Ghana’s High Commissioner to the UK, Professor Kwaku Danso-Boafo, spoke to Francis Ventura, 21, a Commonwealth Correspondent from Australia, during the recent Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting about his country’s path to democracy, how to avoid the natural resources curse, and the future for youth.
Here is a transcript of their interview:
Ventura: We’re currently at the Hyatt. We’re very fortunate to have an interview with His Excellency Professor Kwaku Danso-Boafo, the High Commissioner of Ghana to London. He’s going to speak to us about various issues such as democratisation, human rights and youth empowerment. He’s very kindly agreed to meet us. Your Excellency, thank you very much for joining me today.
Professor Danso-Boafo: Well thank you.
Ventura: May I just begin, now that the conference has officially closed, from a developing country’s perspective, what is your opinion on the proceedings that have occurred? Are you satisfied with the progress that’s been made? What else would you have liked to see occur?
Professor Danso-Boafo: Well I’m quite satisfied. All the issues that we had been dealing with in London have been adequately discussed. So I’m very happy that most of the recommendations that we made have been accepted, especially the whole area of upholding the values of the Commonwealth such, as the issues of democracy, human rights, freedoms and development. These are issues that have been on the agenda of the Commonwealth for the past sixty years.
I’m very happy that the Heads saw it fit to continue to challenge member countries to adhere to those values. I’m also very happy that CMAC, the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group, was added strength and given some more authority to serve as the custodians of these values and they’ve been empowered, they’re going to be strengthened and resourced to engage in activities that will ensure that countries do not veer off the radar of democracy, development, human rights and upholding the rule of law. So I’m quite satisfied.
Ventura: Ghana of course is one of the few countries in Africa which has recently had successful democratic elections and a peaceful transfer of power from one leader to another and of course you received a visit by President Barack Obama who congratulated your country. What lessons do you believe can be shown to other countries, especially fellow African nations such as Ivory Coast which broke out in civil war after their elections and Kenya which broke out in violence after their elections in 2008? from the Ghanaian perspective, what advice could you provide to these fellow African nations and what lessons do you believe can be learnt?
Professor Danso-Boafo: Well you see we have to look at the Ghanaian experience along these lines. First of all, from 1957 to 1966, when we had a democratic government run by our first Prime Minister and President; in 1966 when the government was overthrown by the military; from 1966 until 1969, a three-year period, we experimented with a return to civilian rule. It was for about 27 months from 1969 to 1972, then that government was also thrown out. We entered into a period of military rule for about seven to eight years. In 1979, we again went back to civilian rule which lasted for another 24 months.
In December 1981 we had another military intervention and from that period up until 1992 we learned quite a few lessons. We saw the decline in the economy, we saw the erosion of human rights, we saw the erosion of democratic freedoms, we saw a huge crackdown on the media. So we decided as a people that we would no longer go through those kind of experiences because we discovered that they were quite detrimental to our economic, social and political development.
So in 1992 when we transitioned from military rule to democracy, we entered with some kind of bitter experiences and collectively we decided that since this has been such a terrible experience, we would never revisit such situations. So in our Constitution, we started with the people. So from 1992/93 we had elections. The President transitioned from a military person to a civilian one. Unfortunately he ran the first time and I was there when he ran the second time from 1996-2000 for a total period of four years. So we, as us political science people would say, went through a period of democratic transition.
But then something very strange, strange because of our experiences, happened in the sense that the President had served his term, but his political party was voted out of office and the opposition party was voted in. The very first time in our history, and one of the very rare occasions on the continent of Africa. The opposition came in and also served two terms, two consecutive terms, so eight years in total. In 2008/09 they were also voted out of office and my political party, which had been voted out of office in 2001, came back and returned.
So in that sense we have consolidated democracy. We have come to a realisation that democracy had come to stay, which means Ghana had demonstrated a difference between the normal democratic transition where a military government has transitioned into a civilian government, we moved a step further by transitioning from one political party in opposition winning as opposed to the same political party staying in power and that constituted the whole concept of a consolidation which we believe, and political scientists also argue, that once you go through the period of consolidation, it’s very difficult, it’s rare, for a country to reverse into chaos or whatever. So this is what our neighbours need to learn from our Ghanaian experience.
