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Opinions of Thursday, 7 February 2013

Columnist: Adoli, Kofi

Hannah Tetteh Must Get Into The Trenches

For Ghana's Private Sector: Hannah Tetteh Must Get Into The Trenches Like Hillary Clinton.

This week, Hilary Rodham Clinton would step down as the Secretary of State of the United States. Her tenure, during which she chalked 112 foreign travels, was successful, not only on the front of political diplomacy but also in the area of commercial diplomacy. This has earned her the moniker, 'Secretary of Commerce'. In 2012, when the hopes of Westinghouse Electric to win a $10 billion nuclear power contract bidding war with a Russian Energy giant in the Czech republic appeared slim, it was a visit by Hilary Clinton, that gave Westinghouse a life-line.

She was on a tight schedule to a NATO meeting on Afghanistan and Syria. But she squeezed that visit into it. Westinghouse is now considered the frontrunner in that bid against its Russian competitor, MIR.1200. An elated CEO of Westinghouse said "I was proud was proud that she was in the trenches with me."

In 2009 Mrs Clinton persuaded the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russian Technologies for the latter to buy 50 Boeing 737s instead of Airbus jets, in a $4billion deal. At a meeting with her Japanese Counterpart at the UN General Assembly in 2011, Clinton advocated for Lockheed Martin, a US aerospace and defence giant, to win a $7billion contract to upgrade Japan's ageing fighters.

As soon as sanctions against Aung San Suu Kyi's Myanmar was lifted, Clinton sniffed an opportunity for American businesses. She delegated her under secretary Robert Hormats to that country under the headline of supporting and encouraging democratic reforms. But crucially Mr Hormats entourage included executives of Google, Mastercard and Dow Chemical who, according to the Bloomberg Businessweek, were there to explore and network for investment opportunities.

Clinton's tenure is not the only example of how the face of international diplomacy has become more commercial. In August last year, the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel engaged in her sixth visit to China. On that trip, 20 top German business executives from Siemens, Volkswagen and EADS were in her entourage. Trade between Germany and China is expected to increase from $180 billion in 2011 to $280 billion in 2015.

As Mrs Clinton bids her goodbye to the world of international diplomacy, an illustrious daughter of Ghana, Ms Hannah Tetteh, is being ushered in by the government of Ghana. There is no doubt that several approaches are available to Ms Hannah Tetteh, by which she can take our foreign policy forward. But diplomacy is of no use if it brings little or no positive benefits domestically. It is in this light that the commercial approach of Mrs Clinton becomes relevant and is worth emulating by Ghana's new Foreign Minister. This approach will also fit well into the President's goal of making his government a true ally of the private sector.

From the perspective of a developing African country, Ghana is faced with a global scene where commercial actors have become as important as state representatives. Predominantly, western states are increasingly interested in the success of their corporate citizens abroad in more aggressive ways than before. Such increasing levels of interest and support, coupled with improved technology in oil-prospecting, democratic reforms and more attractive investment environments, have resulted in significant oil discoveries on our continent. The trend is expected to continue for a while. A recent announcement by Tullow Oil Plc to up its capital expenditure in Africa to $2 billion this year ($1.9bn last year) is indicative of the upbeat mood in the investor world towards petroleum Africa.

Consequently, foreign direct investment, more than ever before, is having a significant impact on Africa's collective wealth as evident in eye-catching Gross Domestic Products in recent years.

But this situation presents Ghana, for example, with a challenging skew of activity in the oil sector at the expense of other sectors, such as manufacturing. There is an inequity in the structure of both our national wealth and its growth due to a disproportionate inflow of investment into the oil sector. It is mainly a challenge to diversify our economy away from our likely over-dependency on the oil wealth. A situation often referred to as the Dutch disease. Ghana's manufacturing base therefore needs to grow and urgently so. And since manufacturers cannot sustainably operate without reliable markets, our foreign ministry must add to its portfolio Clinton's 'smart' commercial diplomacy so as to open new markets and enhance existing ones for Ghanaian businesses.

Our foreign ministry must begin to apprise itself of the urgency of our situation and position itself to help nurture a vibrant manufacturing sector by leveraging our trade opportunities on its engagements with the international community. It must, together with Ghana's private sector, become the international market pathfinder.

Having been the recent trade minister, Ms Tetteh would have brought to her new position firsthand knowledge of the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats facing Ghanaian businesses in external markets. In that light, she is expected to hit the ground sprinting for Corporate Ghana in the international arena.

Indeed the practice of including business movers and shakers in diplomatic trips is not new. But it is the audacity with which the aforementioned actors engage in it that is worth our attention as a country.

For, if Ghana is to catch up with the rest of the world in advancing the economic conditions of its people, the frontiers of our economic activities must be enhanced by as many players as we can muster. Our foreign ministry must be one of such frontiers.

This is an opportune time for Ghana to rise to the occasion. The appointment of Ms Hannah Tetteh could not have been more timely. Over to you, comrade.

Kofi Adoli. London, UK.