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Diasporian News of Monday, 1 August 2005

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Speech Of Ambassador Poku At GhanaFest'05


Hon. Mayor of Chicago, President of the Ghana National Council, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen. Permit me first of all to express my gratitude and appreciation for the invitation extended to me to be the Guest of Honour at this year?s Annual Chicago GHANAFEST. I must say how delighted I am to be back in Chicago five months after I stopped over here on my way to Springfield, where I addressed the Illinois House of Representatives on the occasion of the Black History Month. I am really pleased to be back and to be able to renew my acquaintances and working relations with the authorities in Chicago as well as make new friends.

2. I wish also to take this opportunity to congratulate the Ghana National Council and its affiliates, made up of traditional and social organizations, for their tenacity of purpose in making the GHANAFEST a yearly celebration to promote Ghanaian culture and foster relations between Ghanaians and the American people. I am informed that GHANAFEST, Chicago, is the largest African Cultural Exposition outside the shores of Africa and provides the opportunity to enact cultural performances, showcase a parade of traditional queens and chiefs in their royal regalia, and sample Ghanaian culinary delights as well as African arts and crafts.

3. GHANAFEST, I believe, takes its cue from the Pan African Historical Theatre Festival (PANAFEST) which is celebrated each year in Ghana. Indeed this year, the organizers of PANAFEST, on the 1st August, will be celebrating not only PANAFEST, but also Emancipation Day in order to honour African heroes who played a pivotal role in the abolition of slavery and the emancipation of Africans in the diaspora.

It gives me therefore a special pleasure and honour to be able to address the many Ghanaians and peoples of African descent as well as all peoples who have the interest of Ghana and Africa at heart.

4. On the occasion of this celebration, I hope that in the midst of festivities and dancing and merry making, we would not lose sight of the true meaning of culture and its importance in national development and international relations. To begin with, culture has identifiable attributes : among them, knowledge and interest in the arts, literature and music. It indeed points to a whole way of life of a people including their customs, laws, conventions and values. It should therefore not be surprising that in our country Ghana, ethnicity, in a sense, defines the Ghanaian culture which is a complex whole including beliefs, arts, morals, customs and habits, not to mention skills in domestic and public life in times of peace or war, as well as religion and science. The composition of the Ghana National Council in Chicago itself is a testimony to this very fact, as it is made up of eleven different ethnic and social organizations.

5. However, this diversity cannot be allowed to be a divisive force, since in spite of the various distinct cultures in Ghana, we as a people have evolved as one nation and country.. Needless to say, cultures do evolve and develop and are therefore not static. It is in this sense that the Ghanaian culture needs to be nurtured, grown and adapted to the modern world. The concept of culture cannot therefore be separated from history. Thus through our evolving culture, we have developed different languages, marriage laws, economic relations, art, science, religion and even food varieties. The diversity of the performances, the dances, the regalia, sartorial appearances of chiefs and the various traditional foods, arts and crafts that the GHANAFEST is showcasing, is a case in point.

6. This is why I particularly consider this year?s GHANAFEST theme, PASSING ON OUR CULTURE TO THE YOUTH, very apt and appropriate. We should encourage our young ones to study not only our history but also instruct their total immersion in our culture. For a people, without knowledge and culture, are without a soul, and will perish for lack of vision. ?./3 - 3 - It is in this context that the government of Ghana has readily, through the Ministry of Tourism, supported the celebration of PANAFEST, with a view to bringing the hearts and minds of people?s of African descent back to their roots in Ghana and Africa. To this end, the Ministry of Tourism has recently embarked on an initiative, called The Joseph Project, which is an open invitation to Ghanaians and all peoples of African descent in the diaspora to visit Ghana to reconnect with the land of their ancestors.

7. Ghana is particularly well positioned, in this regard, in terms of cultural and historical symbols which bind Ghanaians and peoples of African descent in the diaspora together. Ghana has no less than 40 forts and castles which remain today as relics of the infamous slave trade. Beyond that, the pioneering role of Ghana in the struggle against colonialism and in the Pan-African movement, coupled with its success as the first country south of the Sahara to achieve independence, makes our country one of destiny. This appears to have been well understood and appreciated by the diaspora, especially African-Americans. In fact, physically present in Ghana on that auspicious day, 6th March, 1957 to witness and salute the achievement of Ghana?s independence, were some of the leading members of the civil rights movement in the United States. Among them were : Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Adam Powell, Ralph Bunche, Charles Diggs, Mordecai Johnson, Philip Randolph and Horace Bond, to name a few.

