Proposal: Reinstatement of Cultural Attaches at Ghana’s Foreign Missions

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Ghana’s Cultural Diplomacy Initiative: Elevating National Discourse on Cultural Development and Diplomacy

The absence of Cultural Attaches at Ghana’s missions abroad has been a significant loss for the country’s cultural exports. To further enhance Ghana’s rich arts and culture globally, it is imperative to reintroduce Cultural Attaches. These individuals can champion cultural diplomacy, provide strategic advice, and support the promotion of Ghana’s cultural heritage on the international stage.

In light of successful initiatives like “The Year of Return,” which attracted thousands of African-Americans to Ghana and bolstered tourism and cultural exchange, the reinstatement of Cultural Attaches would sustain and solidify Ghana’s position as a leader in connecting Africa to the diaspora. By leveraging cultural diplomacy, Ghana can foster mutual understanding, promote investment, and strengthen relationships with the African diaspora.

Historically, Cultural Attaches played a crucial role in shaping cultural diplomacy decisions and promoting Ghana’s cultural identity abroad. With the evolving landscape of cultural diplomacy emphasizing long-term cooperation and shared values, the presence of Cultural Attaches is more vital than ever. These individuals can facilitate cultural exchanges, support social cohesion, and enhance Ghana’s cultural assets on the global stage.

In today’s interconnected world, where cultural diversity is valued, cultural diplomacy efforts can serve as a powerful tool for promoting dialogue, enhancing social inclusion, and boosting economic growth through the creative industries. By reinstating Cultural Attaches at Ghana’s foreign missions, the country can capitalize on its cultural heritage, strengthen international ties, and showcase its unique identity to the world.

At the beginning of 2019, the Ghana Tourism Authority (G.T.A.) predicted that the ‘Year of Return’ would attract an extra 500,000 visitors. Official data from January to September 2019 showed an extra 237,000 visitors, marking a 45% increase from the same period in 2019. Up to 1.5 million tourists, including celebrities, politicians and world leaders, were expected in the country by the end of 2021 with up to 1.9 billion dollars also expected to be accrued in revenue as a result of the Year of Return activities. About 1,500 Black Americans have relocated to Ghana since 2019 in response to the government’s “Year of Return” initiative, urging the African diaspora to return to Africa, amid ongoing struggles with racism and police brutality in the US.
The objectives thereof were;
1. To make Ghana a key travel destination for African Americans and the rest of the African diaspora.
2. To rebuild the lost past of these 400 years.
3. To promote investment in Ghana and foster relationships with African Americans and the African diaspora.

Looking beyond the Year of Return, Ghana must sustain its progress and strengthen ties. Reinstating Cultural Attaches at Ghana’s foreign missions can greatly aid in championing the sustenance of the Year of Return. This move when carefully and strategically executed, would support Ghana’s position as a leader in uniting Africa with the diaspora in fields such as Tourism, Arts, and Culture.

Beyond the Year of Return: Ghana must sustain the gains and forge closer ties
There are certain policies and areas of a nation’s life that can stand the test of time and the test of political change. And this whole idea of the Year of Return cannot be made to appear like it has a political flavor. It does not. Because the people we are attracting do not have any significant investment in Ghanaian politics per say. Therefore, the Year of Return ought to be looked at in terms of a national product that we are selling for which time and political view or philosophy should have very little impact. We ought to see it as bringing Ghana to the world marketplace, a nation’s effort to tap into a diaspora population that is reasonably prosperous and for whom at least emotionally and historically, they could see themselves as having a good reason to invest in Ghana.

Re-instate Cultural Attaches at Ghana missions abroad
A golden opportunity has been presented to us as a nation, to sustain this monumental initiative and underpin the fact that indeed, Ghana is the leader in connecting Africa to the diaspora in areas of Tourism, Arts and Culture. I believe one of the basic and most effective tools to deploy in sustaining this initiative is to elevate national discourse in the reinstatement of Cultural Attaches at our Missions abroad.

