By Stephanie S. Sullivan
Advancing America’s image in Ghana is a Mission-wide effort that directly supports the Trump Administration’s Africa Strategy. Embassy Accra’s interagency public diplomacy (PD) outreach promotes awareness among Ghanaians of the strong bilateral ties based on mutual respect, advances Ghana’s journey to self-reliance, and demonstrates the positive impact of U.S. foreign assistance through traditional and social media. Outreach visits across Ghana’s 16 regions led by Ambassador Stephanie S. Sullivan and other diplomats brand America’s presence in urban and rural communities, promoting key policy messages, and contributing to the positive public opinion of the United States of America in Ghana.
A long-shared history is central to the U.S. partnership with Ghana. In 2019, Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo launched the Year of Return (YoR) initiative in the context of the 400th anniversary of the first documented arrival of enslaved Africans in Jamestown, Va., in 1619. The YoR aimed to highlight the achievements of the descendants of slaves and invited them to reconnect with their African roots. The Ghanaian government held a year-long series of activities to strengthen the economic and cultural ties of the diaspora with Ghana. The idea of looking to the past even while one moves forward into the future is an important theme known as “Sankofa” in traditional Akan culture. Much of the publicity surrounding the YoR incorporated Sankofa motifs and symbols. The embassy partnered with Ghanaians in government, civil society, academia, as well as traditional leaders to implement several PD programs highlighting the historical ties and strong bilateral relationship during the YoR.
Ghana also attracts senior-level visitors, for whom the embassy organizes public engagements and media coverage. Recent visits included First Lady Melania Trump in October 2018, and a congressional delegation led by Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi, which included 13 members of the Congressional Black Caucus in July 2019. Global media coverage for these visits highlighted images of the senior officials paying homage to the victims of slavery at the Cape Coast Castle and focused on the message that such a dark chapter in history must never be repeated. They called for both nations to further strengthen their partnership to build a future of peace and prosperity. Other recent high-level visits included Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross in July 2018 and Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Stephen Censky in October 2019.
Promoting peace and prosperity is at the top of Embassy Accra’s public messaging agenda. The American people benefit when Ghana is safe, prosperous, and secure. They have attracted more than a dozen U.S. companies to Ghana over the past three years, which benefits the economies of both nations. American companies investing in Ghana also represent the golden corporate standards they are renowned for around the world, including superior quality of products and services, job creation at home and abroad, transparency, and accountability.
Ghana, like many African nations, faces an increasingly large youth bulge, and its population is expected to double within the next 30 years. Because of the increase in population, promoting trade and investment is one of the embassy team’s highest priorities, after protecting American citizens in Ghana.
A visit to Ghana in June 2019 by Assistant Secretary for Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) Marie Royce directly advanced this priority and received wide media coverage. Royce provided remarks during a launching ceremony in Accra for ECA’s Academy for Women Entrepreneurs (AWE) program, which is also under the White House Women’s Global Development and Prosperity Initiative. Royce outlined AWE’s goal to teach, train, and mentor women around the world both on how to become successful entrepreneurs and through existing ECA exchange programs.
“In Africa, only 5 percent of the CEOs are women,” said Royce. “Yet the positive impact of female leadership is clear: businesses in Africa with the most women on their boards have an operating profit over 20 percent higher than industry averages.”
With this in mind, Embassy Accra plans to host its first U.S.-Ghana Alumni Association conference in the Volta Region this April. The conference will focus on reinvigorating their partnerships with alumni from 22 exchange programs in support of efforts to promote Ghana’s development.
Ghanaian media reports regularly highlight the positive impact of USAID programs to increase agricultural production, employment opportunities, quality of health systems, education, and to strengthen local government institutions and democratic processes. Two recent examples include the ambassador’s recent trips to the underserved Northern Region in March 2019 and in February 2020. The trips served to launch shea butter processing facilities through public-private partnerships for women’s community cooperatives, promoting their economic empowerment and strengthening connections between Ghanaian suppliers and U.S. importers.
Embassy Accra’s security partnership is strong and grounded in respect for Ghana’s sovereignty and U.S. strategic goals for the nations of the region to take ownership of peace and security in their neighborhood. Their law enforcement partnerships are also expanding through the Regional Training Center sponsored by the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL). INL regularly hosts training for judicial, security, and law enforcement professionals to boost their capacity. In addition to conducting multinational military exercises as Obangame Express in the Gulf of Guinea, the embassy also supports Ghana’s peacekeeping operations capacity. In February, they handed over to the Ghana Armed Forces two deployable hospitals for use in peacekeeping operations, which also received positive local media coverage.
Given the close historical and educational ties between the U.S. and Ghana, and two direct flights throughout the week from Accra to New York City and Washington, D.C., a keen topic of interest for the Ghanaian public is how to obtain visas to the United States. The U.S. Mission seized on this interest by organizing joint consular and public affairs outreach trips throughout Ghana.
Consul General Jayne Howell and other consular officers have traveled with Cultural Affairs Officer Liz Ategou and Press Attaché Naomi Mattos during their media, EducationUSA, and grants-monitoring outreach trips to the cities of Tamale, Kumasi, Takoradi, and other locations. These outreach trips were to provide audiences of students and media representatives direct access to consular information, as well as to connect with American citizens in those communities. These visits demystified the visa application process and advanced the embassy’s goal of welcoming more Ghanaians to study in the United States while also protecting and securing America’s borders.
Their outreach efforts yielded results, confirmed by the 2019 Open Doors Report on international education, which showed an overall 13.9 percent increase over 2018 in the number of Ghanaian students attending universities and colleges in the United States, bringing Ghana into second place in sub-Saharan Africa. Ghana also experienced an increase in the number of American students participating in study abroad programs there from 1,865 to 2,210, making it the second most popular destination in sub-Saharan Africa for American students.
Mission Ghana’s digital diplomacy successfully connects them with the public in a manner they find interesting and relevant, judging by the increasing number of positive engagements. Several of their posts have gone viral. Over the past year, the Mission has added 120,000 new followers on Facebook, the digital platform of choice among Ghanaians, and which now counts more than 342,970 followers. Their Twitter account has more than 225,000 followers, and their Instagram account has more than 40,000 followers. This demonstrates public interest in the activities and programs of the U.S. Embassy and enables the PD team to disseminate policy priorities while strengthening connections online with the Ghanaian public.
The welcoming Ghanaian hospitality and vibrant traditional culture provide excellent opportunities to advance cultural diplomacy. Mission Ghana has found an invaluable partner in the African American Association of Ghana (AAAG). They have showcased American culture through the successful visit by Step Afrika! in April 2018. In partnership with the AAAG, Embassy Accra’s speaker program, including for African-American History Month, has included entrepreneur Dr. Avis Jones-DeWeever in 2018, astrophysicist Dr. Nia Imara in 2019, and historian and Curator of Sports for the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture Dr. Damion Thomas in February 2020. All of these cultural ambassadors came to Ghana to share and exchange ideas and best practices from their professional fields to further the relationship between the two countries.
Through united interagency strategic public outreach, Embassy Accra continues to strengthen the bilateral relationship, while successfully shaping the message and image of the United States of America among the people of Ghana.
Stephanie S. Sullivan is the U.S. ambassador to Ghana.