Over the past few days, Ghanaians have, merely by accident, discovered and heartily fallen in love with Godfred ‘Vito’ Obeng Boateng, the KNUST graduate bread hawker, who was supposed to be the object of John Dumelo’s ridicule but has instead become something of a national treasure.
As the story goes, Dumelo posted a photo of Boateng hawking his bread in traffic in Accra, with a caption which many deem offensive in how demeaning it was.
Having found out the hawker was a graduate of the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, John Dumelo put up this caption: “Just saw a KNUST grad hawking in traffic. What went wrong?”
What follows next does not need to be repeated, but by the end, Dumelo had taken down his post and Boateng was the toast of everyone in town.
John Dumelo has even apologised to Boateng, the entrepreneur who leaves his Range Rover, Lexus and other expensive cars at home to walk under the scorching sun to promote and sell his bread.
What was meant as a moment of negativity has now become one of immense positivity, as his company is now known to almost everyone, the media cannot get enough of him and he’s now known to almost anyone who follows the news.
GhanaCelebrities.Com conducted this exclusive interview with ‘Vito’, as he’s more informally known, to hear his story. We asked him about numerous issues, including how it all began, the challenges he’s had to overcome along the way, being a ‘graduate hawker’, and what, if any, message he has for John Dumelo.
For Godfred, entrepreneurship has always been in his blood. For those who knew him, starting his own enterprise was always going to be the natural endpoint for such a business minded person.
“It all started at age 17 when I would travel to Lome and bring back stuff such as clothing and footwear to sell to miners at a galamsey site in Abirem” Vito told us about the genesis of his fierce determination to be a business owner.
Always on the lookout for an opportunity to make money through business, Vito found his niche when he entered the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in 2006 to study painting and sculpture. Whilst in school, he noticed a distinct lack of quality bread being sold within the Kumasi metropolis and saw an opportunity which could be seized upon.
“I realised that I didn’t see any nice pieces of bread around, so I decided to make something nice” Vito recalled. The options for residents were not too encouraging, as a lot of those already in the market were operating with an ‘old mindset.’
“I realised nobody was really branding and marketing their product, or offering [bread in] appealing packages,” Vito added.
So he decided to be the one who would break into the market with his ‘new’ way of doing things, utilising branding, marketing and advertising to create a quality and appealing product people simply could not refuse.
But things were not so easy for Boateng. He needed a start up capital and a place to make his base of operations. Finding either was not going to be easy.
Earlier in his life, his mum had loaned him a significant amount of money for a business deal, which he had lost. Fortunately, his mum kept believing in him and once again, came through for him.
“My mum took out a loan of Ghc 1,470 to help me start the bakery” he confessed.
However, the challenges were far from over.
His first obstacle was when he was kicked out of the building he hired as a base of operations after it emerged the one who hired it to him never had the authorisation to do so in the first place.
But ‘Vito’ persevered throughout all the challenges and setbacks, eventually ending up with a business which currently employs over 200 people, with over 21 distribution vans which send out his ‘A1’ and ‘Aunty Mary’ bread all across the city of Kumasi.
“I plan to take my company to an international level, create a product that would be enjoyed all over the world and bring pride to Ghana” Vito tells us. So far, he seems right on track to achieve that goal.
We asked Vito about how things have changed since this whole John Dumelo ‘brouhaha’ started. Nothing much, except his profile has risen substantially.
‘Vito’ still hawks his bread in the streets of Accra. This interview was scheduled for yesterday (Sunday), but he was at work in the streets, later tabling some meetings deep into the night.
“People have been calling me, asking questions about all that is going on” he said, a clear exhibit of how his stock has risen.
“There’s no such thing as bad publicity” he added, taking a positive from Dumelo’s attempted hit which has so spectacularly backfired.
Obviously, graduate unemployment is a big issue in the country, especially over the past few years when the government froze employment and the energy crisis and attendant high cost of business greatly crippled the private sector.
Nobody denies that, and the problem is exacerbated by a massive percentage of graduates not taking matters into their own hands but instead sitting back and waiting for jobs.
Which is why what Dumelo did was so unpardonable, if a graduate cannot find a job and decides to find an alternative means to make money, what’s the harm in that.
We asked Boateng about his advice for the legion of unemployed graduates in the country.
“If a job is not coming, you can start something on your own gradually. Start small, even with half a bag of flour, you never know where it might take you,” he said.
He added that many graduates don’t endeavour to improve themselves but instead remain at their level and hope to find big jobs. Even interning when there are no jobs can build up your profile, you CV, and gives you that much needed ‘experience’ which seems to prevent so many graduates from getting jobs.
“Better yourselves, volunteer with companies to get experience…[Many graduates] don’t add any value to their lives because they feel they know.
“They should add value to themselves, get experience,…find small jobs, and try and learn something.”
No matter the intention behind his post, John seems to have unintentionally catapulted Boateng to national stardom. He already had a thriving business, but the attention brought him by Dumelo’s goof has made him the toast of town and the name on everyone’s lips.
We asked him if he had any message to John and he did; next time verify your facts.
“Next time when he finds something like that, he has to verify,” he said.
“A lot of people don’t respect people working in traffic, don’t want to talk to them, [and he was feeding into that].
“Nobody wishes to be out on the street, but that is where some people have found themselves, and they are taking care of their parents, their siblings and their loved ones.
“Next time if he finds something like that, he should verify” Boateng emphasised.
However, he clearly bears no ill will towards Dumelo.
“I hear he has been promoting businesses, he should keep it up”
Godfred Obeng Boateng grew up in Kwahu, where presumably he picked up his entrepreneurial skills. He attended Pope John’s Senior High School, before entering the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in 2006. He skipped graduating in 2010 because he missed some papers due to his business, but finally completed in 2011.
He’s the founder and owner of A1 Bakery and Supreme State Marketing, which employs over 200 people currently. He’s expanding his business and has already acquired a site at Adenta in Accra for a new branch.
He’s currently not married but has a girlfriend.
For his parting words, we asked what has made his A1 and Aunty Mary brands stand out in the industry and made him come this far.
“The competition is good in the industry but we always aim to step up our game, always try to beat the competition with new and innovative ideas,” he said.
Boateng clearly has big dreams and aspirations, and now he has the added pressure of the eyes of a nation on him.
Only time will tell how this incredible story would end, but we know one thing for sure – in the John Dumelo v Vito Boateng case, there’s only one clear winner.