Abiola Bawuah was recently appointed to become the first female CEO of the United Bank for Africa (UBA) Africa operations. With her appointment, she joins the UBA Group Board as an Executive Director, overseeing the Group’s operations across the African continent, outside Nigeria. She was formerly the regional CEO of UBA, in charge of six countries (Ghana, Benin, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Liberia and Sierra Leone).
In Chosen From Darkness: From the bleakest of beginnings to a celebrated life at the apex of the banking industry in West Africa, Abiola Bawuah chronicles her inspiring journey of growing up in a Zongo community to becoming one of the most powerful women in the banking industry. She shares the story of her humble beginning, life struggles, career progression, and navigating the challenges of being a female executive in a male-dominated industry. As she noted in the preface of the book,
“This book is my testimony to what God has done with a girl from a Zongo who now rubs shoulders with the high and mighty.”
Abiola’s life script was already set for her before birth. It entails early marriage, child-rearing, family responsibility and becoming a fulltime housewife. She writes:
Before I became a student-trader, the life that was set up for me at birth was supposed to go like this: grow up with my parents who were poor, have a bit of islamic education, have zero formal education, help my parents at home, learn the tasks that were to prepare me to be a teenage bride, have an arranged marriage by thirteen, fourteen or latest by sixteen years. With a teenage marriage, would have come responsibilities like fulfiling your husband’s sexual needs, bearing children, raising children, cooking, cleaning, keeping a house, engaging in a trade to earn extra income for the household.
In the community in which I grew up, by the time a girl had her first menstrual cycle, marriage was the next step. In this age, it is difficult to imagine a child who just entered her teens, doing the hard work in a marriage that some grown women find too hard to do. However, this is what I assumed would be my lot.
Father’s Courage and resistance to early marriage
My choice of secondary school was not even made with my knowledge. Banking was not in my future. For a long time, I had to keep fighting off the pressure of getting into marriage before I was out of my teens. By not allowing myself to be married off, my family, especially my father, became ostracized and attained outcast status, losing friends and acquaintances in our community.
By not allowing myself to be married off, my family, especially my father, became ostracized and attained outcast status, losing friends and acquaintances in our community.
Defying the Odds
A girl’s fate consisted of going to an Islamic school, understudying her mother at home, then having an arranged marriage as soon as she got her first period – around age 13. You were also required to be a virgin when you got married. The best way to guarantee this, was for your parents to arrange the early marriage after the first menstrual cycle. The view was that you entered womanhood when you had your first monthly cycle. This first cycle was considered a good sign because there was even a belief among some people in the community that not all women were able to have their period.
Going to School
I was excelling in Makaranta, and my parents began to take notice of that. My educational outlook was restricted to just Makaranta though. My mother put forth an audacious idea that would have a lifetime of repercussions: why not let Abiola have just a little formal education to learn how to write her name? Nothing serious – only a few alphabets. If I could learn how to calculate so that I did not get cheated when I learned to trade, that would be an added bonus. This daring suggestion went against all norms in our community. It was brave, brash and risky.
All the best in your quest to become better. Don’t Settle: Live with Passion.