When the UK Minister for Africa visited Ghana on February 18th, I was privileged to be a part of the small number of people invited to listen to him speak at the Institute of Economic Affairs, IEA in Accra. Below is a transcript of his speech, take you time, read it and let me know what you think.
The relationship between the United Kingdom and Ghana is strong and vibrant, much like the wonderful city of Accra. It is rooted in our long-standing economic, political and cultural connections, our shared values and the deep links between our people. With a half a million strong British-Ghanaian Diaspora community in the UK that is dynamic and prosperous and an ever-growing continent of British businesspeople basing themselves in Ghana, the future of this relationship is being built on firm foundations.
These links provide a solid basis for us to pursue our shared commitments to the eradication of poverty to democracy, good governance and the rule of law, to countering transnational threats such as climate change and narcotics trafficking and to promoting the continued growth of prosperous and equitable trade relations. After all, this is the challenge of the present: to build the future. And it is precisely because your foundations are so strong that I see Ghana providing leadership for West Africa, the wider continent and indeed the world
A commitment to shared prosperity has always been at the centre of the UK’s partnership with Ghana. Our development programmes in Ghana stretch back fifty years and our Department for International Development (DFID) continues to assist some of the most vulnerable Ghanaians. These programmes are an important part of our countries’ relationship and are worth celebrating, but on this my focus is towards our shared goals for business and trade.
Recent commercial activity show successful UK-Ghana partnerships have already been. British companies have been key players in the now producing oil sector as well as in other extractive industries; in developing telecommunications networks across the country; in the financial services sector; in the cocoa industry and in other areas of agribusiness. During Vice-President Mahama’s successful visit to the UK last year, he led the UK-Ghana Investment Forum 2010 – the opening dinner of which I was delighted to attend. The forum showcased the range of sectors which already enjoy Ghanaian/UK collaboration, as well as future opportunities for British business.
Ghana is one of the UL’s 14 priority markets in Africa and it is easy to see why: the country has already reached middle income status, has weathered the global economic downturn far better than Europe and the US, and has forecast GDP growth rate 7%; 15% if we include oil revenues. These are growth rates that we in the UK look upon with rather envious eyes.
With such a positive story to tell, Ghana is an attractive prospect for British businesses – not only as a place to invest directly but also as an increasingly important market for goods and services.
In part this is because, British businesses recognise that Ghana is a stable place to do business. While there are still concerns about the regulatory framework and the risks to both reputations and profits form corruption, most UL companies share our views that Ghana’s environment is the most investor-friendly it has ever been. The Ghanaian government is focussed on further improving the ease with which companies can do business here and continues to take a robust approach to tackling corruption. The World Bank’s Doing Business 2011 report has Ghana jumping ten places in a year – from 77 to 67 in global rankings of ease to do business. These impressive efforts are important to British businesses an can serve as a model for other growing West African economies, who want to attract trade and investment.
It is widely acknowledged that to build sustainable economic growth across the region, there needs to be greater intra country trade within Africa. Trade between countries currently accounts for less than 10% of Africa’s total trade- in some countries it is lower than 5% – compared to Europe where 62% of trade is within the European Union. This is something I know that Ghana and other African countries want to address and Britain is keen to support efforts to develop regional integration. So we are launching an African free Trade Initiative to work with international partners in delivering and integrated programme of technical assistance, investment and political support in support of the AU’s vision for regional integration.
Ghana as regional exemplar
It is not just economic achievements that set Ghana out as a model for the region. Ghana’s prosperity is founded upon good governance and rule of law and is rightly held up as a beacon of democracy in the region and across the continent – and it’s not just us saying it. President Obama’s first visit to sub-Saharan Africa was to Ghana for precisely this reason.
Improved governance and rule of law is the key to unlocking Africa’s potential. And we are committed to working with African countries seeking to turn that key. A good example is the work that UK officials have undertaken since 2006 alongside their Ghanaian counterparts as part of Operation WestBridge, a law enforcement programme which tackles drug trafficking into Ghana. Operation WestBridge has been so successful that is has been extended to Nigeria, resulting in combined seizure of over 600 kilograms of Cocaine, 250 kilograms of Heroin and close to 2000 kilograms of Cannabis. This is important news for West Africa where drug trafficking represents a major threat to the security and development of the region and it is important news for the UK too as these drugs frequently end up on our streets. I applaud the strong personal interest that President Mills has taken in the fight against drugs. Ghana’s determined approach to combat drug trafficking is another instance where you have set an example to countries around the world.
