Greenwich Mean Time Zone UTC+00:00
Capital City Accra
Currency Ghanaian Cedi GHS
National Day 6 March
Growing up, Ghana’s new High Commissioner His Excellency Mr Papa Owusu-Ankomah recalls “a general scepticism towards politics in his country. There had been a lot of instability, so people were not inclined to trust politicians.” Although his parents questioned his choice, he says “I considered going into politics a call of duty.”
Mr Owusu-Ankomah admits he “had a fairly unchallenging upbringing. Growing up in my country is normally not easy, but I attended the first private school in the Western Region of Ghana. I had the opportunity to go to university and qualify as a lawyer at 23 in 1981.” Qualifications in hand, he returned to “where [he] was born and bred,” getting involved with social, political and religious issues in the community. “Our country was moving from a military dictatorship to a multiparty constitutional rule at the time,” he recalls. “I was a young lawyer fighting the existing military junta. I had an opportunity to make a difference.”
Over the years, Mr Owusu-Ankomah became a senior Ghanaian political figure, statesman and a founding member of the ruling New Patriotic Party (NPP). He was a member of Ghana’s Parliament for 20 years spanning five four-year terms, from 1997 to 2017. When the NPP was in government (2001-08), Mr Owusu-Ankomah served as Minister in the following portfolios: Youth and Sports; Majority Leader in Parliament and Parliamentary Affairs; Attorney-General and Justice; Interior; Education, Science & Sports; Trade, Industry, Private Sector Development and President’s Special Initiatives. “The general aim of our work was to better the lives of our people,” he says. “We wanted our leadership to inspire and give them hope. I found it quite rewarding.”
Over the years, he developed an extensive knowledge of parliamentary practice and procedure, and on many occasions served as a resource person in the training of newly-elected Ghanaian Members of Parliament, as well as Members of Parliament from other African countries.
Mr Owusu-Ankomah now finds himself enjoying diplomacy for the first time. I’ve had no formal training, but as a Member of Parliament and Minister of State, “I’ve had plenty of experience dealing with people, diplomats and foreign countries.”
Mr Owusu-Ankomah arrived in London with his wife Augustina in June 2017. Their three children are adults and working as lawyers in Ghana. Since arriving in the capital, the High Commissioner has observed “the vibrancy and diversity of the city. I definitely get the impression that London is the centre of the world!” he remarks.
The High Commissioner explains that his government’s main priority is to attract foreign direct investment into Ghana, in key industries like manufacturing, IT and agriculture. Secondly, the mission must work “to deepen its engagement with Ghana’s sizeable and significant diaspora, mobilising them to assist us at home.” He conservatively estimates there are around 500,000 Ghanaians in the UK. “And then when you add the citizens of Ghanaian descent, it’s considerably more,” he says. He proudly mentions various Ghanaians who have made their mark in the UK, including Lord Boateng, plus Vogue magazine’s first black and male editor, Edward Enniful.
Of course, Mr Owusu-Ankomah admits this work is not without challenges. “With migration high on the agenda, the consular aspect of our work has become challenging. Every two months, the UK charters a plane to repatriate undocumented Ghanaians back home. A substantial number of applicants from Ghana are also refused visas. We don’t think Ghanaian visa applicants are given fair treatment by the UK on this matter. It’s a heavy workload for the mission.”
Dealing with such issues, his legal background gives him the edge. “The system in Ghana is based on the Commonwealth structure – just like the UK. And of course, when the mission is hit with legal issues, my expertise becomes important. Although sometimes my colleagues from the mission think I’m too legalistic!” he jokes.
The most memorable day of his career was presenting his credentials to Her Majesty. “It’s not often one gets an opportunity to meet Her Majesty one on one, albeit for a brief period. It emerged Her Majesty’s equerry was a UK citizen of Ghanaian descent!” he exclaims.
Does he think Brexit can provide Ghana with opportunities? “How Africa can position itself to get better access to the UK market after Brexit is a major item on the African agenda. There’s an opportunity to get a much stronger foothold in the UK economy. We are also hoping that as members of the Commonwealth, there will be closer collaboration after Brexit.”
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