Ghana Ambassador to US grants first ever interview to a blogger
I had the privilege of interviewing the Ghana Ambassador to the USA earlier in the month of March 2013 in Washington DC. His Excellency the Ambassador; Daniel Ohene Agyekum, was kind enough to grant me audience when I visited with him at his office where we talked about Ghana-USA relations, Ghanaians in the diaspora and what the current government in Ghana is doing to ensure that the discovery of oil in Ghana does not become a Dutch disease.
The occasion of Ghana's independence celebration on March 6, 2013 was what took me to Washington DC, to join a host of Ghanaians from all across the USA and non-Ghanaians alike who had convened at the embassy of Ghana to commemorate the 56th anniversary of the attainment of independence by Ghana from British colonial rule.
My meeting with the honorable Ambassador was facilitated by Mrs. Vanessa Mensah-Adu the Head of Information at the embassy. Mrs. Mensah-Adu played a very helpful role in preparing me to meet Ambassador Agyekum. When all was ready to start the interview, I was full of appreciation and humility for the occasion and managed not to be too awestruck as it was my first time ever interviewing an Ambassador who was granting his first interview to a blogger.
One of the first questions I asked the Ambassador was what his major responsibility to Ghanaians living in the United States of America was. In response, the Ambassador told me that besides representing the interest of Ghana and Ghanaians living in the USA, one of his most important obligations was to ensure that the relationship between Ghana and USA remains cordial and as healthy as possible, considering the fact that the USA was one of the first countries to establish diplomatic relationship with Ghana when it attained independence in 1957. 'As at today, USA-Ghana relationship is at the best it has ever been' says the Ambassador.
That said, H.E Agyekum went on to say that it was also his and the duty of the embassy to cater for Ghanaian citizens in the USA that may be in need of consular services and protect the interests of those who may find themselves in trouble with immigration authorities in the USA. Most importantly, the Embassy engages in the promotion of trade and investment between Ghana and the USA. The Ambassador alluded to the fact that Ghana, in the past, served as a catalyst and provided other African countries that were not yet liberated from colonization, the impetus and inspiration they needed to embark on their respective roads to gaining independence.
This was the era of political diplomacy. Today, the focus has shifted from political diplomacy to economic diplomacy where Ghana is using her bilateral and multilateral relationships with individual countries and the United Nations system respectively, to focus more on moving the eyes of investors towards Ghana. This has thus placed emphasis on promotion of trade and investment which in effect leads to foreign direct and local based investment that are driving the economy of Ghana.
According to the Ambassador, the Association of Ghana Industries (AGI) in collaboration with the Government of Ghana has been driving this shift in diplomacy as it strives to be at the forefront of promoting made-in-Ghana goods and services to ultimately entice foreign investments into Ghana. 'That said there is also the need to attract and invite Ghanaian businesses and investors located outside the country back into the country to help with the growth and development of the economy' the Ambassador said.
On the issue of economic growth and expansion, one of the things expected to drive this cause is the discovery of oil and natural gas in Ghana. H.E Agyekum calls oil and natural gas one of the many natural resources 'Ghana is fortunate to have been blessed with by God'. The Ambassador called on Ghanaians with skills and expertise in the oil prospecting and processing industry who are living and working outside the country or inside the USA, especially in areas like Texas, to go back home and help with the development of this new found resource.
In the spirit of where my chat with the Ambassador was leading, I took advantage to ask what measures were being put in place by the government of Ghana to ensure that the oil blessing does not turn into a curse for the nation as has been the case for some noted countries in Africa who have tons of oil and natural gas reserves but continue to suffer poverty and underdevelopment. H.E Agyekum responded by saying that the current government of Ghana under the leadership of President John Dramani Mahama is vigorously working on reforming existing legislation that would protect the ownership of both the industry and its revenue.
'Not only are we going to see to it that a larger percentage of the revenue from these natural resources go towards developmental projects in Ghana, but the country is working to ensure that the industry is largely owned and managed by Ghanaian skills and expertise. Ghana is seeking to build new oil refineries, focus on not simply extracting oil and natural gas in their raw state, but develop and manufacture products that are normally acquired from countries that already have the systems and machinery in place for such purposes'.
These laws will require that institutions be set up to educate Ghanaians to manage the oil industry. The Ambassador however admonished Ghanaians in and out of the country to be careful not to see the discovery of oil and natural gas as the one stop solution to the country's entire economic woes. This is because there are other sectors of the economy that need to be considered in an attempt to create a more prosperous nation. Sectors like quality Education; Information Communication Technology, Food and Agriculture and Health Care all deserve to be developed for Ghana to rise above middle income status.
When I asked the envoy about the tussle in the supreme court between the opposition and the incumbent Government over the legitimacy of the results of the recent elections, he said it was rather unfortunate that Ghana's opposition was disputing the authenticity of the results of the country's first ever elections to involve the use of biometrics. On the other hand however, this action shows the commitment by the current government to rule by the law and even though this provides a test of Ghana's rather young democratic institutions, he had no doubt that justice and the rule of law will prevail in the end.
In closing I asked what kind of a future President Mahama was envisioning for the youth of Ghana: Ambassador Agyekum reflected over the question for a moment, and with a smile proceeded to assert that President Mahama enjoys a fund of goodwill especially from the Ghanaian youth owing to the fact that many of them voted for him on the account of his youthfulness. For this reason, the youth have become the President's foremost priority as he tirelessly works to empower them through education. This will prepare them to become the future leaders of Ghana. This is something I totally agree with. Hopefully, in the not too distant future, I look forward to calling on the Ambassador again to see how far work has progressed since our first conversation.