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Building Bridges Between Australia & Africa Address

07/06/2011

International Forum on Africa 

by Hon. Betty Mould-iddrisu, Minister for Education, Ghana;

Mr. Chairman, Honourable Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr. Kevin Rudd I bring you greetings from the people of Ghana. I am delighted to be invited to be part of this forum. I am additionally honoured to be associated with the University of Sydney in this way since the University has a rich history of providing “safe spaces” to hold fora to dilate on topical issues affecting Australia’s relations with the Africa continent. 

Why Build Bridges Between Africa & Australia?

The Hon. Kevin Rudd, in a speech at the University of Western Australia in 2010 on Australia’s foreign policy: “Looking West” answered this question by saying “We shall work with Africa to take advantage of the economic opportunity afforded by the continent’s slow but tangible move towards stability and prosperity. 

Political and economic changes have indeed produced impressive economic records. It has been estimated that Africa holds 40% of the world’s hydro-electric power supply potential, the bulk of the world’s diamonds and chromium, 30% of uranium, 50% of the world’s gold, 90% of its phosphates, 40% of its platinum, 7.5% of its coal, 8% of its known petroleum reserves, 12% of its natural gas, 3% of its iron ore, 64% of world’s manganese, 13% of its copper and much of its bauxite, nickel, and lead deposits. It abounds also in such strategic and rare minerals as cobalt, critical in the manufacturing of jet engines, rhodium, palladium, vanadium, and titanium. 

Africa supplies about 70% of the world’s cocoa, 60% of coffee, 50% of palm oil, 20% of the total petroleum traded in the world market (excluding the US and the former USSR). According to Ayittey, perhaps “no other continent is blessed with such abundance and diversity.” And yet Africa’s share of global trade is a mere 2%. 

Ghana’s trade relations with Australia currently rank it the 5th largest partner in sub Saharan Africa. This led 2 to the Australian Trade Commission opening an office in Accra in 2008. Ghana also intends to reciprocate this in the very near future. We must all acknowledge the great investments Australian businesses are making in Africa. Over 220 Australian resource companies have interests in over 42 African countries worth USD20 billion in actual and perspective investments. Mr. Chairman, the “downside” is that 200 of the 220 resource companies are in extractive mining. Minerals are non-renewable resources. This is a critical area where we do need to build bridges. I must also acknowledge Australia’s strategic support for agricultural development and improved food security as a means to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger in fulfillment of MDG1. 

Stories about Africa have always shown a continent embroiled in crises. The unending civil wars and the current wave of unrest in parts of Africa, especially North Africa (and parts of the Middle East) are indicative of the fact that Africa has real problems to contend with. In any case, the crises in Africa must be seen in the broader context of the democratic deficit. Democracy in Africa has a tendency to hiccup because the socio-historical and cultural specificities of the continent led to weak governance system for many years. Contemporary African states are poorly functioning hybrids of indigenous cultures and customs mixed with Arab and European models of governance that arrived with invasions, colonialism, migration, and globalization. 

