He recently spoke at the induction of ceremony for newly chartered accountants, a programme organized by the Institute of Chartered Accountants – Ghana. I was not there and I didn’t know he spoke. I only asked my elder brother, who was there, how the ceremony for the day had gone.
“It’s a life-changing experience,” he said. He spoke about how listening to the speakers brought, gave him new perspectives to life. He spoke highly of the “carefully chosen” speakers, including Comfort Ocran, who taught them about grooming. “But the Kama man [Dr Michael Agyekum Addo] is something else.”
On this fateful day, however, the “Kama Man” was at his wit’s end trying to convince just one individual. It was a sunny Wednesday morning, and in his office, sat four people. He had invited a young journalist who was yet to be employed by a media house but had won a number of awards.
He had also invited a man who fried yam (koliko) in Osu, out of which he had built a mansion and educated his children. The third person who was in Dr Michael Agyekum Addo’s office that morning was the Vice President of the Unemployed Graduates Association of Ghana, Kofi Siaw.
The Unemployed Graduates Association of Ghana had threatened to demonstrate naked against the unavailability of jobs. Dr Agyekum Addo, who is a firm believer that graduates can always do something for themselves other than waiting to be employed, had invited the entire executive of the association to inspire them to disabuse their minds of the notion that until government gave them jobs, there was nothing they could do.
The “millionaire” koliko seller and I were to be used as models in order to convince the unemployed graduates. Unfortunately, only the Vice President of the association turned up for the meeting.
Dr Agyekum Addo had to give up because the Kofi Siaw seemed to have got his mind made up. He gave reason after reason why the government needed to provide them with jobs and how difficult it was for young graduates to start business. Dr Agyekum Addo, however, rescheduled the meeting with executives of the association and hoped that all of them would attend. I do not know whether the meeting ever took place and whether the “Kama Man” succeeded in convincing the unemployed graduates.
What I know, however, is that when the unemployed graduates threatened the naked demonstration, it changed the life of one young man.
His name is Emmanuel Babuboa. He was 26 and had graduated with First Class honours in Political Science from the University of Ghana a year ago. He had just finished his national service with Ideal College in Takoradi and was about to return to Accra to search for a job when he heard the news.
“When I saw the news item on TV that unemployed graduates were about to demonstrate naked, I couldn’t sleep that night,” Babuboa Emmanuel says. That night, the reality of joblessness in the country dawned on him like day as he lay turning restlessly in bed. Instead of adding to the numbers already looking for non-existent jobs, Emmanuel Babuboa decided to create jobs. Of the many businesses that came to mind, he chose microfinance.
He discussed the idea with the Director of the Takoradi branch of Ideal College, Maxwell K. Essibu. The idea was good but he didn’t have the money to start any business. Mr Essibu, who had grown fond of the hardworking young man took a loan of GH¢1800, from GESRO Credit Union in his (Essibu’s) name for Emmanuel Babuboa.
Armed with the loan and the little he had saved during the service, Emmanuel Babuboa headed for Agbogbloshie, where the story of TI Microfinance Limited started.
Mr Babuboa came face-to-face with many daunting challenges in the pursuit of his dream. One of them was his father. The old man did not see reason why his only child with university education should become a “susu collector.” The determination to succeed dominated the indignity that came with a first class university graduate waking up every morning and heading for Agbogbloshie to pick “coins” from petty traders for safekeeping.
Emmanuel Babuboa secured a kiosk located about ten metres from the main entrance to the Konkomba Yam market. That was where the real challenge was.
The money he had could only afford the poorly ventilated and poorly furnished kiosk. He had no money to hire workers. His only helper was a senior high school leaver from his village, who was hustling in Agbogbloshie in order to better his grades and go back to school.
“I was the cleaner, the messenger, the security, the loan manager, front desk executive, teller; in fact, I was everything,” he says.
It was almost impossible to make it. But Emmanuel Babuboa proved that difficulty and impossibility are not synonyms. And his determination has paid off.
In less than two years, TI Microfinance has acquired an office complex at Kantamanto Market in addition to the Agbogbloshie branch. The company which started with two people now employs to 19 permanent workers, including six university graduates.
A Difficult Beginning
Emmanuel Babuboa’s modest success in the Microfinance is inspiring but his life story outside the business is one of a fierce and relentless battle against the tide of seeming impossibilities. He was born in Juashei, a small village Bimbilla in the Northern Region of Ghana. He was the second of 11 children. The village could only boast of a primary school with one teacher teaching from Primary One to Six. And in the rainy season, there was no school anytime it rained or threatened to rain. He later went to Kpasa in northern Volta, where he wrote his BECE in Kpasa L/A JHS “B” in 2001
In Accra and elsewhere, when BECE results are out candidates are often obsessed with aggregate Six with 10 ones and the rest. But Babuboa did not get six. He did not even get one in any subject. He obtained aggregate 22, the third best candidate in the school.
