nation is like six years in the life of a man. The countries we admire so much and try to emulate have been around for hundreds of years and yet we want to fly at the same pace. Yes, we can all aspire to shared values but the rate at which such values become an integral part of our society will differ. Values demand an understanding and common acceptance of certain ethics in the society. There is need a cultural adjustments take time to make between generations.

I think that there’s still opportunity to mold or shape our country in a different way along a different path. When I think of the role of a president, what is important is the opportunity to mold and shape the country not just for the present but more for the future. I’d like to be able to address those things that are fundamental to the system of governance, the architecture of our economy and the kind of society that we want to become. And these are three separate areas that all must be worked on in tandem with each other.

I think naturally, one will ask: “So what would you do differently?” For me, I perceive that you can be a president that presides over the most efficient incremental gains but you leave with nothing really fundamentally unchanged. Or you can be a president that seeks to restructure, recreate so that the country can have big quantum leaps thereafter. Those are big challenges. Of course it is not one or the other because there is a graduation in between the two options. One must however pitch camp decisively towards one of them as the totem pole for a presidency.

I think my desire to see some big changes and be able to count them off the tip of your palm is a driving force for any ambition I had to be president. I would definitely want to go with referendum agenda for governance (one six year term limit), organize Ghana into 25 regions as units for decentralized government and abandon the farce with local government a district levels, change nature of the economy (scrap export of unprocessed cocoa beans, timber, Gold and oil) and achieve self-sufficiency in rice production in five years and sugar production in 15 years. Ensure renewable energy for 20% of our energy needs and grow our jute (kenaff) for bags so that we can completely ban use of plastics as bags. And have a compulsory two year army service for all 18 to 29 year olds.

Normally when you ask people what they’ve achieved, they start mentioning so many things but many of those many things are not fundamental changes and will be swept away in the sands of time. This is not to praise the president because he’s my friend but when you look at what has transpired over this short period, what I like is that I can count some fundamental things.

  1. He has tackled a big challenge in the education sector at a fundamental level free universal education up to secondary level
  2. He has began the journey for change in architecture of governance by the creation of five new regions
  3. He has achieved a monumental task of peace in Dagbon which eluded so many for so many years. Yes many others were involved but without his steely determination it could have easily gone on for another five years.
  4. The progress with rail transversal rail transport and industries is too early to count. So I will hold back on that for the moment, the reopening of Obuasi mines not withstanding. We must wait for the commissioning of an oil refinery that stops export of our crude oil and a Gold refinery that stops the export od unrefined Gold and indeed makes it illegal.


TVM: The free education?

ASF: Yes the potential  impact of free secondary education is huge. Because free universal education to secondary level will restructure the numbers of people in education and it will have a long term impact if we do it well. It help to prepare Ghana to be able to absorb those people that will come off the farms and give them the  technological skills that we need to transform the economy in a significant way.

Secondly, the recreation of the regions will fundamentally change the architecture of governance in a sense that you will have 16 region. For example, in the Northern Region we had one region covering 30percent of the land mass of Ghana, now we have three regions having 10percent each. What it means is that it will bring the higher caliber of people that one needs at the regional level to stimulate the growth and development of the region.

Also is, the long standing Dagbon crisis which has now been resolved. Again I mention these only to highlight the fact that the hard things are the ones that are worth doing and they make the biggest difference.

TVM: Should Ghanaian still be considering you as a potential presidential hopeful?

ASF: That’s a difficult question to answer. I think if something is in your destiny, it will come to pass. I think every person that has a public spirit will answer that call if it comes to you, at the right time and in the right way.  As I said, for me what is important now is to focus on building a strong agribusiness as an example of what people in agriculture can do to help people in a qualitative way, not just a quantitative way; because if I don’t do that who else is going to that?

Above all, I think there are many people who can answer that call so at the right time, if we’re lucky and blessed, we’ll get the right person to answer that call, it could be me or it could be someone else, I don’t rule myself out. In the meantime I am doing what I advice all technocrats to do, excel in your area of expertise in the private sector if you can. I like the example of the proprietor of Asheshi University.


