Delegation from Foreign Ministry meets Ghanaians in Stockholm
A four-man Ghanaian delegation was in Stockholm to attend the 7th Forum Meeting of the Global Forum on Migration and Development. The delegation was headed by Mr Phibert Johnson, Director, Diaspora Affairs of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and included Ernest Nana Adjei, Assistant Director at the ministry and Desmond Agyemang-Baah and Paul Acquah who joined them from our missions in Copenhagen and Geneva respectively. Before flying back home, the delegation made time to meet a cross-section of Ghanaians in Stockholm at Kista on Saturday, May 17th.
In his opening address, Mr Johnson informed the Ghanaians that the main purpose of the meeting was to listen to the ideas the diaspora Ghanaians in Stockholm have for the improvement of the motherland and the difficulties they face in trying to help Ghana. He said they would do their best to answer all the concerns brought up and also discuss with the gathering the efforts they were making at the ministry to enable them make the best use of the help Ghanaians abroad can give the motherland. He added that the Diaspora Affairs unit was set up only in February this year for just such a purpose and they would hold such meetings with the Ghanaian diaspora in other countries too.
There was a wide variety of questions and inquiries from the audience most of whom were brimming with passionate ideas as to what to do to improve conditions in Ghana. The concerns of the Ghanaians included harassment at the airport and corruption in road construction, negative experience of sending containers of gifts home, the unwillingness of the "top people" in Ghana to listen favourably to investment proposals from diaspora Ghanaians, the vexed question of the inability to obtain dual citizenship registration several years after such applications have been submitted, the easy way in which foreigners can obtain our national passport, the difficulties at Tema Harbour and the need to do away with clearing agents and the excessive dollarization of the Ghanaian economy. Other questions raised were the excessively high duties on imported cars that make it cheaper to import them through Lomé, high rates of interest in Ghana making houses there cost more than in Sweden, the difficulty of buying land legally, poor electricity supplies, the death of African immigrants wanting to make it across the Sahara or the European seas, why there is no embassy in Stockholm which is the largest of the Scandinavian countries and the unbearable harassment at the hands of the mosquitoes in Ghana. Each of the complainants had vivid anecdotes to accompany their experiences in Ghana.
The delegates listened patiently to all the complaints and suggestions and did their best to provide answers to all they had heard. As to the harassment at the ports of entry, Johnson advised that anybody who was badly treated at the airport should complain and do so loudly. They should talk to the press and expose the wrongdoers and not adopt any "fa ma nyame" attitude but protest any wrong doing. "Never get tired of complaining and resisting oppression", he said.
Mr. Johnson advised those who want to send containers of charitable material to Ghana to arrange everything through the Diaspora Desk at the ministry which would take prompt action in inspecting the items, facilitating the clearance and making sure that the items were delivered to their intended destinations and recipients. He gave the example of the Kwahuman Association which sent two ambulances which the office helped in clearing and delivering. On the mess at the Tema Harbour with the clearing agents, Mr Johnson said things were being computerized so that it would be possible to get online and do much of the clearance there. The online system will make it easy for everyone to see how much duties will be paid on which items. This will eventually make the agents unnecessary.
On the loopholes in the issuance of Ghanaian passports that make it possible for Nigerians to obtain our passports, Mr Johnson said the government was aware of the problem and has started issuing identity cards to all citizens and this will eventually encompass Ghanaians in the diaspora. Passport issuance has been tightened with the start of biometric passports since 2009. But the biometric machines are not yet available in the embassy in Copenhagen and such passports can be issued only in Accra – for now. As to why people applying for Ghanaian visas have to submit four passport pictures any time they do so, the embassy official, Mr Agyemang-Baah, explained that the issuance of visas has not yet been fully computerized. This means that every application for a visa is treated as a fresh application since there are no records to fall back on. The ministry is working hard on standardizing visa applications in all the embassies and computerizing such. On the delay in approving and issuing dual citizenship identity cards, the officers explained that the decisions were made in Accra at the Ministry of Interior which made investigations into the backgrounds of the applicants before such approvals were made. Mr Johnson promised that when he went back, he would personally follow the applications of the complainants and asked to receive the details of their applications.
As to why the Ghanaian embassy in Copenhagen was rather not situated in Stockholm, the officers explained that several factors are taken into account when siting embassies and centrality was only one of them. Other factors that weigh heavily in the placement of embassies are the numbers of Ghanaians in the particular country and the trade, historical and cultural links the country has with Ghana. Mr Johnson said the country currently has 54 embassies world-wide and that diplomacy was a financially costly thing.
