The Anita Erskine Interview – She doesn’t call a spade a big spoon

After a busy photoshoot under hot skies in the grounds of one of Ghana’s premier hotels – the Kempinski Gold Coast – Anita Erskine, the vivacious, down-to-earth mother of two media personality, remains composed and cheerful as she opens up on a wide range of issues to our editor over a cup of green tea. And she does not call a spade, a big spoon.

NAW: Let me begin by praising your beautiful country’s tranquil change of political power. Congratulations! It is extraordinary political transition that Ghana has just gone through and you were the MC at the inaugural dinner. Do politics interest you? Would you seek political office?

Anita: It is the politics of life that excite me. Politics that fight for girls’ education. The politics that remove any hindrances that hold women back from rising to the highest positions on corporate ladder. The politics that break the so-called glass ceiling in spaces where women are expected to always take the back seats. The politics that give people hope to achieve by making it possible for them to execute their passions. The politics that inspire the next generation by helping them develop their talents as a gateway to becoming great leaders of tomorrow. That is the kind of politics that exhilarates me.

Our recent smooth political transition has solidified my pride as a Ghanaian woman. Now is the time we all – be it in the private sector, public sector, corporate or entrepreneurial domains – push our new government to involve as many women as possible in this new dispensation.

It’s a great time to be Ghanaian but above all, it’s a great time to be African. I spend a lot of time listening to women in political spheres such as the Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. I have paid a lot of attention to Hillary Clinton and the Germany Chancellor Angela Merkel and I am a huge fan of Ameenah Gurib-Fakim the President of Mauritius.

I am sorry if I sound selfish but in addition to the politics of life, the politics of women is what keeps me up at night in an excitingly good way. Then there is the side of politics about my beloved Africa that I want to see championed and becoming a reality – an Africa of big dreams, and a true land of milk and honey, as opposed to the global view of continent unable to take care of itself. These are the kind of politics I am interested in.

That is packed with political vim I must say. But is Ghana getting it right in terms of promoting women in positions of power – be it in politics or the corporate world as you suggest? Or the glass ceiling in stubbornly shatterproof like many other parts of the world?

Five years ago, I would have thrown this question back to you and asked “is the world getting it right?” but life has taught me to begin from where I stand, who I am, where I am and what I have become. Many many years ago a woman like me; husband, children, all that, would probably not be high on the list for consideration for senior positions in the private sector or government – not because of a lack of education or intelligence of any form, but because the key decision makers just weren’t able to see past how a woman can have a thriving career and be able to deliver a 100% on all her work responsibilities while running a home too. Today we are putting our money where our mouths are. In Ghana women are running telecommunications companies or heading government ministries. Many new, and most thriving companies have been founded and are run by women. Ghana is getting it right! Absolutely! Is there a glass ceiling? Absolutely! I say that knowing that where there is a glass ceiling, lies the beginning of a solution. But as women, we sometimes create our own limitations. I personally will not sit at the back of the room arms-folded hoping to be given an opportunity to lead. I will move myself to the front of the room, ask questions, debate, argue and act!

I am a 21st century woman. I should be given opportunities because I am capable, not because I am a woman. But again we have to bear in mind that there is still a lot more work to do because we mustn’t forget that we still have quite a lot of perceptions, attitudes, traditions, cultural practices that have to be collectively amended in order for women to get the opportunities that are due them. Many women before me have broken the glass-ceiling am I am seeing many more pave way in recent times.

 You are truly rearing to go and achieve. But have you really always wanted to be what Anita Erskine is today? What motivated and draws you into the media world?

I love this question because it helps me convince every young lady, woman or girl that dreams DO come true! Oh yes and I will say it a million times over! All my life, I have had this insatiable thirst and innate desire to become this woman that sits before you today. Along with the dream came a commitment I made to myself at a very young age. You see, when I was 9, I discovered my voice. At the time, it was a musical voice. I sang in the church and every time I mounted the stage, grabbed the microphone and performed, people would cry and jump and dance. At the time, I was too young to understand what that effect meant. As I grew older, I realised my voice was my power. At 13, I noticed how deeply passionate I was about listening to the voices that read the news on the BBC World Service. I was drawn to the tones that danced around the words, the attention they commanded as they delivered the stories. I began to mimic everything – just the way I heard it. Gradually I started to develop another voice. It was a speaking voice. I started training myself, cleaning up my tone, teaching myself to pronounce words, and reading out loud to myself. By the age of 16 I was stuck on the idea of being on radio. I so desperately wanted to get people to hear this self-trained voice that I was so proud of. It was then that I knew that working in the Media would be my true calling.

Now you wear many hats – media, film and as a motivational speaker. How do you juggle everything, mothering, being a wife, work and business and still manage to look fabulously good and unflustered – with that Anita smile which exudes serenity. Is that the case?

