In The Land of Mao Zedong

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Nana Yaa Ofori-Atta

If you must go to China, for the first time, as I did, then joining the First Lady, Mrs. Rebecca Akufo-Addo, on her first trip to the country, accompanied by the first virtually all female business delegation, from micro to medium to multinational companies – representing swathes of the economy – Makola through Medical supplies to Manufacturing  – is the way to go. 

I met a few of the 150 Ghanaians students who are studying in the Hunan Province, birthplace of Chairman Mao.  It is not as grand as Akropong or Kyebi, both in the Eastern Region of Ghana, but it will do.  Sort of.

The Province has enough reserves of tungsten, tin, bismuth, stibium, stone coal, fluorite, sepiolite clay, garnet aNd dolomite,  required for producing glass; IT manganese, zinc, lead and limestone in sufficient quantities to produce cement, so much so, that this south central sub tropical slice is classified, among China’s top 10 mineral resource banks.  It’s GDP of 2.9 trillion yuan ($1=6.53 yuan) grew 8.6 percent over the same period last year, ranks in the top 10, again, nationwide.

Hunan, literally the ‘south lake’, is home to 5% of China’s population. It is watered by 4 tributaries of the little known Yangtze River and they insist that the Dongting is the second largest freshwater lake in China.

You should see what illegal mining for gold, bauxite, minerals and destructive farming practices has done to the Birim river in Akyem Abuakwa.  Virtually all the water bodies across Ghana – Rivers Offin, Pra, Densu, Volta, Tano, Ankobra ….

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Breaking the Resource Rich Complacency

While Hunan has a mere 3 percent of arable farmland, it produces sufficient rice, cotton, oranges, rapeseed plants, seafood and pigs, that it is known as ‘the granary of China, a Land of Rice and Fish’.  The game changer for them has been focused investment in research, in food crop science and the introduction of technology.

On Friday, November 24th, 2017, before Mrs. Akufo-Addo and the delegation toured Biomedical, Laser Technology and Hybrid Rice Laboratories, she met with Yan Longping, a member of the Chinese Academy, his work in researching and developing a new generation of super hybrid rice has made him world famous.

Before that, the First Lady witnessed the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between Hunan’s Hybrid-rice Research Center and the Crop Research Institute of Ghana (CRIG).  The stated objective of the MOU is to support Ghana to improve varieties and yields of rice farming.   

The signing took place during the first Ghana – Hunan Economic and Trade Conference organised by the China Council for the Promotion of International Trade Hunan Sub-Council (CCPIT-Hunan) and the Chinese Business Association (Ghana) with the support of the Ghana Embassy in Beijing.

A presentation by the Deputy Head, Economic Research and Forecasting Division, Dr. Millicent de Graft-Johnson on the Ghana’s 3 pillars – macro economic stability and debt sustainability; improving the business framework as measured by the ease of doing business and enhancing access to affordable and long term financing was short.  By the end of its tenure in office, this government must demonstrate that it succeeded in driving ‘investments in Agriculture and Agribusiness, Strategic Infrastructure, Human Capital and Entrepreneurship and Innovation Programmes’.

Hunan also produces and trades in a range of industrial products, steel, chemicals, building materials, transportation equipment, agro processing, specialised equipment for manufacturing and petroleum processing.  It could be the gateway One-Stop Shop for the GoG, as could other provinces in China as well as other countries.  And, buyer’s beware.

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Brand, Quality and Reputation

China’s reputation, over populated and held down by brutish secretive communist leaders, has given way since the 1980’s.  It is still a centrally planned and controlled socio political economy where by copying, replicating and focusing on innovation, technology, science, the country has thrust itself firmly into cabal of global power brokers.

So much so, that in Zimbabwe, where they have invested from ground to sky, mining to aviation, there is some suggestion, that even before the non coup of a coup was announced, before even the usual imperialist suspects (UK and USA) were informed of the intent, it was China that gave a quiet nod to the swift bloodless transfer of power.  If it doesn’t pay, don’t shoot.

Any and everywhere in the world including Ghana, China plc operates either directly through a government to government initiative; through a state owned enterprise or its subsidiary, bidding for and if required, securing funding and investment from China Plc to deliver; through a private sector company hand selected and backed by the deep pockets of public funds; and or through individual investors who owe as much of their success to merit as it does to being politically savvy.  The Chinese go and stay only where an advantage can be found for themselves.

Forget the cuddly fuzzy panda.  It would be extremely foolhardy for Ghana or anyone else to not engage at all based on ideological differences (China doesn’t recognise this proclivity) or engage under false pretenses.  This country represents unalloyed capitalism without the messy interruption of general elections, the irritation of too much freedom or secure wifi.  No tweeting. 

The stereotypical image of the Chinese in Ghana is somewhere between sponsors of and dealers in galamsey (illegal mining); furtive illegal traders of dodgy quality items in both retail and wholesale and frankly an openly racist lot.  Seems they too have heard and read our views and some hold Ghanaians at home and in China with equally high disdain.

Beyond the language barrier, the time difference (8 hours) is the underbelly of culture – sticking to appointments, the decibels at which conversations are held, the inscrutable silence … Both sides have much learning to catch up with.

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At the end of the third quarter of this fiscal year, being September 31st 2017, the value of recorded investments from China at the Ghana Investment Promotion Center (GIPC) had dropped to 9th place.  GIPC’s data precludes investments recorded by the Free Zones Board, the Petroleum and Minerals Commission.  Perhaps the new Chinese investments in Ghana, went to them. 

I moderated a panel on Building Trusted Economic Partnerships at the Economic and Trade Conference in Hunan.  The President of the Association of Ghana Industries (AGI), James Asare-Adjei spoke of the research, due diligence, information and support that the AGI directly, as well as the Ghana Investment Promotion Center, can provide for new Chinese entrants into Ghana.

The Chief Executive Officer of Reroy Cable Ltd, Kate Quartey-Papafio spoke to the investment in training, equipment and quality control required to attain their ISO certification and thus the ability of her company, located in a Free Zones enclave, to export to 7 countries in the sub region and Spain.  The CEO of Ken City Media Ltd, Ms Stella Wilson spoke to the issue of media, that which is reported locally, can and is heard and reacted to, globally.

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Professor Zhan Shu, a geologist with Africa experience in mining was perhaps the most revealing of the panelists.  He spoke about the lessons China has learnt from degrading their environment in its drive to claim mineral resources and the investments that are being made in technology including the use of solar energy to address air pollution, reclaim water bodies and the soil.  Very expensive lessons learnt.

His response to the issue of galamsey in Ghana was simple.  Stop it.  They have, with swift harsh punishments delivered to everyone down the line of authority, not just the poor sods at the bottom of the food chain. So keep delaying court cases and issuing puny fines in Ghana.

He suggests that the GoG organise artisanal miners into registered collectives who must be trained and required to take responsibility for the effects of their actions.  Remember his name.  This is a man with ambitions to come to Ghana, if he sets foot there, we will be paying dearly for his expertise and that of Chinese companies to address the effects of the irresponsible mining that we have allowed.

The Ghanaian delegation set themselves goals during the Business to Business matchmaking sessions to work through language barriers and land introductions that lead to viable projects.  I have every intention of following up to determine if the efforts, time and money they invested in personally paying their way to and across China, yields results that can be measured in tangibles.

 

Courtesy of Stanbic Bank Ghana

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