Universe Column, April 29th 2007
(Photographs with and of President Kufuor available from Barbara Mace: firstname.lastname@example.org; 0151 231 3852).
On Tuesday, May 1st, we will celebrate the completion of the parliamentary stages, 200 years ago, of the Bill to abolish the slave trade.
The commemoration of the House of Lords and Commons votes, in February and in March, and the launch of the film, “Amazing Grace”, have vividly reminded us the horrors of the slave trade for the people of West Africa.
There is also another – happier – West African anniversary this year – the fiftieth anniversary of Ghana’s independence.
I recently hosted the visit of John Kufuor, President of Ghana, and Chairman of the African Union, when he, and his wife, Theresa, came to Liverpool John Moores University to deliver a Roscoe Lecture.
And as he reminded us, Ghana has a lot to celebrate.
They have a vibrant democracy, a free and outspoken press, an entrenched judicial system based on the rule of law, a respect for human rights, a secondary education system which is the envy of many other African nations, and an economy which has been expanding at the rate of around 6% a year – coming close to the top of the African growth league.
By background, John Kufuor, a deeply committed Catholic, is an Oxford-educated human rights lawyer, who spent 30 years in opposition. He has a passion for human rights and says that “Anyone who hides behind the sovereignty of states to justify genocide or abuses of human rights will meet their day of judgement, and not just in the world to come.”
Affectionately known as “the gentle giant”, at 6’4″ President Kufuor towers over supporters and adversaries alike.
He responds to the suggestion that his style of government is “boring” by retorting that if the alternatives – visited on so many of Ghana’s neighbours – of civil war, military coups, endemic corruption or grinding poverty were “interesting”, then he would happily stick with the boring approach to governance and public life.
Around 1 million Ghanaians live in the UK and contribute to this country’s culture and identity. Paul Boateng, the former Cabinet Minister, sprang from that community, so did Oswald Boateng, the fashion designer. The Ghanaians I know are unmistakable for their wonderful sense of humour and their refusal to be “phased” by anything.
Britain and Ghana have strong ties at many levels.
On the commercial front we have significant bonds: in the past decade, of more than 2,000 new investments registered in Ghana, more than 200 have British equity; Britain is the largest investor in Ghana with around £500 million of assets.
Britain’s development assistance of around £60 million last year, makes our nation the largest bilateral development partner. Our exports to Ghana are worth around £160 million annually and their exports to us are worth around £120 million. Exports include gold, diamonds, manganese, and cocoa.
One of the President’s declared ambitions is to see his country become the financial hub of his region
Ghana is making huge strides but still faces great challenges. 45% of the population live on less than $1 a day and 79% on less than $2 a day. Thanks to President Kufuor’s emphasis on free compulsory education and sound financial management, he has been creating the conditions in which these challenges can be successfully met.
Last year, his initiatives Ghana led to a 16% increase in school enrolments. School buses and feeding programmes in the schools have led to significant increases in attendance and plans have been unveiled to provide model secondary schools in each of 138 districts. The 38 teacher training colleges are being upgraded and an emphasis placed on training teacher to teach science, mathematics and technology.
Ghana has five universities – originally built for 25,000 students. There are now 150,000 students on those campuses and the President has now given the go-ahead for 10 new privately funded universities to be established – mostly in partnership with the churches .
Ghana was the first place in Sub-Saharan Africa where Europeans arrived to trade – first in gold, later in slaves. It was also the first black African nation in the region to achieve independence from a colonial power. Its story has a lot to teach us.
Today’s relationships are based on partnership and equality. John Kufuor reminds us that as well as commemorating the bicentenary of the abolition of the slave trade we need to be acutely aware of contemporary slavery – estimated to affect 27 million people in the world today – including many children.
2007, then, should not just be a time for looking back at a shameful period of our history; it should be a time for facing contemporary challenges and a time for celebrating those African nations, like Ghana, which are building just and free societies.
To see and hear John Kufuor’s Roscoe Lecture visit http://tinymce.moxiecode.com/www.ljmu.ac.uk/citizen, then click Roscoe Lectures, then podcasts.