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05.11.2005 Press Review

Editorial: Economic diplomacy is key

By Statesman
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PRESIDENT Mbeki and his ministers have come under serious fire at home in South Africa for travelling too often. But, his argument is that all the travels are engineered to further expand and consolidate economic diplomacy initiatives. He can, for evidential support, claim that the largest growth in his country's manufactured goods was from SA to the rest of the African continent. To make Ghana a serious member in the comity of progressive nations, President Kufuor adopted the position of the 'Globalisation President'. President Clinton noticed in his second term that America was being left behind and he quickly recognised the paradigm that foreign policy basically flows from domestic policy.

This has been more widely shared in Europe, especially in France, where foreign policy links the interests a country pursues on the world stage with the domestic power structure and the composition of the ruling elite. The project of 'Europe 92' and the emergence of Japan and the Asian Tigers as economic powerhouses in from the 1970s to the 1990s contrasted sharply with the relative decline of Africa's economic decline. As China is showing, power relations would no longer be determined by military might but more by economic weight.

As a 1998 survey by the Belgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has pointed out, most ministries of Foreign Affairs all over the world have been insisting on the importance of economic diplomacy. Diplomats of many countries make no secret of the fact that their prime task now is to look after the commercial interests of the state they represent.

Economic diplomacy is becoming increasingly important, both on the bilateral as well as on the multilateral level. The globalisation of the world economy confronts us with new challenges. This globalisation and the increased competition that flows from it, obliges every country to bundle its forces. Ghana can bundle its forces more effectively, as pointed out by the Foreign Minister in our lead story today, by encouraging African countries to form an economic bloc. Trade is war, and in world trade everything is being used to conquer or maintain market shares. Several African countries lack the numbers or tools to fight this war individually. We need to consolidate our forces. Even an ECOWAS bloc of 260 million people is comparable with the US in size if not in purchasing power.

What President Kufuor is doing with his economic diplomacy is not to reinvent the wheel. The Europeans, the Americans, and lately the Asians have pursued it with devastating success. Today's economic diplomacy can easily be compared in intensity and in scope with the commercial diplomacy of the European states during the 19th century or with the dollar diplomacy under the American president William Howard Taft.

Here, in Africa, historically our leaders' understanding of economic diplomacy could be at worst described as self-economic kleptocracy. At best, this policy was tainted by socialist ideologies, and the dictator's disease – bad governance. Thankfully, a new crop of responsible leaders is emerging. And Ghana is at the forefront. We cannot but continue to sell this success story. Indeed, other African countries are today following the trail blazed by President Kufuor. The Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Jakaya Kikwete recently advised Tanzania envoys accredited abroad to adopt economic diplomacy in running their embassies with due consideration to global changes in the economy, politics and security.

In a globalised and interconnected world, economics is more important than ever as a determining element in international affairs. It is also a sizable component of relations between states. Thus, economics has moved to centre-stage in diplomacy and now extends beyond 'commercial diplomacy'. Aside from foreign trade, it includes external investments, financial flows, aid, bilateral and multilateral economic negotiations and technology exchanges, which all 'brand' countries and contribute to image-building. What President Kufuor has done is used his growing stature and his country's enviable record of good governance to be Ghana's number one sales executive. He has won the endorsement of other world leaders. In fact, it is commonly accepted within diplomatic circles that Tony Blair and Gordon Brown used President Kufuor and Ghana as the biggest weapons in their armoury to convince the other G8 leaders to accept 100 percent multilateral debt cancellation and the proposal to double aid.

In some ways, we have evolved back to the earliest recorded days of relations between kingdoms and principalities, when commerce was an important motivation for reaching out to other foreign entities. It led ancient civilisations to exchange spices, silks and other precious commodities with distant lands, thereby creating the norms and procedures within which the exchanges could be carried out. These were the first 'international' accords and treaties that were not only concerned with conquest and territory, but with mutually beneficial commercial dealings within a legal framework.

We will urge President Kufuor to continue pursuing his economic diplomacy. But, we want to see a radical enhancement in the support programmes for local entrepreneurs. A deliberate policy, for instance, to create multi-million dollar companies in Ghana would be useful. When the foreign investor sees the locals doing well, she might want to come and find out what the fuss is all about.

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