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Opinions of Friday, 16 May 2008

Columnist: akokoraaba adansi pipim

Letter to The President: # 1

President Koehler's Speech in Hamburg: Harbinger of a Defining Hour from a Friend of Ghana's

Excellency,

This will mark the maiden piece in a communication series served in weekly briefs, each intended to bring a vital issue to His Excellency's attention.

Although it can be argued that The City of Hamburg has had a checkered past with the African continent, it is noteworthy that through the efforts of a great friend of Africa's (particualarly Ghana's), a lot has been happening in this city -or in Germany- of late, all directed at improving economic co-operation through trade and investment. This person is The Federal German President Dr. Horst Koelher.

On May 5 of the current year, President Koehler decorated Busumuru Kofi Annan, former UN Secretary-General, with the Grand Cross 1st class of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany. Later that day, a dinner was given in his (Kofi Anan's) honor at the official residence (Schloss Bellevue or Bellevue Castle) of President Koelher. Prior to that, The Federal President had delivered a longer speech in Hamburg on the occasion of a historic annual dinner. It was on February 15, to celebrate this year's Matthiae-Mahl (St. Matthew's Dinner, a feast held since the year 1356) before 428 guests, including dignitaries from politics, business, the media and civil society assembled in Hamburg's Town Hall. The title of the famous Hamburg speech that was so filled with seminal ideas ran thus: “An unbiased View of Africa”, and it is still accessible from the Federal President's website. A copy of the speech is attached herewith under kind permission of The Federal President's Speaker. A link is also provided to the website of The Federal Presidency (http://www.bundespraesident.de/en) where the texts are on display.

One does not need to be too close to President Koehler to know that he has a warm heart for Africa; and that it pays to take his (President Koehler's) word seriously. In the geography of this German's inner mind Ghana occupies a distinct place and it is by no accident that the country was chosen for the conference of “Partnership with Africa” (2007). As His Excellency's own guest -in January 2007- President Koehler danced to the tune of Highlife music, thus capturing the hearts and minds not only of Africans, but also Germans (who now befittingly award him an approval rating of a whopping 87%).

Revealing as the title might be, it also warrants detailed study; as befits a speech unparalleled in its balance of attention to objectivity, candor, goodwill and solidarity. Had the speech not originated from the man who as Managing Director of the IMF took a trip to Africa to gain a first-hand acquaintance with poverty, someone who sought to address the concerns of citizens from Cairo to Cape Town, one who has demonstrated faith in Africans and the continent; had the speech not been preceded by a conference on Africa (held on Jan 15 in Hamburg) during which the name 'Ghana' was mentioned over eighty (80) times; had the speech not recognized the genuine aspirations of the people of Africa striving for change; had it not bore the credulity of the sentiments of one who finds a 'lost' friend, it may have been possible to leave it to the archives.

At a time when His Excellency has successfully completed a term as AU Chairman; a time when His Excellency has returned from another great summit, namely the India-Africa event, it is only natural to assume that questions relating to possible paths for Africa's future are among those that occupy the mind

President Koehler's speech offers a hitherto rarely observed perspective on the continent. It is unique in several senses, and a parallel of dimensional magnitude could be drawn between it and the statement by former British Premier Tony Blair, in his address to the UK Labour Party in October 2001, that 'The state of Africa is a scar on the conscience of the World. But we could heal it'. Of course one cannot forget the words that set the tone some 48 years ago: "The wind of change is blowing through this [African] continent, and whether we like it or not, this growth of national consciousness is a political fact. We must all accept it as a fact, and our national policies must take account of it." They are from an address (in 1960) before the South African Parliament, by then British Premier Harold Macmillan, after his tour of Ghana, Nigeria and other British colonies. For never since that characterization has the continent's state been captured so vividly, so empathetically, and in such seminal an exposition by a living non-African statesman.

In reflecting over the timing and the appropriateness of the theme that laces President Koehler's landmark speech one cannot but hear echoes of the lyrics from the second stanza of the epic song “Wind of Change” of The German Rock Group SCORPIONS:

The world is closing in
Did you ever think
That we could be so close, like brothers
The future's in the air
I can feel it everywhere Blowing with the wind of change

From the lyrics of another famous song (“All die ganzen Jahre” or “All these whole years” by the rock group “Toten Hosen”. Author's translation.) the singer, seeking to be noticed by an old friend, laments:

You haven't yet recognized me
Although I stand before you
I want to talk to you
Yet somehow I cannot
I haven't seen you for long
I look into your face I seek an old friend

To all who had doubts whether President Koehler's brilliant speech was not just another “all talk but no action” his trips to Africa to forge better economic partnerships, the events following his speech, including the recent Europe-Africa Business Summit, the upcoming Ghana Business Day in Hamburg, all indicate otherwise; namely, that this true friend of Africa means business!

Certainly, a lot remains to be done, but the defining moment has been marked. The challenge is for all to give off their best so that this “love lost and found” works to the mutual benefit of the partners.

With warm greetings and best wishes from The Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg.

Sincerely,

akokoraaba adansi pipim



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