If you look at our last elections, the difference between the winner and the loser was just about 23,000 votes. Very remarkable feat, that if this had happened in some other countries, I’m sure violence would’ve broken out because allegations of fraud or fairness of the electoral process would have surfaced. But as Ghanaians we accepted it, that the Constitution says that whoever wins serves a period of four years, after four years the leader or the President has to submit him or herself for confirmation or non-confirmation of continuity, and we believe that this is the best way of running a country.
We don’t want a situation where the winner takes all, and the winner perpetuates him or herself forever and ever and it becomes a life type of thing. This gives rise to plots and conspiracies to get rid of whoever is in there because political power in developing countries tends to corrupt individuals. They tend to be in a zero-sum game where if you win, you win everything or if you lose, you lose everything and for us in Ghana we discovered that that would not be the best for us.
We need to regulate people’s behaviour, we need to regulate people’s terms of office and we are preaching it. Our Electoral Commission has served as one of the examples for the Commonwealth, but our Electoral Commissioner is also the Chairman of the Electoral Bodies of the Commonwealth. The first meeting of Commonwealth Electoral Bodies was held in Ghana and we continued to share our experiences, we continued to talk to our neighbours, wherever there have been problems, including where we have assisted.
We assist in Liberia; we assisted Sierra Leone; we are counselling Gambia; and we had a lot of concern and influence in what was happening within our big neighbour Nigeria. So we are very proud to say that, of course we have crossed the bridge, but we are not going to keep the lessons and experiences to ourselves. We are ever prepared to share it with whoever wants to share.
We also see ourselves as trailblazers on the African continent and therefore we are very careful as to what we do. When we go wrong, Africa tends to follow, so we want to make sure we are always on the right path so that Africa will continue to follow on the right path.
Ventura: On the same topic, the President of the Maldives, at the final press conference today, made reference to the fact that he has spent part of his adult life in jail and that for the first time, just a few years ago, the first free and fair elections were held in the Maldives. He also made reference, very specifically, to the fact that human rights and economic development are linked, they’re intertwined, that you can’t have one without the other and he said that human rights can come to fruition through development and good governance. Given the fact that Ghana, especially in Africa, is one of the thriving democracies, what’s your opinion on that statement and what do you believe the Ghanaian perspective is?
Professor Danso-Boafo: You know I listened to his comments and I have also been very familiar with experiences in jail because Ghana chaired, up until today, the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) and in the absence of ministers, I chaired it in London. So we went through and prepared the document of strengthening the CMAG to respond to Commonwealth values and in the process of doing that, I was educated very well on the experiences of the current Maldivian President.
So I have been very much aware of that and I was very happy that he alluded to those kinds of things and his experiences at the press conference. It is true, even intellectuals and academics argue, that there is a correlation between democracy and development. We tend to disagree on what should come first; whether democracy should come first or development should come first. There are some who argue that development would automatically lead to democracy and vice versa. So I agree that when people are free, when people have choices, when people compete equally and have equal access to resources and society they tend to make an optimum commitment to those kinds of exercises.
So my personal belief is that Africa should continue to charter that course. Since Africa embarked on this process of democratisation from the early 90s, you would see that almost every African economy has been growing at a much faster rate than the rest of the world. Africa tends to have the fastest growing economies in the world, that one can ascribe this to the freedoms that people enjoy; the freedom of choice; the freedom of choosing political candidates; freedom of expression; free media; the various human freedoms such as living in dignity, security, harmony, harmonisation of the necessities of life.
So it is true that once you have these kinds of things, you tend to commit a lot more of your time to developing your own society. So there is a link; you cannot have one without the other.
Ventura: To what extent, do you personally believe, a country needs to be developed economically and stable politically in order to make that shift into democracy, because of course you have to work towards it as Ghana has done?
Professor Danso-Boafo: Well you see, Ghana, we have not reached the level of development we want to reach yet. One would say, and I’m glad you raised this issue, because there are those who argue that democracy has some ingredients without which you can’t have true democracy. For us in Ghana, we don’t believe that democracy should be limited to of one’s franchise periodically. We believe that democracy should also extend to holding political leaders accountable; holding appointed individuals accountable; holding everybody, society as a whole, accountable to what happens in society; that development should be whatever we do in society; should be owned by the people and therefore periodically; people should be able to ask questions as to what is being done to our national resources.