TVM: How would you describe your leadership style?

ASF: I am a fairly open person because I was brought up that way. I’m also somebody who believes in systems and their principles. I tend to find my patience with people who want to bend the rules is a little bit short. I believe very much that you can only make headway if you follow the principles.  One of the things I’m not very tolerant of is that in Africa, we believe the there should be different rules governing our conduct with regards to time, seriousness and morality as if the law of gravity doesn’t apply in Africa. Time is the same anywhere. Whether you are wearing a Rolex watch or a Timex watch, it is still the same time. Whether you are in Ghana or somewhere, same is the same  in its amount. We have to give time a higher value.

It is very important that our country works and follows systems that have been proven and tested. And my leadership style is always to make sure that I push people in that direction.


TVM: What kind of books do you read?

ASF: I like to read biographies of people that have achieved a lot. Their lives are very instructive and also gives one a firm conviction that if one persists, one will succeed. I think sometimes, reading about other people’s lives helps. I also read science fiction and mega trends in the world.


TVM: what genre of music do you like?

ASF: Generally, I like cool music. I also like cool jazz as well as modern music because I’ve children. I know what Busta Rhymes sounds like. Not that I like it much but I follow what is happening and of course I’ve seen the trends and the genres of new music coming.


TVM: If you had the opportunity to right a wrong, what would it be?

ASF: I am somebody who has always moved on. My attitude has not always been not to cry over spilt milk and that is one of the things my foster parents built in me. My frame of mind really is always getting on with the present and the future, so I don’t like to dwell too much on the past.

TVM: A lot of Ghanaians know you as a politician, an agribusiness entrepreneur, an agronomist, what else do you do?

ASF: That’s more or less the sum total of my life. If I’m in consultancy, it’s an agricultural and development consultancy. If I’m in politics, yes it’s about society but I would like to drive the emphasis on the role agriculture can play in shaping the country because I never let go of that part of my life. I don’t try to be something that I am not, you know, I think I have a fairly broad education that allows me to integrate sources of different knowledge and use it but when I want specialized knowledge, I go to the person who has it if I don’t have it.


TVM: In your lifetime now, what would you want to be remembered for, as your legacy?

ASF: My legacy would not be complete without being successful in agribusiness. Because, the intellectual and development part  of my career have been done. But I want it to be punctuated with tangible success in agribusiness as an entrepreneur. I want to leave that as my flagship of an intergenerational wealth creation industry. I want to be remembered for taking a successful risk with my own resources and savings  legacy to create not just a production industry but a processing industry that is sustainable over time. I want to be remembered for putting my money where my mouth was. I hope it will be successful, if it is it will be a real legacy. As you know it is important because we can decide that from today, we’re not wearing any make-up, we’re not buying any Brazilian hair anymore. We can even decide not to buy Lexus cars or not to wear expensive suits any more, BUT we can never say we won’t eat!


TVM:  Interesting, now with everything that you said, I would want you to advise the government, especially, on what to do to make agriculture more productive and make the economy benefit more from agriculture, make the sector more valuable.

ASF: The real issue about agriculture is that we must walk the talk. If I would give advise to anybody, I’d say walk the talk. Let’s not talk and we don’t walk. If you walk the talk, we know what we need to do and it’ll be done. But we cannot leave it for one person to do it because that person needs help and we have to make sacrifices in other areas for it to happen.


TVM: How about advice for the youth and your parting message for Ghanaians?

ASF: To the youth, they should decide what they want to do; decide where their passion is, cultivate their skill set and the relevant industry experience. Rise to the zenith of their profession and then get into policy making to expand their impact. Also, they shouldn’t believe that certain things are not achievable either because they don’t have money or they come from a certain background; the human potential is vast.

