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Prof. Edward Solomon Ayensu – (Former Chairman, World Bank Inspection Panel)

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…is an international development advisor on science, technology and economic development and is currently the Chairman of the Board of Trustees, African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS) Ghana, and Vice President of the Energy Globe Foundation.

TVM: How will you describe the state of the Ghanaian economy after 60 years of independence considering the preindependence, independence and postindependence events?

PESA: This is a very tall question. Luckily, I’ve lived long enough to have experienced a substantial portion of Ghana’s history. Ghana started with tremendous exuberance. At the time, we had a leader who literally whipped majority of Ghanaians into a frenzy. He believed that Ghana should become an important country; not only in Africa but the rest of the world. If you study his works, devoid of the politics, you will find out that we started off with a man with tremendous vision.

He knew where Ghana should be. As a matter of fact, I think he was 20 – 30 years ahead of most his colleagues on the continent. He managed to allow Ghana to experience something that, in my judgment, was lacking in other African countries. In order to have a country develop, there must be a national agenda, and have a critical mass of people who can turn ideas into something substantial and practical.

TVM: What did Nkrumah do differently?

PESA: When Nkrumah decided to put up the first seven-year development plan, he went outside his political party i.e. to the opposition to ask Mr J. H. Mensah and his team to get the job done. When you read that plan today, you will find out that it is literally the genesis of all the development plans we have encountered on the continent today. If you take the Lagos plan of action, for example, it’s literally a carbon copy of Ghana’s first development plan.

A lot of other African countries managed to take bits and pieces of it to use. Now, fast forward, we went through a period where the soldiers took control and now we’re back into the civilian mode. But in retrospect, I think, if Ghana does not go back to the drawing board where we started to the type of vision that the country was presented; 60 years on, the country may be worse off than it is right now and I have good reasons to speculate from this standpoint.

TVM: Good reasons like?

Prof. Edward Solomon Ayensu

PESA: Discipline is something that is absolutely essential if you want to run a country, an office or a house. You need leaders and people who are ‘damn’ honest to be able to make that happen. Unfortunately, we in Ghana are branded as indiscipline on all fronts in a way that, to be very honest with you, I feel even ashamed sometimes to talk about it.

At the same time, I have a glimmer of hope. The first hope I have is that all the young people I’m meeting of recent date want to be entrepreneurs and not civil servants.

But, they require something to be able to achieve that and that is, the need for the government to create a congenial atmosphere for them to operate in. Government has some very specific duties to perform to grow the economy. Government officials should also stay out of business.

I want to emphasize that, we have to discipline ourselves. I am pleased that at the beginning of his presidency, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo admonished his ministers and other appointees.

TVM: As an International advisor on economic development, what do you suggest Ghana should do to be on track to attain its economic independency?

PESA: To become economically independent requires a lot of work. It requires a programme that is devoid of interest of personalities and political parties. The country as whole must have an agenda. I’m saying this because I’ve tried to study all the manifestos of the political parties and to tell you the truth, apart from a few areas where you see major dichotomies, they are practically almost the same.

What is important is who is running the ship. If we get the correct leader to run the ship then we’ll get somewhere. If not, we wouldn’t and these are the facts. The economy of a country depends upon serious macro-economic discipline and we need people who know the subject areas.

Not all who comment on economics are qualified to do so. Theoretically, there are ways and means of getting the economy of a country going. But theoretical economics is not a strict science. There’s a human element and that element is the one that undermines any theoretical presentation that Ghana’s economy is premised.

There are people in official positions who are systematically looking for ways and means to undermine the systems so that they can take bribes to enrich themselves. To change the mind set of Ghanaians we may need to help form parties such as psychologists, sociologists and so on and not only theoretical economists.

Each government comes in with their own agenda. Unfortunately, because of the way we are structured, we tend to rely only on our party members. But, I would like to see us venture out a little and talk to other people who mean well. I mean people who love Ghana the way we should all love Ghana; instead of our parties only.

TVM: The President recently averred that: “Africans must move beyond aid…” As a renowned advisor on strategy, sustainability and relationship management, what steps would you advice we take as Africans to effect this new narrative?

PESA: I’m so delighted that the President is hopping on this subject. We should have been doing this long ago. I recall I wrote an article in the bulleting of Atomic Scientist, Einstein’s magazine in 1985 and I was talking about this same subject. I said “the greatest contribution the developed world can make for us is to stop giving us aid in its current form”.

The only aid that is worth receiving is, for example, when there’s a disaster or so and Ghana’s friends want to help, that is fine. The rest I have difficulty with. Sometimes, a whole country on the continent starts preparing its national budget and the government starts off by finding out how much aid it is getting from Britain, USA, China, France, Soviet Union etc.

This has been going on continuously decade after decade and I’m so delighted that the President has finally vocalized what has been on our minds for so many years.

TVM: You have worked with various African governments as a result of your position as the Chairman of the Inspection Panel of the World Bank. What were some of the things you noticed, which perhaps, is making Africa lag in its economic development?

PESA: To be very honest with you, I never wanted to deal with my own country when I was the chairman of the Inspection Panel for the World Bank. This is because people could easily misunderstand your criticisms.

But the truth is our own leadership often undermine the national programme. It is our indisciplinary nature that makes it possible to be dictated to by the IMF and other International Financial Institutions. In other parts of the world where I conducted investigations, I noticed that when I make suggestions, people do listen and they don’t take your comments in a negative way.

But, here on this continent, the tendency even for people to hate you when you make suggestions is there.

Banking and the Currency evolution

TVM: In the third chapter of your book, ‘Bank of Ghana:  Commemoration of the Golden Jubilee’, you noted that after Ghana’s independence, the West African pound, circulating in the colonies, was regarded as a vestige of British colonialism that had to be changed. On July 14th, 1958, the Ghana Pound was introduced. Can you shed more light on that evolution and the significance of our currency to our economic growth?

PESA: First of all, formal banking didn’t exist in the then Gold Coast. It was not until 1890 that the Colonial Secretary decided to establish some semblance of banking, called Savings Bank, in the then Post and Telecommunications Department. Fast forward, on 21st November, 1912, the colonial secretary decided that they better get some currency for the whole of the English speaking West Africa: Gold Coast (Ghana), The Gambia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone. All these ideas were harnessed by the colonial government because they wanted our cocoa and they realised that in buying the cocoa, they had to pay with something.