Information gathered from revered cultural advocates in Ghana indicates that in the late 80’s to 90’s, the Information Services Department under Ministry of Information (MoI), had desks within our missions abroad, whose mandate included gathering information on culture and advise the bureaus in charge, to make cultural diplomacy decisions for our country. Clearly, the core cultural and arts mandate was somewhat nonexistent.

Today, new models of cultural diplomacy are emerging that are mutually beneficial for the countries involved and build on culture as a resource for social cohesion and dialogue. Traditionally about winning “hearts and minds” for strategic purposes – or even, sometimes, instrumentalised for divisive purposes – contemporary cultural diplomacy can be seen as more about long term cooperation and sharing values. Whether it be enabling the mobility of artists to promote cultural diversity, lending museums pieces to build a shared understanding of the past, pooling expertise to boost the capacity of the creative industries or launching languages programs, cultural diplomacy initiatives have multiple benefits for fostering global citizenship. Furthermore, facing the homogenization of a globalized culture, cultural diplomacy can also serve as a way of enhancing a country’s national and local cultural assets and so promote cultural diversity. Valuing cultural diversity, in turn, enhances social inclusion and well-being through the arts and creativity, as well as cultural heritage, leading to enhanced participation and the feeling of being part of a society. As the economic weight of the cultural sector is now firmly established, cultural diplomacy efforts can also be leveraged to boost the cultural assets and creative industries of a country to support decent jobs and to highlight their economic leadership. (UNESCO 20 April 2023)

Benefits of reintroducing the Cultural Attaches Desks
Cultural Connections and Co-exploitations
Successful cultural diplomacy through cultural attaches also can tap into local cultural or historical traditions, pointing up the connections between Ghana and the host country. Other arts forms and expressions can be tabled for co-exploitation by both countries for mutual benefits.

Leveraging Opportunities
Effective cultural diplomacy through cultural attaches does not require a stand-alone tour or exhibition, or a huge outlay of funds. With information about distinguished Ghanaians and celebrities visiting the country, Ghana embassies can take advantage of the occasion to plan activities around their visit for an appearance or event. As always, programs that fit the local climate will work best. In some settings, a purely artistic performance might be more welcome than a diplomatic meeting or program in the Embassy. In other cases, however, an Embassy can effectively leverage a visit by a distinguished Ghanaian, for the opening of a film screening, or the publication of a book. All too often, such opportunities are missed.

Opening Doors, Tearing Down Walls
Cultural diplomacy has the potential to create a unique atmosphere of openness, often through a shared experience of a cultural event. In the aftermath of 9/11, the State Department of America sent to embassies and cultural centers all over the world a stunning collection of photographs by Joel Meyerowitz. The photographs captured every aspect of the devastation, the rescue, and the recuperation in lower Manhattan and at the Pentagon. Although some naysayers decried the exhibition as an exercise in self-pity, the overwhelming response was one of empathy and sympathy. Meyerowitz (an American artist), who traveled to several locations with the exhibition, described the responses of people who told him that his photographs humanized the monolith they knew as the United States. Visitors to the show stood silently and respectfully before Meyerowitz’s photographs of firemen and policemen, nurses and neighbors amidst the devastation, cognizant that these were photos not of a superpower but of fellow members of the human family. By showing the vulnerable side of America, Meyerowitz’s photos provoked responses such as this one: “I always thought of America as the most arrogant of countries, but after seeing these pictures, I have a completely different view.” (The Publisher 2019)

Personal Experience
I have had the opportunity to travel to France, Spain, Germany, UK and the Netherlands in the last couple of years, to witness diverse cultural and arts related functions with personal resources and also some support of the various Ghana Missions and Associations in the respective countries. The personal experiences I encountered is what has inspired this write up.

