The ambassador of the Republic of Ghana to Tehran says his country will continue its efforts to be a standard-bearer in promoting democracy, good governance, the rule of law, respect for human rights, and economic development in Africa.
Ambassador Bawah G. Ayembillah (Alhaji) made the remarks in an interview with the Tehran Times on March 3, three days ahead of the 57th anniversary of the independence of Ghana.
The independence anniversary reminds Ghanaians of their duty to continue to carry on the mantle of being the beacon of hope for Africa, Ambassador Ayembillah said.
Ghana, a country on the west coast of Africa, is one of the most thriving democracies on the continent. It has often been referred to as an island of peace.
Following is the text of the interview:
Q: The Islamic Republic of Iran has announced that the expansion of ties with African countries is one of its major policies. What specific efforts has the Embassy of Ghana made to help increase cooperation between the two countries?
A: Ghana definitely welcomes the expansion of ties between Africa and Iran, as announced by the government, as a step in the right direction. It is such focused determination and constant engagement with the continent that would help translate the excellent political relations into economic cooperation for the mutual benefit of Iran and Ghana. Happily, relations between Ghana and the Islamic Republic of Iran have been very cordial and friendly over the years. In fact, apart from the good bilateral relations, we also, on the basis of our common interests, have been cooperating quite well at the multilateral level. Our ever-deepening bond of friendship has been clearly demonstrated through the exchange of high-level visits between our two countries, the latest of which was the visit of Ghanaian Vice President Kwesi Bekoe Amissah-Arthur to Iran during the swearing-in ceremony of President Hassan Rouhani in August 2013, followed by the visit of Ghanaian Parliament Speaker Edward Doe Adjaho at the invitation of his Iranian counterpart, Dr. Ali Larijani, in October 2013.
Iran, on the other hand, also sent senior officials, led by former foreign minister Dr. Salehi, to the inauguration of President John Dramani Mahama in 2013. Thereafter, there was a state visit to Ghana by the immediate past president of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, as part of a three-nation African tour, which also took him to Niger and Benin. This is an encouraging testimony of the progress of our relations in the recent past. Indeed, it may interest you to know that in all these VIP visits, fruitful deliberations were held to promote, among other things, trade and investment, which is facilitated by the embassy, working closely with officials of the Iranian Foreign Ministry and other relevant institutions. Quite apart from that, the embassy has embarked on a vigorous trade and investment drive to attract Iranian investors to Ghana and vice versa, and I am pleased to indicate that these efforts are yielding results. I have just returned from Ghana with some Iranian investors, who, after meeting with stakeholders in Ghana, are interested in investing in our real estate industry.
On the Ghana side, we have companies in Ghana, which, after visiting Iran, have also expressed interest in the quality of Iranian cement and other building materials. They have to this end met with officials of the Export Development Bank of Iran and with their local Iranian counterparts to see how best to access the credit line facility granted by the EDBI. In all this, the embassy is facilitating these arrangements to foster greater economic and trade relations. Again, since the reopening of the embassy in Tehran in 2008, the mission has facilitated and supported Iranian companies which are operating in Ghana, such as the Shirin Asal Confectionery Company, which buys some of its main raw material cocoa from Ghana. The embassy is currently assisting other companies, including the Beton Kaveh Company, to enter the building and construction industry in Ghana.
Q: What is the current level of cooperation between the two countries? What are the main areas of bilateral cooperation, and what are the potential areas of increased cooperation between Tehran and Accra?
A: Certainly there has been significant bilateral cooperation between Ghana and Iran in the areas of technical assistance, trade, and investment promotion, although the level of trade is low in relative terms when juxtaposed with the excellent political relationship. That notwithstanding, Ghana and Iran are cooperating to improve agricultural production through Iran’s Ministry of Agriculture, with an office in Ghana, the ARD. The office undertakes projects across Ghana, with emphasis in the northern part of Ghana. The projects include technical training in how to grow mushrooms, beekeeping, mechanized farming, and cashew nut farming, just to name a few. Many of our farmers are benefitting from Iranian expertise in this regard. In the area of health, Iran has over the years established and operated the Iran Clinic, situated in the capital of Ghana, Accra, which is being upgraded to polyclinic status to better serve the many Ghanaians at a reduced cost.