The opportunity to change, the opportunity to adapt, the opportunity to overcome are always there for the taking for the person who has the courage to dare. So be somebody who dares. Don’t accept the status-quo. Push the boundaries and I’ll say for African youth that is very important because our societies are changing but not necessarily in the way we want them to change. We are subject to so many influences and we’re copying many things we shouldn’t copy, but find out who you are. Interrogate yourself: who am I? You cannot be who you are separate from your cultural identity. Put faith in your character not your degree. Don’t be rude and arrogant because it is fashionable. So just build your identity, character and passion.


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The 400 Year Legacy of the Slave Trade: Reuniting affected Communities at the HACSA Summit 2019.



Ama Ata Aidoo is quoted as saying that “Humans, not places, make memories.”

So, what do we do with a 400 year old memory of men and women who landed on the shores of America as slaves? Memories of Pain, struggles, despair and lost family ties.

Yet 400 years on, we continue to seek answers to basic questions in the hope of linking people to their roots and creating shared values and opportunities for all. 

In an interview with Ambassador Johanna Odonkor Svanikier (Founder and President of The Heritage and Cultural Society of Africa) (HACSA), we set out to understand the significance of celebrating such a dark part of our history. What legacies are there to celebrate and how she and the team at HACSA are focused on building a thriving community for networking and economic empowerment.

She also throws more lights on the 2019 Heritage and Cultural Society of Africa (HACSA) Summit and how governments, private sector, NGOs and individual can leverage on the socio-economic potential of Heritage and Culture as a country differentiator and a means of building value for citizens.

400 YEARS ON: Commemorating the Legacy of the Slave Trade

TVM: Being the Founder and President of The Heritage and Cultural Society of Africa, can you throw some light on this whole concept of slavery and “The Year of Return”?

Amb. Svanikier: The commemoration which is happening is in a very specific context. Exactly 400 years ago, there was a boat which arrived in the United States of America (USA) with what is perceived as the first enslaved people landing in the USA in Jamestown, Virginia. I believe the landing of the first enslaved people is symbolic. There were people enslaved long before that and we don’t want to erase their memory. In 2018, the US Congress passed legislation to mark these 400 years and that has lent impetus to commemorate this period. The Heritage and Cultural Society of Africa, celebrates the achievements of the African diaspora, people all over the continent and out of the continent; people beyond the shores of Africa who have excelled. We had our maiden conference in 2017. We are using this opportunity once again to bring the Diaspora and people who love Africa from all over the world; whether it’s Africa, the USA, the Caribbean, Europe or even Asia, all together in Ghana to unite, form networks and bonds amongst ourselves. The biggest problem is, once people were taken away and enslaved, they lost their roots, they lost their identity, and they lost the connection with one another. HACSA believes that that connection is something very powerful and if we reconnect with one another, we can enrich one another’s lives, not just one group; not just the African Americans or the Caribbean people will be enriched, we too will be enriched. On the other hand, they coming is not just doing us a favor, they’ll be doing themselves a favor as well because when they link with us, they’ll find a deeper meaning to their identity.

TVM: Three things come to mind from your narration – Celebration, Unity and Networking. Are these the three key things individuals coming should be expecting?

Amb. Svanikier: Yes, absolutely. We want to celebrate the fact that we are reunited and can help one another grow from strength to strength. Also, we’ll have a solemn commemoration because a lot of people were killed, a lot of people were tortured, a lot of people had their lives destroyed and families separated; whole communities were also separated. Thus, there’ll be some reflection and solemn commemoration at the HACSASummit 2019.

TVM: The theme for the celebration is quite profound. “400 years on: Legacy. Communities. Innovation.” Let’s talk about the insights within the theme and why you have chosen to focus on Legacy, Communities and Innovation.

Amb. Svanikier: The three are sub themes: Legacy, Communities and Innovation. The Legacy refers to what I was narrating earlier. The legacy of the slave trade is a very bitter one; it destroyed whole communities. The legacy of the slave trade still exists till today and the latest rendition is that African-American males are being incarcerated and killed in the US at an alarming rate. That’s a legacy of the slave trade which lives with us till today and which in my humble opinion has not been addressed properly. There are also some positive legacies such as innovation that were borne out of the hardship people suffered which include Jazz and Reggae music. Also, as a result of exclusion from many parts of the economy, people of African descent refined their skills and ability in sports and entertainment and now, they rule the world in these fields. This shows that if they are allowed to be in other areas as well, they will excel.

