For the first time in 60 years, Switzerland has organised a state visit for a leader from Sub-Saharan Africa – Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo. Two Ghanaian journalists give their insights into his visit.
Unlike other western countries, Switzerland and Ghana do not share a long history, explains Isaac Kaledzi, a journalist with Deutsche Welleexternal link. Switzerland’s influence in the west African country has been religious, he adds. From 1815 onwards, Christian missionaries from the Basel region travelled to Ghana to win converts. They translated the Bible into local languages and founded schools, hospitals and businesses.
For the Ghanaian people, Akufo-Addo’s visit to Switzerland is just “one of many” foreign trips, explains Kaledzi, adding that many locals are probably not aware that the president is in Switzerland. They have other things to worry about such as “how to find their next meal”, he says.
The state visit will therefore probably not make the main news headlines in Ghana. But Salifu Abdul-Rahman, senior assistant editor of the Ghanaian Timesexternal link newspaper, believes the local press will not just ignore the visit; several journalists from Ghana are accompanying the president.
Ghana is a priority countryexternal link for Switzerland’s economic cooperation and development programmes implemented by the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO).
From 2017 to 2020, a total of some CHF75 million (around $77.6 million) is earmarked for SECO’s economic development cooperation with Ghana.
Ghana is Switzerland’s main supplier of cocoa beans and among its top ten gold suppliers.
The talks in Bern on Friday will focus on economic relations and the possibility of closer cooperation on environmental matters, such as climate protection and the disposal of hazardous waste. They will also address cooperation in the field of peace and security policy.end of infobox
Cocoa and gold
But his visit is unlikely to make a huge splash in Switzerland, either. Talks in Switzerland are due to focus onexternal link “economic relations and the possibility of closer cooperation on environmental matters, such as climate protection and the disposal of hazardous waste”, according to a Swiss government statement on February 17.
In particular they are likely to discuss Ghana’s main exports to Switzerland: gold and cocoa. Ghana is Switzerland’s second biggest African trading partner, after South Africa.
Ghana is therefore hoping that this visit will help intensify trade with Switzerland, said Abdul-Rahman. He recalled that former Swiss President Doris Leuthard carried out an official visit to Ghana in 2017 and the same year Akufo-Addo met Swiss Economics Minister Johann Schneider-Ammann at the Africa CEO Forum in Geneva. These contacts “lay the foundations for deeper economic cooperation”, said Abdul-Rahman.
Search for investors
The visit by Ghana’s head of state could be important for the West African state if it leads to specific contracts signed with Swiss firms and investment in Ghana, said the Deutsche Welle correspondent.
The government could then step up its national industrialisation programme but in the short term the state visit “won’t offer much to ordinary Ghanaians,” he added.
And how about Switzerland’s image among people in Ghana? Abdul-Rahman said that in general Swiss products go down well with people in Ghana, who associate the small Alpine nation with things like watches and “fantastic jewels”. Kaledzi said tennis star Roger Federer and the FIFA headquarters in Zurich also sprung to mind. But many Ghanaians also mention secret Swiss bank accounts, possibly opened by Ghanaian politicians with state funds, he added.
Friday’s visit to Bern by Ghana President Nana Akufo-Addoexternal link is only the third state visit by a head of state from Sub-Saharan Africa.
According to the government’s new foreign policy strategyexternal link, Switzerland hopes to become “more active” in Sub-Saharan Africa and to “help the region meet the challenges ahead in a spirit of partnership".
In 1954, Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie was invited on a state visit to Switzerland, followed two years later by Liberian President William Tubman. A total of 73 heads of state have made state visits to Switzerland over the past 60 years. On 25 occasions, the hosts came from one of Switzerland’s five neighbours in Europe. A total of 48 state visits to Bern have been made by leaders from 19 European countries.
(Sources: FDFA list of state visits 1990-2019 in German / FDFA list of state and official visits to Switzerland 1873-1990external link)end of infobox
(Translated from French by Simon Bradley)