Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is an honor to welcome such a distinguished audience from so many friendly countries and on behalf of Asanteman, I thank you for honoring our invitation to participate in this Forum. And I want to thank the E-on 3 Group, the Ministry of Finance, the Ghana Investment Promotions Centre and all our partner agencies for all their effort in making this event possible.
The number of countries in attendance here is heart-warming and I want to express my personal appreciation for the presence of so many distinguished representatives of friendly countries, not excluding the two leading economies of the world, the United States and the Peoples Republic of China.
This is not the first time Ghana has engaged with the international business and investment community to showcase its potential as an investment destination. Our government has been constantly on the move in many of the world capitals and has spared no effort in receiving economic and investment missions at home.
But this is the first time such a forum has been held outside the nation’s capital and I am sure you will agree that it is about time we moved away from the coastal breeze to smell the coffee and cocoa where they are grown and engage with the men and women who till the land and extract the wealth out of depths of our soil. So I am glad to welcome you to the heart of rural Ghana where the majority of our population live and toil to keep the pulse of the nation beating.
This forum has been planned as one of the principal events commemorating the celebration of the 20th Anniversary of our reign as the 16th occupant of the Golden Stool of the Asante Kingdom. In the course of this Anniversary, we have engaged with our up and coming young professionals and executives. We have also engaged with our established business leaders from all fields. Our aim has been to inspire them to greater enterprise and greater endeavor.
Tonight and tomorrow, we engage the world business and investment community to explore together what they can do to bolster the economic regeneration of the country.
Why do we do this?
The Asante Kingdom bears a proud heritage as one of Africa’s most powerful warrior Kingdoms of past centuries. In our time, we deem it our duty to be an example of how the energies of past warfare may be applied positively towards the well-being of our people through socio-economic development. That is what has driven us in the 20 years since we were called upon to take on the mantle of our forefathers.
And that is what we expressed in the theme for our Anniversary celebration: Deepening our cultural heritage through socio-economic development. In that theme, we seek to emphasis our commitment to use the moral authority derived from our heritage to promote the socio-economic well-being of our people within the framework of policies set out by the elected government.
In recent years, we have felt the need to encourage Ghana to seek a large dose of national consensus on the direction of the national economy, to minimize the risks associated with extreme policy swings. It may seem hugely optimistic but nonetheless we remain truly hopeful that the great majority of Ghanaians will welcome a conscious effort to protect the economy from the vagaries of partisan political conflict.
It is in this vein that we have welcomed the vision of the President for Ghana Beyond Aid. It is not a vision for the faint-hearted. It is bold. It is brave. But it is a vision that deserves support, not only from Ghanaians but from all her friends across the world.
And yet we cannot fail to sound a note of caution. In order to appreciate the true measure and the essence of that vision, we must consider our circumstance, and consider where we are coming from. Our 60 year history as an independent sovereign nation is plastered with painful scars of the consequences of our failure to manage our resources with prudence and integrity. We bear the scars of armed intervention, and we bear the scars of HIPC, a humbling acknowledgement of the depths of failure. It is only a decade and a half since we surrendered to the seeming indignity of a heavily indebted poor country. Might we be on the brink of an economic miracle to find suddenly weaned from aid and so-called donor support in a Ghana Beyond Aid? There must be many well-meaning Ghanaians who worry whether we may not be biting more than we can chew.
But Your Excellencies and distinguished guests, I urge you to take a sober look at the country’s performance post-HIPIC and you must find all the assurance you need about our future. Ghana went from HIPC to the status of a middle income country in less than a decade. This does not happen. The economy may not have performed to the optimum of expectations since then but even with all the shifts and turns on the political landscape, it has remained relatively resilient. It tells you that we have what it takes to break the mould of dependency and achieve the goal our leaders have set for us.
In bringing you to Kumasi, we seek first to assure the international business and investment community that Ghana Beyond Aid is a Policy Beyond Political Conflict and the world can buy into it without fear of uncertain political risks. And we seek further to reinforce the message you have no doubt heard from our President, the Vice President and many other officials that you cannot find a better and safer destination for investment than Ghana today. The message is summarized in the theme for this forum: Ghana, a promising Investment destination in Africa.
