The birth of the African Caribbean and Pacific Organisation known as the ACP was a triumph of Ghanaian diplomacy.
The loss of purpose of the ACP should therefore be of concern to Ghanaians. It should at least enable us to assess our strengths and weaknesses and help us to move forward with confidence.
But we should first know what happened. It is a pity that institutional memory in Ghana is short and the Public Records office is not the first port of call before we feverishly proceed to re-invent the wheel.
It all started when Britain joined the European Economic Community (EEC) which is now the European Union.
Now the former French colonies like Togo and La Cote d'Ivoire had a special relationship with the EEC.
They enjoyed association privileges which imposed certain obligations on them such as giving preference to EEC imports.
When Britain joined the EEC, Ghana and other British colonies were invited to become associate members or opt for two other forms of relationship.
General Acheampong who was then Head of State sought advice from friends in academia and elsewhere.
He summoned me to his office one day and said he was confused by the advice given to him. He asked me to chair a committee to advise him on a reply to be sent to the EEC invitation.
I did not know Acheampong and it was the second time we had met alone.
Obviously, he had received exaggerated reports about my performance in Geneva especially as the two-term President of the UNCTAD Board, I exploited my chance and agreed that I would chair the committee on condition that I select its members.
And so it was that an inter-ministerial committee of civil servants and public officers worked diligently to evolve the six principles on which Ghana would be associated with the EEC.
The first was the principle of non-reciprocity. That meant that goods from Ghana would be exported to EEC markets at zero or reduced duties or tariffs but that European goods would not be accorded tariff – free entry into the Ghanaian market.
The argument was that it was not an association of equals. We should be helped to develop quickly through trade aid production and this would be to the advantage of all parties.
The cabinet or NRC of General Acheampong agreed to the proposals of the committee and charged it with their implementation under the excellent leadership of Col. Roger Felli, the Commissioner for Trade.
The Committee knew that Ghana alone was powerless to achieve its aims. The other invited former British colonies should agree and join together to present the proposals.
Even the former French colonies should be brought on board. Diplomacy was set in train.
Meanwhile, the Economic Committee of Africa (The ECA) under the distinguished Ghanaian, Robert Gardiner, was working hard for a united African approach to the EEC invitation.
His chief lieutenant was our own J. H. Mensah, an astute political economist. Relations with the EEC were put on the agenda of an African Ministerial Economic Conference in Accra.
The EEC exploited my credentials in Geneva and I was elected chairman of the preparatory committee for the Ministerial meeting when I was away from Accra.
I accepted the position on my arrival the next day and started working to get the principles of Ghana accepted.
It was tough. At 1.00 a.m., on the day the Ministers were to consider the committee's recommendations, there was no agreement.
Even the experienced Robert Gardiner gave up. He sent me a note to close the meeting.
I did not. I was determined to wear the delegates out. Soon many wanted to agree to a compromise so that they could go to bed.
And so even though Ghana's six principles were not all fully endorsed it was agreed to place all of them before the Council of Ministers.
Africa agreed to negotiate together with the EEC even though not all Africa had been invited.
The EEC was gracious enough not to oppose the African position.
It was agreed that African experts should draft the common position.
Meanwhile, the former British colonies in the Caribbean and the Pacific had asked whether they could join Africa in presenting a common front.
This was agreed. And so it was that experts from Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific met in Nairobi to draft the basic document on which the group would negotiate.
Now in international diplomacy, it is difficult to introduce ideas not in the basic document.
Ghana should therefore be heavily involved in the drafting work in Nairobi. The Acheampong regime in those days relied upon and worked closely with proven members of the civil service.
I requested and it was agreed that Ghana should be strongly represented in Nairobi. Col. Felli gave the appropriate support.
I sent Joshua Kpakpah of the Ministry of Trade and Osei Hwidieh of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to Nairobi.
I told them they were to stay indefinitely and that their per diem was assured.
The only condition was that they should get Ghana's principles in the basic document.
The two men justified my confidence in the Ghanaian. They worked diligently and completely and got all Ghana's ideas in the document.
A Ministerial meeting confirmed the united approach. The African states supported the general position but the North African nations did not join in the negotiations because they had an understanding with the EEC and were engaged in talks with the Europeans.
But countries which had not been invited like Liberia and Ethiopia joined the African group and the EEC to their credit did not question this.
The African Caribbean and Pacific group met in George Town — Guyana — and the ACP group was established in 1975.
The ACP negotiated the historic Lome Convention with the EEC. It was mainly an agreement for development of the ACP countries through trade and assistance with regional economic integration playing a major part.
Thus it was that the first EEC project in Ghana was the construction of the Takoradi-Elubo road to assist regional integration and trade.
The GATT, now WTO (World Trade Organisation), was not happy about the ACP-EEC partnership. Neither were other developing countries in Latin America.
They for instance wanted their bananas grown by American multinationals to have the same access as ACP bananas.
Relentless pressures from outside and within the EEC had resulted in the rejection of the Lome spirit which underpinned ACP – EEC relations.
A new relationship had been evolved to maintain an outward appearance of evolutionary progress.
Unfortunately the ACP instead of folding up or turning itself into an association for intra ACP or South-South trade has succumbed to the way of all human institutions.
It must keep itself going even if it means abandoning its purpose.
I am not suggesting that it should not modify itself to deal with new challenges or the evolving world.
But when the ACP meets on the theme “Promoting Human Security and Development”, I am confused. Development cannot flourish when there is no security.
But development itself is a wide subject. There are the economic, social, cultural and other aspects of the subject.
Unless organisations focus on their areas of competence or engagement, their efforts become diffused and they do not achieve much.
It is good to have “Millennium Development Goals” but let those responsible deal with such matters.
Climate change is a major world issue but talking about it will not arrest climate change.
Let it be dealt with scientifically, technically, economically and politically at the appropriate fora.
Rising food prices are a problem. But the ACP should be interested in high prices for cocoa and unsubsidised food exports to its member states.
It is easy to catch the public eye when an organisation dwells on issues in the popular domain.
Many will say that the ACP conference was a success. Of course it brought colour to life in Accra even if traffic was unnecessarily congested and our ear drums were polluted with noise from sirens.
I do hope it increased our earnings from services and promoted the tourist trade of the country.
But ultimately, the ACP conference should be judged on its own mandate.
What was it established to do? Is the ACP still relevant? Can it assume a useful role without duplicating what other organisations are doing?
We the people pay for the ACP and its conferences. What do we get out of it today?
By K. B. Asante
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