I am always saying a silent prayer topped off with a smile! That’s where my serenity comes from! Every time I smile, I have just finished saying a prayer to help jump a hurdle. But I am not a super woman you know. I am an ordinary woman with extraordinary dreams and super adventurous aspirations. I repeat these words to myself every chance I get, especially when things become unbearable. Doors often close in my face, but I am always looking for a crack in the window. I also remind myself that it is a privilege to be a custodian of the tools that can empower Women and eventually, my continent.

One of my mantras is that as women we can do anything and everything we put our minds to – we just cannot do it all at the same time! So for example when I got married and had my kids I had to take a step back from work for a few years and that took a major toll on my career. But it was a choice I made, knowing very well that when it was time to get back to my career and business I would have to work 100 times harder than I ever had!

Yes, I know my husband often thinks that I am crazy, but he is always there to pick me up when I fall. My two children are my biggest fans. These are very young – 8 and 7 years old – but they get me! They seem to understand all that I am doing. BUT when I forget important dates or slip on my responsibilities, I DO get called to book…. by all three of them.

“I am a multitude of dreams in one person,” you recently told CNN. Are you realising your dreams and how so?

I am realising each one of my dreams, slowly and carefully. It has been extremely exciting at times but mercilessly painful at other times. When I was young I would write a long list of everything I wanted to do and be. Unfortunately no one warned me how much work, tears, sweat and sacrifice I would have to put into it. So everything I know now, I had to learn the hard way!

When you hear people describe you as a “media mogul” what do those words mean to you and how do you embrace and work on that?

When they call me a ‘Media Mogul’ it confirms that I’m right on strategy! I embrace it like oxygen, because it is my calling and my success means a lot to me. I have always wanted to be a leader, to hold the torch and whilst doing that I have always wanted ensure that this, and the next generation finds some degree of inspiration when they meet or read about me. Being called a “Media Mogul” endorses the vision I am executing for myself and those who will come after me. The radio, television space and online spheres are not easy territories to own. So many years ago I developed a strict strategy for myself. The journey has been a fine blend of excitement and challenges, but the quest for Mogul status is not for the faint hearted!

Which high profile women do you look up to in Ghana today and say hey, “when I grow up, I wanna be just like you, if not more”?

Ama Atta Aidoo. [Ghana’s literary giant and novelist]. For one woman to be able to put pen to paper and provoke an entire generation to dream, to think and imagine other worlds, for me is simply unparalleled. What I love most about Ama Atta Aidoo is the degree of humility she exhibits in everything she does. She is a force. She is a game-changer. But in all of this she is literally a conductor of imagination. For every young person to be able to dream they have to be able to imagine how good and exciting life can be. Ama Atta Aidoo teaches you how to do just that. It may have been years ago that her books influenced the way I visualized myself, so much so, that she continues to be my inspiration till this very day. I don’t think that people have realized that Ama Atta Aidoo is a Shero of our Time.

I personally have a beef with African women always being in this constant battle to be heard or to be/feel empowered, do you as an empowered African woman in your own right, feel we need to keep fighting this battle and are we winning?

Our founding president, Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, fought for our liberation and the freedom we enjoy today! But even after leading Ghana to independence, he still he had to fight his own people to get them to understand the power of being self-sufficient, to build the nation we see today. I think we are in the era where women are going through the exact same thing. Our fight is for the liberation of our minds as women. Our fight is for the liberation of our rights to choose. Our fight is to have opportunities to contribute to the development of our countries. Women must not only fight to be heard, but let’s also do the work! If they can’t hear us knock, there is nothing wrong with kicking open the doors of opportunities.

What do you reckon actually holds African women back from those “doors of opportunity? And how will they rectifying those ills?

Firstly, lack of sufficient education holds many African girl children back. By the time she becomes a woman, enlightenment, hope, confidence, the strength to make a choice that will progress her, are lacking. Education is the nurturer of passion. As girls, some African women are taught to accept whatever is given to them. The confidence to ask for more isn’t there. Some traditions and do not work in the women’s favour. So over time, while the world advances, African women regress. My heart breaks when I see young girls who are not allowed to go to school, but who clearly exhibit a passion for education and natural intelligence. That is why I started The Women’s Elevation Fund a year ago. I wanted to provide as many girls that I can, an opportunity to further their education, in the hopes that they will eventually build confidence to live up to their full capacities as nation builders. There are so many women I know that have developed similar initiatives that place women on the path to contributing to the growth of our continent. So given what I am doing, what other women in other organisations are doing, I firmly believe that as a collective we are on the right path to correcting these ills.

What lesson would you have taught your teenage self?

I would have taught my teenage self not be so patient or accommodating, and never to procrastinate so much. I would have taught myself to throw away the phrase “one day I want to be…” and replaced it with, “I am, so I am going to do….”

One interesting fact that the NAW has learnt about you is the fact that you are from a high profile family, but you chose not to be buoyed by the family name’s fame, but be your own woman. You are your own self-made woman inspiring others on your own merit. Who inspires you?

