Ghana is considering appointing an honorary consul in Atlanta as commercial connections between the West African nation and Georgia intensify, Ambassador Joseph Henry Smith told Global Atlanta during a recent visit.
“Looking at the enthusiasm of the community here to do business with Ghana, I think it’s very, very important. Some processes have been put in place, and I’m hoping that we will be able to have an established consulate in Atlanta,” he said after meetings with the Ghana Council of Georgia and other community organizations.
Mr. Smith, who also visited Atlanta last October, told Global Atlanta that the West African nation is looking to broaden its diplomatic mission in the U.S. beyond the Washington embassy and full consulates in Houston and New York.
“All over the world our missions are preaching Ghana and what we have to offer, to invite investors to come in to help us to grow our country, our economy and everything that makes a nation what it is,” he told Global Atlanta in a private interview.
Ghana brought in more than $3.5 billion in foreign investment on 189 projects in 2014.
“We want to see if we can double that this year,” Mr. Smith said.
His sales pitch in Atlanta wasn’t done in isolation. The ambassador’s visit came a month after the Ghanaian Trade Minister Ekwow Spio-Garbrah came to town and two weeks before the May 1 visit of Petroleum Minister Emmanuel Kofi-Armah Buah, who will highlight opportunities in the oil and gas sector during a luncheon at the Commerce Club. (Event info here).
During the April 20 luncheon event at Thompson Hine LLP’s Atlanta office, Mr. Smith’s main goal was to promote Ghana’s foreign investment regime, which was revised in 2013 with the creation of the Ghana Investment Promotion Centre. The law enacting this one-stop shop also protects foreign firms from expropriation, outlines tax incentives for manufacturers and trading companies and allows for the free repatriation of profits, among other advantages.
Long a beacon of opportunity and political stability in Africa, Ghana seen its sky-high growth rates slow as prices of commodities like gold, oil and cocoa have dropped, causing its deficits to rise and currency, the cedi, to sink. Ghana’s “homegrown solution” to its mounting public debt, a $918 million bailout package from the IMF, has seen its first disbursement of funds and should reassure investors of global confidence in Ghana’s long-term potential, Mr. Smith said.
The nation of 25 million people is rich in natural resources, but it’s the “soft assets” like human capital, thriving democracy and its status as a gateway to the broader Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, that should encourage investors most, he added.
“Those are the ingredients for people to accept that this is a destination for investment,” he said, adding that he is seeking partnerships with educational institutions that can help transfer knowledge and technology to the country.
One of those partnerships was on display at the event, with Amrit Bart of the University of Georgia College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences outlining plans for a new center that would boost poultry production in Ghana’s rural areas.
The three-year project would create two model hatcheries providing resources and extension services, with the goal of training female entrepreneurs to start and operate small poultry and egg businesses. The “holistic approach” of the venture is aimed at diversifying income streams for women and improve the diets of women and children, transforming their communities.
The project, which has yet to receive funding, would use a “train the trainer” approach to ensure sustainability through local management over the long term and would create community centers that educate the population on financial literacy, health and education, Dr. Bart said, adding that the university has similar poultry projects in the nations of Liberia and Mali.
“We have goals in assisting development of African countries in areas where the University of Georgia specific competencies, specific expertise,” Dr. Bart said.
Mr. Smith, the ambassador, said projects like this get at the core of Ghana’s Vision 2020 growth plan: driving the private sector through innovation and value-added products in food production, manufacturing and energy.
In the power sector, Ghana has signed a deal to receive $498 million from the U.S.-backed Millennium Challenge Corp. over the next five years to bolster the power distribution system and position it to attract investment. It’s also one of six countries selected to take part in the U.S.’s Power Africa initiative, through which private firms have already committed $9 billion in energy investments throughout the continent and U.S. agencies are providing $7 billion in financial backing, mostly in loan guarantees.
Ghana will also be investing in expanding the capacity of its currently saturated roads, railroads, ports and airports. Food storage, housing, health care, tourism and information technology are other opportunities for growth, Mr. Smith said in the interview. He invited a trade mission from Georgia to visit Ghana. Cynthia Blandford, honorary consul of Liberia in Georgia, is helping plan a mission next year along with Matilda Arhin of the Ghana International Chamber of Commerce in Atlanta, which organized the ambassador’s luncheon. Mr. Smith has pledged the embassy’s help with the arrangements.
A former defense minister from 2009-12 and army lieutenant general who has visited Columbus, Ga.’s Fort Benning on multiple occasions, Mr. Smith lit up when discussing Ghana’s role in the stability of West Africa in the interview.
He believes the legacy of the recent Ebola outbreak, which devastated Ghana’s neighbors over the last two years, will be to knit the region more tightly together. As chair of ECOWAS since last April, Ghanaian President John Dramani Mahama stood with his counterparts, with Ghana becoming a staging ground for health operations and even the U.S. military force brought in to provide logistical help.
“It was my president who one day just went by air, visited all of them and came back, and it was then that people realized that you can go there and come back with any problem,” Mr. Smith said.
Mr. Mahama also had a key role in encouraging much larger Nigeria to ensure that this year’s presidential elections were carried out safely, a request which ultimately was fulfilled after the election of Muhammadu Buhari, the opposition candidate.
“We are happy that this change has been peaceful. We all prayed for it. We in Ghana especially prayed for it even more because of the nature of the situation in Ghana: Any time there is a problem in any of the other countries, the refugees come to Ghana, and that affects our economy,” Mr. Smith said.
He said Ghana’s current role is the continuation of its founder’s legacy. Independence leader Kwame Nkrumah urged African unity after Ghana became the first sub-Saharan country to gain independence from British colonial rule in 1957. Six years later, 35 more nations had followed its lead.
He said tolerance and inclusive education — especially of army leaders — have helped Ghana avoid the plagues of extremism and military coups d’etat that have plagued other countries.
The resolve of the Ghanaian people in their turn toward democracy also helps, he said.
“We are a very determined group of people; once we’ve chosen a path, there is no turning back for Ghanaians.”