Foreign affairs – As Ecowas chair, President Mahama has worked hard to pursue regional co-operation, particularly in the fight against Ebola and Boko Haram, thereby enhancing Ghana’s image
When the heads of state of the regional political grouping, the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas), decided to extend President John Mahama’s tenure as chair at their summit in December, it was seen as an endorsement of his leadership skills.
First elected in March 2014, his chairmanship has put Ghana back in the international limelight, particularly following his response to the Ebola crisis in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia last year. According to the head of the United Nations Mission for Ebola Emergency Response, Anthony Banbury, Ghana’s decision to allow its territory to be used as a logistics base for international flights to affected countries helped to contain the further spread of the disease.
Mahama worked hard for greater international assistance for the three affected countries telling an extraordinary summit of Ecowas leaders on Ebola last year: “The devastation of this Ebola epidemic does not have to signal an end for these countries. With the attention and the assistance of the world, it could also symbolise the birth of something vibrant and beautiful.”
He also challenged statements in the western media that depicted Ebola as a ‘West African epidemic’, pointing out that only three of the region’s 16 nations were seriously affected.
In January, the president hit the headlines again when he called for an African Union-mandated force to “deal with the menace” of Boko Haram in Nigeria and neighbouring countries during a visit to Germany.
He told the broadcaster Deutsche Welle: “I think that considering the current activities of Boko Haram it is important for us to deal with it more comprehensively by looking at it collectively, either through a regional force, or through some kind of multinational force.
“We are going to go to the AU and ask for a discussion on terrorism in Africa with particular reference to Boko Haram and I believe that if the AU gives us the mandate then we will go ahead and set up a regional force to assist Nigeria and Cameroon deal with the menace.”
While he was unclear whether Ghana would contribute to such a force, he insisted that at a regional level the countries could mobilise enough troops to be able to do the job, and that assistance from the west would be more in terms of logistics and equipment and finance, and not “boots on the ground”.
Meanwhile in his capacity as Ecowas chair, he rallied support for crisis-hit Guinea Bissau and Mali last year, while in Burkina Faso he brokered a deal to put in place a transitional government within a year following long-term ruler Blasie Compaore’s removal from power by a popular uprising last October.
President Mahama’s march on the international scene is all part of what foreign affair minister Hannah Tetteh says is Ghana’s policy of ‘good neighbourliness’. “The pursuit of peace and security in the West African sub-region will continue to be given high priority in the conduct of Ghana’s foreign policy as they are essential for growth and prosperity,” Tetteh said. Indeed, the country’s internal peace, security and development would remain inseparable from that of the sub-region, she added.
The promotion of mutual trust and confidence among regional leaders is also seen as the basis for addressing common challenges like money laundering, drug and child trafficking and the proliferation of small arms and light weapons that are no respecter of national borders.
As part of Ecowas, Ghana is promoting greater and freer trade and movement of persons, goods and services within the grouping. Tetteh told West African parliamentarians last year that despite the Ecowas Trade Liberalisation Scheme, member countries continue to face serious challenges in moving goods and services across borders because of stringent border post arrangements, as well as numerous security checkpoints in each country, pointing out that businesses had to pay approximately $50 as bribe in order to transport goods from Ghana to Burkina Faso and vice-versa.
On the wider continental stage, the Mahama government has been busy on the AU front. “Ghana continues to actively support the African Union and fully participates in its deliberations in the collective efforts to promote peace, stability and economic development of the African continent,” said Tetteh.
In a riposte to those who have criticised Mahama’s busy travel agenda, Tetteh said in December: “How do you expect him to sit back at home and look on while Ebola is killing thousands in Liberia and the other affected countries? And how do you expect him not to go to Burkina Faso when the recent tension there can have a toll on Ghana when citizens of that country decide to seek asylum here?”
She gave notice that the president would be frequently packing his bags again in 2015, given that elections were scheduled to be held in Togo, Nigeria and Burkina Faso. “It is very important that as Ecowas chair he [President Mahama] dialogues with both sides of the political parties involved in those elections to agree on terms and conditions before, during and after the elections to ensure peace in the sub-region,” she said.
The foreign affairs ministry has also worked hard to develop international goodwill and solidarity by maintaining a reasonably high diplomatic presence abroad, which has yielded for the country appreciable levels of foreign direct investments, as well as sustaining a positive image for Ghana.
The president has made a number of high-level official visits to Europe, flying to Berlin and London earlier this year for bilateral talks, following on from similar forays in Oslo and Copenhagen, the latter resulting in Denmark donating $1.3m to Ghana’s anti-Ebola measures.
During a three-day official visit to France in 2013, President Mahama used the opportunity to meet with the French business community under the auspices of the Mouvement des Entreprises de France, where discussions centred on partnership between French and Ghanaian companies in agriculture, energy and infrastructure development, particularly the expansion of the Tema motorway.
In the same year, shortly after his election, Mahama controversially defied international sanctions to host Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. “We have welcomed President Ahmadinejad to Ghana as we would any president that decides to come to Ghana,” he said at the time.
“These visits have provided opportunities for the principals to exchange views and to coordinate positions on issues of national, regional and international concern,” commented Tetteh. “They have also provided the settings for concluding bilateral agreements that have brought substantial economic benefits to Ghana.”
In the area of educational, scientific and technical cooperation, the foreign affairs ministry has facilitated the receipt of a number of scholarships and training programme offers from various countries and international organisations for qualified Ghanaians to pursue further studies and training in the fields of medicine, food sciences, informatics, economics, security, negotiations, agriculture. For example, the Korea International Cooperation Agency sponsored 25 Ghanaians in postgraduate and training programmes, and the Indian Council for Cultural Relations supported 16 in undergraduate, postgraduate and PhD studies.