If I had to use my father’s name to find and walk through doors of opportunity I would be a failure! And both he and my mother would have failed terribly too! My father is a retired army officer of international repute and I am so proud of his legacy. But with all due respect, that is not my legacy. My father’s story is not mine. That is why he and my mother ensured that my siblings and I get the best education they could give us, so we could independently fight for our own spots in history! Both my mother and father are my inspiration and my pillars! But with their blessing, I would like to be just as great or even greater! The sweat and tears that I have shed on my own path gives me my own power, on my own terms and that is what I want to teach women to do!

You have been married to Regis for 9 years. Do you mind sharing secrets to a happy long-lasting relationship?

I have been married to Regis for 9 years! He is my reality checker. When you are married you will think you must spend every single waking minute and hour together but you will discover that just as individually we come, although you are together and you build a home you must allow space for individuality. Marriage is the one space where judging the other person is never allowed. None of us is perfect, but it is our appreciation for individual imperfections that create the perfect marital scenario.

We live in a world where women are increasingly becoming very fashion conscious, want to look good and stay younger and healthy with age. What would you say to men who do not support this ideal and see this as another form of Western influence?

I would tell my darling brothers not to worry at all! As a matter of fact, they need to start celebrating with us!! Healthier lifestyles are in fashion. Aging gracefully is in fashion! Dressing to the nines as an expression of how you keep things together is in Fashion! How can they not celebrate with us?? Fashion in itself is about self-discovery! When I became Vlisco Ambassador, I learnt something about Fashion that perhaps I hadn’t really seen before! I realized that with Fashion you can remain in your comfort zone and most probably hardly be noticed, or step out of it and make heads turn! And this applies to lifestyle in general.

Confidence is in Fashion ….it does not belong to the West does it? Look at how quickly we are going back to our natural hair, using our shea butter and our coconut oil and appreciating the value of our black soap. I think we have come to a place where we know now more than ever that the African woman is so beautiful and however she chooses to fashionably express that, is very ok! Today’s African woman is not so afraid of trying something new and that’s the exciting thing about Fashion – it gives you room to dare to explore!

See Also

A health lifestyle is key in everyone woman’s life. Do you follow diets and exercise and what would you advise women to do to stay fit and healthy?

I use to diet and exercise like a crazy person! I lost so much weight that I fell very ill. Mentally and emotionally, it destroyed me. I was always hungry and angry. It was also at a time when I was trying to figure who I was and what I truly wanted to be and the kind of example I wanted to set for others.

Now, my fitness comprises getting periodic massages, keeping my sweet tooth in check, walking as a form of physical exercise and getting enough sleep! One interesting thing I encourage women to do as well, is to get fit emotionally and spiritually! We all do it in our ways. For example speaking to someone you trust about an insurmountable challenge could help you plough through! I am never ashamed to admit when I am tired. When that time comes, I take a step away from it all to refuel and regroup and that’s also a form of staying fit.

Could you tell us in a few words – “a day in Anita Erkine’s world”. What motivates you to get out of bed every morning?

My day is a fine blend of crazy busy but sweetly fulfilling! From my family, to my daily radio show on Starr 103.5 FM in Accra, to my company, Anita Erskine Media, to my church activities, I work to ensure everyday gets what it requires from me! No two days are the same but the one thing that remains a constant each day is knowing that at the end of the day that I have dealt with my challenges boldly and succeeded beautifully.

Could you tell us in a few words – “a day in Anita Erkine’s world”. What motivates you to get out of bed every morning?

My day is a fine blend of crazy busy but sweetly fulfilling! From my family, to my daily radio show on Starr 103.5 FM in Accra, to my company, Anita Erskine Media, to my church activities, I work to ensure everyday gets what it requires from me! No two days are the same but the one thing that remains a constant each day is knowing that at the end of the day that I have dealt with my challenges boldly and succeeded beautifully.

If we had to follow up this interview in 5 years time, what do you envisage we will be talking about?

Hopefully in 5 years time, I would have helped prepared an army of young women as global leaders in their own right. I am optimistic that I will be describing a thoroughly positive story of success and how I overcame challenges. In 5 years, it will be great to show the successes achieved by the girls who would have benefitted from my Women’s Elevation Fund. In 5 years, I want my name to be synonymous with an African woman of power. So help me God!

 Having said that, how would you complete this sentence: “a woman’s place is…

… Anywhere and any position which is of her own choice and it deeply satisfies her heart’s desires. A place that completes her personal circle of ambition.

And finally, how would you describe a New African woman in your own words

A New African Woman is resilient. She has vision. She is on a mission. She knows how to fight. She knows how to select her battles. She knows when to walk away. She’s found her voice and she is confident. She knows how to pick herself up when she falls! Above all, when she looks in the mirror she embraces the power of her uniqueness and she embraces her beauty in whichever way the world sees it.

Photoshoot Credits:

Photography and Art Direction: Gilbert Asante; Fashion Stylist: Viennty; Hair & Makeup: BJUKU; Location: Kempinski Hotel Gold Coast – Accra


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