They then issued the first West African currency by the West African Currency Board in 1913. This money, which was used in the four former British colonies, was used to pay the farmers. So, what the West African countries are currently trying to do, in establishing a common currency is not a new phenomenon.

TVM: What is your impression of Ghana @60 as a whole with respect to the currency?

PESA: Initially, one could say that during the First Republic, it became obvious that Ghana should have total control over its own currency and the economy. Currency by itself doesn’t mean anything.

What is important is the productivity of the economy. When the first President, Dr Kwame Nkrumah got the Central Bank established, it became obvious that other things had to go with it. For example, you just cannot develop if you do not have the underpinning infrastructure needed to make things happen. Right from the beginning, Nkrumah felt the time had come for us to industrialise because without it, we were going nowhere. This was because he realised that capital formation was hard to come by.

Therefore government had to step in. The best way to go about it was for the government to literally start up some industries. You notice that all the countries that have major start-ups are the rapidly developing countries and recently developed countries have well established start-ups.

These then have the potential to mushroom into major companies. Right now the contribution that our industries make to the economy and therefore the GDP is relatively very small. Without the cocoa and our mineral resources and now oil and gas, our GDP will be very low. The reason is that the general productivity in the country is very low. Any economy that depends largely on imports of rice, tomato, onion etc. is not a serious economy. In fact such an economy is vulnerable.

TVM: The Central Bank last year raised the stated capital of banks to GH¢400million and some critics are of the view that local banks cannot meet the new requirement and will be squeezed out of the market. How do we achieve a balance of solid banks to drive economic growth and strong and formidable local representation?

PESA: This idea of recapitalising the banks was initiated by the previous government. With my knowledge of the banking sector I believe and was of the opinion then that if we do not take care we will drive away our local banks to oblivion. These other banks have their mother banks outside and can bring in money to recapitalise if need be. But with the new government articulating clearly why the banks need to recapitalise, my understanding is that if you raise the GH¢400million then you are a fully-fledged bank but if not, then there are other categories including savings and loans to fall on. Generally, I do not want government to take decisions that will drive our local banks under. We need Ghanaian banks and government should be friendlier to local banks so they can help the business community grow. If I had my way, I will protect local banks so they are duly represented in the economy. For example, when the banks in the USA were collapsing, the US government protected the local banks, removed the non-performing assets to one side, and gave them five years to pay back and in less than three years, they all paid back. That is how a Central Bank should behave and not to participate in killing our local banks. If present trends continue we may end up with only foreign banks operating in the country’s economy.

Business

TVM: One of the biggest debates is who drives business within an economy? During the Nkrumah regime, the state was heavily involved in driving growth. Today, there is a lot of private sector leadership. What is the right mix for an economy like ours?

Prof. ESA in his home garding

PESA: I would urge the government to become very proactive in getting the private sector fully involved. I expect the government would help create the requisite environment for the private sector to flourish. We should not forget that during the Nkrumah era capital formation was hard to come by hence the heavy involvement of government to start-up industries. If you look at all the recently developed countries, especially the Asian Tigers, the government encourages certain individuals and back them to get a lot of industries going. They are given all the necessary incentives to operate. One district one factory is a very good start.

TVM: Former American President, Barack Obama, is of the view that there has to be a strong correlation between Main Street and Wall Street for everyone to benefit from economic growth. But in some countries, where there isn’t a powerful Wall Street, the government is the leader in driving growth. What should be the role of a political party in the development of an economy?

PESA: For countries now developing rapidly, and I am referring to countries such as Malaysia, South Korea and Singapore, the common denominator is not the political party in power. It is the business community being the engine of growth that drives economic growth. The political parties just support the people who can help put bread on the table. These people are the ones that government, in my judgement, should really cultivate.

I do not think government’s business is to be running industries. I travel around the world regularly and I can say emphatically that all these countries doing well do not have the governments building factories and industries for the people.

What these governments have done is to use these companies properly by supplying them with the incentives they need such as by way of providing pragmatic tax incentives. When these businesses have good tax breaks, they are then in a position to invest more in their businesses and the ramifications of these include the getting of more people gainfully employed.

When I was with the World Bank, I travelled a lot to many developing countries. I realised that very often there are some Members of Parliament and government officials who have the habit to get involved in private sector activities by using their positions. This has to stop. We will never develop by allowing the private sector practitioners to grow their business if we continue to go this direction. Until we break these habits, we are not going to flourish.

Agriculture

TVM: We are rich with human and natural resources and therefore our success largely depends on how we harness these resources. Do you think that we have failed in harnessing these resources to develop? What should we do?

PESA: I think we have failed and I cannot emphasise this strongly enough. If you look at the natural resource base in this country and the considerable human resource capacity at our command, we shouldn’t be this poor. Our GDP figures are looking nice only because of the mineral resources and cocoa. Apart from that, what contributes to the GDP? Practically nothing to write home about. The state of our agriculture is not very encouraging.

Here is a country with tremendous amount of arable land, I don’t think we are using even 10 percent of our arable land effectively, and yet we are importing everything that we can produce here. For example, a few alligator pumps in the Volta River will help us to produce rice every 90 days. We should not forget that we have some three hundred miles of portable water that is going into the ocean to become sea water.

When we talk about agriculture, we should recognise that the subsistence farming we have relied on cannot sustain this country for long because of the population growth. It is unthinkable that we are practising subsistence farming today when we have all the technologies at our command. Glorifying subsistence farming will take us nowhere. We are in an age where science and technology in agriculture is the norm.

TVM: Why do we have considerable human potential contributing to global development, but such knowledge is not reflecting in the growth of our economy?

PESA: That’s the question we should be asking. It’s all because we have a very bad mind set that does not encourage us to use our highly technical people to participate in our development. This country has vast human capacity and in addition to this, enormous wealth in terms of natural resources, but we are unable to develop because of political polarization.

As stated earlier, when Nkrumah decided that this country needed the first seven-year development plan, he didn’t go to his CPP party folks; he called J. H. Mensah and others in the opposition to put their expertise to work. We should learn to see ourselves, first as Ghanaians. In the USA, a lot of people do not like the blacks and they say so. But when work must be done, they put the race card aside and let the black man do the job because he is good. That doesn’t happen here much because we are consumed with party politics.

