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The retrospect of Ghana’s economy and its prospect: Franklin Cudjoe’s surgical views

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Ghana’s economic slump from the top 5 economies with the highest growth rate shocked many economic watchers across the globe. Ghana in 2011 historically achieved a record high GDP growth rate of 14%.

The country however failed to sustain that growth and by 2014, it had crashed to a record low (in about 25 years) of 4.2%, below the Sub-Saharan African average of 5%.

On the streets of Accra, the real impact of the economic nose dive had resulted in high cost of living, spiraled prices of goods and services as a result of the direct bearing on the weakening Cedi against the major trading currencies.

The Cedi cumulatively depreciated by nearly 15% to the international currencies by the third quarter of 2015 alone. The Finance Minister, Seth Terkper, in his 2016 budget statement told Parliament in November 2015 that the estimated growth rate for 2015 was 3.5% but it was expected to improve to 4.1% by the end of the year.

As if government’s struggles to deal with this weak economic fundamentals were not enough, the country’s energy crisis, popularly known as ‘Dumsor’ worsened. It literally crippled the country’s productivity, forced businesses to close down, while others with astronomical increase in cost of production had to dismiss workers.

In 2014 alone, the power crisis caused the country, a conservative figure of nearly GHc1 billion, according to the Institute of Statistical, Social and Economic Research (ISSER).

In April 2015, the Employers Association of Ghana announced that about 13,000 jobs had been lost in just four months into the year. As a result of all these, many would agree that the Ghanaian economy suffered an undeniable crisis in the year 2015.

In finding lasting solutions to this endemic cankerworm, Team Vaultz, called on the President and Founder of one of Africa’s foremost think tank group (IMANI), Mr. Franklin Cudjoe to assess the country’s economic condition and proffer practical solutions that can boost the economy coming into the year 2016 and beyond.

VERDICTS ON GHANA’S ECONOMY IN 2015

“The Ghanaian economy is expected to slow down to an estimated 3.9% growth rate in 2015 from 4.2% in 2014, owing to a severe energy crisis, unsustainable domestic and external debts burdens, and deteriorated macroeconomic and financial imbalances”, said the African Development Bank Group on Ghana Economic Outlook 2015.

It was in no surprise then to many economic pundits and analysts when the economy suffered such a setback in performance in the year 2015.

But the expectations of the populace were for the government to find solutions to curbing this situation when the warning signals were alarmed on the outlook for 2015 by all concerned actors such as the World Bank Group, African Development Bank Group etc.

Coming into the year 2015 with the challenges rolling from 2014, many believed government could have salvaged the situation based on his Better Ghana Agenda assurance. But the survey conducted by The Vaultz proved otherwise.

The year 2015 will forever be remembered by many Ghanaian as a result of its many negative impacts. Many businesses on a random survey attested to the economy’s slowdown.

“It was a complete shambles. Even if you use the government’s own parameters it set in terms of the single digit inflation, it failed. Growth rate of about 8% that the government wanted to achieve, it couldn’t achieve.”

Mr. Franklin Cudjoe lamented. In February 2015, the IMF announced the deal revealing that Ghana will receive US$940 million from the Fund to help turn the ailing economy around.

This and many more simply portrayed the economy was failing and it needed the requisite support. “That is why I said the economy was in shambles; otherwise we wouldn’t have gone to the IMF in the first place…

For anybody to suggest the economy did any better in 2015 obviously was not living in Ghana, I mean with all the energy problems we faced.”

DEPRECIATION OF THE GHANA CEDI

Government and the Bank of Ghana have struggled to curtail the recurring depreciation of the Cedi against the major international trading currencies.

In the second quarter of 2015, the Bank of Ghana (BoG) intervened on the foreign exchange market with a daily supply of $20 million to allow foreign investors to participate in the country’s short-term debt instruments.

This was in a bid to boost liquidity on the money market, after another nose dive by the Cedi. Ghana’s economy, which is heavily import dependent, is usually very exposed as a result of such activities.

