In a world, where many people continue to struggle with the geography of
Africa, Hanna Tetteh puts Ghana firmly on the map. As Minister of Foreign
Affairs and Regional Integration of Ghana and Chair of the Council of
Ministers of ECOWAS, Tetteh embodies the successes and challenges of her
country and gives a voice to the West African region.
By Julia Kramer
Hanna Tetteh vividly remembers the first time she came to Ghana. As a nineyear-old girl who was born in Hungary and spent her early youth in the United Kingdom, she had no idea what to expect when she first got out of the plane in Accra, the Ghanaian capital. "It was so incredibly hot and humid and I realised I had never seen so many African people at once," laughs Tetteh. "I turned to my father and said, 'Everyone is black!' His answer was: 'This is Ghana, this is your home.'"
Today, Tetteh is the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration of Ghana. In the four decades that have gone by since Tetteh's arrival in her home country, everything from her personal knowledge about, attitude towards, and position within Ghana has changed drastically. She has also witnessed her country develop into a vibrant and stable democracy featuring a fast growing economy. Despite this personal and national success, Tetteh is humble and realistic. During the symposium, she described Ghana's political achievements with the same eloquence she used to point out the challenges of economic insecurity and migration her country is facing today.
What is the biggest change in Ghana since you arrived in the mid 1970s?
Ever since we became a democracy in 1992, we have a much more open society. Our governmental structure played an important role in making this happen. Before, people were not talking. Not because they didn't have anything to say, but because they didn't necessarily feel safe to say it. This "culture of silence" has vanished completely.
Why did Ghana become one of the most prosperous countries in West Africa, while neighbouring countries are still dealing with political and economic problems?
It didn't happen by accident. It's evolved. Our first three attempts at creating a democratic government were overthrown. By the time we were going to our fourth attempt at democracy, we decided that we wanted a multi-party democracy. We designed a constitution that allowed us to have an open conversation and provided the structures that are needed for stability. In addition, our growing middle class, which is educated and informed, keeps this democratic government on its toes.
What is the role of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the organisation that promotes regional economic integration, in the development of Ghana?
Because we are not a very big state and we think it is important for us to have good relationships with our neighbours, membership in ECOWAS has been meaningful for us. It allowed us to have access to other countries' markets in the region, and to build up supply chains in and outside of Ghana for various products we export.
On New Year's Day 2015 you tweeted: "This year will be challenging & interesting for the ECOWAS region. Nigeria,Côte D'Ivoire, Togo, Burkina Faso andGuinea will have elections." What did you mean by that?
Elections are difficult times for us. These are growing democracies, so the contests for power are rough. Thank God, the Nigerian election went peacefully. But can you imagine what would have happened if it didn't? Nigeria is the biggest country in the region. When you do a risk evaluation in the region, you know that elections in countries like Côte D'Ivoire, Togo, Burkina Faso and Guinea cause challenges.
How stable is ECOWAS?
ECOWAS experienced periods of instability - for example, during the civil war in Liberia, and last year's Ebola outbreak. Nevertheless, we are still able to find solutions to resolve those situations. It is a dynamic organisation that has not been as primarily economic as was envisioned when it started, but it provides us with a forum for cooperation on economic and social matters, as
well as in peace and security issues.
Ghana has come to be regarded in the last two decades as an economic model for Africa, especially since the country has consistently achieved a GDP growth above 8 percent during the previous five years. What challenges does the Ghanaian economy face today?
Our economy has grown rapidly, but our infrastructure has not kept up with the demands. Right now, we have a power crisis. We simply don't have enough energy to power our economy. We also have to take external risks on board. As a country that is still largely a commodity exporter [gold, oil, cocoa], the current fluctuations in commodity prices have significant impact on our economy.
In 2007, then-president John Kufuor announced that huge oil fields had been found. He promised that within the next five years, Ghana would prove itself an African Tiger. Looking back, how realistic was this promise?
A good number of people were euphoric about the discovery of oil, because at that time, the expectation was that it would bring significant new revenue flows. And if we had found our first well, there was a possibility that we'd find a second, third, etc. Eight years later, we are more realistic about what oil has brought us. But there has also been a lot more diversification of our economy over the last twenty years.
What do you mean by "a lot more economic diversification"?
When you develop institutions and structures, it gives people a greater comfort level to invest, because there is predictability. These structures created a confidence that has allowed for more investment.
Despite the importance of foreign investors, some of the most important investors in our economy are Ghanaians who have come back to Ghana. They have a more credible story to tell than the government. After all, when you want to invest in a business, you are going to believe a businessman over the politician, right?
Despite the political and economic success of Ghana, the country has a very high rate of emigration. Why are so many Ghanaians still leaving?
It's all about the myth that you come to Europe to live a better life. Being connected and having so much information available about what's going on in the world and seeing the images of your beautiful cities and infrastructure suggests that there are more opportunities in Europe than in Ghana. Since we are not able to create jobs fast enough to give the young population things to do, they look for opportunities somewhere else.
Why is it a myth if the people are not experiencing prosperity at home?
I believe that, with the amount of effort and resources that they put into getting to Europe, if they had invested that same effort and resources in starting something at home, they probably would also have a better quality of life. One of the challenges we have, is to explain that Europe's prosperity wasn't created overnight. And that it was the people in your countries who over centuries have invested and created the spaces that you have today. And that is also what it's going to take Ghana.
What role do you see for Europe in addressing the challenge of migration?
Being more open to different ways of investing in our country. The European Union provides funds for development within our region. Very often, the use of those funds is tied to governments meeting particular targets. If a government doesn't meet those targets, those funds are not released. This makes a bad situation worse. If you involve not only government institutions, but also civil society or private sector organisations, in delivering those preferred outcomes that will provide people with alternatives and cumulatively over time, that helps us achieve more growth and create more business and jobs that prevent people from running away from Ghana.
What is the most important point about Africa in general you want to get across to the largely western-centric audience at the symposium?
Africa is very complex. It is not a single country. As long as you think all Africans are the same, you are bound to miss the point and to misunderstand the challenge that you are dealing with. People think of my continent as a place that is continuously having challenges, has many failed states and is not able to provide for its people. But that's the exception rather than the norm. There is a different Africa, but you've got to want to look for it to see it.