We prefer to destroy the person who has the knowledge just because they belong to the other political party. If you do not belong, then you are out. We must change this bad habit immediately and begin to use our very best scientific and technical minds to help develop our nation.

TVM: The new government has introduced several policies in agriculture with the flagship known as “Planting for Food and Jobs” to employ about 750,000. To what extent do these policies help?

PESA: You can have all these policies and strategies on paper and beautifully presented to the country. But the fact of the matter is how do we operationalize what is on paper? You really have to have people who know how to do it. The farmers are the first people to concede that they need help. Also, farmers all over the world are very conservative people. Without a demonstration they have difficulty changing their operations. What needs to be done is an agrarian programme that allows the government to show the farmers the benefits of new and improved technology. Having plenty of people doing agriculture is not the answer, the answer is the injection of science and technology into the field. The Minister of Food and Agriculture, Hon. Dr. Owusu Afriyie Akoto, is pointing to the right direction. Our aim must be the production of most of the basic foods instead of relying on imports.

Education

TVM: The Nana Addo led government has made it very clear that education is paramount in its plan to drive economic growth. That is why it came in and wasted no time in introducing the free SHS policy but critics believe that the challenges will mount to cripple the policy. What are your thoughts on this policy and education as a whole in the country?

PESA: I don’t want to hear anybody talk about the country lacking the financial resources to educate our kids. Nobody, who is being very honest, should say we do not have the money for such a programme.

Regardless of what we are doing, we must have the resources to educate the kids. Education is the best investment we could make. In the First Republic, the President realised that education is a must because if we don’t develop the requisite human capacity to propel the country upwards using our natural resource base, we should consider ourselves poor stewards.

You can sit on gold and diamond and you will be poor all your life because you do not have the knowledge base to know the value of what you are sitting on. The amount of money we have wasted since independence is several times more than what we need to educate our children.

If the government doesn’t put enough money in science, technology, fundamental and applied research, we will fail. I am delighted that since the First Republic, this is the second major wave of serious focus on education; and more power to the government because with prudent management we will have money to do it.

TVM: After educating the people, jobs must be created for them to work and contribute to economic growth. The government, through its One District, One Factory initiative and industrial parks is seeking to aggressively industrialise the economy. Are we on the right track?

Prof. ESA in his factory as he puts it

PESA: I believe we are on the right track but my issue is with operationalization. Take a small country like Israel. A lot of the major multinationals have their research and development centres there. That is what I hope the government is talking about with the industrial parks. With that, your industries will immediately flourish because you get to train the requisite people to help and enhance the productivity of the various industries. Unfortunately, most Ghanaians think they have to go through the university to get a degree.

Look at the unemployed university graduates. Degrees per se do not bring the jobs needed. What is key is technical education; but we tend to look down on it. What makes the developed countries productive is the technical people, not the philosophers and thinkers. Once you develop a critical mass of technical people, they are the ones who will get our industries and infrastructure moving.

TVM: You are the Board Chair for the African Institute of Mathematical Science, Ghana (AIMS Ghana) and in getting the right mind set going and utilising technology, math, science and logic are critical to technology but as a country, we do not seem to be doing very well. How do we get around that?

PESA: For the past five years, the Board and Trustees of the Institute (AIMS Ghana) have been trying to get the government to help us attain a UNESCO Category 2 status, which allows the Institute to benefit from information and resources from UNESCO’s other international centres of excellence. We were unable to get the needed assistance. But the coming in of this government has facilitated all that.

Upon meeting with Minister for Education, Hon. Dr. Matthew Opoku Prempeh, he immediately saw the importance and significance of science and mathematics in our development. In a relatively short time, he managed to get UNESCO to come and inspect our facilities. I am delighted to inform you that we have attained a Category 2 status. You will also be pleased to know that this happened just before Professor F. K. Allotey, President of AIMS Ghana, passed.

We need good quality teachers for our school children. For years, University of Ghana didn’t produce a PhD in Mathematics; for a premier university in our country, this is a disappointment. We need to sharpen our tools in the areas of science, technology and innovation. We do not have to wait a 100 years to do certain things. Technology transfer is here and we know where to go find the knowledge.

Governance

TVM: When there is a change in government in this country, several state institutions see changes at management and board levels. Many analysts are calling for governance to be a continuum and not radical changes when there is a change at the political seat. Should there be a change in that direction?

PESA: I definitely wish we will become very objective in talking about this situation. There is no question that every time a new government comes in, there is the call from party faithfuls to throw everybody out and start afresh.

My experience in discussing this issue for example, is that any country that regularly changes its agriculture minister can never have a sustainable programme. I do not care how brilliant any person is. If you are appointed an agriculture minister, you need to get in, develop through the learning curve before you attain any success. Very often the Minister is thrown out and another person comes in.

We must be mindful of removing dedicated technical staff who are not officially branded as political faithfuls. It is not every institution that you throw everybody out and get a new person in. In the USA, for example, when Barack Obama came into office, he didn’t change the Secretary in charge of Defense. He said something to the effect that you are doing a good job so you are staying on. My observation is that every party has its own people ready to assume power.

Therefore they should be given the opportunity to field their own people. To have institutional memory, you cannot start every four years with new set of people in all institutions. There are certain people who should be rooted out because of their performance but others who are very measured and think about Ghana first should not be changed unceremoniously.

We must however, be realistic. Because we have been changing key personnel with incoming administration, it will take some time before the new administration develops the confidence that the incumbents will not sabotage their plans. My verdict is that the incoming President should have the power to select his/her own trusted people!

TVM: Ghana is 60 years but how do we ensure that we can put Ghana on a very aggressive path of growth so that when the country is 120 years, the future will be proud of us with their economic growth? What are the things we should do to ensure growth?

PESA: Certainly I will not be around but don’t count me out. But seriously what will sadden me is for our grand and great grandchildren to say that we have let them down. I believe that in terms of development, we can leave a great legacy for them and with their superior knowledge in science and technology, they can help continue to make Ghana become the showcase for the African continent.