Also the po licies – monetary and fiscal, that are supposed to guide the currency looks incoherent and hence affect its effect in the market space.

“Monetary policies and fiscal policies are supposed to go hand in hand. But we have a disjointed process where the fiscal policy is out of gear because the government borrows exceedingly and does not necessarily use it as expected and that results in such situations that lead to the depreciation of the currency.

The government is not just borrowing too much and crowding out the private sector, it is also because the government is the dominant player in the economy.

It does a lot of the investment and it is expected that such investments would yield the right dividends.”

In solving this perennial issue on depreciation of the currency, IMANI boss suggested that Bank of Ghana should be strengthened to demand effective answers from the Central government as well as publish the minutes of the committee’s meetings to inure transparency in the overall activities of the committee.

He further advised that the foreign minister instead of requesting ‘freebies such as school buildings’ should rather consider technology transfer or take advantage of the EPA’s which are tax free and all these shall help to reduce the exposure of the local currency.

“To some extent, Bank of Ghana may even decide not to lend money to the government. One of the things it should do is to make sure that government’s borrowing does not exceed 10% of the previous year’s revenues – which previously has been flouted several times.

I think, we need to now give a lot of power to the central bank to be autonomous,” the IMANI boss advocated.

INFRASTRUCTURE, POWER & ENERGY

 

The World Bank had previously suggested that $10 billion dollars could solve the infrastructure gap of the country.

Mr. Cudjoe believes that if successive governments had committed to putting aside $1 billion yearly to narrow the infrastructure deficit, it would be too simplistic to believe that would automatically deal with the infrastructure gap in 10 years.

“It sounds simplistic but if we were in a society in which pragmatism, honesty played a particular role, then the issue about simplicity will not probably matter.

Given the fact that we have a situation in this country where we are not so clear in terms of our budgeting processes and contracting arrangements, it is very difficult for anyone to understand why putting a billion dollars a year aside may actually solve the problem.

As a sequel to this, the sources of revenue for these kinds of projects have got to vary. It has to be more of, probably, a Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) approach i.e. 70%- 80% private and 20% public.”

The Ghana Shared Development Growth Agenda clearly states how some of these gaps should be narrowed by the government.

However, it seems to be a contest between realistically what the party in government would do as against what they believe would bring in a more sustainable growth.

“It is largely dependent on the priorities of government indeed. If the priority of the government is that they would like to support people who they believe are vulnerable and excluded and so would set up all manner of funds to secure the livelihoods of these people, then of course automatically, it will affect some of the money that should have gone towards such projects.

It will be based purely on the objectives of the government. To solve that issue it will require pragmatic approach from the government on what it wants to achieve during its tenure of office. ” “At the end of the day, politicians do what they have to do in order to stay in office,” Mr. Cudjoe added.

He however believes that the media and civil society organizations should force governments to make the hard choices of a more sustainable development for the country vis-à-vis the options of making political decisions that will keep them in political power.

In the area of power and the privatization of the Electricity Company of Ghana (ECG) to solve Ghana’s worsening energy crisis, Mr. Cudjoe said previous and the current governments failed to look into the future to add to the energy stock, hence the current situation.

“Sometimes when these discussions come up and someone assumes the problem can be fixed in a twinkle, I find it difficult to understand where that source of power will come from.

This is a challenge that has accumulated over the period and resolving it all of a sudden looks quite impossible.

It requires a carefully calculated methodology that will tackle the root-cause upwards else it shall compound for a future explosion which shall be very difficult to tackle.”

According to Mr. Cudjoe, the power sector is very “disjointed” and does not work in a synchronized manner with stakeholders such as the Volta River Authority (VRA), Electricity Company of Ghana (ECG) and this makes it difficult to achieve any significant results in the permanent expiration of the power crisis.

‘DUMSOR’ IS A PLANNED ACTIVITY IF…

 

On Saturday 28th November 2015, the first of emergency power barges ordered by the Ghana government from Turkey, docked at the Tema Port, to supply about 250 megawatts of power to the national electricity grid.

