Personal Profile

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Mar – May 2021

Kobby Azu

Kobby Azu

Accra, Ghana

Born in Accra, Ghana in the 1980’s, Kobby was christened Aaron but changed his  name to Kobby, in order to cultivate an African identity.

He obtained a BA in Economics and Sociology and an MA in Economic Policy Management both from the University of Ghana. Kobby volunteered in New Brunswick, Canada with Canada World Youth between 2009 and 2010.

He returned to work on development projects with USAID in Ghana to improve livelihoods in rural communities. Kobby has worked with the Bank of Ghana since 2013 in development economics and public health.

He lived in Kobe, Japan between 2018-2020 as researcher at Kobe University. His research work has also taken him to countries such as Singapore, South Korea, Philippines and USA.


AGN:  What did your father and mother do and how did each of them impact who you have become as a person?

KA:  My dad was a banker and my mum juggled many different enterprises as well as being a stay-home mum for a period. I didn’t want to be a banker because of my dad. It took away most of his time. Ironically, I ended up at the Central Bank.

My mum was my home tutor and is the one who has been most impactful in molding me to being a gentleman.

AGN:  Aside from your parents is there a particular family member or friend that has helped shape you and what can you tell us about that person in terms of who they are/were and how they impacted you?

KA:  My big sister Mimi who is a lawyer and furthered her studies at Columbia University, was a great inspiration throughout our years of schooling. She always set a good mark to aspire to.

AGN:  Do you have a talent or skill that you would loved to have developed if the right opportunity had presented itself when you were younger?

KA:  I was a play actor and a writer when I was a kid. I would have loved to develop it further. I was a good goalie as well. My mates were always amazed at my reflexes.

AGN:  What are your hobbies and interests?

KA:  I read when I want to relax and I enjoy swimming too. Now, I have two sons so I spend a lot of my free time with them.

AGN:  How would you describe your upbringing and the type of environment you were raised in?

KA:  Our home placed a lot of emphasis on Christianity and academic excellence. During my childhood, we moved around the country a lot due to transfers at my dad’s job with the Bank. That seems to have influenced how easily I’m able to move and live in places around the world.

AGN:  What motivated you to become an economist?

KA:  I studied economics at undergraduate level, but in truth it wasn’t really a passion back then.  I became more enthused about it when I begun working on social change programs with CIDA and USAID.  I became far more aware of the challenges deprived peoples and communities face and it made me dig deeper to explore approaches to sustainable creation and redistribution of resources with a view to impacting the poorest equitably.

AGN:  Is there a common misconception you feel people have about Ghanaians?

KA:  Having spent some time living abroad I was surprised to learn people view Ghanaians as timid people.  I can assure that is absolutely not the case.

AGN:  Since returning to Ghana in October of last year how are you finding things?

KA:  It’s good to be back and I am settling in.  Given I was away for a little while adjustments needed to be made.  Aside from re-acquainting myself with cultural norms, infrastructural disparities between the advanced economies I spent time in and where things are at here at home have obviously had to be allowed for in terms of how one plans and does things.

AGN:  Why should people come to Ghana?

KA: The people are warm and the country enjoys year round sunshine.  The country is blessed with numerous places of natural beauty.  While Ghana is ethnically diverse, through our efforts to reach out to the African diaspora, our diversity has been further enhanced as people who were born and raised in other continents have come to settle here.

This has bestowed a richer pool of outlooks, ideas and talent on the nation.  Individuals contemplating coming to Ghana are more likely to find people with common interests already here than not.

AGN:  How has the capacity to do business improved?

KA:  Reforms have had an impact on modernising processes which in turn have led to better outcomes in some areas.  A number of reports published by external actors underscore things are generally heading in the right direction, especially when our performance is compared to our peers on the continent.

However, as is not uncommon, friction between the old and new can emerge and at times the rhetoric can fall short of reality because of competing interests.

Bottlenecks can arise due to the entrenchment of people that used to benefit from the way things were, seeking to ensure their interests are catered for within new frameworks.  At times this can lead to a subversion of processes.  In short the outlook is positive but there is still much more work to be do.

AGN:  Ghana has earned the reputation of being one of the most stable countries in Africa.  How was this achieved?

KA:  The fourth republican constitution adopted in our 1992 referendum can be seen as the turning point in our efforts to build a more stable nation.  It has been impactful in helping the country get to where it is today.

The peaceful handover of power from one administration to another in 2001 was a pivotal moment that has set the tone for peaceful transitions of power that have been maintained to the present time over subsequent election cycles.

AGN:  In terms of the political environment what do you perceive to be holding the country back?

KA:  Partisanship appears to be negatively impacting aspects of our national development.  A change of government can lead to contracts being cancelled and judgement debts being awarded against the state.

Addressing the toxic nature of partisanship that acts as an impediment to long term planning and that rewards mediocrity is something that would be beneficial to the development of the country.

AGN:  How would you suggest the issue of partisanship be addressed?

KA:  Funding of political parties needs to be looked into and adequately regulated.

Huge sums of money are expended on the campaign trail.  In part, such expenditure is underwritten by people of means who expect to realise a benefit if the candidate they are backing is successful at the polls.

This can lead to undesirable compromises whereby successful candidates must meet their obligations in order to safeguard such relationships and thus ensure benefactors can be called on for future election cycles which come around all too soon, as far as those at the sharp end of the political spectrum are concerned.

Awarding of contracts and appointments based on political bias rather than merit is something that needs to be dealt with for the good of the nation.

AGN:  Africa has the largest population of youths in the world but sadly unemployment/underemployment is particularly high among this cohort across the continent.  What is the picture like in Ghana?

KA:  The level of unemployment/underemployment in the country remains worryingly high.

This issue is something policy makers and various actors make the right noises about and while actions are being taken to address it, progress remains slow.

Despite the challenges success stories are to be found of young people making things happen in a whole range of sectors from the arts, construction, agriculture and so on.  Citizens of course look to government to create an enabling environment that will allow far more youths to flourish than is currently the case.

Politicisation manifests across the age spectrum.  A lack of opportunities in the private sector has given rise to a worrying trend among youths who are increasingly becoming politicised in order to advance themselves.  Obviously this is reflective of what is happening among some segments of the older generations.

Of course citizens have the right to pursue political aspirations if they so wish however, it becomes a concern when doing so is due to a lack of other preferred options or because it burnishes an individual’s chances to get that job as a consultant at the bank or to win a construction contract or to obtain a government grant for agriculture etc.

AGN:  Much has been said of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).  We are all hopeful that it will help improve the fortunes of the continent and its people.  Things are very new and optimism is high at this point.  Is there a note of caution you would like to raise?

KA:  The implicit ties African nations have to countries outside the continent irrespective of historical or recent association have to be carefully negotiated.  Given where we have come from and where we are now in a world of competing geopolitical interests, all parties need to be firmly committed to implementing that which is agreed upon. 

Previous ‘Personal Profile’ interviews are available here; archive

© 2021 All rights reserved - Ri Iyovwaye on behalf of African Global Networks (AGN) - Mar 2021