Iran has also, in collaboration with Ghanaian local authorities, constructed and equipped health and sanitation centers in deprived communities, offering useful education, and thus helping improve the lives of the people. What is more, Ghana benefits from Iranian scholarships as well as training in the health sector. I should add that in the area of education, Iran, in collaboration with the Ghanaian authorities, has established the Islamic University in Accra, aimed at producing high-level manpower. We are indeed very grateful for the support we continue to receive from the government and good people of the Islamic Republic of Iran. But like any relationship, there is always room for improvement, and in this regard we are exploring ways to improve all aspects of our relationship. Both governments have been holding consultations on various initiatives, in addition to the Permanent Joint Commission for Cooperation, the fifth session of which will be held in Iran during the second quarter of this year to address some of the challenges confronting trade and investment between our two countries.
Q: Are there any potential areas of interest for increased cooperation between Ghana and Iran, and what steps do you intend to take to achieve your objective during your tour of duty?
A: Yes, of course. Ghana is the gateway to West Africa, which has a combined population of over 250 million people. Coupled with our strategic location, a vibrant democracy, and friendly people, we have a lot to offer to Iranian investors willing to come and explore our investment market. As an emerging growing middle-income country, Ghana’s efforts aimed at diversifying its economy to attract foreign and domestic investors through the revised Ghana Investment Protection Center Act is geared towards targeting critical areas of the Ghanaian economy. The new GIPC Act 865 of 2013 has simplified ways of doing business in Ghana as well as provided incentives, such as one hundred percent foreign ownership, the transfer of total profit, and a constitutional guarantee for investment, just to name a few, to attract investors. So look no further. Ghana gives you secure, high-earning dividends on investment.
Following from the above, Ghana seeks to engage our Iranian friends through partnership to diversify its economy with its enormous natural resources. Ghana currently boasts of rich natural resources, such as gold, manganese, bauxite, and iron ore, and arable lands for commercial farming, and we believe that we could be worthy partners if we pool our resources together with the needed capital and technical knowhow from Iran. As you may be aware, Ghana also found oil and began production in commercial quantities in 2010. This is one area where we are looking for investment, especially in the downstream sector. Considering Iran’s rich experience in the oil and gas industry, we expect some support in that area to help develop infrastructure and create jobs in a win-win situation based on each country’s comparative advantage. Other areas include improving trade in agricultural commodities as well as agricultural implements, such as tractors and agro processing machinery, and the pharmaceutical industry. By doing the above, I would have achieved my objective of translating our enviable excellent political relations into viable economic cooperation between our two countries and for the benefit of our two peoples. With the few visits I made to some parts of the country, I believe strongly that there are enormous economic and technological potentials to tap in this country, and working together with other stakeholders, we will pursue them to the benefit of our two countries.
Q: What are the main activities of the Ghanaian Embassy in Tehran? And what are the embassy’s plans to familiarize the Iranian people with Ghana and attract Iranian investors, businessmen, and tourists?
A: I think I have answered some aspects of the question already by indicating the functions of the embassy in Tehran. But nonetheless, let me add that the core activities of embassies have undergone tremendous transformation all over the world as a result of the ever-increasing information technologies. Consequently, the Ghana mission, in addition to its traditional role of representing the interests of Ghana in the Islamic Republic of Iran, has devised other methods of reaching out to its clientele, being the Iranian people. These methods include an interactive electronic mailing system through the mission’s website (www.ghanaembassyiran.com). Thus, reducing time and offering quick responses on general enquiries, be it business, tourism, or visas. Furthermore, through the website, there are links to all the relevant institutions in Ghana which give in-depth general information on Ghana and tourism as well as business registration, etc.
The embassy also from time to time organizes trade and investment fora, sometimes working in tandem with chambers of commerce and industry across the country to participate in investment promotional activities (trade fairs, exhibitions, and seminars), during which staff of the embassy meet and interact with prospective clients. The embassy, in this ever-changing world, has become a connector or a linkage between Ghana and Iran, and in so doing, brings the embassy to the doorstep of the Iranian people. In that respect, let me add that, based on the good relations between our two countries, we currently have a visa waiver for diplomatic and government officials using service passports. The embassy, as part of its efforts to promote tourism and business, has rolled out a relatively flexible visa procedure where a visa could be issued within 24 hours. We encourage Iranians to take advantage of these excellent bilateral relations to visit Ghana and either invest or enjoy the beauty and serenity of its natural pristine beaches, bright and lovely sunshine, and the warm hospitality of its people.
Q: In light of Ghana’s preeminent role in Africa and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), what is your view on the Geneva interim nuclear deal between Iran and the 5+1 group (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany)? And are there any benefits to be derived by your country from the agreement?