This was after a few postponements of the deadline dates within the year. However, Ghanaians got more interested when a Norwegian newspaper VG, in a publication alleged that the Ghana government has been duped by a wanted criminal who was a signatory to the deal that produced the power barge.

According to the publication, Ghana signed off on $510 million deal for the facility, when it could have paid just about half, but the Power Ministry denied and argued that the cost of the facility was in indeed value for money.

However, in a total disagreement, the IMANI boss said; “… I’m not saying government is not doing anything, but it was essentially the wrong arrangement.

Nobody seems to have seen the Karpower deal… I’m beginning to think that any time we have embarked on such haphazard, speedy but very dodgy arrangements to fix a problem, it is actually in somebody’s interest to first of all let us be in such a situation… I want to believe that this ‘Dumsor’ of a thing was actually an organized plot to make us be in this poverty of power for a while and then a saint comes around to say, I’ve managed to fix it because I’ve brought in barges.”

He argued that the solution to the power crisis must be systematic and urged parliamentarians and the executive body to desist from passing similar bills under certificates of urgency for “humongous sums” under the pretext of solving the problem which they know cannot be solved within a short time.

IS ECG REALLY A BIG FACTOR?

The inefficiencies of the Electricity Company of Ghana were thought to be the reason for the massive load shedding, especially when about 25% of the total power produced for the country was either stolen or wasted.

As things stand now, majority of the problem really lies with generation of power to meet the demands of the country. However, Franklin Cudjoe believes that nonetheless, ECG is also very key factor to the current energy problems.

His organization, IMANI, is on record to have supported the privatization of the company to improve efficiency. “… Some people have suggested that the government also owes ECG, well I could blame successive governments for owing and not paying– something that has to change.

But ECG itself has received some significant amount of investment from the state and unfortunately don’t want to show their books. I know, on authority, that out of the over GHc3 billion ECG owes, government debt is about GHc800 million, this is as of about 5 months ago.

If we did a serious analysis of that debt, it will be cancelled out; if we quantify how much government seems to have pumped into ECG. We need to see the books and rest the argument about government’s indebtedness to ECG.”

Privatization of government’s parastatals have most times proven futile in the past or burdened the populace in other countries and that is the major panic in the minds of Ghanaian citizenries on privatizing ECG.

OIL SLUMP AND IMPACT ON GHANA

The whole world is in shock about the continuous slump in oil prices and its impact on global economies. The world’s biggest exporter of crude oil, Saudi Arabia cut down on fuel subsidies by about 50%, after it suffered a $98 billion dollar budget deficit in 2015 as result of the fall in crude oil prices.

Ghana is not a huge producer of crude oil and as a net importer of the commodity; the reduction is rather expected to be a welcoming news, according to some industry watchers.

However, government still depends heavily on oil revenues and when the oil prices dropped significantly by the middle of 2015, Ghana’s Finance Minister, Seth Terkper, returned to Parliament to review the oil revenue expectations for the year.

Based on the new revenue assumptions, total petroleum receipts for 2015 was estimated at GH¢1.5 billion (1.1 percent of GDP), compared with the 2015 Budget estimate of GH¢4.2 billion (3.1 percent of GDP).

The difference of GH¢2.7 billion is 64.4 percent lower than the 2015 Budget target. “We are not necessarily a promising oil producing country in a way that we should hinge all our fortunes on the oil sector because these were things most people had warned about long ago.

The barrels of oil to be produced was problematic coupled with a sector that was quite unpredictable and so its impacts on the budget were bound to happen.

So to even hinge your financial plan on the price of oil itself without necessarily being a major producer of oil was in itself a bit ‘foolhardy’ because it creates a false sense of hope and that false sense of hope causes spending anyhow.

This was very evident in the way we spent part of the petroleum revenues of which part went into the controversial bus branding – which was not a priority,” Mr. Cudjoe argued.According to him, it is not “smart” for Ghana to continuously hinge its development outcomes on the price of oil considering its production rate and the current challenges engulfing the industry globally.

