Ghana's Ambassador rebukes Ghanaian community in Stockholm
On Monday May 9th members of the Ghanaian community in Stockholm had a meeting with
Her Excellency Edith Hazel, Ghana's ambassador to the Nordic Countries (Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland and Iceland) residence in Denmark, who arrived in Stockholm to attend an economic conference on investment in Ghana due to take place the following day. The meeting, which took place at Kista Träff just outside Stockholm, was hosted by The Ghana Union - Stor Stockholm, a cultural organization founded more than thirty years ago with membership open to Ghanaians and non-Ghanaians.
The ambassador went straight on the attack with a whole lot of inaccurate claims, common places and irrelevant narratives that left many in the small audience deeply disappointed and puzzled. Visibly angered at the small size of the audience that turned out to meet her, the Ghanaian diplomat lost her temper, was disrespectful and addressed her audience like a village teacher chiding a group of disobedient school children.
In her speech, the ambassador took great pains to lecture her audience on the importance of turning out in numbers to welcome an ambassador, about the obligation of Ghanaians to register with their embassy, and so on. We should understand - as if we didn't know - that even though she is resident in Denmark she is also accredited to Sweden, Finland, Iceland and Norway and is thus responsible for Ghanaians in all these countries. We are her constituency... The word 'constituency' appeared to have struck a chord in the ambassador's memory. In a patronising tone Her Excellency then diverted her speech to talk at length and repeatedly about her years as a parliamentarian. It was in parliament that she first met the current president (who has now appointed her ambassador)... She often visited her constituency and was given a fine reception. We were never told which constituency she represented. Mrs Hazel could not help drawing a parallel between her constituency and the Ghanaian communities in the Nordic countries. She exhorted Ghanaians in Sweden to follow the examples of their fellow brothers and sisters in Norway and Finland - and organise crowds to welcome their ambassador. She has been given a warm welcome whenever she has visited these countries. She continued: Ghanaians in Sweden are just like Ghanaians in Denmark.
The Ghanaian diplomat reminded her audience several times over that she is a graduate from the University of Ghana and that he has university graduate mates holding positions in many high places in Ghana including at the ports and these contacts proved useful when she went to clear her goods at the customs.
Even though attendance improved in the course of the meeting as participants kept dropping in after work the meeting admitted frankly that the attendance was poor and apologized to the grief-stricken ambassador who would still not be consoled.
There are a number of reasons, admittedly not wholly satisfactory, for the poor turn out by Ghanaians in Stockholm.
In deciding to hold the meeting at around five o'clock in the evening the Ghana Union tried to strike a compromise between the meeting with the ambassador and the need to give working Ghanaians time to attend the meeting after work. As we know Mondays through Fridays are working days and consequently not the best days for organising working people to meet their ambassador. Such meetings are best held over weekends and even though Sweden is close to Denmark we cannot expect the ambassador to spend time and the Ghanaian tax payer's money to cross the sea from Denmark to come and meet us here in Sweden. A meeting with her on Monday was considered well timed. After all she was expected in Stockholm on Tuesday to perform an official function at the economic conference on Ghana.
Most Ghanaians in this country are employed, if they are employed at all, in low paid jobs with harsh working conditions. Indeed many even have to work over weekends. No employer here, or anywhere else, will release people from their jobs to go and welcome their ambassadors. In fact to put a request of this type before your employer may be enough to earn you a strong warning if not outright dismissal. These are times of high unemployment and tough working conditions coupled with job insecurity. And who wants even an hour or so 'free' from work with deduction from an already low salary? These explanations apparently did nothing to appease the ambassador who seemed determined to be disappointed and to show she meant business!
Questions and answers
By far the single most outstanding issue on the floor that day turned out to be the problem of clearing goods at the ports of Ghana. As many as three or four speakers spoke at length about their personal experiences of utter frustration. Their accounts about the delays, confusion, disorders and a general apathy at the ports were absolutely unbelievable. It was not difficult to understand their anger and frustration at having to spend time arguing and looking on as officials stubbornly insisted on applying obsolete and extremely complex and yet utterly unnecessary laws and regulations which neither they nor any other person understands. In one case a Ghanaian national who had shipped goods to his own country ended up having to travel to a neighbouring country, Burkina Faso, to take delivery! One speaker even wondered whether it serves any useful purpose to have customs services at Ghanaian ports.
The ambassador has personally experienced some of these problems and shared some of the speakers' frustrations. She promised to forward the complaints to the government.
Other questions concerned the diaspora. In practice the government does not appear at all interested in facilitating co-operation with the Ghanaian diaspora which, after all, is the source of considerable hard currency needed to boost the Ghana economy. The embassy is aware of the problems and limitations and is actively working on solutions, the ambassador said among other things.
