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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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“Technology, though very important, thrives on distinguished Customer Service” Mrs. Marufatu Abiola Bawuah (Regional CEO, West Africa 1, UBA )



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.


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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