APJ SPOTLIGHT with Lom Nuku Ahlijah (Ghana)
Editor’s Note: The following article contains excerpts from an interview that was conducted on October 30, 2016 by APJ staff member, Abdul Carrupt. You may listen to the full interview here.
- Could you tell us a bit about yourself and where you grew up?
I’m from Ghana but I was born in Nairobi, Kenya where I spent the first few years of my life. I quickly moved back to Ghana and got all of my education there. I’ve been practicing as a lawyer for five years.
- What University did you graduate from?
I did my first degree at the University of Ghana in psychology and sociology. After completing my National Service at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs I went back to the University of Ghana for two years for my LLB. I spent two more years at the Ghana School of Law for my professional certification, a requirement for the bar, which I finished in 2011.
- What was your favorite thing about university? What activities were you involved with?
I have principally been involved in student politics and served as President of the Student Council of the University of Ghana from 2005 to 2006. The University around 30,000 students which meant there were many challenges facing students. One of the achievements of my administration was to set up a shuttle system for the university. We worked with one of the State’s transport systems and set up a pilot project that was successfully implemented and ultimately adopted by the University.
Aside from student politics, I was also involved in a group called “Students in Free Enterprise” that promotes the development of entrepreneurial skills among college students. We conducted a snail-farming project run by unemployed youth. We provided inputs and training and it was a very impactful project.
- Could you tell us about your career path (First job after University, subsequent job(s), etc.)?
I’ve been practicing for five years now. I started in Bentsi-Enchill, Letsa & Ankomah a corporate law firm in Ghana. I subsequently did a four month secondment with an international law firm called Berwin, Leighton, Paisner LLP based in London City thanks to the International Lawyers for Africa (ILFA) program which selects lawyers from Africa through an application and interview process to give them experience in an international law practice. The firm mainly focuses on corporate and transactional law. I then came back to Ghana and work now as in-house counsel at the Ghana Grid Company (GRIDCo) with an interest in energy law and electricity law in particular.
- Do you have any advice for people who may want to follow in your footsteps?
The main advice I can give is to decide very early on what kind of path you want to take. You have to find out where you want to start in order to establish a strategy that will eventually lead you to where you want to go. For that, you obviously have to take advice from people that have traveled that road before you like your relatives, your friends or Professors. At the end of the day, the choice is about what fits you best because you will be living with this decision for the rest of your life.
- Why did you decide to apply to Harvard?
There are several reasons. For one, Harvard is absolutely one of the best Universities in the World. If you get a Harvard education, it’s a big boost in terms of the curriculum, the people you will meet and the resources you have at your disposal.
Secondly, I have always enjoyed teaching, which I am already doing in an informal way. I knew that I was going to pursue an LLM to be able to teach in a more formal fashion.
Finally, the area I work in, which is electricity law, is a niche market. I felt like coming to a top University like Harvard would allow me to focus on energy law and also meet a great network of people.
- What is your plan after graduation? Do you plan to return to Africa?
After graduation, I’m looking to take the NY Bar, which in my opinion is a good addition to the Ghana Bar particularly because a great majority of corporate transactions involve NY Law. However, I still have my job in Ghana at the GRIDCo so the idea is to go back after passing the NY Bar unless an unexpected opportunity arises. As a longer-term goal, I am also really interested in good governance and public service. I am looking at how to use my Harvard experience to support and contribute to the social and public development of Ghana.
- What do you think are the most pressing challenges for Ghana or for the African Continent, more generally?
Ghana is one of the shining stars in Africa and has been for a long time. We’ve had significant challenges over the past three years. There have been major issues related to the debt profile of the country and we’ve had to work with the IMF on a bailout program. Economic challenges aside, Ghana is really solid. I think that if we are able to manage our natural resources, such as oil, gold and cocoa, we will be able to address these challenges. Unfortunately, these problems are not unique to Ghana and are happening all over the place. Also due to the global economic crisis, there has been a reduction in remittances to Africa which is a big source of funding. I think with all of these challenges, we as Africans need to think about how to develop our economies. So long as our economies our tied to the fortunes of Western countries it affects us directly. On the other hand, when there are problems in Africa it doesn’t necessarily affect the West. We need to spend more time thinking about how to collaborate as African Countries and increase trade among ourselves.
- Do you have a dream for Africa? If so, what is it?
Absolutely. Africa is the fastest growing continent in the world, not just in population but also in the explosion of mobile technology. We are at the forefront of some of the next big changes in the world. I think Africans need to be more deliberate about how we position ourselves to take advantage of this. For example, in education, if we harness the capabilities of mobile phones we can address many challenges on a large scale. If we can educate our people, I think the possibilities are endless. My vision relates to empowering our people through education because it will impact all segments of our economy and society.
- Is there anything else you would like to tell us?
Yes. One of the phenomenon that I witnessed in Ghana, and this is probably the same in many African Countries, is the way the middle class is becoming more and more cynical about politics and governance. People want to work, make their money and isolate themselves from society. I think that the middle class has a big role to play as educated people. We need to contribute to development and contribute to the discussions about politics. We need to be more interested in supporting good candidates for public office. We can’t be so cynical that we no longer become involved.