I think we can do it because I believe the natural resource base we have haven’t been properly exploited. We do not have enough technical know-how but I hope in the next few years we will establish a solid foundation to make sure that we are producing the correct type of persons who can read and write properly, to exploit our resources to ensure that future generations will be proud of what we have done.

PERSONALITY PROFILE

TVM: Who is Professor Edward Solomon Ayensu?

PESA: That’s a very interesting question. I was born in Sekondi, all of my ancestors are from Elmina and Anomabo. I come from a fantastic family with the matriarch, that’s my mother, at the head of it. I wish I had a quarter of her brain power.

I wouldn’t be sitting here; I would have been a very well of entrepreneur. I attended Sekondi Methodist School. From there, I went to Achimota and afterwards to the United States of America (USA). I was also in England where I read for my doctorate at London University.

I was a Visiting Fellow at Oxford University and then from there I went back to the USA where I was probably one of the luckiest persons you could ever find at one of the most prestigious establishment in the US. I was hired by the Smithsonian Institution, which is the largest museum complex in the world, and it was there my career actually took off. Before then, I was very interested in natural history.

I like to learn everything and anything, and I played a lot. Most of my class mates will tell you that I was an athlete but not a scholar. I was the first person to jump 6 feet in the history of Achimota. I was also the centre forward in hockey for the Gold Coast and Ghana and that’s how I was characterised. I have a secret that I can now share. What I really wanted to do was to become a professional boxer; prize fighter. This is what I loved the most. However, in the olden days we use to listen to our parents. I told my mother I wanted to become a prize fighter and in a very nice way she said no; “you can’t be a prize fighter but you have to go to school”.

Of course, we had a good culture in the house because everybody went to school. So, when I left Methodist school Sekondi for Achimota, I didn’t quite kill the spirit I had for boxing. I ended up being the Welter Weight Champion at Achimota.

Those were the days when Roy Ankrah and Attuquaye Clottey and others used to come to the school. So, my spirit in boxing was never really quenched completely. Then later, when Ghanaians were being selected to become pilots, I told my mother that I wanted to be a pilot and again she dismissed that idea very rapidly. But I ended up going to learn how to fly planes. I was flying the Cessnas and pipers – those small planes – in Florida. So, my inbuilt interest have not been destroyed but with the good advice from my old lady, I ended up like this.

TVM: In 1980, the Voice of America interviewed 30 African scientists who have contributed to the building of knowledge in their areas of specialization. You were one of them. The interviewer noted that in 1963, you made a dramatic discovery at London University on a subject that had baffled scientists for over half a century. Can you throw more light on that?

PESA: When I went to London university, the main theme of my research was on something people love to eat all the time; yam. But do you know what that plant is used for? It does contain the chemical diosgenin which is a steroid and that’s part a major of the starting material for making birth control pills for ladies. I was working on it. Scientists in that field for years were trying to clearly delineate the old world yams from the new world yams.

From their research, they knew the new world yams contained more of this chemical than the old world yams. So I, in the course of my research, looked through the various techniques they had used in trying to separate these yams that they couldn’t for donkey’s years. I decided to set up a different set of indices and behold, in a relatively short time, I was able to separate all the old world yams from all the new world yams.

Naturally I was delighted when the Linnaean Society of London, the oldest and prestigious biological scientific organisation in UK appointed me a Fellow. My research work took off from there. Everything that I needed was provided by the Institution because my bosses knew precisely what they wanted out of me.

They didn’t spare any chance to let me travel to wherever I wanted to go. As such, I ended up travelling literally throughout the whole world to do my research work. Such an exploration allows you to think big and become productive.

TVM: You were a major contributor to the book titled “The Timetable of Technology” which provides a chronology of developments in communication, transportation, industry, medicine and agriculture since the turn of the 20th century. From your point of view, has Ghana fit into this timetable well enough?

PESA: No, not quite. We haven’t.

TVM: Why haven’t we?

PESA: Because we are still working in silos. Instead of working laterally so that the experiences we gain from one subject area can cross over to the other does not happen. We are not talking to each other the way we should. Take the Indian planning commission for example, the quality of people you find in that institution, coming from different ministries, assigned to the planning commission, send information back to their own ministries so that all relevant Ministries know what everybody is doing. This will also give you far better idea of how that book works as against our current situation. We do have a lot of Ghanaians who unfortunately may not be very well known as party functionaries hence nobody wants to engage them but they are dedicated to the course of Ghana. We have all the policy documents at our command but at the same time, we are unable to operationalise anything. These are some of the things that I hope 60 years on, we are going to rectify to ensure that the complexion of the country will change for the better.

TVM: What, in your view, can be done to correct this?

PESA: This is a big question. Each government comes in with their own agenda. Unfortunately, because of the way we are structured, we tend to rely only on our party members. But, I would like to see us venture out a little and talk to other people who mean well. I mean people who love Ghana the way we should all love Ghana; instead of our parties only. Luckily all our parties in Ghana, to me, are almost the same. But, the way in which the leadership pushes its agenda is what will help all parties to agree on the way forward for the country. If we will be humble enough to change the way we do things, this country will become fantastic because we have literally everything to give us happiness.

TVM: Who was and is your role model?

PESA: Well, it’s difficult to say because I’ve gone through various stages in my life. At every particular point in life, there’s somebody you will love to emulate; someone that says something and it gets to you.

I can say from that stand point, may be I’ve had about half a dozen of people from home and abroad. Just having discussions with them makes me feel so happy. Happy in the sense that I’ve learnt somethings from them. There are certain things I could consider as a common denominator in those persons I have interacted with. They all have what I have also learnt; to develop “inner peace”. When you are at peace with yourself, you use very little energy to do big things but when you are not at peace with yourself, you waste a lot of energy trying to put things together. I must say, I’ve been very blessed in many ways that I’ve had senior colleagues who clearly made me feel encouraged to do the things I’ve been able to do.

I’m a perpetual student and I’m learning all the time from elderly people as well as younger people. The big problem is anybody who fails to learn becomes intellectually bankrupt.

TVM: At this stage in life, what motivates you to get out of bed in the morning to do what you’re doing?

