London Connection Q&A: Ernest Obese

LLB graduate Ernest Obese talks about life in the military, the trials of studying independently and his hopes for the future of Africa
Ernest Obese with the Director of the Undergraduate Laws Programme, Simon Askey.
Ernest Obese with the Director of the Undergraduate Laws Programme, Simon Askey, at his graduation in Ghana in July 2015
Juggling my military operations like every officer that I served with, and maintaining my academic focus was indeed an uphill task. But I am glad I did not give up

What spurred you to join the Ghana Military Academy?
I have always admired the loyalty, professionalism and discipline exhibited by military personnel. I was therefore not very surprised when all the admiration I harboured blossomed after my secondary school education. To me, serving with my country’s colours has been one of the most fulfilling achievements of my life.

Tell us about your time in the Army?
I believe the best word to describe my time in the army is “Fun”. I loved the adventure and challenging duties that I had to undertake, especially during my numerous United Nations Peacekeeping Operations in Africa and the Middle East. Challenging myself has spurred me on to achieve more than my expectations.

You said peace and security in Africa always interested you. What do you think are the main oppositions of both currently?
According to the International Dialogue on Peace and Statebuilding, about 1.5 billion people live in conflict-afflicted and fragile states. Interestingly, about 70 percent of these fragile state have seen conflict since 1989. Many African countries unfortunately have earned the unpalatable tag of ‘fragile’, ‘failed’ or ‘failing’ states. Any state with poor economic discipline and a high corruption index is bound to fail. And this is where Africa finds itself as a continent, with rampant ethnic-based conflicts, resource wars and religious extremism.

Ernest ObeseYou have worked for a training think-thank that focuses on research into security in Africa, civil-military relations, cross-border security, gender and ethics in peace support missions, and regional peace and security instruments of the United Nations (UN), ECOWAS and the African Union (AU)? What can you tell us about it?
The Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Centre (KAIPTC) is an international centre of excellence that was established to become the leading and preferred centre for training, education and research in African peace and security. The Centre currently provides globally recognised capacity for international actors on African peace and security through training and research to foster peace and stability of the continent.

What attracted you to study for the LLB?
I have had the conviction that law is the mother of all professions, and its study thereof is the actualisation of enlightenment. I have for the past years observed with keen interest the development patterns of most professionals and I was not surprised to learn that despite their initial callings, they ended up responding to the ultimate academic call - the study of law. To me, that was my main attraction to the study of law.

How have you found it useful in your chosen career path?
My chosen career path now is Health, Security, Safety and Environment (HSSE). This area is highly regulated and my introductory stint with the law has greatly broadened my understanding of the sector. I hope to kindle the desire for more knowledge in order to become appreciably proficient at what I do.

You studied independently. How hard did you find it?
Very, very hard! I believe most people would agree with me that studying on a distance programme presents peculiar challenges that need to be surmounted in order to graduate. Interestingly, the programme presented a more flexible study path for me because of my frequent UN peacekeeping deployments. However, it was not officially known to my superiors that I was a student, hence the deployments and high expectations that they had of me. Juggling my military operations like every officer that I served with, and maintaining my academic focus was indeed an uphill task. But I am glad I did not give up.

Looking back, now that you have completed the degree, what would you say to yourself as you were starting out?
With God, nothing is impossible!

You are now the Head of Health, Security, Safety and Environment for a communications company. How did this transition come about?
I joined Surfline Communications Limited after my voluntary retirement from the military. Transitioning from army to corporate culture was quite smooth and this was due, to a very large extent, to the numerous interactive programmes that the army organises to prepare officers and men for retirement. Of course, I had to quickly grasp the corporate vocabulary and tone down on military jargons in order to communicate effectively.

You also have a part-time role of facilitator with Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Centre. What are you mainly involved with?
I am a facilitator for the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflicts programme that runs at KAIPTC. I also used to facilitate on the Operational Logistics and Civil-Military Coordination Courses. These duties offer me quite a rare opportunity to interact with military and civilian actors, from Africa, Europe and the United States, in the international peace and security architecture.

Ernest Obese in military uniformWill there be further studies for you?
Yes, indeed. I have recently gained admission onto University of Leicester’s MSc in Security, Conflict and International Development. I hope to attach the same level of enthusiasm in order to broaden my understanding of international issues without departing from peace and security studies. I am also secretly nurturing a desire to be called to the Bar in order to bring my experiences to bear on the legal profession.

What are the main changes or advancements needed in your opinion for Africa to move forward? Or is it the West that sees it as being behind?
There are many and varied changes that immediately come to mind but I guess the most striking to me is the control of ‘war catalysts’ in Africa -  that is oil, weapons, diamonds, gold and attractions. The lack of comprehensive governmental policies coupled with loopholes in the protocols on small arms and conflict minerals have been exploited by miscreants to the detriment of the continent. Additionally, the African Union (AU) needs to be more assertive and consistent in dealing with troublemakers in order to remain relevant. But it is not all doom and gloom in Africa as there are some positive indicators as well. For instance, despite the general reportage that tends to project Boko Haram’s invincibility in Nigeria, you would agree with me that several significant gains have been achieved against that terrorist organisation. Africa is still relevant. She continues to feed the world albeit receiving little recognition for this pertinent role.

Where do you see yourself in five years time?
I think I see myself either pursuing a career in academia or working with an international organisation where my knowledge and experience can be harnessed for the good of humanity.

What changes do you hope your children will see?
The best legacy any generation can leave subsequent ones is a tolerant society thriving in an atmosphere of peace and security. I would love for my children to grow up in such an environment and also contribute their quota for the betterment of our planet.