Dispatches from the Gold Coast

March 15, 2012 By Mark Green

Read about Ambassador Mark Green’s travels this week in Ghana . . .

Today we travelled up country in Ghana. The departure itself was interesting. We taxied on the runway past wrecks of long-departed planes.  Flew to Kumasi on four engine Starbow Airlines aircraft, an impressive Bombardier jet that seated about 90.  The boarding passes were computer print outs and the security was good.  As one of my companions said, “this is the new Ghana” with affordable, reliable jet service.  When I flew around Tanzania as ambassador in 2007-2008, we flew in propeller planes that flew low enough to get caught up in the turbulent warm air rising off the plains.  The flights were always bumpy, and occasionally scary.

We landed in Kumasi, Ghana’s second largest city, and immediately boarded cars for the drive to the community where we were to hang bed nets.

Our first stop was at the community of Afrancho.  It began with a traditional durbar, or celebration held by the elders to pull the community together around the malaria campaign.  We began by entering the area and greeting all the elders as they sat under canopies.  When we were done, and seated, they came in a line and did the same.  We paid particular attention, of course, to the chief and the queen mother.  The latter is a blood relative of the chief, but not mother or sister, and will hold her post for many years, which she already has.  The elders are very important . . . at least as important as the government.

We had speeches and dances (yes, I was dragged into it a little, and I teased our guest Martha MacCallum of Fox News that I would sell the pictures of her dancing and retire) and a drama performed by the students.  The drama was elaborate and made it clear that everyone should sleep under bednets, or else!

After closing remarks, and our words of thanks, we were essentially cleared to go into the homes and hang bed nets.  As we did, we watched trained volunteers explain to villagers why they were hanging nets and then (and I helped at least a little) we put nets up.  One per bed, with the assumption that two people will likely sleep in a bed.

From Afrancho, we visited a nearby antenatal clinic to watch expectant mothers come in for counseling (and a free net). One continuing concern is the clinic is out of too many key medicines!

One personal concern I have is there are too many agency and program logos on posters and items, which weakens the public diplomacy value!   Ghanaians should know these items come from the generosity of the American people.

The clinic was a good example of a public private partnership, as it was a government clinic, but the attached lab was owned and run by a private Ghanaian business.  This is good thing, and I am pleased to see a much stronger private enterprise ethic here than in Tanzania.

After finishing our tour, we were in a bit of a hurry to get on the road for Obuasi and the Anglo Gold Ashanti Mine (AGA) project.  Despite requests to the contrary, clinic officials had prepared for us food — chicken and a kind of rich corn bread.  After some private discussions and negotiations, we accepted the food for eating along the way.  As we used to say in Tanzanian ceremonies, “all protocols observed.”

One thing I have observed on this journey is that China is here big time, as it is everywhere in Africa.  They built the ministry of defense building, the President’s offices, roads, and other structures.  According to people we spoke to, many people question the quality of some of the work.

South Africa is here, too, in the form of South African products and retail. I saw a ShopRite, a supermarket chain I know well from Tanzania.

The Deputy Chief of Mission at the embassy described Ghana as Africa’s best democracy, and there’s a pretty good argument for it.  I believe six consecutive national elections have been ruled free and fair, and three years ago there was a peaceful transition in power from one party to another in the presidency.  The current election, set for the end of the year, is too close to call at this point.  The parties aren’t breaking along ethnic or regional lines either.  That’s vibrant and spirited democracy!

To be continued . . .