Now if Ghana is the beacon of democracy one, sadly does not have to look far to see there the shadows fall. The situation in Cote d’Ivoire makes it clear that the threat of violent, undemocratic action by those who refuse to recognise the will of their people remains as real as ever. Former President Gbagbo’s actions can be held up in stark relief to those of Ghana’s politicians. Your last election was one of the most closely contested I have heard of, coming down to a few thousand votes. Yet both sides were clear that there are no winners when leaders put their own interest ahead of those of the people.
The interventions by the West African regional community, ECOWAS, in Cote d’Ivoire has demonstrated to Africa and the world the region’s commitment to finding a solution to the challenge of undemocratic behaviour. And it is from this context that Ghanaians leadership on democracy, religious tolerance, human rights and the rule of law stands out. You can speak with a moral authority and experience that is impossible to ignore, or to discount as Western interference.
Ghana also provides important leader ship in the commonwealth – as Chair of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group, and with membership on the Eminent Persons Group, you have the opportunity to take this leadership forward. Elections in 211 and 2012 in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Benin and Mali afford other opportunities to do so. We will do all we can to support and encourage you further pursuing a leadership role.
And your voice has been influential on Climate Change too. You were once of the first African nations to sigh the Copenhagen Accord and your efforts to promote a serious collective African response to the threat of Climate Change have caught the world’s eye – as did our successful partnership in Copenhagen on the finance panel. Building up this momentum is vital. We are all too aware that climate change poses huge threats to Ghana and the whole of Africa. The effects vary across the continent; however they are increasingly being felt with rising sea-levels in Ada in the Greater Accra region and Keta in the Volta region, and droughts and changing weather patterns in many areas. So we need to up our game in building a credible and effective response to this threat. With 53 countries the chorus of African voices, when singing in unison, will resound around the world. As host to the next meeting, the focus will be on Africa and it provides you with an even grater opportunity to shape the debate. I hope that Ghana continues to play a prominent role among African nations on this issue.
Here too the Commonwealth can play it is part. We would like to see continued discussions of climate at the nest CHOGM, due to take place in November. As a member, Ghana has the opportunity to influence and set a strong example ahead of COP 17.
The UK is committed to its partnership with Ghana on this critical Climate Change agenda. Speaking in New York last September, British Foreign Secretary William Hague described climate change as ‘’perhaps the 21st Century biggest foreign policy challenge, along with such challenges as preventing the spread of nuclear weapons ’’. He argued that an effective response to climate change underpins our security and prosperous – as it does for every country in the world. As the world becomes increasingly networked, the impact of climate change in one country or region will affect the prosperity and security of those in others.
We believe the ultimate goal is the creation of a legally binding global agreement on climate change and we remain committed to seeking multilateral solutions. That is why the UK worked hard with international partners for the best possible agreement at the Cancun negotiations last December. After weeks of touch negotiations, and from an unpromising start, our Foreign Secretary was able to welcome the final agreement as an ‘’ excellent result‘’. Not only has it moved forward key issues such as deforestation, but it provided funding for developing countries as the greatest burden should not fall to those who have done the least to cause the problem and who are the least to deal with its consequences.
Following Cancun, the UN process is back on track with renewed purpose and there is much to be done as we work towards Durban. We look forward to working with you in the run to this just as we look forward to working with you across the board on our many areas of shared interest.
I want to finish by returning to consider the strength of our bilateral relationship and the opportunity that offers both our countries. There is so much that binds Ghana and the UK: our people-to-people links, our shared values of democracy and the rule of law, our aspirations for prosperity and security and our deep and genuine desire to tackle the world’s climate change dilemma. I look forward to seeing the outcomes from this genuine partnership, anchored in its firm foundations. President Mills, on his visit to the UK in May 2009, referred to the ‘’umbilical cord‘’ that ties two nations. It is testimony to the strength and maturity of our nations and our respective national pride that the transition from the colonial period to Ghana’s independence was smooth, and that our relationship has since evolved from that of mother and to one of mutual respect. There is no place for the UK to lecture Ghana about its policies, but to help identify where UK assistance can most usefully be provided, and where the UK and Ghana can work in harmony for mutual benefit. The democratic progress made by Ghana over the last 20years is a lesson for us all. There may be 79 different languages in Ghana, but you speak with one vice for democracy. And I believe there is much that the UK can learn from Ghana’s ability to unite different ethnic groups, migrants’ populations, traditional and modern leadership, honouring and respecting chieftaincy while promoting the rapid development of modern technology, seen with the almost saturating effect of mobile phones.
Ghana’s ability to build coalitions within society – chiefs, churches, politicians, businessmen and women – is indicative of the single-minded purpose shared by the nation. As the UK experience a rare period of coalition government, perhaps there is a specific lesson for us there.