PESA: A lot of people ask me how I have managed to write so many articles and books. The truth of the matter is, if you don’t discipline yourself and get up in the morning or evening for that matter and sit on your seat you cannot write anything. Years ago, I said to myself when there’s a subject area I don’t know much about, my motivation is to write a book or an article about it so that by the time I finish I would have learnt something. That has been my guiding light throughout. I wake up early in the morning and I write for few hours in the morning before I take my bath and leave the house for my office. I do it religiously because I enjoy it. I think it’s a habit that when my brain is no more I would miss, then I will stop. But, so long as my faculty is in good repair, I would continue to do so. That’s what motivates me, else I would be so bored.

TVM: What are your hobbies?

PESA: I have a hobby that sustains me; Boxing. Would you believe if I told you that I still go to Bukom to watch boxing matches? I go with a cap on and sit to watch. I read a lot. I like to have an understanding of the world we live in and the various issues in it. I love to understand the psyche of a lot of the leaders we have in the world today.

The ability and the capacity to run a country is no easy thing and so people who do this, even if I disagree with their politics, I can tell you I respect them in the sense that not all of us can be presidents of a country or finance or foreign ministers. All those who are saddled with that job I pray for them and wish them well.

TVM: I can sense you are a lover of music

PESA: Absolutely correct.

TVM: What genre of music do you like?

PESA: I have probably one of the largest jazz collections and this goes way back. I have even 78 plates; the old round plates that when it falls down breaks. I had all of them in my office. My doctor once told me that that’s probably why I’m always happy. I listen to music a lot. I have speakers in my home and office and I enjoy them. I love music because it’s the only thing that soothes the nerves of disturbed children. We are all disturbed children and good music can calm us down.

TVM: What is your favourite delicacy?

PESA: I have one of the best cooks in the world and that happens to be my wife. She wrote “The Art of West African Cooking” and other books but she will be the first person to tell you that I hate food. I eat only once a day most of the time. I don’t like eating because when I eat I feel sleepy immediately. The less food I have in my stomach the better for me and my brain works much better. But my favourite is fried plantain.

TVM: And wine?

PESA: I have never drank beer, whiskey, gin, brandy, vodka in my entire life. But don’t tempt me with a very good prosecco or some excellent champagne. Apart from this, I love very good wines. I am, however, a social drinker but alone I’m not good to drink unless I’m in company. An excellent red wine goes with good company.

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Coming from “not a best of background”, experiencing diverse adversities, selling toffees just to make ends meet greeted her whiles growing up but today, she has weathered the storms to become a regional CEO of a prestigious bank and the first indigenous CEO of a Pan-African bank as well as the first female to be appointed CEO of a bank in Ghana. Under her supervision as the Regional CEO for UBA West Africa 1 are six countries namely Ghana, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Côte d’Ivoire, Benin and Burkina Faso.

Her story is a true reflection of “from grass to grace” and she’s always quick to be grateful to God for bringing her this far.  Coming from an upbringing that birth a resilient achieving spirit in her to a place that gives her the opportunity to rope and encourage others into her success story, Mrs Marufatu Abiola Bawuah (MAB) believes that “whatever we go through in life, good or bad, is usually a platform for tomorrow”.

As the Regional CEO for UBA West Africa 1, she reveals “Banking is borderless and that banking is no longer beautiful walls with paintings”.

Now, forging forward to move her bank to greater heights she embodies a ‘people first rule’ where she strongly has confidence in ensuring that, her customers are topmost priority and her staff are entwined with the vision of the company to give their utmost performance.

Industry (Economy) Focus

TVM: With your vast experience in banking on the continent. What is your overview of Ghana’s banking industry compared to other African countries?

MAB: Unfortunately, I’ve not been to all the African countries. However, the banking sector as far as I know has developed. Today, we have a lot of foreign banks in the country and looking at the various interventions of Bank of Ghana, I think Ghana is among those recognised to have a very sanitised environment if I must put it that way. There’s been clearing of a lot of banks and other things, the balance sheets are stronger and so gradually we are getting a lot of foreign investors who are interested in participating in our market. So, in all, I think it’s good.

TVM: As you rightly said, the banking industry has been sanitised and currently left with only 24 of them. The utmost consideration of the sanitisation process was to boost the minimum capital in order to make the banking industry bigger and better. How has this new minimum capital impacted on the operations of the banking industry?

MAB: Of course, positively! What has happened now is that banks’ capacity is bigger; shareholders have been forced or asked to increase their base. For instance, if the banks’ working capital was GH₵2, now it’s GH₵4. With that increase in Balance Sheet, a bank can now lend more and do more. Prior to that recapitalisation, banks could only do GH₵15 million but now can do GH₵30 million. Before this, when people came for loans to the tune of GH₵20 million, banks declined because there was a ratio of the capital that one could lend to just one person called the single obligor limit. Currently, however, bank’s single obligor limit has become bigger and as such can only get better.

TVM: Now that banks have become bigger and better with higher single obligor limit, how is the industry curtailing the issue of Non-Performing Loans as single individuals’ can now have access to higher facilities and higher tendency to default?

MAB:  There’s been a lot of development in that respect. Currently, there’s the XDX Data that collates information on customers that banks are lending to and Bank of Ghana is monitoring that. Also, banks are collaborating more with one another; can write and can find out about one another. As a result, it’s working better and hardly can any one person owe all the banks because information is available and every bank is expected to feed into that data. So, Non-Performing Loans can only reduce in the books of banks.

TVM: A lot of the people have lost confidence in the banking industry as a result of the crisis experienced between the 2-year period. How is the “new crop of banks” managing this challenge in order to restore confidence in the people?

MAB: I think otherwise. Rather, more people are getting into banking. Today, we have a lot of online products; a lot of digital products. People who prior to now may not want to come to banking halls for one reason or the other now bank on their phones, bank on their tablets or their computers. So banking rather, has expanded and instilled more confidence in the people. For instance, in our banking halls, you won’t find queues but that doesn’t mean we are not transacting businesses every day. Today, one can open account without entering a bank and this simply signifies that banks have come of age and financial inclusion has come to life.

TVM: Currently, there are about 7 Pan-African Banks operating across the continent and UBA happens to be one of them. How has these PABs contributed to the course of banking and the various economies they operate in on the continent?

