Knowing more about Ghana-Australia relations

May 2, 2017
Source: Chris Koney/thebftonline.com
Knowing more about Ghana-Australia relations

Often than not, the first and only thing that comes to mind immediately one hears the mention of an embassy or high commission is visa acquisition. Unfortunately, quite a sizable number of people donot know exactly what embassies and high commissions do on a daily basis beyond handling visa applications and processing visas.

And those who, at a point in time, get their visa applications rejected without what they will consider as a satisfactory reason also live with the experience and sometimes form erroneous perceptions about foreign missions in Ghana. This is an open secret which is not peculiar to only Ghanaians.

Until the early part of 2013, I didn’t know a lot about Australia apart from it being a neighbouring country to Indonesia and East Timor. My niece, Michaela Synead Mensah obtained admission at the Macquerie University in Sydney to pursue a course in International Relations and Politics for a year.

Resident in London, we discussed her expectations and the whole process of moving to Sydney for her studies. She traveled to Sydney and not long after she perfectly settled in and was doing great with her studies. With the support of her colleagues and encouragement from the family, she went on to become the President of the African Students Union.

Whilst there, most of our conversations focused on the Australian educational system and how school attendance or registration for home schooling is mandatory throughout Australia. I also learnt that education is considered as the responsibility of the individual states and territories so the rules sometimes vary between states but in general children are required to attend school from the age of about five until about 16 or 17 based on the rules within the state.

Children aged 16 to 19 are required to either attend school or participate in vocational training, such as an apprenticeship. This has resulted in Australia achieving one of the highest high adult literacy rates around the world with an estimated figure of about 90percent recorded in the year 2003.

Last week, I had the rare opportunity of being hosted by the Australian High Commissioner to Ghana, Andrew Barnes, and his team at the Australian High Commission located at Cantonments in Accra.

The over an hour interaction could be best described as an enlightening session as it provided the opportunity for me to get familiar with the unique role of the Australian High Commission in Ghana within the West African sub region and also be abreast with the relationship between Ghana and Australia from a diplomatic perspective. In addition, it gave me an insight into Australia’s foreign policy for Africa and the rest of the world.

Our discussion, which started with my encounters with diplomats of other foreign missions in Ghana, the relative peace and stability being enjoyed within the country, eventually centered on the bilateral relations between Ghana and Australia with highlight on several aspects of collaborations between both countries.

According to the High Commissioner, there are so many things the embassies and high commissions do, from government to government relationships, to the area of education where students are assisted to have higher education in Australia as well as trade and corporations in other sectors.

“I agree with you Chris, it is important to create the awareness about the strategic partnerships the embassies and high commissions enter into with the government and also some activities both parties undertake to tremendously impact on the lives of the citizens of the country as part of the mutual and cordial relationship enjoyed by both countries. When this is done, people will then come to understand why the foreign missions are here, what exactly we are doing here and get the dynamics of our operations,” he added.

Having previously visited Ghana in 2015 to temporarily serve as head of the Australian mission in Ghana, High Commissioner Barnes commenced duties as the Australian High Commissioner to Ghana 10 months ago and expressed his delight to be back in Ghana with his family.

He described the experience in Ghana, his first West African posting as challenging, rewarding and with a lot of prospects. Driven by his interest in politics and international affairs to become a career diplomat, Mr. Commissioner Barnes listed his intended goals with the priority being to further develop the linkages between Australia and Ghana.

Born in Indonesia, Mr. Barnes grew up in the oil rich island of Bahrain where he lived with his parents for 20 years before moving on to pursue his higher education in Politics and International Relations.

Being exposed to diverse cultures, people and places, he recollects some exciting moments of his upbringing around the world which has shaped his thought of global issues and also given him deep-insight into the Arab world and Middle East. That was how he described his background before revealing his favourite Ghanaian food to be jollof rice, which is more similar to an Indonesian delicacy he grew up eating.

In terms of commercial economic linkage, the head of the Australian mission in Ghana said “the significant relationship is in the extractive sector, the mining sector to be precise. Australia has a long history in gold mining and it is one of the most important sectors of our economy with a lot of experts and activities within that sector. Right across Africa and maybe specifically in Ghana, Australian mining companies are very prolific.

The footprint of Australian mining companies is greatest in Ghana compared to other countries. There are about 15 Australian companies operating in Ghana providing services and the actual mines and they have been in Ghana for a very long time. In building the capacity of Ghanaians, we have a very good relationship with the University of Mines and Technology and our mining companies work with them during their recruitments.

Also with the course work, there are several Ghanaian students going to Australia for study in the mining sector then come back to use their knowledge acquired. Importantly, our mining companies are not just good at the job of mining but operate with good social license, have very good corporate social responsibility credentials, they source from local communities as well as training and employing them. These companies also work with high environmental standards as expected of them.

In that regard, we work closely with the government, Minerals Commission and the Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources. The new Minister, John Peter Amewu, actually studied in Australia and so we have a long and good relationship with him. We are working with his ministry to tackle the issue of galamsey, which is bad for the environment, people’s health, agriculture and the economy as they don’t get taxed to raise revenue for the government. Our investment in the mining sector is very significant.”

On education, High Commissioner Barnes said: “Australia has a scholarship programme for Africa and fortunately Ghana is one of the eligible countries. We advertise every year for Ghanaian students to apply for two years scholarships for Masters programmes in the areas of Extractives, Governance and Health and we often receive a lot of applications.

We do encourage women to apply for these scholarships in line with the Australian government’s policy to focus on gender as well as people with disability. Apart from women, we also want to give people with disability the opportunity to live their lives to their fullest potential. The teaching and standards are very high and Australia has some of the best universities in the world you could think about.

Australia provides a good opportunity for students, they are welcomed and given all the needed support they need to make their studies and time worth it. Also, all students who go for such programmes are obliged to come back to their countries after their studies to contribute to the development of their countries as that remains one of the reasons for initiating this scholarship scheme.

Students who donot qualify for these scholarships can also opt to fund themselves and there are a lot of potentials in that area. The good thing is that students get a work visa for 20 hours a week which can help them in taking care of their living expenses. Finding a job in Australia is not difficult as we have a very low rate of unemployment and there are jobs for students,” he added.

In the area of human capital development, there are other forms of exchanges by the government of Australia, the Australian High Commission in Ghana for Ghanaians in some particular areas such as media and creative arts.

“Though not very frequent and on a large scale, we get request to nominate journalists to join other colleagues around the world to participate in various programmes in Australia which we take care of the funding. We are also open to facilitating trainings and exchanges for people interested in liaising and working with organizations in Australia.

We occasionally welcome Australian professionals who come to Ghana to run programmes to help develop key sectors. We also have similar arrangements with Ghanaians who have studied in Australia and wants to contribute their quota to the development of the country in diverse ways,” he noted.

According to Ambassador Barnes, the bilateral relations between Ghana and Australia looks very promising with the government of Ghana’s agenda to position the private sector as the engine of the country’s growth.