8. But the celebration of the Ghanaian culture or cultures in general should not lead to what may be described as a clash of cultures in the world. For in the same way as the ethnic entities in our country have variations of their own culture, but do maintain a certain unity in diversity, cultures of the world should complement each other in our global village where we are all neighbours. It is therefore important that we do not regard the celebration of GHANAFEST as an end in itself. It should be the opportunity to use our culture to create an understanding and appreciation of our hosts in the United States.

9. It is my submission therefore that the celebration of GHANAFEST should be the occasion not only to remind ourselves of our historical past and common heritage with peoples of colour in the diaspora, but also to serve as a platform for the promotion of tourism, investment, trade and African advocacy. GHANAFEST?s outreach should thus not be confined to Ghanaians or people of African descent only, but also extended to all members and citizens of the United States so as to engage them in the positive enterprise of enabling not only Ghana, but also Africans in general, to claim its rightful place in the 21st century.

10. GHANAFEST should be seen as part of the tools that Ghana needs to brand itself and create positive images and messages in the minds and hearts of the people of the United States. In so doing, GHANAFEST should be a positive influence in changing the negative perceptions that are held by many out of prejudice and ignorance. For as I had the occasion to state in my address to the Illinois House of Representatives on the occasion of Black History Month a few months ago, ignorance of our history does not negate its existence. Our culture is vibrant and dynamic, and must be part of the process of branding a new Ghana. 11. I would therefore urge all peoples of African descent and Ghanaians in particular, through their conduct and interaction, to conduct themselves as ?true Ambassadors? and earn the respect of their communities. Reputation cannot be constructed, it can only be earned. I would further appeal to all Ghanaians, irrespective of their ethnic or religious background as well as their political persuasions and leanings, to desist from posting on the world wide web, which has a very far and wide reach negative images about our dear country Ghana. It is self denigrating and unpatriotic for any true Ghanaian to serve as a nattering agent of negativism, obstruction and destruction in the process of our national renaissance.

12. Indeed, the current dispensation, as we have, is the best Ghana has had for several decades. Through good governance, the Government of Ghana under the leadership of H.E. Mr. John Agyekum Kufuor, has not only earned an enviable reputation for ruling justly, investing in their people, but also empowering the citizens of Ghana. It is these credentials which earned Ghana eligibility, two years in succession, in the highly competitive processes for selection as worthy of the funds of the Millennium Challenge Account, established by the United States. Ghana?s good governance has also stood it in good stead to qualify to export numerous items to the United States duty free and quota free, under the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), promulgated by the U.S. Administration. Ghana is also the first country, with pride, confidence and boldness, to submit itself for scrutiny under the African Peer Review Mechanism, established under the New Partnership for Africa?s Development (NEPAD). These credentials, I am convinced, played no mean role in encouraging the G-8 to cancel Ghana?s multilateral debts to the World Bank, the IMF and the African Development Bank.

13. With a macro-economic stability never seen since the independence of our country, and boasting one of the highest credit ratings in Africa, Ghana has increased its productive capacities in gold and cocoa as well as non-traditional commodities. These developments have widely earned the confidence of Ghanaians in the diaspora whose remittances to their relations and for the benefit of their own investments in the country, are at an all time record high. It is therefore incumbent upon all Ghanaians in the diaspora to continue to support the government toward the branding of a new Ghana. Already labouring and suffering under the omnibus negative references to Africa and peoples of African descent, Ghanaians by what they wear, say and do, should not only raise a smile but create positive and lasting images in the minds of the International Community.

14. It is on this note that I wish to encourage the organizers of the GHANAFEST to be innovative and use its annual celebrations to break new grounds for international relations. For eventually, it will be on the basis of this as a foundation that all strategies for the promotion of the Ghanaian personality, culture, tourism, trade and investment can be built and enhanced. The positive vibrations engendered in the hearts of the world community, though such endeavours, I am confident, will prove more rewarding and productive for all Ghanaians.

15. I thank you for