African viewpoint: You can't lose what you don't have

Kweku Adoboli Kweku Adoboli was born in Ghana but had an international upbringing and an expensive British private education

In our series of viewpoints from African journalists, Ghanaian writer Elizabeth Ohene comments on the media coverage of the recent arrest of the Ghana-born UBS "rogue trader".

A few weeks ago, the Ghana parliament was recalled from vacation so that members could debate a $3bn (£2bn) dollar loan the president had negotiated from China.

According to the government this loan is going to be the panacea for the huge infrastructure deficit we have.

Roads, bridges, hospitals, factories, schools, money-in-our-pockets - everything that would make us truly a middle-income nation would happen with this $3bn Chinese loan.

I confess freely that figures are not my strong point.

And I was still trying to get my mind around the loan when we were hit by the story of the UBS trader who is said to have lost $2.3bn dollars in unauthorised trading.

As I sat wondering how anybody "loses" $2.3bn, a new angle to the story emerged.

Every newsroom around the world went into frantic mode trying to get the Ghana angle. In a 30-second news item on the young man's appearance in court last Thursday, the BBC managed to make three references to him being a Ghanaian.

Public school boy

At first I was thoroughly irritated by this. As the whole world now knows Kweku Adoboli, the young "rogue trader" as he is described, is the son of a retired United Nations official who is a Ghanaian and lives here in Ghana. There has even been footage of the retired man's home on international television.

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Oh no! We are not accepting responsibility for this one, he might be Ghanaian born and even carry a Ghana passport but he sounds more British to me”

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The 31-year-old young man was said to be a Ghanaian and suddenly him being a Ghanaian seemed to be the most interesting part of the story.

Kweku Adoboli, we now know, grew up around the world, and as all these international children do - he went to an English public school where the fees range from £19,000 to £26,000 ($29,000 to $40,000) a year, depending on which newspaper or radio station or website you are following.

My first instinct was to say: "Oh no - we are not accepting responsibility for this one. He might be Ghanaian born and even carry a Ghana passport but he sounds more British to me."

There are not many Ghanaians who become head boys at a Quaker public school and who get high-flying jobs with fancy companies or live in £1000-a-week apartments.

The more I heard and read British news outlets trying to distance Britain from the young man, the more I decided it is no wonder the world's finances are in such disarray.

Money matters

Surely what happened had more to do with the financial system than the nationality of the trader?

I had always been made to believe that when it came to money matters, the Swiss had no competitors and the City of London was the place for financial wizardry.

Now I am to believe, according to the charges being laid against him in court, that a 31-year-old Ghanaian, sitting in front of a computer in the City of London, is able to lose $2.3bn belonging to a Swiss bank.

The capital base of all the banks operating in Ghana does not add up to $2.3bn. Our parliament had to be recalled from holidays for a $3bn Chinese loan.

Then I hear on the news that Kweku Adoboli is telling the court through his lawyer he is "sorry beyond words" for what happened and "appalled at the scale of the consequences of his disastrous miscalculations".

Now that sounds to me like just how a British public schoolboy would speak. Miscalculations indeed.

In my mother tongue, we do not have any real equivalent for a million - what we say translates as "uncountable thousands". So when the conversation gets into billions, I retire gracefully.

If you would like to comment on Elizabeth Ohene's column, please do so below.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    You cannot blame the BBC. They have to push blame to others. If this guy had done excellently well, his 'Britishness' wil have been emphasised. Look at the Athletes with Foreign names. Obviously foreign but they are mentioned as British first. Mother Country forgotten.

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    Ikioda - You owe Ms Ohene an apology. She did not even mention Nigeria in her piece on Mr Adoboli.We should not fall for Western media negative hype about Africa and Africans. Mr Adoboli did not defraud his employer. His tech trading risks, simply did not pay off. Had he been successful, it would have been a different story. UBS would be taking all the credit for the now "so-called rogue trading"

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    Kweku Adoboli is not being accused of theft for personal gain; rather of "rogue trading" i.e. he supposedly did a transaction which was against the rules of his employers. Obviously the intent of the transaction was not for his personal gain but for that of his employers.So did the employer have an enabling environment; would he be a "rogue" if UBS had profited? NB the his boss has resigned.

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    I agree wholeheartedly with Ms Ohene. All we did was provide a hospital bed for his mum to deliver him. The press emphasised his "Ghanaianness" or African face, in the case of the Daily Mail, before retreating to Ghana-born when his British nationality was apparently revealed in court. If he had made the biggest profit in history or better, the land of his birth would have been a footnote.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    Are you surprised Elizabeth Ohene? Certainly the man has not done something positive to project the so-called British image; differently they have to associate him with Ghana, a country he has barely lived for 3 years consecutively. While I don’t begrudge the media there, I also ask of them to write and associate the nationality of those doing something good other there.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    Regardless of his nationality, cases like this are treated equally and fairly Ms Ohene. Please stop the negative perception you are trying to create and let justice takes its cause. He's Ghananian period. It's really annoying when Ghananians never want to accept least he is not Nigerian, cos am pretty sure what your views would have been. cheers


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