On the February 9, 2018, Queen Mathilde of Belgium arrived at the University of Ghana to host a talk alongside Ghanian President Akuffo Addo on the topic of the country’s sustainable development goals. Also in attendance was Belgium’s Vice Prime Minister, Alexander De Croo.
Both parties praised Ghana’s commitment to these sustainable development goals, also noting that it was in Belgium’s interests to help Africa reach its potential in a sustainable manner.
As welcome as these niceties are, the question remains: why has Belgium decided to send a high delegation to Ghana now? In the last few months Ghana has seen the French president, the Prime Ministers of the Netherlands and Italy, the President of Germany, the President of Estonia and the Queen of Denmark visit the country. Also, Hungary has opened up an embassy in the Ghanaian capital Accra recently.
An ally in the migrant conundrum
The sudden flurry of European engagement with Ghana, a country with which Europe has historically maintained only a few trade links, is likely to be due to the Mediterranean migrant crisis. Europe has begun to recognise that the diplomatic efforts to stem the flow of migrants across the Mediterranean Sea are having a very limited effect on overall numbers.
Indeed, there are very few ways to prevent migrants crossing without treading a fine line between moral and immoral action, the latter of which could face legal resistance from human rights groups in Europe itself. Cases of migrants being forced to live in detention centres and housed in shipping containers for months on end in Hungary, or in Denmark where the government passed a law allowing it to seize assets exceeding $1,450 from asylum-seekers to help pay for their upkeep, provide examples of the problems being faced.
There is a growing recognition that Europe needs to work with Africa together to come to a solution on the migration issue. This recognition was partly behind the African Union-European Union summit last year that focussed on buzzphrases such as “Investing in Youth” and “Mobility and Migration”.
This is in contrast to previous summits, where migration hardly made the agenda. In 2010 migration was included in the action plan as number 7 of an 8 point plan, beneath topics such as energy and climate change. Only in 2017 has migration been a headliner at the summit. Usually the focus has been on peace, economic development, good governance and human rights. The migration crisis has seen a realignment of objectives.
A role for Ghana
Ghana, it would seem, has become the poster child for a dream. One that sees at its core a successful West African economy that will draw in migrants from the less prosperous nations surrounding it. This, it is hoped, can ease the pressure on Europe which can then focus on migration from more authoritarian, Red Sea regimes such as Sudan and Eritrea.
As part of this plan, leaders of many European states have arrived in Accra to heap praises on the Ghanaian government and the President for the vibrant and stable democracy, friendly business environment on display. Hopes for a prosperous future are high under the stewardship of a leader who values Western democratic ideals.
Development ‘beyond aid’
Ghanaian president Akuffo Addo has a signature policy: for Ghana to move beyond aid. Ghana’s president describes the policy as “a Ghana which looks to the use of its own resources. We want to build an economy that is not dependent on charity and handouts, but an economy that will look at the proper management of its resources as the way to engineer social and economic growth in our country”.
It is ironic then that Europe is likely to invest more aid in Ghana for these very reasons. Ghana can become the poster child of what an African country can achieve. Spreading an aid budget thinly over a continent as large as Africa has, up till now, had a limited effect but a concentrated effort could potentially make a greater difference. West African migrants may find a booming and successful Ghana to be a more pragmatic choice for relocation as opposed to Europe.
Is Ghana prepared to be a migrant beacon?
Whether Accra is ready for this new challenge ahead of it is questionable. Currently it seems to be a case of the mind being willing but the body weak. The country still suffers from extreme poverty in certain areas, especially the north. Although recent investment from China, such as the recent investment in Ghanaian railways, will provide a major infrastructure boost, there are still major challenges ahead.
National infrastructure still needs a lot of investment, many roads are pockmarked with potholes, railway lines cover less than half the country and power cuts are still a normal part of life. Over a million Ghanaians (11.9% of the population) are unemployed, and a study in 2011 indicated that over 80% of workers are in the informal sector and therefore do not contribute to tax revenue.
Public sanitation is poor and the environment has been damaged from decades of neglect. One simply needs to walk in any city, village or town in Ghana to realise this. The government has estimated that it needs an extra $7.3 Billion to upgrade the infrastructure. Also, if many west Africans were to start coming to Ghana for work, could Ghana see the same anti-migrant resentment that has become rampant in the west? Only time will tell.
It’s notable that Nigeria hasn’t received the same treatment from European leaders. With a population of 186 million, six times that of Ghana’s 28 million, and an economy about ten times the size (Nigeria’s GDP is $405 billion compared to Ghana’s $42 Billion) Nigeria is seen as the regional hegemon in West Africa.
That said, Nigeria has still yet to stamp out the Boko Haram insurgency in the North East of the country, lending weight, in the eyes of EU officials, to the idea that Ghana is the more stable partner. With Nigeria’s surging population any economic gains made might quickly be outstripped by demographics.
What has been noticeable on the European Front is the lack of British engagement, while Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson did make a visit in 2017, no Prime Minister has visited Ghana in decades; no royal visit appears forthcoming either. As the former colonial power in the country, as well as one that has committed to renewing ties with the Commonwealth, it seems a surprising oversight. Perhaps it merely demonstrates Britain’s disengagement from the migrant crisis and from Africa in general.
Nevertheless, European involvement in Ghana, could well turn out to be an act of enlightened self-interest, leading to a prosperous future for Ghana that benefits both parties. Ghanaians are being rewarded for the stable governance of the last 25 years; as they say in Accra, “they that sow the wind, shall reap the whirlwind.”