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Ghana is open for business, says new president

By Brian E. Muhammad -Contributing Writer- | Last updated: Oct 29, 2013 - 1:00:46 PM

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President of Ghana John Dramani Mahama. Photo: ghanaweb.com
ATLANTA, Ga. (FinalCall.com) - When Ghana’s President John Dramani Mahama and a delegation of government ministers came South, the takeaway from meetings was clear: Ghana is open for business and Blacks are welcome to take advantage of emerging opportunities.

President Mahama was in the United States for the United Nations General Assembly held in New York. He traveled to Atlanta at the invitation of Kennesaw State University as part of an internationalization program. The “Year Of” education and cultural initiative focuses on a single country for study and to showcase art exhibits and lectures delivered by in-country scholars. Ghana was chosen for the 2012-2013 academic year, said university officials.

President Mahama met with major investors to connect and dispel images of the Motherland as a basket case.  “Africa is standing on its feet and is rising,” he said. In speeches and in an exclusive interview, the head of state shared his optimism and excitement about where Ghana and Africa are headed.

According to the International Monetary Fund, the West African nation is on Front Street as an economic powerhouse and is among the top 10 fastest growing world economies.

In 2011 Ghana scored the highest Gross Domestic Product growth in the world at 14 percent and currently maintains a brisk 8 percent growth rate.

“The present vision is to create an enabling environment that is transforming direct investment into our country,” explained Haruna Iddrisu, Ghana’s minister of trade and industry. Ghana is inviting companies interested in taking advantage of investment incentives, such as in agribusiness where Ghana projects export revenue to increase from $2.5 billion to $5 billion by 2016, he said.

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Several American companies with operations in Ghana or considering expanding into the country gathered at a Business and Investors Round-table and Luncheon hosted by the Ghana International Chamber of Commerce to explore the economic vision of the Mahama administration.

“An emerging center of excellence for technology innovation, a favorable investment climate and a stable political environment makes Ghana one of the most attractive places for the international business community to establish operations,” said Matilda Arhin, chamber president.

Ghana is positioned to become a center for energy production, financial services, transportation and other industries, officials said.

“Our concept is to create what we call a hub and spoke—a vision for Ghana,” said President Mahama. “Ghana will become the hub of virtually every sector for West Africa. Because of the brand we have of being the most stable democracy, the most peaceful and safe and secure country in West Africa, many countries are coming and establishing their headquarters in Ghana and using Ghana as a platform to reach out to the rest of the sub-region.”

With the discovery of oil in recent years, Ghana is experiencing accelerated growth and attracting foreign investment. Ghana is producing 120,000 barrels of oil per day with over two dozen oil fields on tap for production in coming years.

During the British colonial era Ghana was called the Gold Coast because of huge gold deposits. After gaining independence in March 1957 Ghana suffered difficult political periods. But today Ghana is a political and economic torchlight for a continent plagued with a myriad of serious problems. President Mahama attributes Ghana’s achievements to the tough road of the past.

“Our secret is that we’ve hit rock bottom, and when you hit rock bottom you can’t move any further … the only direction to move is upward and so we’ve been going upward since then,” he told business leaders.

Notwithstanding the difficulties of 54 African nations, Ghana is a story of triumph and the “success stories in Africa are more than the negative images we see,” the president continued. 

“For far too long Africa has been discussed in the world economic and policy discourse with pity and extreme pessimism. There’s an obvious need to recalibrate the global narrative about Africa,” President Mahama added.

The “pity and sympathy” narrative was instrumental in shaping policy and tactics of international development assistance. Some organizations even marketed the negative images to fundraise, sending the counterproductive message that charity was better than investment for a dying continent. “It’s time to reverse that narrative,” Ghana’s president said.

Dominant powers like the United States, Britain and France are facing economic declines and as powers like China, Russia, Brazil, India and South Africa rise. Africa has become a battle ground for influence and control of its resources. Africa holds 60 percent of the world’s uncultivated arable land; 85 percent of the plutonium and platinum group of metals; 40 percent of the world gold reserves and 10 percent of the world’s oil reserves—a figure likely to increase with new oil discoveries in countries like Ghana.

“What we’ve seen is massive consumption of commodities in most of the BRICS countries, specifically in India, China and Brazil with a large amount of exports of commodities out of Africa,” said J.P. James, managing director of Atlanta based Libreum Investment Management. The rising BRICS economic powers are Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

Mr. James told the Final Call, it’s about being able to broker relationships and bridge gaps between “new emerging markets” like Ghana, Nigeria, Ethiopia, South Africa and China, India and Brazil to fulfill their enormous need of African resources.

The continent of nearly one billion people is a magnet for world powers, major investors and global capitalists seeking to take financial advantage of her wealth. Historically, such interest meant imperialism, neocolonialism and subjugation of the African people, who the president described as the most valuable resource.

“Our greatest challenge is to put in place systems to allow these resources to be used to benefit our people,” said President Mahama. He advocates changing business practices to more evenhanded arrangements for Ghana and Africa such as exporting manufactured finished products instead of shipping raw materials then repurchasing expensive goods processed abroad. 

The 58-year-old president said Africa is undergoing a renaissance that’s driving positive change and opportunity.

During the roundtable discussion President Mahama announced expansion of the “Diasporan Unit” in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to a “Diasporan Bureau” that will create data bases of skill sets of Ghanaians and other Africans in the Diaspora to be matched with what is needed for Ghana’s advancement. 

“We recognize the importance of our Diaspora and recently we are seeing a reverse brain drain where a lot of the people that we lost are beginning to come back,” he said.

Another side of the Diaspora represented during the president’s visit was Black American business people looking to invest in Ghana. Michael Roberts, CEO of the Roberts Companies, stressed the importance of the presidential visit in tapping Black-owned firms.

“You hear the ole’ boys out busy doing what they do; they’re trying to get into Africa, but what I wanted to tell the president today was don’t worry about the ole’ boys, know that there are some ‘homeboys’ who could come and do exactly the same thing,” said Mr. Roberts. 

In a private meeting with A. Akbar Muhammad, the international representative of the Nation of Islam who has lived and done business in Ghana, President Mahama agreed to connect with the Black community based on Ghana’s historic ties to Blacks in the United States.

“Ghana is proud of the role it has played in the African Diaspora, Ghana is proud of the role it has played in the African liberation process and is proud of the role it will continue to play in the African renaissance,” said President Mahama, whose visit was from Sept. 30-Oct. 1.

(Brian E. Muhammad can be reached at Brianmuh@hotmail.com.)

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