Public Forum On “GHANA – U.S. Relations: Past, Present, Future” In Connection With The Visit Of President Barack H. Obama To Ghana on July 8, 2009. Remarks Made By DR PAPA KWESI NDUOM
I am pleased to have the opportunity to participate in this public forum to explore the past, present and future Ghana and USA relationship in anticipation of the visit of the third sitting American President to the Republic of Ghana. It is worthy of note that three different Ghanaian Presidents would have welcomed three different American Presidents in succession by the time President Obama leaves on Saturday. It was J. J. Rawlings and Bill Clinton, J. A. Kufuor and George Bush and now J. E. A. Mills and Barack Obama.The relationship between Ghana and the United States of America (USA) goes back centuries to the trans-Atlantic trade that began with the arrival of adventurers from Portugal and other lands in the 1400s. This trade started off as a quest for raw materials, spices, minerals, etc. but later developed unfortunately as we all know into the slave trade and led to the forced mass movement of African men, women and children to work in the fields and mansions of America and other lands.Purpose My purpose this evening is to show that in recent times particularly since the 1930s, Ghana and the United States of America have established a foundation based on the voluntary migration of Gold Coasters and Ghanaians to America that should enable the development of a mutually beneficial and lasting relationship between the two countries. The existence of a significant number of Americans of African heritage who have distinguished themselves in all facets of American life often inspite of formidable barriers should make the relationship between the two countries mutually beneficial if leaders on both sides can convince themselves and their people of the value to be gained. The official government to government relationship has had its ups and downs. The relationship I am talking about has been based on the reverse migration of the voluntary type – the movement of people who went from Ghana to the USA to study and work. The values of justice, freedom of speech, human rights, democracy, the fight for the equality of the races experienced in America with all the imperfections have influenced those who went back home to business or politics. It can be said quite safely that politics in Ghana has been influenced by the experience of those who migrated from Ghana to America to study, work and come back home to lead the struggle for independence and/or invest to create jobs for a better life for Ghanaians.In business, there are many examples of those who have been affected one way or the other by American values and way of life: The head of Databank, Ken Ofori-Atta, the head of Zain’s operations in Ghana, Philip Sowah, the Senior Partner of PriceWaterhouseCoopers, Felix Addo, the founder of Ashesi University Patrick Awuah, the owner of Citizen Kofi and other enterprises, Kofi Amoah, TGIF’s Kwaku Sintim-Misa (KSM) and so many others who are medical doctors, telecommunications experts, architects, teachers, etc.It is important and very relevant to explore the historic relationship between the two countries as it mirrors the background of the key players involved in the visit of the President of the USA Barack Hussein Obama and his wife to Ghana. President Obama himself is the son of an African immigrant who travelled from Kenya to America to further his education. His wife Michelle is an African-American from the earlier history of trans-Atlantic trade. The host President John E. Atta Mills did post graduate studies at Stanford University in California.But for our purpose today, I wish to use the Kwame Nkrumah connection to show how we can use our contact with the USA not as tourists or alms takers but in a studied, measured way to bring benefit to our people in a dignified way. It is Nkrumah who provided the beginnings of a strong tie between Ghana and the United States of America in the modern era. It is through him that the American influence on Ghanaian politics and development can be best demonstrated.Nkrumah’s ten years in the USA that shaped him into the leading pan-Africanist of the latter half of the 20th century. After a decade in the U. S. and two years in Britain, Nkrumah’s pan-African connections and sympathies were well established, as was his acute sense of history.In 1935, Nkrumah arrived in America. With little formal education and almost no money to sustain him, Nkrumah nevertheless showed promise, winning the confidence of Horace Mann Bond, the president of the historically black Lincoln University in Pennsylvania. He studied economics, sociology, and theology, and later did graduate work in philosophy and education at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.Nkrumah did what many African students his day did and still do for the most part. He sold fish on the streets of Harlem, worked in a soap factory and served as a waiter on merchant ships plying the coastlines of the U. S. and Central America. He learned what it meant to be black in America—a hard-knocks education that would later shape his determination to make his country independent and prosperous. He also found remarkable, America’s promise of equality and hope for hard working people.At Lincoln, he quickly developed close relationships with his African-American colleagues and an avid and enduring interest in their history and culture. In fact, he wrote a “Negro history” series for Lincoln’s student newspaper and taught classes on it at the University of Pennsylvania.“I was interested in two sociological schools of thought in the States,” Nkrumah recalled, “one represented by the Howard Sociologists led by Professor Fraser [sic], and the other led by Dr. M. J. Herzkovits [sic], Professor of Anthropology at Northwestern University.” Nkrumah was referring to E. Franklin Frazier, the African American author of The Black Bourgeoisie, a professor at Howard University in Wash., DC, and Melville J. Herskovitz, author of the classic The Myth of the Negro Past.