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Opinions of Monday, 7 September 2009

Columnist: Alifo, Noble Mawutor Kudzo

Tourism -The Role of the Military

Variety is the spice of life. This is why millions of people with varying backgrounds travel far and wide from their homes to other “Lands” to see places, people and events of interest in order to have a better understanding of life as it exists outside their own communities. These outings help in broadening the scope of human thought because they sometime correct absurd and erroneous perceptions about hitherto “strange” people, places and cultures.

Like the other aspects of national life, a lot of great changes have taken place in the tourism sector over the past decades. Ghana, today, is at the threshold of unveiling an integrated and innovative tourism development policy. The passage of the much-expected Tourism Bill will in the long run give a boost to what has been achieved so far.

The tilt of emphasis in Ghana’s foreign policy from political diplomacy towards economic diplomacy enjoins all individuals, institutions and agencies to adapt to the changing trends in order to ensure that there is complete and sustainable acceleration of attracting maximum benefits for the nation through trade, investment and tourism in the world economy.

Ghana must fire on all cylinders in the quest of becoming a middle-income country by 2020. One institution Ghana can count on is her Armed Forces. It is unambiguously plausible to state that the Ghana Armed Forces have indispensable potentialities in boosting Ghana’s domestic and international tourism drive.

Our Armed Forces have, over the years, excellently performed their fundamental role of protecting Ghana’s territorial integrity. Tourism flourishes best in peace and tranquillity. Potential tourists would first want to visit sites in countries that they consider safe. We have enjoyed relative peace and stable democracy for sometime with the help of our troops and other security agencies.

The military institution must continue to exercise its constitutional obligation of assisting the police in maintaining law and order in all parts of the country. This they can achieve by putting their peacekeeping, peacemaking and peace-enforcement skills acquired from foreign lands at the disposal of the motherland by intervening, where and when necessary, in ethnic, chieftaincy, religious, and political disputes which have the potential of disturbing the national peace.

Public safety is also a paramount aspect of tourism. The military ought to continue its partnership exercises with the police in mopping up all pockets of crime and trouble spots in the Ghanaian society. We cannot talk of tourism if there is no enabling environment because tourism is for recreation and adventure. That is why certain elements in our country must not be allowed to transform tourism into “misadventures” for potential local and foreign tourists.

The military used to be a “closed system” that was not accessible to the public. The time has come for our forces to be involved in all inter-sectoral linkages in the nation building process. For example, the Ministry of Roads and Transport must constantly and readily evolve a working relationship with the Field Engineers Regiment in constructing bridges and roads to inaccessible tourist sites in the countryside in order to facilitate the easy patronage of tourist attractions by interested people.

A major headache plaguing the tourism sector is how to protect our cultural, historical and natural heritage. We cannot ignore the military in finding solutions to this aspect of promoting tourism. How can we protect our nature parks and wildlife reserves from the ravages of squatters, trespassers, poachers and encroachers?

This is the opportune time for the Ministry of Tourism, Department of Game and Wildlife and Ministry of Lands and Forestry to work together with the Ministry of Defence to find solutions to all problems connected with some of our game and forest resource reserves. For example, an amicable ejection and resettlement of all squatters in the Kalakpa Resource Reserve in the Volta Region is yet to be found. An unusually rich reserve like this and others in similar circumstances will remain untapped if nothing is done now.

Eco-tourism, against this grim backdrop, might not bloom if we are unable to engage the appropriate military-cum-police presence in the operations of the numerous task forces meant to protect our economic plants, trees, and the endangered wild animals against the insatiable teeth of the encroacher and the poacher.

The Ghana Armed Forces have very laudable civic action programmes, which we must appreciate. All Ghanaians have a lot to learn from their military counterparts in terms of general CLEANLINESS. Our soldiers have extended their clean-up exercises outside the barracks by clearing choked gutters and rubbish littered streets. By so doing, they have demonstrated over the years that Ghanaians, by nature, abhor dirt.

We have to keep our environment clean. It would be a blot on our image to expect tourists to visit sites such as faeces-littered beaches.

Other security agencies and civil and social groups must emulate the shinning example of our military compatriots in keeping the environment clean. All these would, in no small way, transform the country into a clean society that would attract tourists from near and afar into our country.