PROSPECTS OF GHANA’S ECONOMY IN 2016

2016 is an election year in Ghana and historically, successive governments have exhibited gross indiscipline in terms of spending- in some cases, stretching the budget deficits to unimaginable levels.

This usually takes a toll on the economy in later years. The government of Ghana, being hopeful of having the deficit situation of the country under control, has argued that it has reduced spending and that will be evident in the year 2016 spending.

Mr. Cudjoe in assessing the statement supposes the argument is rather baseless considering the elections that shall be holding in the later part of the year.

GHANA’S BUSINESS CLIMATE

Every businessman in Ghana will testify that doing business in Ghana can be likened to fetching water with a basket; extremely difficult. This is simply because of the inflexible requirements that besiege the business environment.

Starting a business in Ghana as a foreign investor requires a capital of $250, 000 as well as other stiffened conditions which scares many investors.

All these and many more contribute to Ghana’s ranking 102 in terms of “starting a Business” of the Ease of Doing Business Index of the World Bank. IMANI boss, Mr. Cudjoe, said his team discovered that countries like Burundi, Sierra Leone and other “small” countries even do better than Ghana in terms of starting a business.

Ghana’s ranking in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Index has worsened from 112 in 2015 to 114 in 2016 which makes the country’s business climate unattractive to foreign investors.

He cautioned government to be concerned about the drop because according to him, investors across the globe take critical look at such rankings to make business decisions on investments in such countries.

“Once International Investors watch these indices, they tend to advise their potential clients about the business environment of such countries on the possibilities of recouping their investments. Once they notice such rankings, they tend to focus on more reliable and dependable markets. For example, America has decided to increase its interest or policy rate, and that may be an attractive avenue for such an investor since he is sure of the right set of investments will be done. So all these indices send signals to the global market.”

Mr. Cudjoe believes there must be a proper competition policy in Ghana to allow businesses to thrive. This follows previous attempts by the Ghana government to restrict foreigners from engaging in retail trade in the various markets.

“The whole idea of competition is good and must be encourage. We need serious competition policy in this country otherwise we will keep on slumping on the doing business report. And it is not just when you automate your restriction process, it is also probably about access to financing and all these business laws and how to arbitrate when these issue come up”.

In the midst of the difficult economic conditions in the country, it is suggested that some businesses could consider mergers or cuts in employment.

To make Ghana’s business environment more attractive, government should decentralize its operations to have hands on approach to encourage small business owners and not to focus only on the prime businesses listed in the Ghana Club 100.

GOVERNMENT’S CROWDINGOUT EFFECT ON BUSINESSES

Government’s borrowing spree in the last two years domestically has had an adverse effect on Ghanaian businesses and crowded out many.

Business watchers and commentators have complained about government’s uncontrolled borrowing that is ‘destroying’ local businesses leading to massive unemployment. This situation has put some of these businesses in a very tight corner.

Accessing finances both locally and internationally has not been an easy condition to fulfil. “It’s difficult, but everything points to policy.

But not all businesses can position themselves to take advantage of international money”. Attracting foreign financial aid to boost private local businesses in the country requires proper positioning of such businesses and the kind of trade the firm engages that can guarantee the source of repayment.

This, therefore, makes international financing for local businesses a rock to be axed. To make accessing finance for local entrepreneurs very easy, there must be a certain direction from the government so that companies that have signed up to protocols under for instance the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) can get some level of support from the local banks.

“That is the only way the banks can grant loans to such companies considering government’s involvement in such businesses,” he noted.

All these, he suggested, are as a result of the policies government puts in place.

AFRICA AND ITS GROWTH OPPORTUNITIES

2015 was quite a difficult year globally and Africa had its own share of the pie. The Greek bankruptcy and bailout drama with its attendant problems for the European Union cannot be over-emphasized.