“The Howard school,” Nkrumah wrote, “maintained that the Negro in America had completely lost his cultural contact with Africa and the other school, represented by Herzkovitz, maintained that there were still African survivals in the United States and that the Negro of America had in no way lost his cultural contact with the African continent. “I supported, and still support, the latter view,” he maintained, “and I went on one occasion to Howard University to defend it.”In his autobiography, Nkrumah recalled that he acquainted himself “with as many political organizations that I could”—that is, groups concerned with black rights and Africa—including the National Urban League and the NAACP. It was the latter’s special research office that would prove most significant to his pan-African future. It was headed by the brilliant scholar Dr. W. E. B. DuBois, a co-founder of the NAACP, founder and longtime editor of its organ, The Crisis. Du Bois has been called the “Father of Pan-Africanism” in the 20th century (though Trinidadian barrister Henry Sylvester Williams, convener of the first Pan-African Conference in 1900, has a better claim to the title).Nkrumah met DuBois near the end of his sojourn in America, about the time the elder intellectual returned to the NAACP after breaking with it a decade earlier over his advocacy of temporary “self-segregation.” Keenly interested in the possibilities for colonial freedom in the wake of the Second World War and the creation of the United Nations, DuBois considered the special research office as “sort of a foreign affairs department of the NAACP.”Nkrumah also worked with the Council on African Affairs, co-founded by African American social worker Max Yergen and Paul Robeson. At the same time, Nkrumah deepened his studies into classic African civilizations by attending meetings of the Blyden Society for the Study of African History in Harlem, New York, during summer breaks. The society, named in honor of the great 19th century pan-Africanist scholar Edward Wilmot Blyden, author of the prodigious Christianity, Islam and the Negro Race, was founded by the black educator Willis N. Huggins (father of the late historian Nathan I. Huggins). The African Union (AU) owes part of its beginning from Nkrumah’s ties with the USA. In April 1945, Nkrumah helped DuBois organize an international “Colonial Conference” at the old Schomburg Library in Harlem. This little-known conclave was something of a dress rehearsal for the historic Fifth Pan-African Congress, which both men helped to mount in Manchester, England, in October of that year. One of the continental Africans who assisted them would become the founder of another African nation: Jomo Kenyatta, the first president of independent Kenya.Thus, this young continental African, Nkrumah, embraced the two great streams of Western pan-Africanism: Garvey’s global nationalist vision of “Africa for the Africans, those at home and those abroad,” and DuBois’ continental vision of a socialist Africa. He also met African American luminaries as Ralph Bunche, the chief United Nations trouble-shooter; Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., fresh from the success of the Montgomery bus boycott; A. Philip Randolph, the grand old man of the civil-rights and labor movements; and Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., Harlem congressman and pastor of the Abyssinian Baptist church, which a wide-eyed Nkrumah visited during his student days. There were all these influences, yes, but it is American values freedom, self determination, equality and quest for prosperity that moved him to seek for a solution to the colonial hold on the then Gold Coast – as Ghana was known back then.Finally, Nkrumah’s stay in America fitted him for his future in one more essential respect—it forged him as a uniquely compelling speaker. While a freshman at Lincoln, Nkrumah won second-place in an oratorical contest. Upon graduating from Lincoln’s seminary school, he delivered the “graduation oration” on a topic dear to black nationalists for at least a century before him: “Ethiopia shall stretch forth her hands unto God.”The important point here is that the preparation Nkrumah received in America helped in a big way to make him the great organizer and passionate speaker who was able to lead his people in the then Gold Coast to win independence and become the country, Ghana in 1957.Economic Cooperation between Ghana and the USA One of the lasting points of cooperation between Ghana and the USA is the construction of the hydro-electric power plant, the Volta River Project and the related aluminum industry. This project has continued to influence the economics and politics of Ghana even to this day.All industries of any major economic significance require, as a basic facility, a large and reliable source of power. In fact the industrialization of Britain, America, Canada and Russia emerged as a result of the discovery of new sources of energy. The discovery of new sources of energy for industrialization was basically, the justification for the Volta River Project. The Project and the extension of the port and harbour at Tema were planned to have a huge effect on the national economy.The Project involved the production of hydro-electric power by damming the river and applying the great volume of resultant cheap power to convert bauxite resources into aluminium and to provide electrification for the nation’s other industries. The estimated cost of 300 million pounds in the late 1950s made the project unattractive. The British colonial power, involved in aluminium projects elsewhere showed no interest in helping to finance the Project.In the middle of 1958, Nkrumah accepted an invitation from President Eisenhower to visit the United States. During the visit, they discussed the Project which led to a meeting with members of the Henry J. Kaiser Company, a large producer of aluminium. This meeting created the interest that led to the financing of the hydro-electric dam, the establishment of an aluminium smelter at an estimated cost of 100 million pounds to employ about 1,500 people and the construction of the Tema port and harbour. Some 2000 workers were employed to build thousands of housing units in a planned community – the first in Ghana.The Influence of the Peace