I attended the Ghana Diaspora Homecoming Summit ’17 (GDHS17) in Accra in July, and thought I would share my thoughts on it. The Summit proper ran from the 5th to the 7th, featured a main programme of presentations and panel sessions plus a handful of supplementary workshops. In addition, there was a small exhibition, which seemed to be predominantly made up of real estate companies.
The organisation of the event was patchy. The registration was particularly poor, e.g. I received my badge at the end of Day One and the event brochure (containing the event schedule) at the end of the conference. Also, the programme ran late every day.
You can find the GDHS17 schedule online plus a lot of the event was recorded. I attended most sessions. Below I share some highlights.
In terms of providing a sense of where Ghana is currently at, some of the issues it faces and the government’s plans, the content covered was good. However, I think the summit fell short in two areas. Firstly, there was almost no reference to specific projects the Ghanaian diaspora might contribute to from an investment point-of-view. The one exception being a presentation on the Marine Drive Investment Project which aims to turn the 240 acres of land from Osu Christainborg Castle to the Arts Center, in Accra, into a tourist enclave. I think this was reflective of the fact that the Summit was focused on trying to get diasporans to come home – rather than contribute from afar. Surprisingly, detail on the One District One Factory (1D1F) programme was also scant – see below. Secondly, there was very little representation amongst the speakers by successful private sector returnee entrepreneurs such as Elikem Nutifafa Kuenyehia and Jerry Parkes – both of whom spoke at our 10th Anniversary Conference, Road Map Ghana.
The summit was opened by the President, HE Nana Akufo-Addo.
Also speaking on Day One was Hon. Ken Ofori-Atta, Finance Minister, [Ken Ofori-Atta video]. He started off by outlining the economic situation the new government inherited, describing it as ‘very challenging’ and ‘a pile up’: 8.7% budget deficit, a debt to GDP ratio of 72.5%, annual interest payments of $2.4bn, a growth rate of 3.6% – his figures, not mine. However, he referenced the psychology of people feeling ‘disempowered and downtrodden’, as being ‘more significant’. He then went on to describe the steps the new government is taking to address the situation including growing public revenue, controlling public expenditure (a euphemism for cutting out corruption), managing public debt including the wage bill, capping statutory funds, reprofiling debt and diversifying the investor base. He said the country is ‘not out of the woods’ yet but claimed that GDP growth has already risen from 3.6% in December 2016 to 6.6% in May 2017, with inflation declining from 15.4% to 12.6% over the same period.
Throughout his talk, Mr. Ofori-Atta made a quiet but firm appeal for the diaspora to return and ‘rebuild’ Ghana, highlighting the need for our skills as well as our knowledge of how things should be done. In the process, he referenced Nehemiah, the Berkeley Mafia, the Chicago Boys, and his own return to Ghana some 27 years ago.
It was rumoured that Mr. Ofori-Atta might launch a diaspora bond at GDHS17. Though this did not happen, he did speak about it, referring to the need for 3 to 4 months of further preparatory work.
Yofi Grant, CEO of the Ghana Investment Promotion Centre (GIPC), spoke just after Ken Ofori-Atta. I found his presentation too high-level. His central messages were the new government are focused on making Ghana the most attractive place in Africa to do business, benchmarking Ghana not just against other countries in Africa but worldwide, and on adding value to the country’s national resources. Priority sectors are:
infrastructure, e.g. railway
manufacturing, e.g. pharmaceuticals
Hon. Alan Kyermaten spoke later on in Day One about Ghana being on the threshold of a ‘significant industrial transformation’ and outlined the ten pillars of the government’s industrial transformation agenda.
One of these is the establishment of ‘strategic anchor industries’, some of which he spoke about:
aluminium – the estimated value of Ghana’s bauxite deposits is $460bn
iron and steel – unlike a lot of countries that have iron ore deposits, Ghana also has manganese, which when combined with iron ore gives steel
petrochemicals – the government’s estimate is that downstream petrochemical opportunities, e.g. fertilisers, plastics, represent potential revenues 50x greater than simply exporting oil and gas
industrial salt – there is scope to mine 3 million tonnes of industrial salt a year, Senegal being the only other country in West Africa with such deposits
A further pillar is embarking on an aggressive export drive, taking advantage of global market access opportunities such as the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act in the US, duty-free and quote-free access to Europe under the Economic Partnership Agreement and the upcoming African Free Trade Zone.