There is no belabouring the fact that Ghana has an excellent track record in peacekeeping and peacemaking. We also have a rich military history from pre-colonial days through the colonial era up to date. The single military museum in Kumasi ought to be upgraded to reflect all aspects of the contributions of our Armed Forces to both national and world peace and security. This edifice of our military history will attract and also serve as the first point of call for all tourists who would want to see, at first glance, the gallantry of our officers and men of the Armed Forces over the years, not only in Africa but also around the world from the “Burma days” to the “Congo days” etc.

How many tourists visit Africa each year? What percentage of these visit Ghana? Why are other countries on the continent and elsewhere attracting more tourists than Ghana? How best can we increase the numbers of attracting more tourists into this country?

Admittedly, the world is steadily acknowledging our unique qualities, resources and incredible advancements in all spheres of life. Our rate of success in making tourism our biggest “industry” will be faster if collectively, we can allow and assist our Armed Forces to expand the existing scope of their functions and operations. This is because the military institution is a dynamic one. A bit of elaboration here is necessary: A careful and serious roping in of the military will significantly change our tourism fortunes by making Ghana a teeming tourist zone on the world’s tourism map.

The military all over the world, today, is an elegant institution of high calibre professionals from all disciplines of human endeavours. Ghanaian soldiers are no exception. They are as refined as the best in academia, commerce, industry etc. This is why we have to harness their potentials in national development by assigning them with extra specific roles and responsibilities which do not have to be purely military in nature.

At every point in time, no less than two (2) battalions of our soldiers are outside the country either on course, peacekeeping operations or observer mission. This means that no less than one thousand five hundred of the officers and men, in each year, interact with peoples of varying backgrounds all over the world.

Nothing prevents the appropriate state agencies and ministries such as Ghana Investment Promotion Council, Free Zones Board, Ministries of Trade and Industry, Tourism and Foreign Affairs from organizing orientation seminars, in the professional vein, for soldiers so that when they move out of the country, they can promote business tourism and investment by enticing more potential tourists and foreign businessmen to visit Ghana.

The state agencies and ministries thus mentioned, among others, must redefine their strategies on how best to involve the military in achieving their sectoral goals and objectives especially outside the country. Through proper planning and orientation, our soldiers will be viable agents of reaching out to people in the outside world with the “tourism gospels” such as brochures, journals, pamphlets and video clips on Ghana’s vast tourism resources and facilities and others covering all aspects of Ghana’s national life.

This exercise would pluck additional economic gains for Ghana if our soldiers can spend some hours of their hectic military schedules on delivering lectures and down-to-earth presentations about Ghana to their foreign counterparts.

Perhaps an example of the under-utilization of our troops in the promotion of Ghana’s economic interests outside the country is the opinion that they have been in Lebanon for almost thirty (30) years now but there has not been any meaningful national policy to link Ghana with the business communities in Lebanon and neighbouring Israel with the military serving as conduit. The exposure will also be beneficial to the soldiers after the expiration of their active service years. Through this, they will make friends with foreign business leaders leading to the establishment of business contacts and partnerships between our retired soldiers and successful businessmen from elsewhere.

Some of the Asian Tigers such as Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia did engage their military personnel in promoting investment and tourism. Their soldiers were tasked to distribute in offices, hotels, universities etc. brochures, journals about their countries during external operations. Is this a reason why some Western businessmen are more interested in investing in the Asian region?

Our private and government tourism consultants should not hesitate in engaging them in brainstorming sessions and round table talks. Our soldiers have a lot of knowledge to impart from what they have seen and experienced about the success stories of tourism in countries such as Israel, Lebanon, Cambodia, China, Canada, Pakistan, England, U.S., Egypt etc.

The entire body politic of Ghana, at present, is preoccupied with sustaining economic growth for better living conditions for all Ghanaians. The military institution therefore ought to move with the changing economic trends by evolving, from within, a mechanism of absorbing other roles and responsibilities which will eventually push Ghana into greater economic commanding heights.

Ghana’s tourism development policy must succeed at all cost. Boosting tourism is a national collective effort which must take stock of each and everyone’s quota. Let’s all (military and civilian) get involved in making our tourism goals and plans tick for a better Ghana.

By: Noble Mawutor Alifo

mawutork@hotmail.com