Ghana's proposed Diaspora Engagement Policy will benefit from a Blacks Stars' approach, devoid of partisanship and restrictive nationality requirements.
Ghana's current economic predicament requires all hands to be on deck. Government has begun reaching out to key stakeholders such as the IMF, domestic and external debtors as well as industry associations and union leaders and also announced the development of a Diaspora Engagement Policy to harness human and material resources of the diaspora for socio-economic transformation . But a lot remains to be done. Process details remain sketchy while some stakeholders, including those in the diaspora, are yet to be engaged. A "Black Stars" approach that highlights a common national vision, eschews partisanship, and leverages the ideas, skills, resources and talents of Ghana's citizen's in a meaningful and non-biased manner without reference to duality and nationality requirements will be a useful step in this regard.
So what is the issue?
From dwindling foreign exchange reserves and high inflation and interests rates, Ghana's economy is dire straits.Recent actions, including engagement with key stakeholders such as the IMF are beginning to yield results. This includes:
Clarity and increased transparency in government reporting - the government has given a true picture of the economic situation including risk of default, acknowledged the severity of the economic situation, and made its intentions about debt restructuring clear
IMF staff level agreement, pending board approval, that would provide the needed support for government actions
Appreciation of the Cedi that has allayed fears and provided some level of calm to the markets;
Detailed domestic external debt structuring programmes that clearly indicate the government's intentions and which if approved could help avert economic collapse.
Laudable as they are, these actions and outreach efforts may not be enough. The country is not out of the woods yet. In fact, the actual work has yet to begin. For instance, the IMF staff level agreement needs to be approved by the Board. This is not guaranteed and could derail the government's plan and aggravate conditions. In the meantime, high inflation and interest rates, dwindling foreign exchange reserves, leakages and inadequate revenue mobilization, and the structural deficiencies of the economy writ large, remain key concerns. Staying the course, improving efficiency, showing discipline and collaboration in the lead up to this approval will be necessary. Stakeholder engagement and acceptance of proposed domestic and external debt programs will also be key.
To date some stakeholders including the insurance sector and organized labour have raised concerns and asked for exemptions. Continued engagement with this group will be needed. But that's not all. Expanding the scope of discussion and bringing in additional stakeholders such as diaspora, the opposition and civil society will be critical. In this context, the role of Ghana's citizens abroad cannot be discounted. On December 16, 2022 Ghana's Minister of Foreign Affairs indicated that the government was expediting the process for developing a Diaspora Engagement Policy to harness the human and material resources of the diaspora for socio-economic transformation. According to the minister, the policy, if adopted would provide for the leveraging of investment benefits and strategies that promoted foreign direct investment the country from the diaspora.
Developing a Diaspora Engagement Policy makes sense. First, Ghanaians abroad care about the country. As investors and key sources of remittances they have a stake in the prosperity and effective governance of the country. Second, Ghanaians abroad have skills, talents and resources to share. To be effective however, the proposed policy, which I believe is long overdue, must address certain issues.
First, it must be developed with panache. The crisis at hand and the need for immediate solutions means time is of essence. Cabinet deliberations take time and the intent to expedite the process by the government as announced by the Minister is laudable. However, making good on this promise is what is needed, especially now that rating agencies such have started issuing new updates on Ghana's potential for "selective default".
Second, the scope of engagement should be broadened. Ghana faces a myriad of economic challenges, not just fiscal that can benefit from the vast human and material resources that disaporans have. Current engagement approaches however, seem to focus on the diaspora as sources of remittances. But as acknowledged by stakeholders such as the International Organization for Migration(IOM), the diaspora community can promote trade, foreign direct investment, establish businesses , encourage entrepreneurship and transfer of knowledge. Focusing on the diaspora's rule as remitters of funds instead of holistic solution providers will be a missed. Evidence suggests that the process of expanding the scope of engagement has begun with the IOM and the EU engagement diasporas in sectors such as ICT. However, in the current situation, engagement with entrepreneurs, bondholders, impact investors and high net worth citizens and businesses real to put their money where their mouth is, should be prioritized. Attempts should also be made to focus on practical and immediate actions rather policy ideas.
Beyond scope, the third area to consider is permanency and governance. The current proposal to include the Office of the Diaspora Affairs in the President's House can be seen as a good first step as it shows strong political interest and could enable oversight. However, these institutions are generally political and influenced by individual charisma and commitment and may not endure political changes. Mainstreaming diaspora engagement in all government policies and establishing coordinating and cross-portfolio mechanisms at the highest level will ensure sustainability and permanency.
The final issue that needs to be considered by proponents of the Diaspora Engagement Policy is the nationality conundrum. Meaningful engagement is built on trust. To date engagement with citizens abroad has taken place within the context of nationality requirements that create suspicion, criminalizes duality, and denies access to information that could help citizens abroad give their best advice or support. Visa applications and granting citizenship to disaporans is good but the continued obstruction, criminalization and vilification of Ghanaians with dual passports in high level decision-making calls into question government's commitment. Addressing the nationality conundrum will not only address this perception but also foster frank and meaningful conversation and yield beneficial outcomes. A template for doing so is the Black Stars approach where dual nationality does not criminalize or prevent talented players from contributing their quota to the national cause. As former minister, Elizabeth Ohene recently commented on BBC during the World Cup, when it comes to the national team nationality doesn't count. Given that the stakes are higher - possible economic collapse, a Black Stars approach may be more imperative.
Necessity they say, is the mother of invention. Ghana's current economic woes requires an all-hands-on-deck approach. Cognizant of this the government has begun reaching out to key stakeholders, including external and domestic debtors. As Ghana engages stakeholders on the way forward, one key constituency that seems missing from the equation is Ghanaian citizens abroad. The proposed Diaspora Engagement Policy currently being considered by Cabinet is a good step as it recognizes the skills, resources and talents that Ghanaians abroad have to offer. Timing and details of the policy remain sketchy but successful implementation will require changes in mindset and approach, as lack of permanent structures and nationality requirements continue to hamper meaningful engagement. This situation does not seem to affect invitation to national soccer teams, where citizens abroad despite their nationality are actively courted to play for the country. Given the enormity of the situation at hand, adopting a black stars approach to allow citizens to contribute irrespective of nationality will be a good step.
Source: , Ernest Opoku-Boateng, PhD, Executive Director, Institute for Environment and Social Innovation
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