MAB: In Ghana, for instance, UBA was the first Pan African Bank (PAB) to enter the market and that was the first time Ghana had what we call revolutionary banking. It was UBA that introduced it. It was the first time we witnessed banking moving to customers; usually it was customers that came to banks. So, Pan-Africanism of banking started in Ghana with UBA. It was the first bank to implement accounts opening without any money (deposit). Prior to that, accounts opening required GH₵50 to GH₵100 (₵500, 000 to ₵1, 000, 000 in the old currency). It was during UBA’s entering strategy that the bank said no, one did not need money to open an account; if one didn’t have money but wanted to open an account, one could still go ahead. And the bank opened accounts for huge number of people without initial deposits. The Pan-African Banks that also came afterwards are banks that have strong “parents”, so whenever there were transactions that ordinarily a PAB could not handle as a “local branch bank”, its parent bank came to its support.

On contribution to the various economies, UBA for instance, has supported governments in a number of ways and also the Central Banks. In Ghana, for instance, the bank has supported a number of projects including road constructions. There was a time the bank gave the government of Ghana an amount of 350 million dollars for road network; one can’t discount that. The minimum anyone of these Pan-African Banks have employed is 600 Ghanaians in each of their institutions and that also one can’t ignore. These staff are paid, their families are taken care off and just imagine the ripple effect. So, I think that PABs have done a yeoman’s job and should be encouraged.

TVM: You mentioned earlier that presently the banking system is expanding as a result of the introduction of technology and other innovative mediums that allow people to easily transact their banking activities. Contrary to that, it is evident that the rate of banking in Africa remains extremely low, with only 43 per cent of adults having a bank account according to AfDB and even more worsening in Ghana. How does the banking industry, especially in Ghana, intend to address this worrying trend of banking among the populace?

MAB: Today, banking is not coming to banks because it’s gone beyond that. There are a lot of people who use digital banking and have their accounts on their phones. One can’t tell me that is not banking. So, if a farmer has all his money on his bank card or his phone; that is not banking? Banking is no longer account opening, cheque book, savings book; no! Banking is borderless! In fact, banks are looking at ways of not even opening branches. So, one can be in Wa and be a bank’s customer without the bank not necessarily positioned in Wa; one can also be in Brong Ahafo as well and so on. UBA banks so many people in regions that it’s not present physically. At UBA, we can credit any customer anytime anywhere and the customer can spend the money in his or her account whiles in south Africa, in Holland and so on. That is what UBA has brought; digitalization of banking. Banking is no longer beautiful walls with paintings; no! In fact, banks are trying to break down those walls, so the figures may not be the correct reflection of what is on the ground.

Business Focus

TVM: When UBA initially incorporated in 2014, it was known as Standard Trust Bank. When did the change of name take place, and how has the bank performed over the years, since its incorporation?

MAB: Standard Trust Bank became UBA simply because the latter acquired the former in 2005; it’s as simple as that. I think the bank has done relatively well; we’ve done very well I must say. The bank has remained very relevant to the economy of Ghana; supported the government in various sectors, employed numerous Ghanaians, supported a lot of businesses, and among its peers the bank stands tall. Above all, Bank of Ghana has always rated the bank as stable for a very long time. So, the bank has no problem with stability. The bank had met its capital long before the deadline and it’s poised to do more. UBA Ghana is poised for growth and it seriously believes that, in the next few years it should be strategically very important to the Ghanaian economy.

TVM: The business strategy of the bank is built on being the bank of choice for businesses across the African continent. How has the bank been able to achieve this over the period or how does it intend to continue to achieve this?

MAB: We will continue to achieve. The Group just opened Mali last year and so today UBA Bank outside of Nigeria is in 19 countries. The Bank has presence in the UK, US, France, among others and it will continue its expansion works. Moreover, the bank’s strategy is to become a top three bank in every country it operates in. That’s what we are all working at and we will get there.

TVM: In 2014, UBA Cameroun launched the ‘UBA Connect’ in the CEMAC region for customers in that region. Currently, the idea of the single currency for the West African region which is moored to the single European currency is expected to be operationalized in 2020. In your opinion, what will be its impact on the banking sector in the sub-region?

MAB: I don’t foresee this to be negative because today I manage three francophone countries that use the same currency and have the same central bank in Senegal and there’s no problem on their economy. So, I don’t foresee the introduction of the “ECO” as collapsing economies; it can only make the sub region stronger. I anticipate growth in trade across the region, easy movement across the region and once there is growth in trade and easy movements, its banks that will thrive. So, for me, I look forward to a positive impact.

TVM: “Our people remain our most valuable assets” states the Bank. Why are people the most valuable assets and not anything else such as technology?

MAB: Can machines work without people? Can technology function without people? Can customers be served effectively and efficiently without people? All these place people as premium and the most valuable assets at UBA. Once you get the people right, technology that has been implemented will function. If the person in charge of that technology decides not to do what he or she is expected, the machine is useless! You will invest so much and the customers will still not be happy. But when your staff is happy and you have good technology, your customer will be happy. Technology, though very important, thrives on distinguished Customer Service. So, I think that the fundamental of everything is the people. That’s why at UBA, we think our people should come first.

PERSONALITY PROFILE

TVM: There’s a description of your journey in life that states “from a table-top groundnut seller to a regional CEO of the prestigious bank and the first indigenous CEO of a Pan-African bank as well as the first female to be appointed CEO of a bank”. Beyond all this, who is Marufatu Abiola Bawuah?

MAB: Marafatu Abiola Bawuah is a lady. I started primary school in Aflao and progressed to Datus International School, then proceeded to Achimota School. I read Actuarial Science at the University of Lagos, and had my MBA from University of Ghana. I started banking in 2001 and UBA Bank is my fourth bank. I initially traded on Ghana Stock Exchange briefly before joining the banking industry. I’m married with three kids. I joined UBA Ghana as the Deputy Managing Director in 2013 and later became the MD/ CEO in 2014. Sometime last year, I became the Regional CEO for UBA West Africa 1 and presently manage six countries namely Ghana, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Côte d’Ivoire, Benin and Burkina Faso.

TVM: Sources have it that you underwent a lot of challenges whiles growing up. How were you able to weather the storms you experienced in your growing up moments?

