Speech by HE John Dramani Mahama at the 40th Anniversary of the Ghana Union UK (London, October 26, 2019)

I should admit at the very onset that I have enjoyed myself tonight, among my fellow compatriots, and to also let you know that I am happy I rescheduled my engagements to make it possible to be at tonight’s event.

Forty years in the life of any organisation is no mean achievement. To be the umbrella body organising and coordinating such diverse regional and ethnic associations is a very onerous responsibility. I join in extending congratulations to the Ghana Union on your 40th anniversary and to pray for a stronger and more effective Union of Ghanaians in the next several decades of the Union’s existence here in the UK and Ireland.

The ties between our country, Ghana, and Britain transcends modern times. In the post-colonial era, our relationship has continued and morphed into other forms such that we have citizens who bear the nationality of both countries. On the occasion of this important milestone for the Ghana Union, I cannot help but recognise the contribution of our fellow countrymen, not only in the UK, but across the globe, towards supporting our efforts back home.

What is more visible are the remittances you send back home; according to the World Bank, a 7.3% increase was recorded in the remittances from Ghanaians living abroad to Ghana in 2018. That, in real terms, translates to US$3.8 billion in remittances. This is a significant inflow and addition to the growth of Ghana’s GDP, and its impact cannot be understated. As has been confirmed by studies conducted by the Pew Research Center, remittances can reduce the depth and severity of poverty, which is true in the case of Ghana, as support from citizens like you, contributes greatly to alleviating poverty and enhancing the living standards of relatives back home.

Of course, remittances are also directly associated with the increase in the amount households get to spend on their health, education and even small businesses. These are funds that are sent directly to families, relatives, households and friends, and as the World Bank puts it, it improves their quality of life.

Ladies and gentlemen, the talk has also often been about the brain drain our economies suffer when especially the professionals and technocrats we train leave to advanced economies like the UK. That is true, but let me also recognise the benefits your sojourn, for example, here in the UK, has contributed, in terms of technology and knowledge transfer, investments in various sectors etc. There are many successful businesses in Ghana today with huge investments that were incubated abroad. The ideas for these businesses were generated from the work experiences, education and social engagements of the diaspora.

As Minister for Communications in the late 1990’s I had the privilege of being involved in the reform of our telecommunications sector, in order to make it responsive to the fast evolving technologies in the ICT sector. At that vantage point, it was easy to note the vast number of diaspora Ghanaians who returned with new start-ups in the ICT sector. Internet Cafes, Data and Software companies were set up by returnee Ghanaians who had imbibed the new technologies. Till date, many of the leading data and software companies are owned by Ghanaians who once sojourned abroad. The outflow of human capital has therefore not entirely been a disadvantageous process. What we need to do as leaders is to create enabling conditions to harness this resource to the benefit of sustainable national development.

There are countries in this world that have successfully developed such a model for harnessing their exported human resources. And the country that immediately comes to mind is the Philippines. Remittances to the Philippines amount to some $28.4 billion a year. That is equivalent to about 10% of that nation’s GDP.

My fellow Ghanaians, we have over the years expanded our capacity to train professionals in many sectors such as health, education, security, agriculture and others. While Ghana still has the need for the services of such professionals, there is space for a carefully supervised programme that allows our trained human resource to work abroad under specified contracts and conditions that guarantee a respectable income and protection of their rights and dignity. Such a programme will ensure not only an increase in inward remittances, but a transfer of technology and skills for such professionals who eventually return home.

I have often remarked about a proposal I made to my then colleague to sign a technical exchange agreement under which we could send English and Mathematics teachers, doctors, nurses and other paramedical staff to work under fixed contracts in South Sudan. Unfortunately, the civil war in that country commenced soon afterwards and this proposal could not be implemented. I instead ended up sending a battalion of Ghanaian soldiers on peacekeeping mission following a request from then UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon.

A further spin-off from the Ghanaian Diaspora is the benefit of inward investments in key areas such as tourism and hospitality, education, healthcare, industry, agriculture and the small and medium enterprise sector. Creating the right environment for such investments to flourish will increase the Ghanaian owned component of our FDI. We have had regular homecoming summits. It is time to walk the talk, and create the right atmosphere for Ghanaians living abroad to be able to invest in their own country. Government has a role to play if we are to make the investment climate attractive to stimulate a larger inflow of Ghanaian Diaspora investments.

My brothers and sisters, we must also intensify the fight against corruption. Working and living abroad, many of you in countries where corruption has been minimized or completely eradicated, Ghanaian Diasporians who come home to invest are unnerved, when they find themselves right from our airport and sea ports, having to pay bribes and tips to staff who are paid to provide the services they require. This has the effect of demoralizing and dampening the spirit of the potential diaspora investor. While several institutions have been established and laws enacted to aid the fight against corruption, it takes leadership and commitment to win the fight against corruption. As a nation we have a collective duty to fight and win this battle together. I have also heard harrowing stories from diaspora investors about our work ethic and attitudes back home.