Corps The Peace Corps is an independent United States Federal agency established through an Executive Instrument on March 1, 1961. August 28, 1961, Ghana was the Peace Corps’ first recipient country together with Tanzania. The bond of friendship, the personal relationships formed moved many young men and women to reverse the trend of always wanting to go to the United Kingdom to now direct their sights to the United States. The Peace Corps has resulted in immeasurable influence on Ghanaian society and its politics that is also very significant. Many of Ghanaians who ended up coming to the USA to study had in one way or the other appreciated the open, approachable style of the Peace Corps volunteers in our secondary schools.The Influence of the American Field Service Another instrument of influence has been the American Field Service (AFS), an intercultural learning and exchange involving 40 countries for 60 years. The AFS has had a very direct influence on Ghanaian politics as a number of politicians have gone through the AFS experience. In the process, they have absorbed American values and that positive can do spirit. Over the past eight years, four ministers of state including two Cabinet Ministers had been AFS exchange students. Three Members of Parliament were AFS students. Two former AFS exchange students contested primaries to become Presidential Candidates.I should add that out of the four Presidential Candidates elected by the political parties in Ghana to contest the December 2008 elections, three studied and/or worked in the Mid West of America. I became a partner with the international public accounting and management consulting firm Deloitte & Touche in Wisconsin and Washington, DC. Dr. Edward Mahama who is a medical practitioner has ties to Chicago. President John E. Atta Mills did post graduate studies at Stanford University in California.Millennium Challenge Account and Ghana President George Bush initiated the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) as a means of supporting the development efforts of countries that invest in their people, rule justly and encourage economic freedom. Interestingly enough Ghana did not have to do anything new to qualify for this development initiative. Since 2001, the government of Ghana had designed priorities that included human resource development, private sector development and governance. I had the opportunity to lead the team that designed Ghana’s proposal to access funds from the MCA. In August 2006, Ghana signed a compact for a grant of $547 million to be used in promoting poverty reduction in specific districts. What we need to do is to implement this MCA project diligently and successfully in accordance with the original design as an integrated agriculture based initiative and Ghanaians will gain a lot from it.Future Relationship I have described how Nkrumah took full advantage of his contact with America, the good and bad experiences to sharpen his skills, attitude to a just cause of freedom and liberty for Africans and people of colour and brought it all home to implement his agenda for the independence and self determination of his people with a sense of urgency. We know how people with American influence and a “can do” attitude have come back to establish successful businesses, social and religious organisations in Ghana.I do not suggest for one second that we should copy everything America does because there are many aspects of the American way of life we do not need in Ghana. We need to build on our own traditional values and culture.We do not need to be told what to do by the Americans. We must not hold our hands out in anticipation of gifts or handouts from President Obama or any American for that matter. We must earn our way to prosperity and that will bring dignity. We need to work harder to treat each other better; live the rule of law and not just read it; practice multi-party democracy by respecting everybody’s right to associate with their political party of choice and not punish our opponents after elections as if they are not Ghanaians; and practice the culture of doing today what we know needs to be done today and not leave anything for tomorrow. In my view, this is what is needed to put us at a partnership level with the Americans. This is what will win us respect and make trading partners and erase our current relationship as “donor” and “recipient”. We have everything we need – a practical Nkrumah can-do example of going to American to learn, experience and coming back home to put it all to good use, many successful living individual examples of good Ghana-USA relationships. We just need to muster the collective will to shape a future relationship that will build on the goodwill expressed and demonstrated between the two countries in recent years.Conclusion Ghana had a very good relationship with the USA under the tenure of the American President Bill Clinton. President Bush in my view not only continued the relationship but improved on it. Now is the turn of a son of the continent to move it to newer heights not as a donor or giver of “hand outs” but one who should work hand in hand to encourage Ghana to stay the course of multi-party democracy, the rule of law and become self-reliant.Over the years the relationship between the two countries had suffered as a result of the east-west divide in international relations. It reached its worst level in 1965/66. Since 1993, the relationship has shown the prospect of delivering mutual benefit. It is true that a section of Ghanaian politicians are highly suspicious of American intent in Ghana. But it is our responsibility, those with business, family, social ties in the USA and government to ensure that the interest of the Ghanaian is promoted at all times.Finally, I have hope that we will arrive at a relationship that is mutually beneficial because we have people in politics in Ghana who understand American values, can interpret the American interest and use their personal experience and relationships in America to good positive effect. If you ask me, can the United States of America and Ghana develop a mutually beneficial relationship? I can only give you one answer – Yes, we can!