The Syrian crisis and subsequent migration to Europe and its related effects on Europe, the slump in oil prices and the teething effects on some global economies among others made 2015 quite a challenging year.

In the midst of all these Africa’s growth was optimistic despite its uncertainties. Africa is projected to be the next growth destination and investment hub of the global market but characterized with many uncertainties.

For Africa to take hold of this opportunity to lead the global market, it needs to reposition itself to become attractive enough to attract these investments.

However, Mr. Cudjoe believes that leadership on the continent has to change to facilitate Africa’s efforts to take advantage of its growth opportunities. “The narrative has to change.

Some of the bad governance that we see on the continent has to be changed. Bad leaders must be exited from power through a proper democratic election.

Some of the issues of corruption on the continent must be fought against and also security issues must be combated to abate the threat it poses on the continent. For instance, in some parts of the continent especially in Nigeria – obviously the Boko Haram effect is also not helping.

With bad governance, it affects even the policies that are made. If policies are not clear, it will be difficult for investors to come in and invest. So I think positioning ourselves, we need to be smarter in the way we run our public bureaucracies.”

THE GLOBAL PERSPECTIVE

The global economy is expected to rebound in 2016 says economic experts. The year 2015 had many challenges that confronted the global economy and as a result stunted its growth.

The big question, however, is whether things will change significantly in 2016, giving the efforts stakeholders have put in place to change things for the better.

In Franklin Cudjoe’s view, the global economic growth will largely be driven by America considering trifling challenges that confront Europe and Asia.

“I’m not sure the world will be safer; it will still be a bit turbulent,” he predicts.

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Business Interview

Expertise and investment– grounds for the “year Of return, Ghana 2019”

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Since the abolishment of slavery in 1833, descendants of Africans, who were uprooted from the continent and forced in labour on sugar and cotton plantains, in Europe, North America, the Caribbean and South America have traced their roots back to the continent.

Two African countries, Liberia and Sierra Leone, were actual destinations for ex-slaves from the Americas who wished to come back home to the continent as well as people rescued by the British Navy from slave ships en route to the Americas. 

Today, there are millions of African descendants who have made Europe, North America, the Caribbean and South America their home. Despite that, most of them still seek their roots on the African continent and are becoming more and more aware of their status as members of the African diaspora.

A significant part of the diaspora are also people who emigrated to North America and Europe seeking better lives and education as a result of conflict, poverty, lack of economic activity and political instability. These are emigrants who also do return or seek a return back to their homeland.

Various Governments’ call on the Diaspora

Several presidents of Ghana, from the days of Dr Kwame Nkrumah, a returnee himself who led the fight for independence, have tried to lure the members of the diaspora back to the continent and Ghana. In his maiden independence address, then–Prime Minister Kwame Nkrumah sought to frame Africa’s liberation around the concept of Africans all over the world coming back to Africa.

“Nkrumah saw the American Negro as the vanguard of the African people,” said Henry Louis Gates Jr., Director of the Hutchins Centre for African and African American Research at Harvard, who first travelled to Ghana when he was 20 and fresh out of Harvard, afire with Nkrumah’s spirit. “He wanted to be able to utilize the services and skills of African-Americans as Ghana made the transition from colonialism to independence.”

Even long before the attainment of independence and Gold Coast becoming Ghana, the political leaders of the Gold Coast reached out to the African Diaspora. There are letters from people like Casely Hayford, who was a major political leader in the 1910s and 1920s, to W.E.B DuBois and to Marcus Garvey.

But for a couple of decades now each president of Ghana has introduced a series of aggressive moves to bring their growing population of the diaspora back home. Even though these moves have been well planned, success has been mixed at best.

In 2000, when John Agyekum Kufuor became the President of the country, he appealed to the members of the diaspora to come back home to help develop the country. Also in 2000, the Parliament of Ghana passed a Citizenship Act in 2000 to make provision for dual citizenship, meaning that people of Ghanaian origin who have acquired citizenships abroad can take up Ghanaian citizenship if they so desire.