MAB: Determination and Grace! Because, there are times when I look back I can’t understand why I took some decisions or how I survived such decisions; some of them are difficult to explain. But, I think generally, I’m a very determined person. In life, if you don’t know where you are going, you must know where you’re coming from. I do acknowledge I don’t have the best of background and so whatever I do now is a privilege. I keep saying that whatever one finds to do, one must do it well because one just never knows the outcome. One’s work must surely announce him or her no matter what. Thus, whatever I find my fingers doing, I do it well to my satisfaction as if there couldn’t have been any better opportunity.

TVM: As a result of your upbringing, do you reminisce any fondest childhood memory?

MAB: I didn’t enjoy my growing up because I had to sell and look after my siblings and such I was too serious minded. I didn’t know how to have fun. I couldn’t think of anything other than work and school. If there was anything fun, maybe after I had passed my common entrance. Even that, I will still decline. At form 1, I had to sell toffees, had to pay school fees; just too busy to make ends meet. I didn’t attend any entertainment program while in school. But, I’m grateful to God for bringing me this far. The sweetest memory I can recall in my life was the day I graduated from the university with a second class upper. Most of my mates thought I wasn’t going to graduate because of the challenges I was going through and moreover, the difficulty of the course but I ended up the best in class. It’s worth mentioning.

TVM: Can you briefly share one significant childhood experience that has contributed immensely to the woman you are today?

MAB: I think whatever we go through in life, good or bad, is usually a platform for tomorrow. When I look back, the resilience I developed through the sales I undertook whiles growing up has contributed to what I am now; definitely! As a result, I love marketing; I love to sell, I love to achieve, I love to conquer and I love customer service. It’s not something I joke with and I think it has taken me from one level to another. In terms of also being frugal; I think that those upbringings have helped me to manage myself as far as finance is concerned; I don’t strive for what I don’t need. I have learnt to stay where I am. Truly, they have helped me.

TVM: Growing up in a rather challenging environment where the only person ‘the community’ saw as a role model was a messenger. What was your aspiration for the future in those moments?

MAB: Well, the community then just saw a smart guy who was well dressed, walking smart, moving every morning and the women wanted to greet him. They referred to him as “the most learned” but when I got to form 4, I realised the man was a messenger. By then I was enlightened and more educated.As a result of my education I then knew the difference between good and bad so I was already on that pedestal to go forward.

At Achimota, I had gained more exposure after mingling with the children of the affluent and elite. But there was still a pull and push effect between myself, the elite and my background. Fortunately, my friends’ mothers stood in and encouraged me to stay and spend time with them. Despite the force of home pulling me, they tried to pull me also though they didn’t know what I was going through. I started observing their ways of life. As children, we were all thinking of hotel management, air hostess because we wanted to be in the air. Then along the line, I realised I had more flair for Mathematics so I wanted to do Actuarial Science, Mathematics or any of the mathematics related courses. Thus, I ended up studying Actuarial Science in the University.

TVM: So, when did the thought of coming into the banking industry come in?

MAB: It was by default. After graduating, I tried getting employment with the insurance companies but to no avail. I tried other avenues including SSNIT but also to no avail. Then a friend revealed to me that government was recruiting for NADMO to undertake a survey; so I started with NADMO. I performed my task diligently as expected and presented my findings. After presenting my results, I was invited and asked what I studied. I responded and that was my first job breakthrough that earned me an accountant and investment officer with a law firm. From there, I moved on to a stock exchange company where I traded on the stock exchange as an Authorized Dealing Officer or Broker. After a while, for personal reasons, my boss disclosed he didn’t need my services any longer. So, I had to hit the streets again sharing my CVs. Whiles sharing my CVs, then fortune smiled on me and CAL Bank employed me. So, it was by default that I joined the banking industry.

TVM: When people acknowledge you to be successful, you decline by saying “no, I am a product of grace”. Referencing your memoir “Chosen from Darkness”; Why do you see your success as a product of grace and not a dint of your hard work?

MAB: Success is not a lift that one stands in and gets to the top and says I am done. It’s a step by step event and I think I’m still en route, climbing and hoping that grace will take me there. Since, I haven’t gotten there I will not assume I have arrived so I need more grace. Truly, one needs to work hard for grace to beautify it but there are people who also work harder than I and they are not where I am and also there are people who are not working as hard as I am, but are in higher heights. So, it is a combination of the two; you do your part and leave the rest to divinity. I just don’t want to put myself in such an assumption. It’s not as if I don’t appreciate such comments, I really do. I think that, even if I’m not where I’m supposed to be; I’m en routing and I know I’m on the right path and I’m working at it every day. Consequently, I don’t want to pollute my system and get that into me and think that, after all, I’m the first woman here; No! I don’t want that. I’m still moving.

TVM: Your book, “Chosen from Darkness”. What informed your decision to put together this book?

MAB: The reason is simple: To put my story out there to encourage a lot of young girls. It has encouraged a lot of men, a lot of boys, and a lot of women also. It highlights four things everyone needs to understand about life. Firstly, it talks about one not needing to have a good background to be where he or she wants to be. Secondly, it reveals everybody needs to hold somebody’s hand. I wouldn’t have been here just because my parents wanted me to be here but because people lent a helping hand. So, in this our ecosystem, especially women, look around and you will find a lot of people you can hold their hands. If everybody can hold everybody’s hand, we will have a very developed country. Thirdly, one doesn’t need to bend his or her values or principles in life to be able to make it. One doesn’t have to do that! And finally, people must know that the road to the top can be rough, and the fact that you are in a valley today, does not in any way make you a failure. These are the simple messages I tried to put across in the book.

TVM: You are so passionate about girl-child education and that has led to the establishment of the Abiola Bawuah Foundation. How is the foundation helping to change the girl-child education challenges in the most deprived communities?

MAB: We are in the deprived communities and I have people all over the places: villages, deprived communities, rural settlements and so on across the country trying to identify such girls. We have a lot of girls in our books now that we are supporting. I don’t know them from anywhere. We support also people in the hospitals, helped some to go back to school, supplied books, paying school fees, buying wheels, buying chairs; doing everything for them to make sure they are in school. Unfortunately, the resources are limited. The only one who is paid is the young lady who is running the errand; I am not paid and I don’t take money from the NGO. I strongly believe that if I get more support, I will be able to do more than I’m doing currently.