Society should be able to ask questions as to how national resources are being invested, as to what kinds of investments we are engaging in, if we want to develop infrastructure. Society has to decide how this infrastructure will be invested and again Ghana becomes a very good example because of the way we are managing the oil resources. We are, as you know, December 15th last year, we inaugurated our production of oil, so we started exporting oil, but we’ve also crafted a Petroleum Bill, that tells the whole world how it is going to be resourced and we have provided, we have passed laws, to compel the authorities to render accounts to the whole nation. We have ascribed percentages, even leaving a large chuck of the oil revenues to what we refer to as future generations, to young folks, to those who will come after us. We don’t want the present generation to consume all the resources.
We are investing a percentage of the oil revenues for future generations, we call it the heritage fund. That I think is the first time any country is doing such a thing, because we believe that if society, if democracy, if our system of government is to last as long as it’s supposed to, then our future generations should also be catered for and I’m very happy that our President saw it fit to come up with this formula. Fortunately, we have had the experience of learning from other people’s failures. We’ve known the experiences of some of our neighbours in west Africa how oil revenues, rather than becoming a blessing, have become a curse.
We also have studied the Norwegian disease, we want to avoid all these pitfalls of resource abundance. So this is the path that Ghana has taken and again I would say that a lot of African countries, a lot of countries that are also discovering oil and other minerals are coming to Ghana to learn from our experiences. Our history shows us that we should never be selfish, we should continue to share wealth, knowledge, whatever we have, resources, with the rest if the world. After independence, we devoted a lot of our resources to helping other African countries. When Guinea became independent in 1958, Ghana lent Guinea about ten million pounds to help Guinea to move on. Mali, the same thing, Ghana lent Mali about the same amount of money in the 1960s. When Uganda became independent, we had the equivalent of the peace corps, where Ghanaian teachers went to teach in Ugandan institutions. We even sent teachers as far as Papua New Guinea, so we’ve had that kind of service and dedication to help our sister countries within the Commonwealth.
Ventura: Thank you very much Your Excellency. Just on a separate topic, the Foreign Minister of Seychelles, Jean-Paul Adam, has stated and I quote ‘that much more ambitious global actions need to be taken to significantly reduce emissions and implement adaption in a manner that will ensure the development aspirations and survival of all countries’. Given that mitigation of climate change is more difficult for developing countries such as Ghana to adapt to rather than Australia, how can a proper funding model be agreed to by wealthy nations, to ensure that better environmental management does not lead to a reduction in human development in developing nations?
Professor Danso-Boafo: That’s an excellent question. Ghana, if you look at the geographical location of Ghana, we are not on the Sahara desert, but we are on the tip. Burkina Faso is ahead of us. The Sahel and the experiences in climatic changes that are impacting the vegetation of the area, so the desert is creeping down. In northern Ghana you will see the environmental degradation up there. So we have supported all international efforts to not just to stop climate change, but to provide the mechanisms that will allow us to ameliorate the types of changes that are associated with climatic changes. We are also following the issues of the impact of climatic changes on water resources. In the northern part of Ghana, we don’t have enough water resources, we have two rivers flowing there, but we don’t think that’s enough.
Unfortunately, we depend a lot on the rain for agriculture; agriculture is predominantly rain-fed. We want to move away from that, we want to build dams, to engage in a lot of irrigation, but to do this we have to have the water for this. So we have supported the Kyoto Protocol, we have participated in all the international fora and discussions, doing the kinds of things that will allow us to halt negative climatic changes. If there is a need to set up a fund, of course we are prepared to contribute to the extent of our ability. We cannot compel any country to make any kind of contribution, especially developed countries, but we would use the powers of persuasion to present our case, not only for Ghana but also for the rest of the world because climatic changes cannot be reduced to local areas.
Of course, some local areas are much more negatively impacted than others, but we have one planet and we have to work as a collective body to save that planet. Therefore, Ghana supports all international efforts, we support UN environment programs, we support the African Union’s position on climatic changes, we support all international protocols that will address the issue of climatic changes and we are partnering, we have programs, I was fortunate to have participated in a roundtable conference that His Excellency The Honourable Kevin Rudd held on mining, how Australia has dealt with the environmental impact of mining and the extent to which this country is willing to provide assistance to African countries in the area of mining.
So Ghana is very happy to embrace all of these activities and this is why we find this specific CHOGM extremely useful because there was a lot of engagement and discussion on climatic changes.