That same year the country enacted the Immigration Act, which provides for a “Right of Abode” for any “Person of African descent in the Diaspora” to travel to and from the country “without hindrance.”

At the time, Ghana has undertaken the first transfer of power from one civilian government to another with the ruling party also changing. That significant move positioned Ghana as the beacon of democracy on a continent that was ravaged by wars, poverty, economic paralysis, corruption and mismanagement at the highest levels.

The push to bring back Africans in the diaspora yielded some positives. Some Ghanaians in the diaspora did come home and helped the government undertake and establish some critical governmental and economic institutions.

A quick mention can be made about Nana Osei Bonsu, the current CEO of the Private Enterprise Federation (PEF) who came back to Ghana at the urging of President Kufuor. His expertise was leveraged to create the Venture Capital Trust Fund (VCTF), the first public sector led private equity/venture capital fund in the country.

Also, Rita Marley, the wife of Reggae Legend, Bob Marley, relocated to Ghana and is currently staying in the country. There are also recorded settlements of people from the Caribbean who now reside in Cape Coast in the Central Region and even as far as Techiman, in the newly created Bono East Region.

Then in 2007, the Joseph Project, which was led by the late Jake Obetsebi Lamptey when he was the Minister of Tourism and Diasporan Relations, was launched to mark the 50th year of independence, and to commemorate 200 years since the abolition of slavery and to encourage Africans abroad to return.

Similar to Israel’s policy of reaching out to Jews across Europe and beyond following the Holocaust, the Joseph Project is named for the Biblical Joseph who was sold into slavery in Egypt but would later reunite with his family and rule Egypt. It was seen as a medium to bring together, more closely, people in Ghana and brothers and sisters in the diaspora and establish Ghana as the true gateway to the homeland for Africans in the diaspora.

Since then various presidents have used other means to bring back diasporans back home. President John Dramani Mahama and President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, the current president, have granted citizenship to members of the Caribbean community in the country. The current majority owners of Republic Bank come from Trinidad and Tobago, a Carribean country.

These moves are seen as measures to attract more of such personalities and institutions to help contribute significantly to economic growth and development.

Ghana sets the stage for The Year of Return

In September, 2018, when President Akufo-Addo was in the United States, he proclaimed 2019 as the ‘Year of Return’. Officially titled ‘Year of Return, Ghana 2019’, the proclamation was read at a ceremony at the United States National Press Club in Washington DC to formally launch a program of activities marking the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first enslaved Africans from Jamestown, Accra to Jamestown, Virginia in English North America in 1619.

But before that in 2013 the United Nations declared 2015–2024 the International Decade for People of African Descent to “promote respect, protection and fulfilment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms of people of African descent.” The theme for the ten-year celebration is “People of African descent: recognition, justice and development.”

The ‘Year of Return, Ghana 2019’ has therefore coincided with the biennial Pan African Historical Theatre Festival (Panafest), which is held in Cape Coast, home of Cape Coast Castle and neighboring Elmina Castle—two notable edifices recognized by UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) as World Heritage Sites of the slave era.   

The launch, attended by the cream of African American community, including members of the United States Congress, civil rights groups, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), black clergymen and the business community, was organized by the Ghana Tourism Authority, under the auspices of the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture, the Office of Diasporan Affairs at the Office of the President, the PANAFEST Foundation and the Adinkra Group, an event group based in the US.

The Proclamation recognizes Ghana’s unique position as the location for 75 percent of the slave dungeons built on the west coast of Africa and the current President’s policy making it a national priority to extend a hand of welcome back home to Africans in the diaspora.

As well as taking note of the fact that “Ghana has more African Americans living in the country than any other African country,” the proclamation also expressed happiness about Ghana’s Right of Abode immigration law that grants freedom to persons with this right “to live and to come and go into and from the country without let or hindrance”. 

Another factor influencing the Proclamation is the 115th US Congress Resolution (HR 1242) establishing the 400 Years African American History Commission to commemorate the anniversary.

