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Seth Dei, the Ghanaian investor behind fruit exporter Blue Skies – FT

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Hidden behind high walls and the dusty, traffic-laden chaos of modern-day Accra, Seth Dei sits in pensive calm in his office. A cup of late afternoon coffee and three mini chocolate-chip cookies lie untouched in front of him as he studies his next move in a protracted chess endgame with his computer. “I’m winning, but I’m not sure how to finish,” he sighs.

On the walls are a few pieces from the extensive Ghanaian art collection he has built up over more than three decades. Outside, a neatly trimmed garden with a verdant lawn and brightly coloured tropical plants offset the white walls and clean lines of his modernist house.

The building in which he is sitting was built in 1957 for an English businessman. Dei found it too big when he bought it, and turned it into the now mothballed and sparsely furnished Dei Centre for the Study of Contemporary African Art, complete with a small library, and corridors and staircases lined with some of the 500 paintings he has acquired.

He hauls himself to his feet, and gestures to a picture opposite his desk of a market scene by Adiama that is part-painting, part-fabric collage. “He was part of the old school of artists in Ghana, who were timid about selling their works and not business-like,” he says. “They didn’t put much value on art.”

Dei’s home in Accra © Jordi Perdigó

Dei, 72, is a posterboy for business in Ghana. He helped create Blue Skies, a fresh fruit-packaging factory, which has become a frequent attraction on tours by dignitaries seeking symbols of the country’s economic success. He is now scaling back his involvement in a business with £90m in annual sales, supplying supermarkets in a dozen countries (including Waitrose in the UK) from its original factory in Accra, as well as others opened since in South Africa, Egypt, Senegal and Brazil.

His latter-day activities belie much of his working career and longstanding passion for supporting local artists. That is evident in the residential quarters next door, where he lives with his second wife. “Everything is made locally,” he says.

Born to cocoa-farming parents in the then Gold Coast and witness to independence from Britain during his schooldays in 1957, his focus was long on the US. He won a scholarship to Buxton, a boarding prep school in New England, and moved there aged 16.

Sitting room of Dei’s home in Accra, Ghana © Jordi Perdigó

He recalls his thrill at seeing the red autumn colours in his first September. In winter, “everything was white with snow, which I had never seen”.

With Ghanaian government funding, Dei studied at Columbia and Cornell in New York, before working in the life insurance sector. “I dealt with CEOs and CFOs. I observed the habits of American chief executives: they knew their businesses, kept fit, worked hard, had admirable self-confidence. You learnt from them,” he says.

He married an American and spent much of his career in the US, but never forgot his roots. “I had always intended to come back to Ghana, or at least to Africa,” he says. “I realised it was difficult to be poor here: there are so many opportunities. You only have to drop a seed and in two weeks you have a plant. Depending on your ambition you can become a millionaire.”

When he returned at the start of the 1990s, his first ventures drew on his US financial expertise. “There was a gold boom and a lot of mining companies, and I figured they needed equipment and leasing services. But that required central bank supervision, and the rules were terrible. I could see it would not grow, so I sold the business.”

Garden room © Jordi Perdigó

Then in 1997, he was introduced to Anthony Pile, a Briton who wanted to open a fresh fruit-packaging plant. “He was keen to find a local partner. Somebody told him to talk to me. We started chatting and he had convinced me within three minutes. It’s been a very good investment,” Dei says.

Asked to list the difficulties of operating, he quotes transport — perishable fruit must be shipped by plane — as well as the erratic local electricity supply, something which, in the humid dusk, also presents a challenge for the preservation of his artworks.

And corruption? “We have not come up against it, and we would not participate,” he says. “We are doing a lot for the economy.” Blue Skies employs 4,000 local staff, pays substantially above the minimum wage, offers free cooked meals, medical help, maternity and paternity leave, and social responsibility programmes in local communities.

‘Jazz Play’ (1997) by Glen Turner © Jordi Perdigó

With Ghana just celebrating 60 years of independence, he reflects: “I feel we should have done better. We had many more assets than Malaysia or South Korea, with a lot more natural resources. But I see a slow realisation from the president down that we should have done better. Coups d’état were getting us nowhere. Democratic practice has introduced competition to government.”

He says he never had any interest in politics. “I cannot say something is blue when it is in fact red.” Instead, during his spare time, he threw himself into art collecting. He befriended many of the country’s artists, buying their work and sometimes being offered it. He points to a long canvas by Larry Otoo of a brass band in a remote village. “He came to me and asked if I wanted him to paint me something. This is it.”