Next is Communities. This is trying to bring people together. I feel very strongly that there was no truth and reconciliation process after the slave trade and so the legacies are still very heavy on the communities that were affected. There hasn’t been the level of healing that needs to take place. So, bringing communities together whether Danish, Dutch, French, British with the African communities that were affected and those who were unfortunately shipped to what was then known as the new world, will bring about a fruitful conversation.

TVM: And possible closure?

Amb. Svanikier: I don’t think we can achieve closure in one session but we can open the debate because I feel the debate is not even opened and I think it is a long term process which needs to start now.

TVM: I heard you talk about innovation in music and entertainment. From a tech perspective, have you considered that?

Amb. Svanikier: For innovation, we are really excited because if you look at the three themes, technically, they represent yesterday, today and tomorrow. Yesterday is the legacy, today are the communities and tomorrow is the innovation and technological innovation is what can move Africa to the next level. We really focus on women and girls because we feel those are the two elements for moving Africa from the socio-economic difficultieswe’re experiencing now to the next level, to prosperity, and a higher quality of life for its people. If we educate women and youth and teach them technology, I think the sky is the limit for us. The Heritage and Cultural Society of Africa, HACSA, has a “Girls Can Code” project which is in collaboration with UNESCO and other partners. There will be such technology Displays and Workshops at the Summit. In a way, especially in Ghana, empowering women I feel is part of our culture and our heritage. I think in Ghana, we haven’t done badly with projecting women as leaders and most recently, the former headmistress of Wesley Girls High School was honored as one of the Women of the Year because she has done such a good job with leadership and imbibing leadership into women’s psyche. We have done a very good job there and we need to bring the tech into the picture and when we combine the two, we will find that we will move very quickly. We will have an innovation exposition and we will try to bring young startups and also people who are doing new things with local products like Ghanaian chocolate makers. They are turning the cocoa beans into beautiful chocolates and that’s innovative as well. I have spoken in the past about coconuts and the fact that it’s completely underused in our economy. There are so many potential uses of coconut into flour, the oil now is very much in demand and coconut is basically a super food. We have it in abundance in this country but we’re not adding enough value. So, the innovation bit is a huge area of opportunity. It’s difficult to know where to start and stop but we need to focus on it to take us to the next level.

TVM: In recent times, there’s been some concern about the relationship between what you might call African-Americans and Africans and the question is, is it unhealthy? How do we ensure that this relationship is made better?

Amb. Svanikier: Absolutely. There are difficulties in the relationship and I think there are two events we hope to have during our summit which will highlight this issue and hopefully bring some understanding. Basically, I think we need to understand each other better; so, we need to look at each other’s cultures and see what we have in common. We have a group coming from Washington University in Seattle and they will host a special workshop which discusses the two cultures and how to bring the two cultures together. This is something they do in America. They bring young Africans and young African-Americans together and discuss what the issues are between the two groups and try to make them understand each other from each other’s perspective. The other is the Venture Smith Family story. We are looking for sponsorship and support to bring the family of Venture Smith to Ghana. Venture Smith was an enslaved person who was kidnapped in Cameroon. He was the son of a Prince and was brought to Anomabo, Ghana. He was shipped to the USA, landed in Rhode Island and later ended up enslaved in Connecticut. He was so enterprising and a highly intelligent person and as such was able to negotiate and buy his freedom. He was lucky his master loaned him out to somebody and that person allowed him to earn his own income and to buy out his freedom, the freedom of his children, his wife and also build a business, a farm and a homestead– his farms and homestead still exist today.   He wrote his autobiography. Venture Smith’s descendants still live in the USA. We exhibited his story at the last conference and this time we are trying to bring the family to the HACSA Summit.