Ventura: On final question Your Excellency. I was just at the Youth Forum and one of the main topics we spoke about, indeed one of our recommendations in the communiqué, was for the Commonwealth to have a greater focus on arts and sports as a method to assist in peace-building. Given that Ghana is one of the top nations in Africa in football, what potential do you believe, especially among young people, do you believe that arts and sports have the potential to assist in community development, peace-building and youth empowerment in Ghana?
Professor Danso-Boafo: Ghana has been a pioneer in a lot of things, but when it comes to youth development, I think we are way, way ahead of a lot of countries. I read the Commonwealth communiqué, I read the discussions that took place from Trinidad up until here, the recommendation for countries to form Youth Councils. Ghana, we already have a Youth Council, we have come up this year with a very brilliant youth policy, the National Youth Policy. It’s been printed, the law has been passed by Parliament, it’s been signed by the President, it’s in law, in Ghana and it covers every aspect of youth development because just like the Commonwealth, our population is also very young. If we define youth to be in the category of fifteen to thirty or thirty-two, then our statistics would be equal to the Commonwealth’s statistics.
Our President, in presenting the importance of youth, has among his Ministers, very young people, thirty-year olds and several of our Ministers are around thirty years old and he made a conscious effort to do that, to send a signal that the youth are our future, and therefore we need to invest in them. We have reintroduced Youth Games. We used to have this way back but we abandoned them, now we have brought them back. We have also introduced a Youth Council. We have programs like youth in agriculture. We have programs like youth in road maintenance. Introducing young people to use their hands, in terms of nation building. We have introduced youth programs in science and technology and the President has set up a scholarship fund for young people who excel in mathematics and science.
So, in terms of our youth, we have done so well and in my Mission in London, last October we held a Youth Forum where we brought all the young people, about six hundred of them, together in one place to brainstorm, or to get the youth away from delinquency issues because some of the Ghanaian children in the United Kingdom had been engaged in gangs, knife crimes, last year about four of our young people were killed and so on and so forth. This is also one of the reasons that this year, Ghana played England. We brought our young people, the players, to serve as role models for our folks. After England, we played Brazil in football and the latest one was against Nigeria.
We’re demonstrating to young people that they have a future and shouldn’t waste it. So this are some of the activities we are doing. The President has indicated that every district in Ghana should have a football stadium where all kinds of games are held. This year, we held regional games where every region of Ghana organized games. Young people getting into athletics and using it to foster close relationships. You see, when people talk about why Ghana hasn’t suffered the kinds of ethnic crises hat our neighbours have suffered, these are the kinds of things that brought us together as people, got us integrated into society so we see ourselves as Ghanaians.
We had the games where region A would play region B, region B plays region C and people start to see themselves as people as opposed to identifying themselves based on their regional backgrounds. So in terms of youth development, I would say that Ghana is way, way ahead and I would probably recommend that Commonwealth countries take the Ghanaian Youth Policy document and study it and make it a model for development. We have placed a lot of emphasis not only on academic programs, we are introducing a lot of professional programs and introducing vocational education for young people, so that people do not see the attainment of higher degrees as the be all and end all in life.
We want people to know that there are other opportunities in addition to academic programs and academic degrees, so Ghana has taken a huge leap and I was happy to see that there were young people from Ghana who participated in the Youth Summit that came to speak to me and I was quite impressed.
Ventura: Well Your Excellency thank you very much for meeting me today. Our audience is primarily young people, including young people in Ghana and young people around the Commonwealth so they’ll be very interested to hear your remarks and particularly your remarks about democratisation and youth empowerment. Ghana will continue to remain for the rest of the world a mode of a nation which has moved from military, single-person rule to successful, civilian rule so we certainly wish Ghana all the very best. I look forward to Ghana winning the football World Cup one day. I thank you very much for your time again and trust that you’ll enjoy the rest of your time in Australia.
Professor Danso-Boafo: Thank you so much, it’s a pleasure.
“G’day! My name is Francis Ventura and I am currently studying Politics and International Relations at the University of Melbourne. I am also the youth director of the Australian Republican Movement.
“As Melbourne is the sporting capital of the nation, I have a keen interest in cricket and Australian Rules football. I also love exploring Australia’s beautiful environment. After my studies I would like to dedicate my life to human rights, with a focus on protecting civilians living in war zones or under totalitarian regimes.”
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth Youth Programme. Articles are published in a spirit of dialogue, respect and understanding. If you disagree, why not submit a response?
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