A southeastern Asian country occupying parts of the Malay Peninsula and the island of Borneo, Malaysia is known for its beaches, rainforests and mix of Malay, Chinese, Indian and European cultural influences. Kuala Lumpur, the cosmopolitan capital is home to colonial buildings, busy shopping districts and skyscrapers which includes the famous and iconic 451metre tall Petronas Twin Towers.
Just like Ghana, Malaysia is a British colony and both countries seem to have a lot in common. Coincidentally, both countries attained their independence in 1957 and started afresh with virtually the same rich natural and human resources. The two countries had visionary leaders who had the aim of building solid and thriving economies to spearhead the development of their countries. Ghana’s Dr. Kwame Nkrumah and Malaysia’s Tunku Abdul Rahman unveiled their ambitious industrialization agenda immediately after independence.
On a humid afternoon, I drove through the heavy traffic the city has become known for after midday on Fridays to honour an appointment with the Chargé d’Affaires of the High Commission of Malaysia at the High Commission located at Airport Residential Area. A very calm and composed person, Diplomat Farhan Areffin walked me into their meeting area after I had been welcomed by an administrative staff.
A married man who was encouraged by his parents to apply for a government job after a failed chocolate business due to inexperience and followed by a jobless period for almost a year, Mr. Areffin secured a place in the most prestigious scheme in the Malaysian civil service, the Administrative and Diplomatic service after a series of assessments and interviews.
“I was lucky enough to have been posted to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Malaysia in the year 2010 and after spending five years working at the headquarters, I was reassigned and posted to Ghana, a country with the greatest quality of cocoa. And now I am enjoying Ghana’s chocolate and drinks all the times, a sector I had earlier failed in back in Malaysia immediately after my degree. Failure to me is gold as it has motivated me to push myself to this level. Today, I can say that I am more stronger, focused and makes better decisions as a person,” he added.
With Ghana being his first posting out of Malaysia, the once Assistant Secretary of the American Division describes Ghana as the best place to learn the art of diplomacy in a very short period and within a good environment.
“Members of the diplomatic corps have been very helpful and supportive in addition to the very critical role played by the former High Commissioner of Malaysia to Ghana, Cheong Loon Lai, to help me settle in very fast. My wife and myself feel at home in Ghana due to the several similarities between Ghana and Malaysia, from the weather, culture and the food. The country is beautiful with nice beaches and the warmth of the people is great,” he emphasized.
Currently directly in charge of the direction of the High Commission in Ghana, Mr. Areffin revealed his delight at the current relationship between Ghana and his country and very convinced of a lot more engagement to move the relationship to a higher level. He is hopeful there will be exchanges at the highest level which will include visits in the near future to pave the way for enhancing the growth in the bilateral relations and improved cooperation between the two countries.
In the area of trade and investment, the Malaysian diplomat said “we are pleased to note that Ghana remains one of Malaysia’s biggest trading partner in the region. Malaysia is ready to collaborate with Ghana in diverse ways to boost and further enhance the two-way trade between both countries. For the records, the total trade between Malaysia and Ghana in the year 2016 was US$337million.
Currently, we are actively engaging with the various Ghanaian authorities such as the Ministry of Business Development, Ministry of Inner City and Zongo Development, the Ghana Investment Promotions Centre (GIPC) and other agencies on the potential areas of cooperation for mutual benefit.
We expect more Malaysian businesses to invest in Ghana in the next couple of years and also encourage Ghanaian business owners to visit Malaysia to explore the possibility of investment and collaborations with Malaysian business partners.”
As part of the South – South Cooperation, which Malaysia is a signatory to, the country through the Malaysian Technical Cooperation Programme (MTCP) shares its development experiences and expertise with other developing countries.
The programme forms part of the commitment of the Malaysian government towards promoting technical cooperation among developing countries, strengthening of regional and sub-regional cooperation as well as nurturing collective self-reliance among developing countries.
For the last decade, hundreds of Ghanaians have fortunately benefited from the MTCP. They received scholarships and were sponsored by the Malaysian government to undertake their studies in Malaysia.
According to Mr. Areffin, cultural relationship and exchanges is one of the areas the High Commission of Malaysia in Ghana and the Malaysian government is focusing on in the next couple of years due to the several similarities in the rich culture and arts heritage of both countries.
“We are looking forward to collaborate with the relevant institutions in Ghana to enhance the cultural relations between the two countries. When it comes to entertainment, Ghana has a lot of potentials especially the drums and the beats. The famous Ed Sheeran produced a song with the title being a Twi phrase and I love it a lot. I wish to see Ghanaian music exploited in the mainstream to open the door for a lot of Ghanaian musicians to the foreign markets.”
After staying in Ghana for over a year, he described his Ghanaian experience as amazing and anxious to visit several parts of the country. He listed waakye, kelewele, khebabs and grilled tilapia as his favourite Ghanaian foods and added that “let me not forget about my Shito, it is awesome.
I will normally take Ghanaian food once a week at least and sometimes more. My wife and I are fortunate because the basic food ingredients in Ghana are quite similar to that of Malaysia. In Malaysia, we use a lot of chilies and pepper in our food and also use coconut. Our mean staple is rice which is also widespread in Ghana and it seems Ghanaians and Malaysians have similar taste.”
When not on official duties, Mr. Areffin said “I will be playing golf, tennis or traveling around the country. And yeah, cooking. I love to cook. Occasionally, my wife and I would organize a get-together with fellow Malaysians and friends who live in Ghana, we normally cook our traditional Malaysian dishes for them to enjoy”.