TVM: That is a very strong story.

Amb. Svanikier: Yes, it’s a very strong story. We’re hoping this will come to pass if we are able to raise the funds to do it.

TVM: In the Year of Return, what should those coming to Ghana be looking out for?

Amb. Svanikier: The HACSA Summit answers that question perfectly. This is the Year of Return and we’re creating an experience for people. We’ve negotiated discounts with the hotels and have a partner Airline- Brussels Airlines. So, we are asking delegates to book their flights and hotels online and come to Ghana for an experience of a lifetime. When they arrive; on the first day, there’ll be TEDTalks Osu. It is a platform and a forum to talk about important issues and this time we hope to have people giving their take on the 400 years. Then there’ll also be a welcome reception where people will be meeting with members of the Diaspora from all over the world. That is an opportunity to form long lasting networks. In 2017, some people who came alone are coming this time with their friends and families to experience it. They’re bringing their families along because of the incredible experience they had the last time. As such, we’re looking to form deeper relationships with people from all over the world. Anyone coming to Africa for the first time, maybe has heard that Africa is rising and therefore, there are increasing opportunities for investing in Africa. This is why there’ll be an Innovation Trade and Investment Exposition so that one can get to meet people who are doing very well here; running start-ups, small businesses, SMEs and need capital injection to take their businesses to the next level. There’s an opportunity there as well for somebody who is interested in investing in Africa. We hope to have three days of debate at the conference; thus, people will be educated as well. There are going to be academic presentations, discussion panels with practitioners and keynote speakers. Hence, there’s an opportunity to understand some of these issues mentioned earlier at a much deeper level; but it is not all work and no play so there’ll be a Gala evening which will have a fashion show of three Ghanaian fashion designers. There will be a music concert with African entertainers, and we’ll have African food, music and dancing. Some people may never have tasted African food before, so that could be an opportunity. Then also, there’ll be tours. There’ll be tours to the different regions of the country. People can pick and choose which tours they want to go on and the tours give the opportunity to let your hair down in a more informal setting and enjoy the beauty of the country and have cultural experiences. Some tours will include going to the Royal Palace in Akwamu and visiting the museum which has been set up there, which links the history of the Osu Christiansburg Castle with the people of Akwamu. People will have the opportunity to go to Elmina and Cape Coast castle and above all do the Accra tours. Accra is rich in history. HACSA will offer rich tours of Jamestown and Osu and there’s so much to see that there is not enough time to see it all in one day.

TVM: There are those who believe that Africa’s position globally still makes it look like it is within a subtle slavery, or it is within some sort of control and so that’s where the pessimists come in. What’s your take on this? Are we there or not?

Amb. Svanikier: I wouldn’t deny that. I’ll just say we need to start from somewhere and it is incremental. We are doing our bit to move Africa to the next level and I think Africa has started rising but we can’t rest on our laurels. We need to build on that and we’ll get to where we want to be. One thing I would say is, we have to be very clear on where we want to be as well. We don’t need to measure ourselves by other people’s standards. We need to look within to define what success means specifically for us. What does success mean for us? I am appalled at the fact that we have now adopted plastic for everything and especially for drinks and water. Our whole country and beaches and seas are littered with plastic. For me that’s not development – to drink coke out of a plastic bottle. When I was a child, we had glass bottles in crates. If we wanted to drink coke, we would take our crate and exchange it for another crate. We were more developed in my opinion and superior in my opinion to a community which is using plastics and throwing them away. We have gone backwards and we need to understand what success means. It doesn’t mean just following blindly somebody else’s model. It means looking at your environment and making sure you are developing in a sustainable way.

TVM: Talking about development, there’s a big question on the table all the time about the culture of maintenance. Why is that so?