TVM: Being at the helm of affairs and having oversight on UBA Plc West Africa 1, your transformational leadership style is expected to come to the fore. What do you hope to achieve in this new position?

MAB: With this new position, we will take over the West African market; we will become the strongest bank!

TVM: How?

MAB: To become the most systemic and important bank in all my jurisdictions. So, for any decision to be made in any of those countries, we would have to discuss it first.And it will happen. I’m embarking on that.

TVM: In a previous interview you said “When I focus on the people and I show interest in the people and they connect to my vision, while I’m sleeping they’re working”. Can you explain what you meant by the statement?

MAB: Once you get your people right, they dream about your vision. As a leader, part of my responsibility is to make sure that those who work with me buy into my vision and when they do, their energy levels go up. Hence, they are willing to go the extra miles; they want the vision to come life, they want to replicate what you do. Therefore, beyond believe– conviction is what a leader needs to get his or her people to go the extreme to actualise a dream. It is when you move your staff to have conviction that they go to work when they should be resting. They will be willing to go the extra mile; they don’t have a closing time, they don’t have weekends; you didn’t ask them to do it; you don’t need to tell them; if you start asking them, then you don’t have them. So that’s what I mean by that statement.

TVM: There’s nothing on leadership journey that can be attributed to only the leader” you averred; how will you describe your leadership style?

MAB: I’m not permissive. I am a disciplinarian but also believes in reward system. I am an amiable leader as well and have an opened door policy but at the same time what binds my colleagues and I or what is common to us is the institution. So, I would not allow one to destroy what he or she finds in the organization. One must do his or her work. But in doing his or her work, I shouldn’t abuse him or her, I shouldn’t misuse him or her, I shouldn’t destroy him or her; He or she should grow in his or her own personal life. Thus, I show interest in them and they must also go the extra mile for the job. We should not compromise on the work that binds the two of us. And so far, it has worked.

TVM: What is your management philosophy? 

MAB: Reward the people! Reward what you want. What gets measured is what is done. If somebody has done something, reward the person; if someone has done it wrongly, punish the person. In all, my philosophy is “what gets measured gets done”. Most often leaders are quick to punish but slow to say thank you. We need to reward what we want. If it is coming early, reward those who come early and all the others will follow. If it’s sales, or whatever you seek to get into your staff, you need to reward for it.

TVM: Growing up, did you have any mentor or mentors that influenced your thinking in life?

MAB: I once worked with a boss called Andy OJ; he was my MD at Zenith Bank Ghana where I worked some years back. He was a fantastic boss and in my dealings today, I try to put myself in his shoes and try to imagine how he will deal with situations and I think he is one of my mentors. Another is my current Chairman, Tony Elumelu. He is outstanding; his leadership qualities are wow! He’s a realist; one just knows where he or she belongs and he tells one exactly how he feels. He celebrates everyone, and so if there’s anybody who has tapped the apex of my energy, he is the one; so he is my foremost and priceless mentor.

TVM: What enduring principle(s) guide you in all facets of your life?

MAB: Hard work works! One may not reward me today but I believe somebody is looking at what I am doing and at the right time, he or she will reward me. All the cheatings I have suffered from my previous boss(es) or firms, the new person or company will recompense me for them.

TVM: What do you do outside of work to release the stress you experience at work?

MAB: I love to watch crime documentaries. I watch TV a lot also and I love to be with my children and my family. I love to be with my kids at home so I do a lot of ‘sit home’ when I’m not travelling or not working. I love to be home and want my family around me. I like cooking as well.

TVM: What kind of books do you read; is there any particular book that has significantly shaped or influenced your life?

MAB: I love reading leadership books. One book I read and continue to read is a book written by Bill George; it’s about authentic leadership. I just love reading leadership books.

TVM: What is your favourite meal??

MAB: I like the swallows; Tuo Zaafi, a meal mostly known to the northerners in Ghana, Banku, fufu. I love my banku with okro soup. I also love fresh tomato jollof rice.

TVM: What genre of music do you listen to?

MAB: I’m a lover of jazz.

TVM: What kind of sports do you love?

MAB: Football

TVM: Which team is your favourite?

MAB: Arsenal.

TVM: When it’s all over in your working career, how do you want to be remembered?

MAB: I wish to do hundred girls a year. I wish to go to the most deprived, poverty stricken areas, bring people without hope and give them hope and long after I’m gone, some of them will be Managing Directors, others too will be top government officials; positions they wouldn’t have been able to attain but for that education; that seed sewn, they were. That is what I want to be remembered for. They will be able to tell my children “oh your mother found me”. Ghana will reap the benefits afterwards and say “we have 90% of our ladies in schools” because I believe those girls will also cater for some others, and as such we’ll be able to say that majority of girls are graduates; that is my dream!

TVM: What does the future hold for you beyond UBA and banking?

MAB: Beyond UBA and banking, I want to focus on my NGO. I want to concentrate on that when I leave banking.

TVM: What advice would you give to banking industry players?

MAB: Whatever they are doing, they should do it well. Well, there is still a lot of collaborations to be done among banks. Banks need to come together instead of fighting one another in order to manage the loop holes’ customers capitalize on. Banks still need to be able to share information and continue to support government’s initiatives, especially the plan to have an all inclusion system and to continue to reach out to the local communities. Banks also need to continue to come out with products that will serve humanity and cause the banking space to become more relevant than it is now. But above all, banks should find a way of stamping out the unhealthy competition where when a staff commits crime in one bank, goes to the other bank and is accepted. I look forward to healthy competition among the banks.

TVM: You once said “failing is part of the story”. As a mentor to many young women and girls, how would you advise them to cope and deal with challenges and failures in life?

MAB: Accept it and take responsibility. It’s not about crying; it’s not about condemning oneself. Yes, some are mistakes; purely one’s mistake and so must take full responsibilities for them. It should not be about anybody or a blame game. One needs to ask questions and see how he or she can move forward. Therefore, the most important thing is to take yourself less seriously, take responsibility, and always look for that small light in that darkness and move towards that direction. In a short while, one will find fulfilment.With failing, those who condemn themselves will never be able to get up. That’s my story!

TVM: What is your advice to the current youth of Ghana?

MAB: Hard work works; there’s reward in hardwork so work hard.

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