Mr Johnson has a personal advice for those intending to purchase land in Ghana. He advised them to make their own private investigations as to the plot they intend to buy so that they will know everything about it. They should go to the lands department to check the status of the plot. And, most importantly, they should not hand over all the payments at once but complete payment only after they are sure that everything is right with the purchase.
On the dollarization of the economy, the officers explained that the government was trying hard to reduce the cost of foreign exchange transfers and that all such transfers will be paid in cedis in Ghana. There was also a question as to why the government did not protest or do anything about the "executions" of African immigrants trying to cross the Sahara or the European seas by European authorities. Mr Johnson answered diplomatically by outlining the government's efforts to stem the risky movements of Ghanaians abroad. But he did not say why government did not protest the "executions"…
In his concluding remarks, Mr Johnson urged the assembled Ghanaians never to forget the motherland and to try hard to endeavour to make Ghana as good as Sweden. He again stressed the fact that they were meeting the Ghanaians mainly to hear their ideas and to carry something home from them. He said what they also wanted from the Swedish Ghanaians is for them to lead in forging partnerships between Ghanaian and Swedish businesses. He said remittances were good but they also wanted knowledge and skill transfers. He mentioned programmes like The Swedish Fund, Kosmopolit and Business Sweden as agencies that can be exploited by the Swedish Ghanaians to bring Swedish investment to Ghana. He advised the Stockholm Ghanaians to get together to begin projects in Ghana that will generate incomes for them while helping those in the motherland. He identified areas as electricity generation and housing as urgent ones needing more investment. He said there is a huge housing deficit in Ghana and revealed that no government guarantees were needed to enter the housing market making it easy for people to invest in it. He added that people should think vertically when building in Ghana.
The President of the Ghana Union, Mr Suberu Salam, directing his address to Mr Agyemang-Baah of the Embassy in Denmark, appealed to the Embassy not to delay applications because of slight mistakes in the filling of the forms. He said sometimes applicants waited for four weeks to enquire after their submitted applications only to be informed that they had not filled in their height or failed to enter their phone numbers or the dates on which the forms were completed or such minor details. He said in such cases, the embassy could quickly contact the applicant to inform him of the anomaly. He said the main reason why Ghanaians abroad contact their embassies is to seek their assistance in the procurement of one identity document or the other and the Ghanaians are very appreciative if they meet understanding officials willing to help whenever they are contacted. Often quick responses to email enquiries are very useful.
Quite a cross section of Ghanaians resident in Stockholm attended the meeting. These included Ghanaians who have been living here for at least a quarter of a century, some newly arrived and young Ghanaians from other EU countries, others who had recently come straight from Ghana as well as those born in Sweden of Ghanaian parents but having strong attachments to the motherland.
Earlier in the week, the delegation met at George Adu-Boahene's palatial flat where they were treated to Ghanaian hospitality Stockholm style. There was a lot to eat (fufu, managryn and jollof rice but no Swedish favourites - potatis och korv eller köttbullar!) and a lot more to drink. The President of the Ghana Union, Suberu Salam, was there with his wife, Union Secretary Ladi, as well as two other members to make the atmosphere a cosy one. It was a very friendly atmosphere filled with talk and laughter and the usual Ghanaian banter. Baba Ibrahim-Nabigah then drove the delegates and dropped them off in front of their hotel rooms.
The meeting at Kista was jointly organised by Ghana Union in Stockholm, Friendship Association and GaDagnme Union. The African Council in Sweden (AFRIS) generously paid for the premises and was represented by its president, Mr Risala from Gambia, who listened in on the Ghanaian deliberations and commented with comparisons from his country. The Ghana Union provided refreshments of soft drinks and grilled chicken thighs with salad and the GaDangme Union brought cookies. The after-meeting refreshments gave the opportunity for the crowd to "mingla" and discuss on one-to-one basis and in small groups with the delegates. Private and official emails and telephone numbers were exchanged and promises made to meet in Ghana and to continue the discussions. It was, all in all, a very successful meeting.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs Diaspora desk contact info:
www.ghanaiandiaspora.com (still under construction but quite useful)
Telephone: 233 303 932357; 233 303 932358
Ghanaunion correspondent, May 2014
Click here for more pictures from the day...