Being used to the work ethic abroad, where you have to be at work whether it rains or snows, one such investor was shocked when one day, half his staff were late to work and the excuse was “boss didn’t you see it was raining?” As for the excuse duty on health grounds, funerals of uncle and aunties and distant relatives, it is a daily occurrence.

There is another case I am familiar with. In the early days when we passed the Local Content Act for the oil industry, a returnee investor who won a contract to meet and pick up oil company executives lost the contract because the driver who was to pick the executives up at the airport left them stranded for almost three hours. The simple reason was that he had failed to check his spare tyre, so when one of the tyres had a puncture on the way to the airport, the spare tyre was not in a condition to be used to replace the damaged tyre. Our lack of dedication and diligence is a collective indictment on us all. It is principally due to a lack of effective supervision at the workplace. But it can be done, and we have done it before. Under the gateway programme, we improved efficiency, reduced corruption and increased the speed of service at our ports of entry.

The lesson is that we must not let our guards down, because often when we do, there is a reversal and it becomes business as usual. We must create opportunity for all Ghanaian investors, irrespective of political, ethnic and religious affiliation. The practice of discrimination in the award of Government contracts, business opportunities and payments based on political affiliation must cease if we are to make progress as a nation.

Government should press on with the uptake of technology in all our commercial and business transactions. I announced a few years ago in one of my State of the Nation Addresses, that as a nation we were working towards a cashless society and that by the end of 2020, cashless transactions should be the norm rather than the exception. There were many who thought it was a pipe dream. Today, I feel a sense of satisfaction when I see many businesses and small shops with Point of Sale (POS) terminals, allowing clients to swipe their cards to make payments.

Today, I am able to go for days without handling cash, because I can make my daily transactions using my bank card. The uptake of mobile money popularly known as MoMo is also a very positive development for attaining the dream of a cashless society. We must however move quickly to increase the use of MoMo as a payment service for commercial transactions. Payment to your local corner shop, for buying ‘koko’, or even eating at your favourite chop bar.

Finally, ladies and gentlemen, it is important that we upscale the skills transfer to our youth through the rebranding and enhancement of technical and vocational training. We all grieve at the new wave of migration that takes many of our young unskilled people on the dangerous journey across the Sahara Desert and the Mediterranean. Many have no skills and end up in detention centres of Western European countries. The rise of populist leaders and far right parties in many advanced countries is shutting the door on unbridled migration, especially of people who possess no skills to contribute to the development of their economies. There is an influx of skilled Eastern European labour that is displacing the competitiveness of Africans in the job markets of especially the EU countries. The job markets in Europe today are demanding skilled workers, plumbers, electricians, masons, tilers, machine operators and the like. Gaining a head start through technical skills training will give our citizens a comparative advantage in the job market when they find themselves abroad.

My message to you on the occasion of the 40th Anniversary of the Ghana Union- UK and Ireland is that: Let’s allow ourselves as citizens of Ghana, wherever we are, to dream positively about the future of our country, and let us be daring to see to the actualisation of these dreams. I am motivated to dream and look forward to the future of Ghana with great optimism because I know we can attain greater heights, and I know it is achievable.

As I stated during the inauguration of a manifesto drafting committee for my party, the NDC, earlier this week, “we will through our manifesto provide a robust set of policy options, guided by research, but most importantly, by broad consultations to renew HOPE in the governance of our country, accelerate what was a successful beginning to the diversification and transformation of our economy, and significantly improve the living conditions of our people.”

I invite you, Ghanaians in the diaspora to share with us your ideas for the forward march of our country, and we shall gladly take them on board and factor them in that social contract with the people of Ghana. I have always believed in a united Ghana, taking inspiration, and learning from our previous Presidents, Jerry John Rawlings, John Agyekum Kufuor and John Evans Atta Mills. Ghanaians are best placed to develop our country and I have lived by that example, and I will continue to live and act by that example.

Ambassador Owusu Ankomah, ladies and gentlemen, on behalf of us all gathered here, let me congratulate all the personalities that are receiving awards tonight and encourage you all to continue to impact your communities. Ghana can benefit from your ideas and investment, that’s a brain gain, and there are opportunities for business.

To end, let me indicate that we are all in support of enfranchising our citizens in the diaspora. We however believe that the process should be universal – all Ghanaians everywhere should have the opportunity to participate in the political choices for our country. Any selective application of using only a few countries would raise objections by Ghanaians in other countries, who think they would be unjustly and unconstitutionally disenfranchised. While we all wait for the Electoral Commission’s Report on the implementation of ROPAL, we will continue to work with the Commission for the best outcome for our country.

Thank you for inviting me to be part of your celebration and May God continue to bless us all.