Speaking at the launch, President Akufo-Addo recalled Ghana’s early Pan African leadership role and pledged that “under my leadership, Ghana will continue to ensure that our hard won Pan African reputation is not lost. Making Ghana the focus of activities to commemorate the landing of the first enslaved Africans in the English colonies in North America is, therefore, a huge opportunity to entrench Ghana’s leadership.”

“In the year 2019, we open our arms even wider to welcome home our brothers and sisters in what will become a birthright journey home for the global African family,” he said.

The President eulogized the role played by the late Otanka Obetsebi-Lamptey, who, as Tourism Minister in the Kufuor administration, launched the ‘Joseph Project’, symbolizing an arm of brotherhood inviting back home, descendants of Africans who were enslaved and, therefore, find themselves in North, Central and South America.

Mentioning the late minister’s wish to see the ‘Right of Abode’ immigration program become law and his (Jake’s) determination to grant easy visas to Africans in the diaspora, the President declared: “I pledge the determination of my government to grant these wishes.”

Mission of the new Diaspora Affairs in the wake of events

In an exclusive interview with Akwasi Awua Ababio, the Director of Diaspora Affairs, Office of the President (DAOOP), he noted that the Year of Return seeks to make Ghana the focus for millions of African descendants reacting to their marginalization by tracing their ancestry and identity. By this, he said, Ghana becomes the beacon for African people living on the continent and the diaspora.

“Ghanaians in the Diaspora, serve in building bridges between their country of residence and Ghana by providing market access, sources of expertise, knowledge,” he said, adding that the objective behind establishing the office at the Presidency, emphasizes the importance the government places on the contributions Ghanaians in the Diaspora make to the economy.

Established in February 2017, the Diaspora Affairs office’s mission is to efficiently harness, mobilize, and steer Ghanaian resources in the diaspora for political inclusion, economic and socio-cultural development. “Our mission is achieved through a multi-stakeholder coordination approach, involving government ministries, Ghanaian associations abroad, the private sector, non-profit organizations and international organizations,” he added.

With decades of experience working in the diaspora himself, Mr. Ababio, alongside his colleagues who in total have more than 50 years’ experience in the diaspora, is expected to leverage his expertise to oversee the strategic use of a comprehensive database for diaspora resource mobilization and utilization.

He added that this government has appointed more diasporans to strategic government institutions including regulatory authorities, public companies, ministerial positions, agencies and committees than any other. In business, he noted that hundreds of diasporans are coming back home to set up businesses or take strategic positions in existing businesses and seeking to take these businesses further.

“We are gradually importing the attitudinal changes we have experienced in the diaspora here so that people will change their ways. Most diasporans who have returned are already impacting the small communities in which they live. For those who lived well-organized lives in structured and clean environments, they are doing same here and their neighbours, who are indigenes are following suit,” he said.

Stressing his commitment to the cause, he assured that Ghana fully engages the diaspora and leverages the pool of talents and investment potential for the development of the country while employing policies and comprehensive strategies that will exponentially grow Ghana’s diaspora remittances beyond the currently stated US$3billion.

He pointed out that the office has reviewed the old Diaspora Engagement Policy, and transformed it into a comprehensive document which is currently being reviewed by stakeholders such as diasporan associations in the UK, USA, Europe and other parts of the world, missions and trade unions. The policy document, he said, was aimed at encouraging Ghanaians in the diaspora to bring their technical skills, money and investment opportunities back home to complement growth and development.

“The policy document covers all aspects and concerns by diasporans and will become the guiding principle and the policy that every government will work with relative to diasporans affiliated to Ghana. This document will harness the potential out there as willed, therefore, take this nation forward,” he added.

Stressing government’s recognition of the contributions of Ghanaians in the diaspora, he pointed out that having this policy document is a major shift in the approach to the members of the diaspora. “This time, we are changing a lot of things. Almost every initiative we are undertaking this year in respect of the Year of Return is going to be institutionalized and held either yearly or every two years. For instance, the Homecoming Festival will be held every two years even after 2019.”

