I was just a little girl. The bungalows that stood directly opposite our house in Berekum had two families. The children who lived there were our friends. We played with them and attended the same schools together. I had learnt that a certain Mr Apraku owned that property. As far as I knew, ‘Director’, as he was popularly known, was the most celebrated business mogul in Berekum at the time. The little me mistook one of the men who lived there for the Mr Apraku I had learnt about.
I would always shout “Mr Apraku” and waved at him whenever I saw him drive around. I loved how he reciprocated my wave with a wide smile, only for my mother to disappoint me one day with the true identity of this man. It was then that she explained to me that my friend’s father was one of the employees of Mr Apraku, who occupied the bungalow.
APRAKU THE ENTREPRENEUR
Mr Apraku’s name was a mark of many conversations in the town. When I was growing up, there weren’t any major events in the markets, on the streets, in various religious gatherings and social functions like funerals, weddings, naming ceremonies and others without his input. Many of the children in my school had their parents working in Director’s self-built firm, the most famous business in town. What made them special in this proudly Entrepreneurial Brong town was this striking privilege they seemed to have.
Every day, after school, they would be picked up by A.B.T.S. branded vehicles into their homes and would be brought to school comparably earlier than most of us, the next day. I later grasped the full acronym that ABTS stood for Asuo Bomosadu Timber and Sawmill, the company Mr Ernest Kwame Apraku built and the company many in Berekum depended on for their livelihood and sustenance. What is more, everything about them would show that their parents were doing well financially; they looked well-fed, wore trendy clothing, could easily afford extra snacks, and owned some of the very expensive children’s gadgets the average child would dream of.
“This must be a really lucrative business”, I thought to myself. “Asuo Bomosadu Timber Sawmill”, as I would later discover from my parents, was one of the largest timber businesses in the country. Not only did it employ Berekum and
Bono indigenes, people from different parts of the country would settle in Berekum, courtesy Mr Apraku’s A.B.T.S.
So, I grew up, and until my very first time of seeing him, my imagery of the man Apraku remained a physically imposing figure and that of some royal who was daily flanked by an army of guards. I would later, to my utmost surprise, meet a very simple, humble man, not only in appearance but in his relations with people. He was not lofty in stature as I had presumed. The director was affable, unassuming and a man who epitomized service.
HIS DEVELOPMENT CONTRIBUTION TO BEREKUM
I am yet to find a household in Berekum that did not benefit from Director. They ranged from the people whose relatives were direct employees of his business, to the women who picked wood chips from the site to cook for domestic and commercial purposes. They also included the students who would throng his home and office for their school fees, institutions who needed one facility or another and to the man or woman who did not know where their next meal would come from; he was always there for everyone. I would later find out he was closer to me through my grandfather’s Berekum-Senase lineage, which I still take pride in.
In our part of the world, where spearheading development is viewed as a preservation of people in government and politics, Mr. Apraku indeed defied that convention. The Apraku brand he built during the over 70 years of life transcended the borders of politics. He was hardly painted with any particular political party brush; he was always ready and willing to ‘serve the people in Berekum’ as he would always reply the few who criticized his actions. He never sought to be given the nod on any political party’s ticket, yet a lot of developmental projects are still credited to him.
In education, he spearheaded a number of projects, like the construction of the Senase Methodist School and the provision of a water reservoir for the Berekum College of Education. In sports, he was instrumental in a number of facelift initiatives at the Berekum Golden City Park. He, in diverse ways, contributed to the growth of Berekum Arsenal, Berekum Chelsea and other local football teams in the area. In 2013, he, with the support of my grandfather, the late Kwabena Kyere and others, pioneered the establishment of the Bomosadu Rural Bank at Senase to promote financial inclusion among the local people.
He contributed immensely to some of the road construction projects in and outside Berekum. Mr Ernest Kwame Apraku was not only a man of fine entrepreneurial ability, he understood development; he empowered many people not only with jobs but with the wherewithal to build their own businesses; living standards were improved through his benevolence; feeble dreams were enabled through his charitable works; many accomplished brands in the town today recount their successes with the Apraku factor. I have always wondered if he ever had a peaceful sleep, as there was always one issue or another which he had to extend some help to almost every day.
APRAKU THE IRREPRESSIBLE
One of the things that fascinated me about the Director was his resilience even in times of adversity. At a certain period when it became public knowledge that his business had nosedived and was fading into obscurity, not many people believed it could bounce back. This was when his irrepressible character and vaunted business acumen came to full glow. He rose beyond the difficulties, above every “Goliath”, and restored the brand ABTS which still employs by a stretch, the largest number of the local people in Berekum today. A real definition of “perseverance conquers all”!
But like the drawing curtain, Wednesday, the 26th of April would forever be etched in my memory, and I believe, that of many in Berekum. Like a sword piercing the heart, it was a shock when the news of the death of Mr Ernest Kwame Apraku was announced. It was a big blow to our family too when My uncle, Mr. Kwabena Kyere Jnr, who worked with him for over 25 years and was at his bedside, informed the family he had passed the previous night, the 25th. I kept reflecting on my last meeting with him, together with my mother and siblings in January this year. He had personally requested that my mother ‘dragged’ us to greet him. He had encouraged all of us that day to be multi-skilled in our endeavours and cultivate the entrepreneurial spirit, advising us that will always make us relevant in the employment space.
Predictably, scores of tributes have poured in to honour his memory too since his passing. For many, Berekum is mourning the loss of a hero, a ‘John the Baptist’ who went beyond paving the way for others to ensuring their welfare, a pillar of support for others, a humanitarian at heart, and a father not only to his biological children but for all.
I struggle to find, (like many in Berekum now will) the most accurate of descriptions to sufficiently articulate the glowing character of Mr. Apraku. Indeed, death has woken us all up to this inescapable reality. Many a heart has been shattered on the news of his transition to glory; A cloud of melancholy now rests on Berekum and the rest of the region; the man of the people is no more; A tower of support has fallen.
Adieu Director! Berekum and Ghana will forever miss you.
This article was written by Fidelia Maame Serwaa Ankomah on behalf of the late Kwabena Kyere family
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