Amb. Svanikier: I think human beings are like that. When you give them the right incentives, they behave in the right ways. When we talk about the culture of maintenance, what I would say is, there are issues. I think we’ve come a long way. There was a time when I would be terrified to go to a public restroom. That has changed now. A lot of places now have suitable facilities. We have come a long way from a decade or two ago but so much more needs to be done in this area especially at tourist sites. Although, we have a long way to go I think the solution is in partnership. One thing that I don’t think is working well at the moment is the partnership between government, NGOs, and the business community or the private sector. For example, running a tourist site should be treated as a business. If it is not run on a business model, it is not going to succeed. Many tourist sites are under the Ghana Museums and Monuments Board and there’s no NGO or private sector participation. But, if you bring the three elements together (government, NGO and private sector), you’ll find that everything is going to work so much better. I think this module can be extended to other areas where things are not working well because we can’t expect the government to do everything. That is HACSA’s point of reference. HACSA was established because we realized, in the heritage and cultural space there is a vacuum, and there is a gap. We need to leverage our heritage and culture for socio economic growth and the benefit of the Continent. We complain we don’t have sufficient foreign exchange but other countries are making billions out of tourism and yet our tourist infrastructure is not in place. We need to invest in tourism and we’ll get the payback. There are certain areas like the roads, restroom facilities mentioned earlier, the actual maintenance of some of the sites that are the responsibilities of government but there are other things like the tours, ticketing, that either a private or NGO can manage. It is a kind of well-oiled engine and an engine has parts and one part doesn’t function well on its own. So, we need government, the non-for-profit organization and the private sector to get working nicely together and we’ll see the difference it will make to all the things we’re trying to do.

TVM: Gradually, the young African is losing interest in his/ her culture and adopting foreign cultures as a result of cultural penetration through music, movies, fashion and other social media.  What’s your view on that? Is this part of the way to build closure or to have a good relationship between us and them?

Amb. Svanikier: No. I think it is about content. We have the social media space, we have the traditional media space. What are we producing? What content are we producing? Everyone is putting their content in the space and then people decide what they want to watch. Consequently, if you produce something that is worth watching, people will follow through. One thing you find is, the entertainment industry; music, films etc. also bring huge socio-economic benefit to a country. We need to build content that is rich enough to get the followership and not we following them. Unfortunately, we turn our noses down when our children want to make music, films and work in the creative arts and yet we’re rushing there to consume what other people are producing. For example, in Ghana, we’re obsessed with the English Premier League when the best footballers come from Ghana – everybody knows that – and yet we haven’t made any effort to create something which can capture the world’s attention. Everywhere you go, people know Ghana for soccer and yet what money are we deriving out of it? As a nation, we should have a football museum. We should be making our soccer stars heroes in the world and yet we are busy following other countries when we have the best. We have the ability for others to be following us and not we following other people.

TVM: In a previous interview you acknowledged some other countries’ symbolic cultures, for example France that is noted for wine that has transformed their economy by making it a revenue stream. What can we leverage as a culture to generate such revenue streams?

Amb. Svanikier: First of all, I think we need to be strategic about it. I think those countries who have created that aura around themselves have been strategic about it. We need to decide what we have and what we want it to symbolize. Some things are low hanging fruitsso like I said, the Black-Stars are known globally; they are adored globally and we can make much more out of that. If you consider chocolate for example, we are not known for it. It’s the likes of Switzerland, Belgium and France that are recognized but we are producing the cocoa. As far as I’m concerned, why aren’t we producing the chocolate? Well, we have started and hopefully we can grow that space. We can even leapfrog and have a cocoa museum in Ghana or a theme park where people come and know that this is the country where cocoa is grown. Everyone loves chocolate, let’s make something out of that. For Gold, why don’t we have a gold museum? You can go on and on and on with so many things where we have a comparative advantage. Other people are using what we produce to great effect. Go to Dubai, they have a Souk especially for Gold. Do they have gold in the desert, I don’t know but I doubt it? So, there is a problem. We allow people to take our heritage, make something out of it, be known for it and we are busy looking elsewhere.

TVM: I hear you say there’s a very strong socio-economic value within heritage and culture but we are not taking advantage of it.

Amb. Svanikier: That’s exactly what I’m saying.


