Friday, February 15, 2008

Ghana’s Kufuor gets ready for Bush swansong

Ghana’s outgoing president John Kufuor said Thursday his country is buoyant, solvent and economically strong on the back of a vibrant financial sector as well as a 35 percent surge in gold exports. Kufuor was speaking at his final state of the nation address. Kufuor is serving his second term as president and the constitution does not allow a third term. His current term expires this year. Kufuor is one of Africa's elder statesmen and is also head of the AU. He will celebrate his country’s good health by hosting US President Bush next week.

Bush leaves the US today for a week in five African countries: Benin, Tanzania, Rwanda, Ghana and Liberia. In Ghana, Bush will meet with Kufuor and visit with Peace Corps volunteers. He will also meet Ghanaian entrepreneurs who have benefited from the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) the US Trade Act that enhances American market access for 39 Sub-Saharan African (SSA) countries. However the centrepiece of the visit will be bilateral talks with Kufuor just two years after the Ghanaian president visited the White House.

Bush arrives in Ghana next Tuesday 19 February and will spend two nights in the country. He follows in the footsteps of Bill Clinton who came to Ghana in 1998. Ghana’s Foreign Minister Akwasi Osei-Adjei said President Bush would be making a major policy statement in the capital Accra after a bilateral meeting with President John Kufuor. He said the discussion would feature the promotion of free trade, as well as economic and investment opportunities. The US gave $55 million in aid to Ghana in 2007.

However the major investment between the two countries is via the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC). Two years ago the MCC signed its biggest ever deal; a five-year, $547 million anti-poverty Compact with Ghana. Established in 2004. The MCC is a US Government corporation with the aim of reducing global poverty through the promotion of sustainable economic growth. The Ghana program focuses on improving the productivity of agriculture, increasing production of high-value commercial and basic food crops, and fostering greater private investment in agriculture. The Ghanaian government created the Millennium Development Authority (MiDA) to be accountable for the implementation of the five-year program MCC program. The money will be split across the sectors of agriculture, transportation (roads and ferry upgrades) and rural development (community services such as education, facilities and banking).

However some analysts say the devil is in the detail with the Ghana program. The MCC has attracted criticism for being slow to spend its allocated budget. Its chief problem has been its sluggish record in getting projects beyond the planning stage. The US Senate is now proposing that Congress provide no more than half the money up front. African leaders are worried by the change. By changing how its projects are financed, “the MCC becomes like the World Bank and all the other countries using overseas development aid in stop and go fashion,” complained President Kufuor. “The aid is spread so thin that at the end of the day the necessary difference is not made.”

But Kufuor has other concerns close to home. Ghana’s problem is a perennial African one – the country has been mired in corruption and mismanagement since independence from Britain in 1957. Ruled by the military up until the eighties, the country made the transition to democracy when a referendum in 1992 approved a constitution for a multi-party system. Today, Ghana is considered a well-administered country by regional standards and a model for political and economic reform in Africa.

Ghana is the world's second-largest producer of cocoa and the country is famed for the high quality of its produce. The cocoa beans are used to make chocolate, both in Ghana, and for the export market. Cadbury Schweppes source most of their cocoa from Ghana. Cadbury’s are sensitive to allegations of exploitation particularly over the use of child labour.

They were among a group of several multinational companies who met in Ghana in October to discuss the International Cocoa Initiative (ICI), a partnership to combat child and forced labour in cocoa farming areas. While Kufuor has claimed "I can say emphatically that we have taken legislative measures to ensure that such practices are eliminated," researchers on the ground disagree. They found that while industry and Ghana have made initial steps such as creating task forces, children still work in cocoa production, regularly miss school, perform dangerous tasks and suffer injury and sickness. Ali Lakiss, the director general of neighbouring Ivory Coast’s Saf-Cacao says it is all about economics. "The farmers don't get the best price,” he said. “If the cocoa price is good, then kids go to school. No money, and kids work at home."

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