Settling into an armchair in the entrance hall, Dei pauses before answering the question of why he loves art. “First and foremost, I look on it as history: what’s happened, what’s happening,” he says. “The artist is able to freeze-frame and look carefully at things you don’t normally pay attention to when you are walking around. You never noticed something, and, seeing the picture, you realise it’s beautiful. It makes you pay more attention.”

Paintings by E Owusu Dartey and Adoley Nmai among others © Jordi Perdigó

He gets to his feet, and walks across a courtyard, into the street and next door, where at the end of a small garden decorated by large stone sculptures, he had an Italian architect friend modify the former maid’s quarters into his living accommodation. Settling down in the study, among piles of CDs and videos, Dei says he still receives weekly management reports from Blue Skies, and is excited about new projects including a planned range of dairy-free ice creams in chocolate, mango, coconut and lime.

On the lounge table, flanked by sofas, are a series of antique wooden-carved slingshots from Ghana, Ivory Coast and Cameroon, which have been converted into ornaments. A full-length window opens on to a tiny, tranquil courtyard. Yet Dei craves still more space and light, and is completing work on a new home in the hills with a view over Accra. “I want more calm, where the air is cool.”

Baule sculpture from the Ivory Coast © Jordi Perdigó

He is also winding down his art collection, expressing frustration that American academic partners did not provide any funding. He closed the centre to the public three years ago. “I got tired and I’m taking a pause,” he says. “If I kept doing this, I’d be broke.”

He says all options remain open, and recently discussed the sale of works in a meeting with Sotheby’s. His dream is to donate his collection to a new state museum of modern art, but for now, he questions the competence of government officials to take charge.

Sculpture by Saka Acquaye © Jordi Perdigó

“We need a new museum of modern art. I think we can use the diaspora to build a nice little museum,” he says. He would like someone to approach the architect David Adjaye to prepare a preparatory sketch for a new venue, “to embarrass big institutions into contributing and building it”. Even if he is frustrated with the slow progress, Dei has not lost his enthusiasm for art. He has just bought two pictures in a new high-end gallery nearby, itself a sign of changing attitudes. “It has opened the eyes of Ghanaians and encouraged younger artists to up their game. There is a buzz about art in Ghana now. I’m very happy.”

 

Favourite thing

Dei picks out a 2006 painting of a saxophonist by Ghanaian artist Hacajaka. “When I look at this picture, it brings back lots of memories,” he says. “I listen a lot to jazz. It reminds me of when I graduated from college. When I was studying in the US, I heard some of the best jazz musicians: John Coltrane, Miles Davis.

“Miles Davis is my favourite. I heard him in Boston once and asked for his autograph, though he pretty much told me to get lost. There was a lot of experimentation with music . . . It puts me in a good mood. I’ll put this in my office in my new house.”

Credit: Fancial Times
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Events & Places

Final steering committee meeting of “French Solidarity Project” held

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On Tuesday 12th December, 2017, a final steering committee meeting was held on the French Solidarity Project geared towards “Strengthening the accountability of Ghana’s central and local government” at the Residence of France.

In attendance were the French ambassador, the Director of research, statistics and information management representing the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development (MLGRD), both of whom co-chaired the committee, the Rector and Deputy rector of Ghana Institute of Management and Public Administration (GIMPA), Executive Chairman of the State Enterprises Commission, as well as other partner agencies such as the Centre for Democratic Development, FD Associates and the Touton company.

 

Support for public sector reform and the decentralization process

Funded with a budget of €800 000 over a period of 3 years, this project sought to facilitate public sector reform and support the decentralization process. It aimed more particularly at reinforcing accountability through a number of actions: performance contracts, training, open forum and dialogue, ensuring  progress of communication and consultation programs implemented by the ministries, improving the capacity of local government, development of coordinating systems, etc. Another objective of the project was to improve citizen participation by consolidating mechanisms of accountability or transparency. This involved the sensitization of the civil society in order to foster a better appreciation of issues relating to statutory reforms and available tools for keeping policy makers accountable.

The first component of the project was principally based on training, which “represents a crucial element in the strengthening of the public service that, in collaboration with the private sector, will nurture a more vibrant, inclusive and sustainable economic development” Ambassador François Pujolas stated. In this vein, more than 200 civil servants have been trained in various sessions facilitated by visiting French experts from the Ecole Nationale d’Administration (ENA) and Expertise France, whereas 10 civil servants underwent training organised by ENA in Paris. An equal number of women and men have been given this opportunity in each training session.

