Owusu Akoto

The global palette of identity

He is a citizen of the world: born in the UK, raised in Ghana and educated in the US, Owusu Akoto has spent his life on three different continents. Each culture presented him with vastly different lenses with which to view the world. But it wasn’t until his enrollment in the 2003 Humanity in Action Program in Denmark that all these experiences were tied together. The program showed Akoto how similar the structure of racism and discrimination is all over the world. “It is the same template everywhere. People marry socio-economic characteristics that cut across lines of colour with perceived racial traits.” In Denmark during the program, he had studied the identity crises of second-generation immigrants vis-à-vis their parents’ expectations. Pictures taken that summer were then included in a photo exhibition at UPenn entitled “Diary of a FOB” (Fresh off the Boat, a reference to newcomers to the United States). In photographs that capture cultural dissonance and identity politics in Ghana, Philadelphia and Denmark, Akoto, who is an award-winning photographer, explored the life of the ‘cultural outsider’, a position that he knows all too well.

“I’ve been a minority my whole life,” explains Akoto. “In Ghana I am an Ashanti, the biggest minority group. In London, I was less defined by race or ethnicity and in the US I felt much more defined by the colour of my skin. And in each place I was described differently. In Ghana, an Ashanti. In England, a Ghanaian. In America, an African.”

After exciting internships at Interpol in Lyon and with the Sarajevo War Crimes Chamber, Akoto now works at a boutique management consultancy in London. An unexpected career move? Akoto explains: “At the War Crimes Chamber I saw many brilliant lawyers at work, but I noticed that there was a fundamental shortage of people with specialized management training. In order to get institutions such as international tribunals, aid organizations or the UN to run better, they need more managerial skill. I want to be an architect of change.” In London, Akoto is also the founding Chair of the HIA UK Group, comprised of Senior Fellows studying or working in Britain. Together they organized a successful outreach dinner under the patronage of the German ambassador, began a speakers’ series entitled the ‘Power of One’ and created an internship program at the House of Lords. Akoto was also the featured image maker the 2008 Hands Up for Darfur Fashion Event at Oxford University, where famous couturiers shared the runway with young African designers. The event raised over $100,000 dollars.

In the near future Akoto is planning to work in public sector management. “I could envision myself working at the African Development Bank,” he claims. And since few things seem impossible for this high potential, everybody is warned: whatever you do, keep Owusu in the loop.

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"In Ghana, an Ashanti. In England, a Ghanaian. In America, an African. 'I’ve been a minority my whole life.' "