Emmanuel Babuboa gained admission to Krachi Senior High School, where he struggled to pay his fees from working as a labourer on people’s farms during vacations. He had been doing this since junior high school. At KRASEC he said he was inspired by two of his seniors – Raymond Boasinke and Addae Joshua – who were both very religious and academically good. He would later become the School’s chaplain in his final year. He was also the President of the Scripture Union and President of the Assemblies of God Campus Ministry.
Despite the challenges, Emmanuel Babuboa was the best graduating student of the 2004 year group of Krachi Senior High School.
It is often said in Geopraphy class that the higher you go, the cooler it becomes. For Emmanuel Babuboa, however, the higher he went, the hotter and more difficult it became. Mr Babuboa said his most challenging moment in life was when he gained admission to the University of Ghana. He found himself in an unfamiliar environment. Here, he could not do part time farming on people’s farms as he was used to.
“I could not get accommodation because I couldn’t pay for the limited space available at the time. I resorted to ‘perching’ and ‘floating perching’ mainly at the Commonwealth Hall,” he recounts.
At Legon, Emmanuel Babuboa applied for the Poor and Needy Scholarship but was denied because “my poor father did not any bank statement or receipts to show his flow of income as a proof that he could not pay his sons school fees.” He, however, got some bursary from the university each year on academic merit. This reduced his school fees but fending for himself by selling pen drives and printing materials was almost impossible. His one year junior who had a small printer employed him to run the printing business at Sabah Hall.
The toughest moment was in his final year, when “gari” became a luxury. Because of the waiver he had, his fees were less than GH¢200 but he could not afford it. He confided his decision to opt out of school in a colleague-executive member of the Assemblies of God Campus Ministry, one Ban Laary Martey, who gave him a loan to pay his fees.
Despite these challenges, however, Babuboa Emmanuel graduated with First Class Honours in Political Science. He became the first in his village to have a university degree. The second person to go to the university from that village is the young man with whom he started the TI Microfinance at Agbogbloshie. The young man later had his grades improved and is now in the University for Development Studies (UDS).
It is now a popular saying in the Juashei village that “if you want your child to go to the university, let them get close to Emmanuel Babuboa,” he remarks with laughter.
TI Microfinance is fully registered and licensed by the Bank of Ghana. Among the board of directors of the company are Rev. Stephen Wengam of the Cedar Mountain Assemblies of God, who chairs it. Others include Professor Joshua Abor, Assistant Dean of the University of Ghana Business School and Dr Dominic Ayine, MP and Deputy Minister for Justice and Attorney-General.
“I would never associate myself with any business such as microfinance, but Emmanuel is a young man I can trust,” Rev. Stephen Wengam says. “I have known him since his days as an executive member AGCM and I can vouch for his integrity.”
Prof. Joshua Abor says with the kind of structures and adherence to the principles and rules governing microfinance, Emmanuel Babuboa will go far.
TI Microfinance has not only provided employment opportunities. It serves as a source of capital for small scale businesses around Kantamanto and Agblogbloshie. Babuboa is planning on expanding the Agbogbloshie branch. Work will start this month and end in June. He is determined to grow his business into a bank.
Before I posted this article, I called Mr Kofi Siaw, the Vice President of the Unemployed Graduates Association. He is the young man I met at Dr Michael Agyekum Addo’s office.
He is no longer the Vice President of the Unemployed Graduates Association. He left the association after securing a job with the Ghana Education Service as a teacher. His president has also resigned. He has been employed at the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development.
Like Emmanuel Babuboa, their efforts have not been in vain. They have been employed. They form part of the 7% of the nation’s work force, whose salaries are responsible for over 70% our national income.
The difference between them Emmanuel and Babuboa is that they are employee while Emmanuel Babuboa is an employer. Mr. Babuboa, who could not pay his fees of less than GH¢200 is back to school. He is reading MBA in Finance in the University of Ghana Business School.
The unemployed graduates saw a problem, but Emmanuel Babuboa saw an opportunity.
What do you see, young graduate?
Jobs in Ghana today are scarcer than 21-year old virgins in the 21st century. And setting up a business is, perhaps, more difficult than swimming across the Atlantic Ocean with a 50kg rock around your neck.
But one thing is clear. Difficulty and impossibility are not synonyms.
The Writer, Manasseh Azure Awuni, is a Senior Broadcast Journalist with Joy 99.7FM. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org
NOTE: Manasseh’s Folder will now be published every Monday
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