I recall in one of the trips in 2018, Ghana’s Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture, signed an agreement (memorandum of understanding) with Spain’s CASA Africa, for a cultural cooperation project called “Vis-à-vis”. The MOU between both organizations allowed Ghanaian musicians (live bands) to showcase their musical works with Spanish music festival directors, and partake in music festivals during the summer in Spain. In total, twelve (12) bands from Ghana were auditioned and three (2) out of the lot (FRA and Kyekyeku Bands), were selected to tour more than 12 cities in Spain for the summer music festivals. CASA Africa, is a Public Diplomacy institution connected to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Spain.

It was during this time that a team of representatives from the arts, government and media, was tasked as a delegation to participate, support and report on the Ghanaian bands selected for the festivals. Imagine if the Ghana Mission in Spain had a dedicated desk in charge of arts and culture, to lead and explore the opportunities presented to us by CASA Africa. But for the experience and professionalism of the then Head of Mission (H.E. Elizabeth Adjei) and Deputy Head of Mission (Mr. Willaim Manful), the opportunity would have been lost. If the mission had been equipped with the right human capacity with requisite skills, the offer could have been extended for the over benefit of the bands from Ghana.

It is imperative for Ghana to reassess its approach to cultural diplomacy and cultural development through its foreign missions. Post-independence, many nations centered their foreign policies around culture, using cultural diplomacy as a means to heal from past injustices and prioritize soft power over hard power. For example, Senegal focused on “culture-peace” and intercultural dialogue, while the Caribbean utilized culture in national development policies and regional relations, exemplified by the CARIFESTA festival.

Reintroducing Cultural Attaches Desks at Ghana’s foreign missions offers numerous benefits. These desks can facilitate cultural connections, highlighting the shared heritage between Ghana and host countries and exploring opportunities for mutual benefit. Leveraging distinguished visitors to Ghana, embassies can plan events to promote cultural exchange and cooperation. Cultural diplomacy can also foster openness and empathy, as seen in the response to a photography exhibition following 9/11, which humanized the United States in the eyes of many. By utilizing cultural diplomacy effectively, Ghana can build bridges, foster understanding, and strengthen relationships with other nations.

The historical examples of cultural diplomacy, such as the tours of American musicians by the U.S. government, underscore the power of cultural exchange in promoting understanding and dialogue between nations. These initiatives not only showcase the cultural richness of a country but also serve as a platform for addressing social issues and promoting equality.

In today’s global economy, the recognition of the economic value of culture and arts is essential for countries to leverage their cultural heritage for sustainable development. Institutions like CASA Africa, the US Information Service, Alliance Française, the British Council, and the Goethe Institute have demonstrated the impact of cultural diplomacy in promoting international cooperation and cultural exchange.

For Ghana to fully harness the potential of cultural diplomacy, a consolidated national policy and dedicated institutions focused on cultural development and diplomacy are crucial. While the establishment of such institutions may require financial resources and political will, the implementation of cultural attaches desks at foreign missions can serve as a practical starting point for Ghana to engage in cultural diplomacy and promote its cultural heritage on the global stage. It is essential for Ghana to consider these examples and opportunities in order to fully embrace cultural diplomacy as a strategic component of national development and foreign relations.

In a world where connections are increasingly vital, where barriers are being broken down and bridges are being built, can we afford to overlook the power of cultural diplomacy? Can we ignore the immense potential of showcasing our heritage, our arts, and our culture to the world? As Ghana seeks to navigate the ever-changing landscape of international relations and global cooperation, cultural diplomacy emerges as a beacon of hope, a tool for understanding, and a pathway to mutual respect and collaboration. Let us not underestimate the transformative power of culture in shaping our relationships with other nations and in shaping our own identity on the global stage.

As we say in our beautiful continent of Africa, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” This sentiment encapsulates the essence of cultural diplomacy – the idea that by coming together, by sharing our stories, our traditions, and our creativity, we can forge lasting connections and create a better world for future generations. Let us heed the wisdom of our ancestors and embrace the power of cultural diplomacy to chart a path towards a more inclusive, understanding, and harmonious world.

Frank Kwabena Owusu

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