President Obama paid a historic visit to Ghana in 2009 and restated that Africa needs to strengthen its institutions of governance in order to enable the Continent withstand the unfortunate attempts by some “rogue” leaders at self perpetration. Australia can play a very meaningful role by understanding this picture of Africa in order to ensure the important creative “middle-power diplomacy” is formed and we sweep away the traditional way of looking at Africa, and help Africa re- 3 discover itself. The paradigm shift has contributed to the increasing global interest in Africa which is rapidly growing. AUSTRALIA-AFRICA RELATIONS Australia comes as a partner determined to engage the world in a different way. Former Prime Minister, Mr. Kevin Rudd in 2007, on assumption of office acknowledged ‘that Australia’s voice has been too quiet for too long across the various councils of the world’ and that Australia needed ‘an increasingly activist Australian international policy in areas where we believe we may be able to make a positive difference.’ He also reiterated the fact that ‘the Australian government would be committed to the principle of creative middle power diplomacy as the means of enhancing Australia’s national interests. Australia now has diplomatic relation with 52 of the 53 African countries. Australia offers focused aid to Africa directed at education, maternal and child health, water and sanitation, and agriculture and food security. GHANA-AUSTRALIA RELATIONS Australia, as a Commonwealth country, shares a similar history, language and institutions with Ghana. Unfortunately, Ghana does not however share Australians passion for the game of cricket. Ghana was the first country in subSaharan Africa to gain independence from colonial rule in 1957. Australia was one of the first countries to recognize an independent Ghana and maintained a High Commission in Accra from 1957 until 1985 when there was a break. But diplomatic relationship was restored in 2004. Australia and Ghana enjoy positive relations, mainly based on solid commercial links and like-minded views on many international issues. Australia and Ghana have a history of constructive cooperation in international bodies and organizations, especially the Commonwealth. Ghana is one of Africa’s most active and respected members of the Commonwealth and chaired the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group 4 (CIMAG) in 2010. Indeed, Australia is hosting both the Commonwealth Law Ministers Meeting and the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting later this year in Sydney and Perth respectively. Mr. Chairman, I am glad to affirm that relationship between Australia and Ghana is growing at every level. And we see an ever growing presence in Ghana of Australia’s minerals and petroleum resources industry. Australian companies manage an estimated 25 per cent of Ghana’s gold production with Australian investment in the sector totaling about $1 billion. Ghana is also an expanding market for Australian dairy and meat exports as well as education, engineering and minerals technology services. Australia’s relationship with Ghana is further strengthened by the presence of at least a 6,000-strong Ghanaian community in Australia. Beyond these, Australia also gives out a number of scholarships every year for Ghanaian students as well as technical assistance for, and fellowships in, the minerals industry. Australia also supports the Kofi Annan International PeaceKeeping Training Centre (KAIPTC), based in Accra. Indeed, the continued Australian diplomatic presence in Ghana reflects not only Australia’s growing interest in Ghana, but also her willingness for constructive engagement with Africa, including the encouragement of good governance and cooperation on international security. It is also a positive approval and recognition of Ghana’s achievements over the last two decades in democratization, economic reform, and support for peace, especially across the West African region and Africa in general. In June 2010, Ghana’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Alhaji Muhammad Mumuni, on a visit to Australia, engaged the Hon. Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr. Stephen Smith, on a range of areas of cooperation not only with Ghana, but also with the entire African continent. These included enhancing the role of the 5 Commonwealth, respecting and protecting democracy, respecting and protecting human rights, peace and security, peacekeeping and peace building. They also include Australia opening an embassy in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to be accredited to not just Ethiopia but to the African Union. To enhance Australia’s engagement on the peacekeeping and peace building front, a military attaché will be placed at the said embassy, whose duty would be to build peace and security relationships with the African Union and also with the regional peacekeeping groups and missions within Africa itself. It is clear from these that Australia has the conviction that her engagement and relationship both with the continent and Africa needs to be substantially strengthened. These are indicative of the fact that Australia has not only understood the African “problematique” but has also already started the constructive creative middle power diplomacy, which to all intent and purposes, seems to be the way forward. Ghana has an international reputation of academic excellence and exporting its intellect internationally - we have one of the best known faces globally as one of our best ambassadors - H.E. Kofi Annan, former UN Secretary-General, Ghana also boasts of UN Under Secretary-Generals, Eminent Ghanaian women who are on the African Union Council of the Wise amongst many other internationally recognized personalities. Turning to Ghanaians in Australia we have a vibrant Ghanaian community here and several Ghanaian/Australian experts at the apex of public life in Australia - Professor Martin Tsamenyi, Director of the Australian Institute for Ocean Resource and Security is a global expert in his specialist area. Incidentally, Africa has a very poor track record of maritime delimitation which could crate undesirable flash points of insecurity on the continent. I would use this opportunity to request Australia with its vast expertise in maritime and oceanic law to assist Africa build its capacity in maritime security. 6 Human resource capacity is still critically lacking on the continent. We need the capacity to enable out next generation of leaders develop the skills they need to provide answers to Africa’s endemic, persistent problems of poverty, illiteracy and disease. I understand that we also have several postgraduate students specializing in various disciplines here in various Australian universities and institutions of higher learning. This rich grounding by Ghanaians and Africans in your Institutes of higher learning will encourage a cross fertilization of ideas and provide a deepening of cultures to enable a more symbiotic relationship to flourish between Africa, Ghana and Australia. In Ghana we also benefit from Australian assistance in the Education for All Fast Track Initiative which is the global partnership to assist low income countries to meet the MDG on basic education. I am happy to announce that Ghana is on track to meet MDG 2 in 2015 even though sadly we are one of the few African countries expected to do so.

Mr. Chairman, I am the last to pretend that all is well with our educational system. At the basic level we do have gender disparities and high teenage dropout rates after junior high school and low enrolment in senior high schools. We will welcome efforts to improve teaching and learning at all levels. We are equally open to learning from the experience on complementary modes of delivering tertiary education to meet the rising demand for tertiary education, promoting Science and Technical Education at all levels, and finally how we can further strengthen the linkages between Tertiary Education and Industry to solve graduate unemployment. I believe that there does exist opportunities for academic linkages between our higher education institutions and these should be further explored. In order to build effective bridges there must be real commitment to effect a partnership, this should be a co equal partnership based on respect and trust. No longer will Africa blindly follow the agenda of development partner and global 7 NGO’s; respect and trust must be mutual and so a realignment of some of the current priorities of Australian assistance, especially Australia’s capacity building programme needs a relook. I would use this opportunity to call on Australia to look at allocating more resources to deepen both access and the quality of basic education on the continent. Australia’s objective to help build human resource capacity in Africa would be better manifested by this additional focus. CONCLUSION Ladies and Gentlemen, I have talked about Africa’s problems. I have talked about the potential of Africa as the hope for the future. I have talked about the progress Africa has made. I have acknowledged Australia’s contribution to Africa’s development. I say that there are more ways in which Africa and Australia can collaborate for our mutual benefit. Mr. Chairman, distinguished audience, I invite you to share the view with me that Australia sees a prosperous future for Africa and with Africa. Africa is confident about its prospects. Together, we can provide a brighter agenda and create a single bridge to connect our continents to share prosperity in the very near future. 

Thank you.