TVM: Many people may want to know more about your personality just beyond your name. Kindly tell us about yourself and your growing up?

Amb. Svanikier: I’m just a Ghana girl. I’m born in Ghana; I attended University Primary School. When I look back, I feel so privileged because currently, I see schools rising like skyscrapers with no compounds for the children to play. In our time, we had a huge compound to run around and play and just feel like children. I am very grateful for my upbringing and my childhood.

TVM: What is your fondest childhood memory?

Amb. Svanikier: I grew up actually in Tesano and most of the fun moments were with friends. We used to pass through the barbed wire and hedges to our friends’ houses as in those days we didn’t have walls. We played till evening and came home. We played on the streets. But Ghana has changed a lot since then.

TVM: You are a barrister by profession and were called to the Bar of England and Wales in 1990 and to the Ghana Bar in 1991. Where did your passion for cultural interests’ spring from?

Amb. Svanikier: I spoke about how we have our norms as a people. Let’s face it, we try and encourage our children to do certain things and not other things. I don’t think Ghanaian children have enough space to explore career choices. We need to expose them to a variety of things and then let them explore what they want to do. The space has opened up a little bit but, in my time, we were expected to be lawyers, doctors or engineers and to quote a goodfriend, “You had to make up your mind by the time you were 5 years old!” To tell the truth, my weakness in school was Mathematics and therefore I decided to do law because I knew that in law, you wouldn’t come across any Mathematics except calculating your bill. However, I think I’m a more creative person and also very visual so I felt I needed more to stimulate me and even to stimulate my intellect. People are really surprised because they see law as something very intellectual but in the end, I moved away from law to broaden my intellect and my horizons.

TVM: You authored a book entitled “Women’s’ Rights and the Law in Ghana.” What is the state of women’s rights in Ghana today?

Amb. Svanikier: We haven’t moved that far. In the public space, I think there’s room for improvement. Legally, things like maternity leave and now paternity leave are of essence in their implementation not just on paper. As a board member of Fidelity Bank, I try to make the bank more aware of women’s issues. We’ve set up a Women’s Forum and we’re advocating for lactating rooms, crèches, men to have leave to help their wives when their wives give birth, longer maternity leave for women to avoid worrying about leaving a new born baby at home. These practical measures can really move the women’s agenda because when women are supported in their child bearing function, they become more productive.

TVM: In 2017, women were celebrated for their tremendous contributions to their societies under the theme “Women in the Changing World of Work”. Some argue that some women are more productive in leadership positions than their male counterparts and that’s why the saying goes thus: “…, but if you educate a woman you educate a nation”. Why hasn’t a woman been president in Ghana until now?

Amb. Svanikier: To be very honest, after studying law, I studied politics and researched for a PhD in “The Evolution of Democracy” using Ghana as my case study and I think therein lies the problem. Ghana is actually quite advanced politically and therefore countries which have more established political traditions, I found that, it’s harder for women to emerge whereas countries which are just beginning to develop democratic traditions like Liberia and some other countries in Africa are more likely to have women leaders. It is easier there because there’s not so much political elite activity in the political space unlike our political traditions that are more rooted. They go back even a century or more and so it is harder for them to evolve and take women on board at this stage but I think it will happen. We just need the right moment and the right configuration. I think it will happen eventually.

TVM: You have served in various leadership capacities both locally and globally, how will you describe your leadership style?

Amb. Svanikier: I’m a very detailed person. I would admit that as a fault. I’m a perfectionist and therefore when I undertake any task, I expect those I’m working with to work with me as a team. I try to ensure quality at every stage and at every level and that can be quite annoying. But in the end, when people work with me, they are very proud of what they’ve achieved because I hold them to the very standards I hold myself and I hold myself to very high standards and I feel like that is what is needed in our environment. I ‘chill’ where I need to be more chilled and push harder where there is a need. But in Ghana, we are too chilled so we need to be kind of pushed a little to heat us up.

TVM: How would you describe your management philosophy?