Since the launch of the Year of Return, Mr. Ababio added that his office has received well over 100 proposals from individuals and corporate organisations to organize events around the Year of Return. “This means there is a bigger impact we are looking at here when it comes to tourism and business development. Since the announcement by the president, hotels have seen significant bookings with a lot of people coming to Ghana,” he averred.

Impact of The 2019 Homecoming Summit

In July, the Diaspora Affairs office organised Diaspora Celebration and Homecoming Summit to lure investors who will help the state realise the Ghana Beyond Aid vision. Mr. Ababio shared his optimism about the enormous impact the celebration and summit would have on the country’s GDP.

With more than US$3billion remitted to Ghana annually from around the world, Mr. Ababio noted that government intends to reduce the cost of remittances by some 9 percent in the coming years so as to attract more remittances from abroad to fuel economic growth.

The global average cost of sending US$200 remained high, at around 7percent in the first quarter of 2019, according to the World Bank’s Remittance Prices Worldwide database. Reducing remittance costs to 3 percent by 2030 is a global target under Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 10.7.

He explained that government is working with the African Development Bank and the World Bank to craft measures to make the cost of remittances cheaper for Ghanaians abroad. “When the figure comes down we believe it will encourage more remittances. We want it to come down by 8 to 9 percent. The World Bank, however, have a rate they are working with,” Mr. Awuah-Ababio stated.

The four-day event recognized and celebrated the immense contributions to nation building by the Ghanaian Diaspora. It also highlighted past contributions but focused on present contributions as well, whiles furthering the advocacy for political, economic, and all other systems and policies that would facilitate future contributions by the diaspora.

“This event addressed how economically, we could take advantage of people from the diaspora. A gentleman who attended the meeting approached me afterwards to discuss how to establish a medical facility in Ghana. His dad worked decades as a medical doctor in Europe. This is an example of someone taking advantage.

“When we talk about the diaspora, we are talking about people who can help us move Ghana Beyond Aid. Just look at how much they remit annually. We even have young people who do not remit money but have ideas that can help transform the economy based on their experiences living outside Ghana,” he stressed.

He assured that Ghana has prepared the grounds well enough for the diaspora to come in and make the most of the opportunities here. “We know the diaspora can be helpful because we cannot continue to depend on aid. This year’s PANAFEST comes with an investment forum to attract investors,” he revealed.

Strategic Partnerships to champion the course

The Diaspora Affairs office has formed crucial partnership with other state institutions, regional, district and local assembly institutions, Ghanaian associations abroad, international organisations and NGOs to promote the interest of Ghanaians in the diaspora, explore more meaningful ways the diaspora could contribute to Ghana’s socio-economic development and creating awareness about the negative effects of irregular migration.

Mr. Ababio explained that there is a steering committee that coordinates all activities in relation to the diaspora. This steering committee has him as head or chairperson and well represented by the private sector, tour and tourism representation, CSOs, diasporans and others.

“This committee brings people into meetings for purposes of organising events and summits. Then there is an operational committee which has all government representatives including ministries of Foreign Affairs, Interior, Tourism, Finance and others. This is for purposes of engagement and organisation,” he detailed.

Due to the extensive nature of operations which take planning to the local level, assembly men and women and chiefs are all engaged. “During PANAFEST, we got the active participation of the Chief of Assin Manso. In Cape Coast, the Chief is a key consultant in making sure PANAFEST was a success,” he noted.

World’s traffic soon to be directed to Ghana

Apart from the huge numbers who will be coming through the various entry point, the countless activities will generate significant jobs and revenues for the people of Ghana. “For example, the global pageant, Miss Heritage, was switched to Ghana as host country due to the Year of Return activities. What we want to do is direct the world’s traffic to Ghana so that our black family will have the rebirth and reconnection with the motherland,” he concluded.

In the upcoming months, various events shall be holding to continue The Year of Return celebration and so everyone can join in the festivities after carefully identifying which of the events suit their time.

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