The ambassador was “pleased with the outcomes of the project, the objectives of which have been attained to a large extent” and emphasized that this project has been “the fruit of an enduring cooperation between France and Ghana, especially in the area of decentralization and the public sector because, since 2006, the French government has disbursed 3.2 million euros to finance three projects within the sector”.

 

Empowering women to participate actively in the public sphere

Furthermore, as a means of promoting citizen participation – especially that of women and youth, a call for projects focusing on the reinforcement of links between civil society and local authorities was launched. Over 10 000 people benefitted from various actions carried out under the initiative. Also, 11 forums bringing together civil society and parliamentarians were organised to encourage interaction between the population and their representatives, in the Western region which served as the pilot site of the project.

The consolidation of the place of women in public discourse and in local governance, as well as the increase in representation of women at the district assembly level were major areas of concern. Sensitization campaigns were embarked upon, resulting in the training and networking of over a hundred women opinion leaders and policy makers.

Finally, the project has enabled the realisation of “green” micro-projects aimed at combatting deforestation, promoting solar energy and fighting global warming.  The co-chairperson of the committee, Madam Dorothy Onny, reiterated the ambassador’s comments by calling on the Ministry of local government and rural development and its partners to explore possible fields of cooperation and future projects to undertake with France in the domain of public sector reform.

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All set for Worlasi’s “Outerlane Concert” tomorrow!

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Worlasi was born and raised in Ghana, and he hails from Agbozume in Volta region. He is a figure painting artist and also a musician. He is a beast of a rapper, producer, singer and songwriter. His songs have been praised for being refreshing and inspiring and his lyrics, unrestrained and African.

Worlasi is an intriguing contrast: hyper confident yet humble, hungry for knowledge and simultaneously overflowing with it. His breakthrough single, Ay3 Adz3 set him apart from his peers. He caps off such focused and realistic lyricism with his mixtape project, Nus3, released in September 2016. Nus3 is a super jumbo bundle of motivation, assertiveness and self- belief. This was his first major project and it already has people calling him a god.

He released a second major project which has also nothing short of breathtaking and shot compelling visuals for two of his singles- One Life and Nukata. Since then he has worked and bagged features with artistes like EL, M.anifest, Hammer of Da Last Two, Sena Dagadu and shared songs with the likes of Sarkodie and Kwaw kese. He has shared stage with some of Ghana’s finest musical acts on platforms such as ACCRA [dot] ALT’s Sabolai Radio, rock group, Dark Suburb’s Awakening concert, Beatphreaks, The Unheard Voices etc.

 Worlasi wraps up this year’s success by performing songs from his upcoming EP (Outerlane) on Saturday, 16th December 2017 at 7pm at the Amphitheatre of Alliance Francaise Accra. The concert would be with the Safoa Band and Fans would be thrilled to a live performance of songs from the Outerlane EP. Also performing would be Alee & Dede, artistes who are signed to Worlasi’s record label.

Other featured artistes for this concert include Manifest, EL, Teephlow, Boyd, Extacy & Kwame X. Save the date and come with your friends and family to enjoy extraordinary mixture of Afro, Rap and Soul music!

 

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‘KOK StopOver Tour’ back this December

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After a successful beginning at Awoshie in the month of September 2017, Koo Ntakra and his friends return on December 16th for another mega street block of the ‘KOK StopOver Tour’.

With over three thousand in attendance at the first stop, the second promises to be sizzling hot inside Bubuashie, BN Pub, Bishop School on Saturday 16th December.

Koo Ntakra who recently released his 2nd studio album ‘KOK’, is to be joined on stage on the night with an array of his colleagues including dancehall diva Renner, Tee Rhyme, Amerado, Phrame, Addi Govnor, Bassaw and a host of other arts, as well as surprises from some of the artists featured on his KOK Album.

The ‘KOK StopOver Tour’ is a Gulfcoast Entertainment & Dekins Entertainment event, powered by Coloured Frutz, with support from ignite Creatives, BankyNation and all our media partner.

The event is a free concept which looks to bring the artists closer to their fans in a more interactive way, as well promote other up and coming talents across board.

 

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Obrafour, STONEBWOY, Pappy Kojo, Medikal, VVIP, others join Kinaata for ‘Made in Taadi Concert’, Dec 23

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Over 20 Artistes are billed to perform at Kofi Kinaata’s 23rd December ‘Made in Taadi Concert.’

The much anticipated concert which will be hosted at Jubilee Grounds in Takoradi will witness 20 known artistes across Ghana thrill the attendees to good music. At a press launch in Takoradi on December 7, Kinaata told the media that he gets calls from his colleague artistes daily who show interest in the concert.