A: There is no doubt we live in a globalized world, which means that we are more interconnected today than ever before, such that actions of any state invariably affect the other. In that light, I am very pleased that diplomatic efforts culminated in the signing of the interim agreement in Geneva on November 24, 2013. In this respect, let me take this opportunity to congratulate the two parties for giving diplomacy a chance through which both sides have truly demonstrated interest and commitment towards peaceful resolution. Based on the evidence so far, there is ample reason to be optimistic that a lasting, peaceful solution will be arrived at. We wish the negotiations good luck.
On the benefits to be derived from the interim agreement, evidently the sanctions affected not only Iran but also the negotiating countries and African countries as well, including Ghana. The effects of the sanctions, therefore, affected individuals, corporate entities as well as governments, thus hampering significantly the execution of many agreements. However, given the recent easing of sanctions announced in 2014, we are very encouraged and optimistic that it will go a long way to promote strong economic cooperation between our two countries, particularly their private sectors. Ultimately, however, our hope is to have a peaceful resolution of the differences and subsequently a complete removal of sanctions to enhance our pursuit of investors and the promotion of trade between our two countries. In line with our shared commitment to promoting trade and economic cooperation between our two countries, Iran is scheduled to host Ghana for the 5th Permanent Joint Commission for Cooperation in Tehran this year, and we are very hopeful that many more agreements will be signed and executed for the benefit of the two peoples.
Q: Mr. Ambassador, the Ghanaian people will celebrate their independence anniversary from Britain on March 6. What does this independence mean for your country, Africa, and the world at large?
A: March 6, 2014 marks the 57th independence anniversary of the Republic of Ghana, and coincidentally it will also be my first anniversary since I had the honor to present my credentials as the ambassador of Ghana to the Islamic Republic of Iran. Obviously, March 6 is important to all Ghanaians and will forever remain so because it signifies a very important milestone in the life of our county. It is a day that is used to commemorate the end of the struggle for independence from colonialism. The day is also used to pay tribute to our gallant fallen heroes and founding fathers, who fought under very harsh inhuman treatment to liberate Ghana and the African continent as a whole. Indeed, our first president, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, who was the trailblazer of our independence, on the eve of independence on March 6, 1957, declared: “The independence of Ghana is meaningless unless it is linked up to the total liberation of Africa.” This statement was not only true but was also very relevant at the time and is even more relevant in modern times, although in a different context. This famous quotation has remained the focal point of Ghana’s foreign policy with some shifts, depending on the global challenges at any given time.
Following from that, Ghana did not only become the first country south of the Sahara to be independent but actually personified the African identity and worked hard to galvanize the movement towards the liberation of the African continent. So on such a day, it gives us a sense of pride to reflect on the history of our dear nation and also assess our future in this challenging globalized world. The day, therefore, reminds us of our duty to continue to carry on the mantle of being the beacon of hope for the continent through active participation in regional and global affairs.
On this auspicious occasion of the 57th independence anniversary of the Republic of Ghana, I avail myself of this opportunity to, on behalf of His Excellency the President of the Republic of Ghana, Mr. John Dramani Mahama, the government, and the people of Ghana, express sincere appreciation to the government and good people of the Islamic Republic of Iran for their friendship and support. Ghana and Iran have a brighter future to build a solid partnership for developing strong economic cooperation for the lasting stability of our friendship and prosperity for our two peoples. In Africa, Ghana continues its efforts to be a torchbearer in promoting democracy, good governance, the rule of law, respect for human rights, and economic development through the established institutions. Good neighborliness is the hallmark of Ghana’s relations with other countries in the West Africa sub-region. At the global level, Ghana remains one of the most active members of the United Nations organization and continues to be outstanding in peacekeeping operations. I would therefore like to use this medium to thank all our collaborators and rededicate ourselves to the greater challenges facing the world and to working together toward making the world a better and safer world.
Q: Mr. Ambassador, how do you find Iran in the one year you have been here?
A: Honestly, this is one of the most peaceful countries, apart from Ghana certainly. But Iranian hospitality is very heartwarming and commendable. Since our arrival, my wife and I felt at home right from the airport with the immigration through to officials of the Iranian Foreign Ministry, government, and the various provinces. It is so amazing that the hospitality and courtesies go beyond the capital to the provincial level, and certainly further beyond officialdom to ordinary citizens on the street. I must say a big thank you to the Iranian people for accepting us and creating the environment for us to work and live here peacefully. By doing so, Iranians have demonstrated true love and brotherly affection to us, making this country certainly a home away from home.