The First Lady of IBM Africa

by: Anis Haffar

In the thick of a stage performance or during a rehearsal, Duke Ellington, the iconic orchestral jazz impresario (of the Cotton Club, Harlem – New York) used to jump for joy, literally, when one of his horn players hit an exceptionally inspiring note. Blown out of his mind, he’d yell, “Yea, that’s the one!”

[In fact, the Duke’s track, “Jump for joy”, echoes the euphoria that used to rock him. Luckily, that jazzy track is available on YouTube].

IBM top post

A frenzy – similar to the Duke’s ecstasy – hit me when I read in the Daily Graphic (July 14, 2020) that Angela Kyerematen-Jimoh had garnered the “IBM top post”. The paper said: “Technology giant, IBM Corporation, has appointed Angela Kyerematen-Jimoh as the Regional Head for North, East and West Africa. She will be responsible for IBM operations in over 40 countries in Africa, including Morocco, Nigeria, Kenya, Senegal, Uganda, Ghana and Tunisia.”

Before the appointment, the paper noted that Angela was Chief of Staff to the Senior Vice-President (Global Markets and Sales) in IBM’s corporate headquarters in New York. Prior to this new role, it may be recalled that Angela was again IBM’s first female country head, and as of today the first woman and first African to be appointed the regional head in Africa.

An alumna of Wesley Girls High School and Achimota School (Ghana), and Harvard Business School (USA), she was previously named one of Africa’s most influential women by Avance Media. Her honors include the US African Women Forum’s Global Impact Leadership Award, and the African Achievers Awards for Excellence in Business.

Digital literacy

I first met Angela on a dais we shared promoting World Literacy Day at the Muslim Counselling Centre (Kawokudi Park, Accra, September 7th, 2017). With UNESCO having proclaimed September 8th International Literacy Day in 1965 – and 2017 being the 50th year celebration – the program was planned to encourage the Muslim community to embrace adult literacy in a digital world.

Imams, chiefs, elders, and parents in the Zongo area had met for the various demonstrations with United Way on “The role of digital literacy in realizing one’s potential”. Thanking Angela for inspiring the parents in the Zongo community to support girls to embrace technology in the digital age, I hailed her as the IBM representative. Now back in my seat on the dais, she was to update me that she was actually the substantive IBM boss in Ghana.

We need to be pardoned for accepting the scarcity of women in tip-top positions as normal. It is not! We need the balance. So it’s always a celebration when we see women in topnotch positions across industry and in the professional spaces.

At the time, Angela was at the IBM headquarters in Airport City, Accra. I was to invite her to chair the launching of my book, “Strategies for Effective Teaching and Learning” at the British Council, Accra, 2019. Dazzling in the company of Ghana’s 2nd Lady, Mrs Samira Bawumia; the Catholic Archbishop John B. Kwofie; and Ghana’s ace comedian and TV star, Kweku Sintim Misa (KSM), she brought an amazing elegance for a successful launch.

IBM Ghana and CoderDojo

Angela was to introduce me to an initiative by the CoderDojo Foundation based in Ireland with the vision to promote ICT and encourage learning and in a fun, friendly, safe, and supportive environment.

IBM Ghana CoderDojo started off as part of the company’s goal to champion the spread of ICT skills in Ghana in line with the “IBM Africa Skills Initiative”. The aim was to enable the existing and future African workforce to develop skills in new disruptive technologies.

Since October 2016, IBM Ghana ran weekly coding classes at the IBM Ghana Office, which have been attended by local children between the ages of seven to seventeen years. The training was conducted in partnership with IBMers in Ireland and Ghana.

Referred to as the Ninjas, the kids are trained in basic programming and coding languages like HTML, JAVA, CSS, etc. The company’s aim is to extend this to under-privileged kids and to this end the 3rd session of the coding classes commenced in October 2017 to include kids from the Nima in the Ayawaso East Sub-Metro of Accra.

A mother’s daughter

For her early influences Angela applauded her mother, Grace Bonney, for giving her the edge and a graceful individuality. The mother’s insights guided how a young girl evolved and arrived into a solid woman with intellect, heart and grit – the whole self – that could exude and span into a global example.

Auntie Grace served as headmistress of St Monica’s Secondary School, Mampong – Ashanti, and was once the Director of Secondary Education of the Ghana Education Service (GES).

Angela recalled how she was “raised by a strong woman, a disciplinarian. If I forgot to make my bed before leaving for school, she would send the driver to fetch me to come home and make my bed. She was also a strong advocate for modest dressing. My mother used to say, ‘Always cover up from top to toe … akataasia [in Akan, a young lady] … covered and hidden’. I still can’t go out in anything that doesn’t completely cover me up.”

With three daughters myself, I have evolved into a feminist, and have often been on the prowl for female role models for my girls. Angela fit the bill completely!