“I get calls daily from my colleague artistes. Some are even ready to pay for their own bills to Takoradi. If people who are outside Takoradi are this eager about the concert, I can only imagine what my Taadi people are waiting for” Kinaata told the media at the Best Western Atlantic Hotel yesterday.

The Public and Media Relations Officer of the concert, Nana Kwesi Coomson mentioned that Obrafour, Stonebwoy, Medikal, VVIP, Kwaw Kese, Pappy Kojo, Donzy, Nero X, Ayesem, Sayvee, Afedzi Perry, Aya, Ayma, Ras Ebo, Snow B and almost every Sekondi-Takoradi Artiste will perform at the concert.

He also reiterates the concert as a “strategy to project the Artistes from Sekondi-Takoradi.”

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Christiana Addo Memorial Foundation to Fete Beneficiaries

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The Christiana Addo Memorial Foundation (CAMF) established in memory of the mother of the MUSIGA President Bice Osei Kuffour aka Obour is to fete youngsters in the Juaso area as part of its activities for the Christmas holidays.

According to Obour, CAMF will undertake a series of clean up exercises in Juaso and Obogu on December 24 and 25 and climax with the Christmas party for the youngsters. In addition to providing the youngsters with entertainment and refreshing them, they will also receive sanitary products from the Foundation to promote their personal hygiene. Some of the items to be presented include personal hygiene products like toothbrushes, toothpastes, deodorants and soap. Meanwhile the Foundation has begun processing application forms from applicants for support for their education.

Speaking at the launch of the Foundation, the Chairman of the Youth Employment Agency (YEA) and National Youth Organizer, Sammy Awuku applauded Obour and his siblings on such a bold initiative to both honor the memory of their late mother while contributing to the socio-economic development of the community. He assured the Foundation of the support of the agency in their operations.

The Asante Akyem South MP Lawyer Asante Boateng on his part commended Obour and his siblings on the establishment of the Foundation and assured them of his support to realize their aspirations.

The Christiana Addo Memorial Foundation will provide scholarships to successful applicants to pursue courses at various levels of their education. CAMF will support brilliant students who are financially handicapped especially the girl child from the deprived rural communities of Juaso and adjoining communities through the provision of scholarships at the tertiary level. The Foundation is also to promote sanitation and personal hygiene as critical pillars to health, survival, and development in the Asante Akyem area.

According to Obour, the decision to establish the foundation is due to his mum’s selflessness and strong, unshakable conviction in education as a lifeline to poverty eradication. He says, knowing the value of education, his mother endured enormous sacrifices to educate him and his siblings. He added that the foundation is also to celebrate the unwavering and strong leadership qualities of Christiana Addo as a role model for all women especially single mothers.

The Christiana Addo Memorial Foundation was set up with the vision to become an organization that impacts lives and helps transform and bring sustainable development to the Asante Akyem Area especially the South, Central and North Districts of the Asante Akyem rural area.

 

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Richard Addisson Foundation Marks Ten Years Of Successive Growth [+images]

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The RICHARD ADDISSON FOUNDATION (TRAF) a non-governmental youth philanthropy is marking 10 years of giving assistance to the less privileged in Ghanaian communities.

TRAF was founded by Richard Addison, the CEO of Kent Investment, a multi-layered firm that currently holds investments in the fields of Agriculture (Kent Farms), haulage services (ARE Haulage Services), an IT/information system and management company (K.SIS) and recently acquired major stake in a Digital Graphics and Advertising company  (Beyound Graphics).

The foundation which was set up to put smiles on the faces of the very poor, needy and under privileged across the country is marking the decade of doing good with the launch of an after school programme in collaboration with Matic Foundation run by Award winning Hiplife act Trigmatic.

The After Work Programme which will be cordinated by Trigmatic, Teachers in the chosen communities benefiting from the programme and leaders of TRAF will focus on Maths and Science, Sex Education and First Aid.

“When charity began at home, me, you and every young adult did not sit down for Bill Gates to dole out money for the eradication of Malaria on our, we gave up a bottle of beer for one treated mosquito net everyday”- Richard Addison

“TRAF started ten years ago by distributing thousands of mosquito nets on annual basis to help eradicate malaria which is a predominant illness killing these poor and needy who sleep around the central business district of Sekondi Takoradi, and also to all the major hospital in the metropolis.”

The Richard Addison Foundation (TRAF), now focuses on projects ranging from farming, provision of water and renovation of schools for deprived communities.

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