Esine Okudzeto, a partner in Sam Okudzeto and Associates in Accra, Ghana, has revelled in motherhood and her profession. It is only by accepting and embracing who they are that women can reach their potential, she says. In this interview, with veteran South African journalist, Tania Broughton, she speaks about the hurdles she has faced and her determination to have it all.
Esine Okudzeto’s five top tips for women working in law:
Trust in God as he is the perfect guide;
We (in law) are not “typical mothers” so don’t feel bad if you are not always with your children.
Get into a support group of working mothers and you will see that there are creative solutions for how to handle kids; you will realise that working mothers all feel the same way.
The sky is your limit. I see being a woman as an advantage and not a disadvantage. Make use of the fact that you are a woman and don’t make excuses for it
Be kind and considerate to other women; even though we don’t have the same issues there are similarities
Ghanian attorney Esine Okudzeto stumbled into law via a circuitous route.
“In my childhood I wanted to the first female in a profession. I wanted to be a female policewoman and then a footballer,” she recalls.
Raised in a family where women and men were considered equal, her entrepreneurial spirit was nurtured, so much so that when she went to university, it was to do a programme which focussed on entrepreneurship.
This led to a degree in marketing.
“In my mind I planned to pursue an MBA and then, maybe, a law degree,” she said. But she needed experience and so took on work as a marketing coordinator and then at the law firm Sam Okudzeto and Associates, founded by her father, a stalwart in the Ghanaian and international law arena.
“I realised that law was my passion and I applied to do a law degree at the University of Ghana,” she said.
She qualified as an attorney 13 years ago and her “go getter” attitude towards life has seen her rise to the ranks of deputy managing partner at the firm where she first tasted all things legal.
“The sky’s the limit for me. I believe every problem has a solution,” Okudzeto says.
And she doesn’t let her gender get in her way.
“I have acknowledged from an early age that I am a woman and I should make the most of it all, that is both the good and the bad. My parents brought me up that way.
“I have heard that some female lawyers don’t have an easy time of it, but I have been blessed because my family and the people I interact with see women as equals.
“For example, in our firm, both the managing partner and the deputy, myself, are women.”
Okudzeto likes a deal, and she is presently specialising in mergers and acquisitions, joint ventures, structuring of transactions and “bringing the concept of international arbitration to Africa”.
She was the driving force of the joint venture between Ghana Airport Company Ltd and Air Ghana which led to the creation of two very successful companies.
But, she admits, it’s an area of law where the outcome cannot always be predicted and sometimes deals fail.
“I was involved in a negotiation between a client and European company. On D-Day, fundamental changes were made to the final draft of the agreement without consultation or notice with either my client or us, the lawyers. There was a lot of back and forth….I always wonder if we could have resolved the issue….there is always an ‘if’.
“But in business deals and in matters where we come up against political expectations, all you can do is use all your legal weaponry and engage with all stakeholders to find an amicable solution.”
Okudzeto says there are many opportunities for lawyers in Africa.
“There is the current growth in the technology industry which some lawyers in Ghana have already seized upon.
“The energy section is experiencing growth and there has been a drive for ‘local content’ both within the petroleum and electricity industries. This has led to the creation of a number of joint ventures as well as mergers and acquisitions.
“In Ghana, the recent directive by the Bank of Ghana for banks to increase their minimum capital will see a significant rise in legal work within this sector.
“Africa is an emerging continent - but people wishing to do business here must acquaint themselves with the laws of the different countries to make sure they stay on the right side of them.
“They must also be aware of the issues the continent faces and which will be with us for a while. But don’t focus on them negatively….look for solutions because these produce business opportunities.”
For all her positivity, Okudzeto, like most working women, has doubts over whether or not she is there enough for her three young children, Emery Eyako, seven, her namesake Enise-Marie Essie, five, and “the baby”, Erin Eyna, who is four.
She recalls, for example, a time when she struggled with balancing work, the needs of her then six-month-old son and trying to finish her dissertation.
“I was staying up most nights to nurse my son….my husband Blessed Numetu was fantastic and suggested that the nanny help out at night so I could get a few hours sleep.
“He didn't consider me a ‘bad mother’ for doing this...and I finished my dissertation on time and got my degree.
“It can be tough but I believe God keeps prompting me when I should be there for my children and guiding me in the decisions we make about our children.
“Blessed is very supportive about my long hours at work...I also have a great team at work who are very efficient so that I can leave work by 5pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays.”
She spends these precious times “hanging out with the kids”, playing “Just Dance 2018” and painting together at their home in East Legon in the capital, Accra.
Okudzeto says she loves Africa because it is home to her family “and there is no winter”.
“But what I don’t love is the corruption. Africa is unable to reach its potential because of this and it means, at the end of the day, we all suffer.”
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