Your Excellencies, I will remind you that this is one African country so richly endowed that it once bore the name Gold Coast. Indeed, even after the centuries of exploitation, the mineral wealth of this country is incalculable and still crying out for development. Wherever you turn in this country, you have vast opportunities for lucrative investment and wealth creation.
Our emergence as an oil producing nation has added strength to our economy without taking our attention away from other sectors of the economy. Thus the vast bauxite resources at Nyinahin only a few kilometers from here are due for exploration soon with the huge potential for related industries.
We have a fast-growing middle class sharing the sub-continent with colleagues whose needs, like ours, are only met from foreign imports because our economies are unable to provide for them.
Agriculture presents incalculable possibilities. From the vast virgin lands of the African Plains you have a veritable bread basket for Ghana and the entire West African sub-region. In practically every region of Ghana, from the Savanna in the North to the fertile forests in Ashanti, and the rest of the southern regions, we have all the possibilities for creating the granary of the sub-region, to feed ourselves, our industries and to increase our export earnings.
The past decade has seen an explosion of high-level investment in modern shopping malls, thanks to the entrepreneurial drive of one of our sons who is based in South Africa, Kofi Sekyere. We have also been expanding and modernizing our traditional markets. The problem though is that the malls and virtually all our shops and markets are filled almost entirely with imported goods. This is the underlying cause of the constant pressure on the value of our cedi, as more and more shop-owners seeks foreign exchange to import goods for their shops. To policy makers, this is a massive problem. But to the business mind, the real entrepreneur, this is an opportunity. What greater opportunity can there be for manufacturing industry, to fill this vast market, not to talk about opportunities for exports?
We have to ask why, is spite of the vast opportunities, the industry landscape in Ghana is so barren. It must be obvious that you cannot stimulate industrial growth within a policy framework which makes medium-to-long term lending impossibility. It is the sad reality however that and worse of all, the interest rate regime that has prevailed in this country for the past decade or so can only be described as the uptime weapon of industrial destruction.
We raise these issues to reassure our guests and the nation that we are not just offering fulsome support. Rather we want to ensure that issues are properly interrogated to draw the right consideration and outcome. It may be right for government to raise resources to restructure past loans to ease the burden of debt. But might it not be more appropriate to find ways of injecting more resources to stimulate industrial and agricultural production. I am pleased that the program prepared for this forum allows you to interrogate all issues pertinent to the challenge of investing in our economy. I pray your deliberations will be productive and insightful.
Your Excellencies, I cannot conclude without drawing your attention to the fact that this august assembly is meeting at a very momentous period in world history. A troubled world has been made more complex as all the time-honored certainties are jettisoned and leaders search for pathways that are non-existent. We face a world in which the very powers from whom you sought stability are now at each other’s throat. You know the old saying: when two elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers. So as the uncertainties grow in the world economy you wonder whether little ones like us may not be in danger of coming unhinged by forces beyond their control.
My answer: let us have courage. Amidst the complexities of our time, I see the space for a new inspiration – the inspiration to change the trajectory of development for millions of people. It could be the inspiration to wean Africa off the straight jacket of aid and donor support and set us on the path of development through fair trade and mutually beneficial exchange of services.
That could be the inspiration that not only changed the fortunes of Ghana, but set the pace for a new Africa. I hope you will grant Kumasi the honor of giving a new momentum, the Kumasi momentum to this great endeavor. And I hope in the fullness of time that Ghana Beyond Aid may herald Economic Prosperity Beyond Ghana.
Your Excellencies, tonight is only the appetizer. Since you do not send an army into battle on an empty stomach, it is right that we make use of the night before to have the spirit fully charged for the battle ahead. Do make this a joyous evening; fill the body as you may only remember to keep the mid clear for the day after.
I wish you all a happy evening and productive networking.