By Kristi Pelzel
The Ghanaian embassy in Washington, D.C., displayed respectfully touching reminders of Ghana’s significant loss. The passing of Jerry Rawlings, a beloved and influential Ghanaian military officer and former President, was honored in a visual display of remembrance in the embassy’s great hall. The flags flew at half-mast.
Although Rawlings was both adored and disliked, depending on which side of the policies you were on, everyone can most likely agree that he was two things, passionate and persistent.
As leaders worldwide express their condolences, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari recalled Rawlings’s leadership as a champion of African independence.
President Buhari expressed his condolences to the government and people of Ghana through his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina. In the official statement, President Buhari highlighted how Rawlings “vociferously championed the African cause by urging many leaders to work towards interdependence on the global stage, especially in areas of competitive advantage.”
These sentiments were also conveyed in my discussion with Ghana’s Ambassador to the United States, H.E. Dr. Barfuor Adjei-Barwuah, as a reminder that the equitable interdependence that many countries in Africa seek, and the African independence which Rawlings reached for, is still a challenge and a mission.
In the Words of H.E. Dr. Barfuor Adjei-Barwuah:
“Unfortunately, this whole 17th and 18th century of the defense of national interest, which was very ripe in Europe, also spread into other parts of the world. So, when people start talking about Nigerian interests, Ghanian interests, Angolan interests, and that kind of thing, you have difficulties negotiating what could be considered a fair stretch.”
“I, personally, don’t even think there are going to be significant difficulties between Ghana and Nigeria, as far as trade is concerned. And besides the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), which now is in operation because the headquarters is set up, and the headquarters is in Accra. The idea is that [AfCFTA] facilitates trade between countries in the A.U.”
“Whatever the difficulties are, [AfCFTA] will serve as a medium for sorting out any kinds of negatives or what have you. In our trade relations, the problem that we might have is the way African economies are developed. We are talking about a situation where we can create a free relationship between countries so that trade and what not would advance.”
“We are hitting situations where, for example, the U.S. opts to have bilateral relationships with countries. If that is the case, assuming my relationship with the U.S. runs a bit counter to what it is that the A.U. is trying to advance through the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), then countries are going to be presented with choices which might constitute points of contention with what we on the continent are trying to do.”
“So, I think the other countries, those that define us and those whose relationships we need to build up Africa’s potential, would have to be a little more reasonable. A little more supportive of the African effort because no matter how we see it, we are going to have to deal, you know, with these advanced countries for quite some time.”
United States’ Role in Supporting Nigerian and Ghanaian Relations
I also asked H.E. Adjei-Barwuah what the U.S. could do to support trade between Nigeria and Ghana. He responded, “I do believe if you want to look at the economics of it, the U.S. will gain if there are very free trade relationships between Ghana and Nigeria simply because it’s a very vast territory. And one should always remember that, if my figures are right, every third African is a Nigerian. It’s a big economic cauldron that we should all try to do something with and be satisfied. It could be of significant interest to the U.S. if there is a very wonderful relationship, trade, or otherwise, between Ghana and Nigeria.
“The one word that has been played down or ignored – the word cooperation. You know everybody dances around it. Politically, it sounds good, but when it comes up for interpretation and implementation, that is when people start finding different verbs and whatnot to make things a bit difficult.
“As naive as it might sound, this is the time for the world to agree that somewhere along the line, a certain kind of priority of relationships, a certain kind of honest-to-goodness table to negotiate on is going to be necessary.”
Rawlings’ Legacy and the Mission for African independence
Ghana’s former President, Flt Lt Jerry John Rawlings, criticized the global system as inequitable, emphasizing that developing economies operating free market systems and undertaking structural adjustment do not derive maximum benefit from such policies. Aggressive policies to support Ghana’s traditional export industries such as gold and cocoa and diversify its export content were national goals under Rawlings’ Administration.
Belief in the free market tends to be highest in developing countries (a median of 71%). Nearly two-thirds or more in all nine of the developing economies surveyed in a 2014 Pew Research Center survey agreed that most people benefit from capitalism, including 75% of Ghanaians polled.
Developed economies are divided over the free market, with seven-in-ten in South Korea, Germany, and the U.S. stating people are better off under capitalism. Still, fewer than half in Greece, Japan, and Spain agree. “In most advanced economies, people who say the gap between the rich and poor is a huge problem and are much less supportive of the free market than those who worry less about inequality.” (Pew Research Center, 2014).
The mourning period for Rawlings, lasting through November 19th, is a time to reflect on the positive contributions he made to Ghana and the African continent and the work that lies ahead. The work he started, which is never finished, will require today’s leadership to stay as passionate and persistent as Rawlings did throughout his career.
Bio: Kristi Pelzel is an international communications consultant and advisor working across U.S. and African markets. She is a Chief Global News Correspondent for KAFTAN TV. Her industry experience spans 10 years in broadcast, digital, and social media communication. Kristi holds a B.A. from the Academy of Art University, San Francisco, California, and an M.A. from Georgetown University, Washington, D.C.