Interestingly, the government also plans to support the informal sector to become more formal SMEs.
Djarbarnor Narh’s of Ernst & Young presentation on business start-ups provided a good overview, which he followed up with an interactive workshop with Ebenezer Arthur of Innohub – someone to watch methinks.
David Ofosu-Dorte’s of AB & David Law presentation on Public-Private Partnerships (PPP) was strong, if a little technical.
Day Two was kicked off by Hon. Robert Ahomka-Lindsay – more on that below.
According to Hon. Ignatius Baffuor-Awuah, Minister for Employment and Labour Relations, Ghana is facing an unemployment ‘crisis’ and it is no longer just an economic problem but also a ‘security issue’. There are currently about 1.4 million Ghanaians unemployed – with additional people underemployed. Mrs Ellen Hagan, Managing Director of L’AINE, speaking later in the day, echoed this message though she pointed out that it is not an issue peculiar to Ghana. She also spoke about the ‘attitude and skills gap’ between what current graduates offer and what employers require.
George Asomaning, a UK-based lawyer, shared an interesting concept: Direct Expatriate Nationals Investment (DENI). The idea is to pool expatriate remittance to purchase state-owned enterprises that are defunct or in distress. Mr. Asomaning has identified 17 possible target enterprises. These could be bought, invested in and turned around, creating a financial return for Ghanaian investors and jobs for local Ghanaians. I attended the DENI workshop which added a little more colour but showed that the idea is still very much at the conceptual level. Watch George Asomaning explain the DENI concept himself.
Given how central the 1D1F programme is to the government – another of the 10 pillars of their industrial transformation agenda – and an area of obvious interest to the diaspora, it was very poorly presented at the Summit. Hon. Gifty Ohene Konadu was reluctant to speak, and only appeared to do so after the MC appealed to her. Part of her reluctance seemed to stem from the fact that the programme is being reviewed following a $2bn injection by the Chinese. There is a dedicated website which provides some detail on the programme – 1d1fghana.org.
Day Two ended with a play, Wogbe Jeke, produced by Chief Moomen, charting Ghana’s journey from ancient empire to modern-day country. I counted some 75 performers on stage at one point. It was very well produced and just a shame that most delegates had left by the time it started.
Day Three started well. The 2nd Generation panel was interesting and featured, I think, my favourite speaker of the whole Summit and someone else I will be keeping an eye on – Michael Bediako. Michael is a young returnee – with a similar demeaner to his boss – currently serving as Special Assistant to the Finance Minister. His messages: Ghana is a very promising country but also a difficult one and anyone planning to return should embrace it in its totality – the good and the bad.
Following the 2nd Generation panel, Prof. Kwaku Asare, a US-based Ghanaian law professor, gave an engaging and informative presentation covering plural citizenship, the difference between citizenship and nationality – citizenship is legal, nationality is cultural – and why he believes the current reading of the Constitution that prevents plural citizens from holding some 27 political offices in Ghana, what he called the ‘forbidden fruit’, is incorrect.
I would recommend listening to both sessions [Michael Bediako video, Prof. Kwaku Asare video].
Mr. Akwasi Ababio, Director of the new Diaspora Relations Office (DRO) in the Office of the President, was present throughout the summit. The DRO has been charged by the President with involving the diaspora in national development and acting us our voice in government – what is not clear is how the DRO will interface with the existing Diaspora Affairs Bureau, in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, launched under the previous government.