Complaints were voiced over difficulties in communicating with Ghana missions abroad. While recognising the problem the ambassador pointed out that much information is easily available at embassy web sites. She urged people to try and make use of the services and information provided at the sites if they can, and not always call and demand to talk to embassy personnel. She said proper and frequent use of available facilities will help eliminate waste, increase the number of people communicating with the embassy and make access to consular and information services more easily available to other people who need greater and more qualified help. She added that the government was serious about its diaspora project and the embassy is fully aware that communication with the Ghanaian diaspora is essential. She informed her listeners that Ghana embassies are investing in channels of communication between embassies and Ghanaian communities abroad. To this end the embassy in Denmark is upgrading computer communication facilities to enable easier and more effective communication with Ghanaians in countries under its responsibility. The ambassador asked for patience and understanding from Ghanaians in their contacts with the embassy and said there are problems that cannot be handled at embassy level that have to be referred to Accra. This may delay action being taken. The embassy may also be limited in many ways by budgetary constraints that may make it difficult to meet commitments.
A speaker wondered whether the ambassador can use her good offices to make it more attractive and cost effective for families to visit Ghana more often. Groups of students and young people may even be encouraged to take advantage of such opportunities if they existed. Special group and family visas can be issued by Ghana embassies to make this possible. The ambassador wanted to know if there was any country practising this. Here other speakers joined in to point out that Ghana is a sovereign nation that can make its own decisions in such matters irrespective of what other countries do. The ambassador was not being asked to make a decision which only the Ghana government can do. The speaker was only asking the ambassador to canalise the suggestion to the Ghana government and to use her good offices to encourage the government to take a decision that can be beneficial to Ghana and to the Ghanaian economy while at the same time exposing the country even more to the outside world.
The meeting was told about Burkina Faso's smart and cost-effective way of promoting tourism. When visas are issued that country's embassy manages to drop a neatly folded and well-documented brochure into the envelope together with the applicant's passport and visa. Ghana embassies can learn from Burkina Faso and find a similar effective and at the same time inexpensive way of publicising the country.
The ambassador was criticized for her comments suggesting that promotion of cultural diversity weakens or even threatens national unity. As ambassador one expects her to be proud of the ethnic and cultural diversity of the country she represents instead of expressing views that can easily be interpreted as calling for a suppression of ethnic diversity. Ghana is a country of ethnic and cultural diversity and Ghanaians are proud of that. Proof of that was the presence of Ghanaians from various ethnic associations to listen to their ambassador and to exchange ideas with her. In my view, that criticism of the ambassador is justified. If one looks further across the African continent one realizes that the tragedies of Somalia and Rwanda, two of the world's most culturally and ethnically homogenous countries profoundly contradict the myth that ethnic and cultural homogeneity favour national unity and integration. Congo and Nigeria, and to a lesser extent Ghana, may have their contradictions. Nevertheless they have functioning central governments. By contrast Somalia (a country with only one ethnic group) has not had a government for some thirty years and Rwanda (with only two or three ethnic groups who moreover speak only one language) apparently now has one with a very short history and at the cost of almost a million human lives!
By themselves ethnic diversities do not necessarily threaten national unity. A number of conditions have to be met before ethnic diversity and national unity cease to reinforce each other and turn mutually exclusive. Attempts to suppress ethnic diversity in the name of 'national unity' may lead to disaster on a massive scale. Today, the greatest threat to the national unity of African states, it can be argued, comes not from ethnic groups, but from the "international community" (as imperialism calls itself today) which, under the guise of promoting democracy and human rights, uses and encourages wars and divisions of states as a means of achieving its military-strategic and political goals.
Another speaker expressed profound disagreement with the ambassador over her offensive comments and general attitude. She should focus on entering into dialogue with Ghanaians, listening to their problems and trying to find a common solution instead of allowing herself to be carried away by disappointment at seeing only a few people turning out to meet her. The ambassador retorted: we have democracy and anybody who disagrees with her is entitled to her/his opinion just as she the ambassador is also entitled to hers!
It is my view as one of the writers of this article that the ambassador failed to understand that while democracy recognizes the right to disagree, it does not give anybody, including ambassadors the right to make disparaging statements or advance claims on the basis of ignorance and gross distortion of facts!
As the meeting was drawing to a close a Ghanaian nurse in Stockholm wanted to know if she could get help to transport to Ghana hospital equipment she has been collecting. The ambassador promised to look into the matter and asked for a meeting with the nurse after the formal closing of the meeting.
The meeting ended rather abruptly as we suddenly realized we had run out of time. We had spent three hours listening and discussing! There were still participants who wanted to make contributions or ask questions. Unfortunately their requests could not be granted as we had no possibility of extending the time.
In response to the vote of thanks the ambassador finally sounded a little conciliatory conceding with a rare smile that the atmosphere and the attendance had improved as the meeting came to a close.
Anthony Turkson and Suberu Salam, Stockholm, May 2016
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