Amb. Svanikier: My overall philosophy is that you are only as good as your team. And so get yourself a good team and you will shine with them. We need to work as teams. We need different elements in a team and we need to work and come together to achieve our aspirations. In everything I do, I try to create a team. Also, the team must have young people because it is through the young people that we as a nation can grow. Young people need experience, they need mentorship, and they need exposure. It is not only by travelling abroad that you can get this exposure; you can get it in Ghana too. And by being innovative and enterprising, we can give the young people exposure right here in Ghana.

TVM: Did you or do you have any mentor(s) that influenced your thinking in life, business, etc.?

Amb. Svanikier: Both parents were good role models and mentors. My father expected a lot from us academically. Actually both parents did, and my mother socially. She had high standards for us socially so I think the two things combined – the academic and the social – made me what I am today.

TVM: What do you do in your leisure time? Where would you like to be during your leisure time?

Amb. Svanikier: I would like to be in the Mediterranean or Caribbean drinking fresh coconut, walking on the beach, enjoying breeze and sun. I don’t like too much sun or too much heat and neither do I like it too cold as well. I want a nice combination of warmth and breeze and that you can get in the Caribbean and the Mediterranean.

TVM: What kinds of books do you read? Is there any particular book(s) that has significantly shaped or influenced your life?

Amb. Svanikier: I do have books which have really impacted me and given me an ‘aha’ moment. One of them is “The Book of Sarahs: A Family in Parts”. It is written by an African-American (mixed white and black) woman who was adopted by a white family and thought that she had been separated from her black heritage only to find out that her mother was actually white. That’s a very interesting book and I met that lady in Ghana a while ago. She came to Ghana as a Peace Corp Volunteer and I think her experience in Ghana also influenced the book. Another favorite book is James Barnor’s book which I brought to Ghana. It has his pictures which depict Africans in the 50s and 60s on their own terms. Ghana actually is a leader in that because we achieved independence early. Kwame Nkrumah was so focused on creating our own narratives and stories and as such, we had our own film institute and photographers working on our own stories earlier than other African countries. So, the pictures of photographers like James Barnor tell storyof Africans in Africa by Africans; it’s a beautiful book.

TVM: What is your favorite meal?

Amb. Svanikier: Waakye. I make the best Waakye.

TVM: What genre of music do you listen to?

Amb. Svanikier: I love all kinds of music; Classical,Jazz but Afrobeats is my go-to. To raise my spirit, I love dancing to Afrobeats.

TVM: If you had the opportunity to right a wrong. What would it be?

Amb. Svanikier: To be very honest, in my youth I was repressed and when you’re repressed you don’t speak up and when you don’t speak up things go wrong. That is what I’m trying to rectify even now. Now, I don’t protect myself so much because in the end, shyness is actually protecting yourself. I’m more open and if I see something, or know something is wrong, I try to say it and face the consequences.

TVM: Due to your wealth of experience in life and business, do you intend to document your life in a book (autobiography / biography) to benefit the younger generations’ especially young women and girls?

Amb. Svanikier: At this stage, I don’t have time to write an autobiography, maybe sometime in the future. If I do write, maybe it’s unlikely to be an autobiography. It would probably be about lessons learnt in life which I can transmit especially to women. I feel I have something to say to young women to make their lives easier and help them go through life in an easier way than I did.

TVM: What advice would you give to the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture on preserving and maintaining Ghana’s culture and heritage?

Amb. Svanikier: I suggest the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture should partner with the private sector and NGOs to get their work done because they can’t do it alone; they shouldn’t be doing it alone.Sites like the Nkrumah Mausoleum; there should be some private sector involvement, there should be some NGO involvement in maintaining the Mausoleum so that it can be a much better experience than what it is today; I think there’s huge potential.

TVM: What advice would you give to young women and girls?

Amb. Svanikier: To girls and young women, they should be more vocal, speak their mind, shouldn’t worry so much about what people think about them and how people react towards them. They should try to get strength from within and whatever people say, they can take on board but not let it define them.

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