In his closing remarks, Mr. Ababio outlined some of the DRO’s next steps following GDHS17:
broadening the Diaspora Engagement Policy consultation undertaken by the previous government to countries such as the UK
creating a database of Ghanaians in the diaspora in collaboration with the National Identification Authority
implementing the infamous Representation of the People Amendment Act (ROPAA)
You can listen to Mr. Ababio’s remarks during which he launched a 40-place Diaspora National Services Programme pilot, allowing youth in the diaspora to take part in national service and internships in Ghana.
One message shared by Gabby Asare Otchere-Darko, who spoke at the end of Day Three, which speakers before him had also made, is that Ghana is a challenging environment and if you plan to return you need to allow at least three years to see any meaningful progress – a message I have also heard from Star 100 members that have returned.
If you have heard anything about GDHS17 then it is probably in relation to Deputy Trade Minister, Hon. Robert Ahomka-Lindsay, referring to the diaspora as ‘whiners’.
I have known of Mr. Ahomka-Lindsay since he was a Vice President for the Coca Cola Africa Group and then when he headed the GIPC. I personally have a lot time for him – in fact, we hope to host him at Star 100. In a sentence, his speech was a call to the diaspora to be realistic about where Ghana is at currently and to approach returning with the same sort of ‘can do’ attitude we had when we left to settle in other parts of the world. I heard him give essentially the same speech in London a couple of months ago, and as he said then, it is designed to provoke and to engage. Given on that occasion he had travelled to see us, it was fine. However, delivering it at GDHS17 was poorly timed, for a couple of reasons. Some attendees had travelled thousands of miles to attend at their own expense of time and money – not something whiners generally do. Also, by Day Two, when he spoke, attendees had already publicly expressed dissatisfaction with the event. Anyway, overall it was a good speech, which I would encourage you to listen to for yourself [Robert Ahomka-Lindsay video].
Then on Day Three, the Vice President and other ministers who were scheduled to speak did not show up. The reason given was they were at a retreat. Personally, I did not expect to or even want to hear from a lot of ministers, but double-booking GDHS17 and a retreat did not send the best message. I have since spoken to someone at the Ghana High Commission in the UK, who tells me it was not a retreat but a cabinet meeting. Whatever the case, it resulted in bad PR.
Both these issues were picked up after the event in an interview on Ghana’s Joy FM with some of the more vocal critics who attended the Summit – scroll down for the audio.
Overall, I would score GDHS17 6.5/10.
There was definitely useful information shared during the Summit, but at the same time there were gaps, the most obvious being details of specific investment opportunities the diaspora might take up – even the 1D1F programme was poorly presented. The new administration realise that Ghana needs to be rebuilt, have a plan to go about it and genuinely seem to want the diaspora to be involved. The big question though is, can they realise their plans? In fact, part of me wonders if GDHS17 was held too early in their term. It might have been better, say, to hold it next year, once they have had a chance to execute on some of their plans. Also, I think it focused too much on the diaspora returning, not really addressing how those that do not plan to return might still contribute to the country’s development – a harder question maybe.
Of course, I appreciate it is not easy to target the diaspora on mass. Though I would say there is probably a common desire to see Ghana progress, we are a heterogenous group with a multitude of concerns from voting rights to import duties and entrepreneurship to economic development. As a result, I think it is particularly hard to produce an event the size of GDHS17 and have it satisfy everyone.
Also, I think we are quite fortunate/spoilt living in the UK, in terms of the links we have with Ghana. In the six weeks preceding GDHS17, HE Nana Akufo-Addo held a townhall in London, Hon. Robert Ahomka-Lindsay spoke at the NPP UK Young Executive Forum, as did Hon. Ken Ofori Atta, Hon. Shirley Ayorkor Botchwey spoke at a SOAS event and the UK-Ghana Chamber of Commerce and Developing Market Associates held the UK-Ghana Trade & Investment Forum. For someone like me, based in London and plugged into such events, the chance of GDHS17 making a major impact was somewhat limited.
Apparently, the Homecoming Summit is going to be a biennial affair, with the 2019 version focusing on young people.
If you have any comments or questions, I would love to hear them – email me on richard [at] star100.org.
Review by Richard Tandoh, Chair, Star 100