Outgoing German Ambassador speaks to Graphic

BY: Mary Mensah
Mr Christoph Retzlaff, outgoing German Ambassador to Ghana
Mr Christoph Retzlaff, outgoing German Ambassador to Ghana

The German Ambassador to Ghana has completed five years of duty in the country. The Ambassador, Christoph Retzlaff, who assumed duty in July 2016, initiated a number of bilateral interests which have gone a long way to deepen Ghana-Germany relations. Some of the key interests include the fight against COVID-19, agro-processing, pharmaceuticals, automotive industry and digitisation.

The German Ambassador is, however, leaving the shores of the country on Friday, June 25, 2021. The Daily Graphic Foreign Page Editor, Ms Mary Mensah, caught up with the ambassador who granted this interview. Below are excerpts.

 Q: Germany-Ghana has had a healthy relationship for many decades. What do you think accounts for this positive relationship?

A: Ghana and Germany have had a strong relationship for many decades. On the German Embassy’s website, it was quoted that: “The excellent relations between Germany and Ghana have enormous potential. Ghana and Germany share the same values and Ghana is an anchor of stability in West Africa. Our Reform and Investment Partnership leads the way to the future.”

Q: How do you see this after five years as the German Ambassador to Ghana?

A: This is more true than ever. Ghana has made remarkable progress in the past decades and has indeed become an anchor of stability in West Africa. Ghana is our second trading partner in West Africa and the fourth largest in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Ghana has indeed become one of our most important partners on the African continent, a partnership based on shared values of democracy, rule of law and human rights. President Steinmeier was in Ghana in 2017 for a state visit while Chancellor Angela Merkel also visited Ghana in August 2018.

On the other hand, Ghanaian President Akufo-Addo has been in Germany four times already since taking office in 2017, and in that same year, Ghana joined the G20 “Compact with Africa” initiative launched during Germany’s G20 Presidency. Still in 2017, we concluded a bilateral “Reform and Investment Partnership“ between Germany and Ghana. Some 30,000 Ghanaians are living in Germany.

Currently, there are 15 German institutions in Ghana and these include the Goethe Institute, GIZ, DAAD, KFW, Political Foundations, a German Army Technical Advisors Group and Deutsche Welle. They all contribute to deepening our vibrant bilateral partnership.

Q: The COVID-19 global pandemic has had huge negative impact on the world’s economy and Ghana is no exception. Before, Ghana’s economy was skyrocketing and the IMF recorded a growth rate of 8.8 per cent in its World Economic Outlook, which made Ghana the fastest growing economy in the world in 2019. Meanwhile, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the situation changed. What are the biggest challenges?

A: Ghana’s economic performance since 1993 and especially from 2017 to 2019 immediately before COVID-19 was indeed impressive. Ghana became a front runner not only in Africa, but in the world. Growth doubled and inflation was cut in half. The debt situation was brought under control, but COVID-19 unfortunately was a negative game-changer.

The pandemic hit the country hard, people suffered and died. Ghana managed the pandemic well, but economic and social consequences are dire. Economic numbers have worsened considerably, growth has plummeted and debt is growing; we see this in many other countries too.

This could wipe out results of years of successful development. We have to do what we can to support Ghana and other developing countries to get out of the pandemic, as well as out of the economic and social crisis.

Q: What has Germany contributed to the fight against COVID-19 in Ghana?

A: It will of course be crucial that Ghana and the other African countries get access to COVID-19 vaccines as soon as possible. This is what Germany and the EU want to achieve with our new support programme to produce vaccines in Africa — and Ghana is a potential candidate for production.

Germany will also launch a new “West African Centre for the Prevention of Pandemic Diseases” in Ghana soon, a cooperation among the Universities of Berlin and Bonn and KNUST in Kumasi. Germany also supported Ghana  very early in the pandemic and will continue with support to Ghana via COVAX and bilaterally.

  1. How do you see the chances for German and European companies to invest in Ghana and what should be changed to make things easier?
  2. Ghana is a very interesting market for trade and investment for German and EU companies. With a population of about 30 million people coupled with the ambitious infrastructural projects, Ghana is of course very well situated as the entry hub of West Africa. The new AfCFTA can become a game-changer for the economic and social development of Africa and Ghana.

 It’s encouraging to see that Ghana is now firmly anchored on the radar of German and European companies. Global German players opened regional offices for West Africa in Accra. Volkswagen has started to assemble cars in Ghana. Siemens is planning infrastructural projects.

Other major investment projects are in the pipeline. In 2019, we hosted the “German Africa Business Summit (GABS)” in Accra for the very first time in West Africa. It was a great success, with more than 600 participants from Germany and many African countries. It’s also good to see the vibrant start-up culture and the enormous digital talent in Ghana.

The world’s biggest festival on digitisation — re.publica from Berlin — came to Accra in 2018. For the very first time it took place in Africa! With the Delegation of German Industry and Trade (AHK), GTAI and the German Embassy in Accra, we do have a strong team on the ground to support German companies interested in coming to Ghana. Infrastructure, energy, agro-processing, pharmaceuticals, automotive industry and digitisation are promising sectors.

Q: What is your take on the government’s flagship programme, Ghana Beyond Aid? Do you think that things have changed in the past years?

A: “Ghana Beyond Aid” is indeed an ambitious strategy to make Ghana independent from foreign aid in the medium term until the end of this decade. It’s true; Ghana is a potentially rich country with natural resources such as oil, gold and much more.

 Agriculture has a huge potential for not only making Ghana independent from food imports but also to export agricultural products to Europe and West African countries. Many young Ghanaians are also well trained and educated with ambitious ideas for their future.

Supporting economic development, modernisation and transformation to a modern economy integrated in the global economy is one of the goals of our bilateral co-operation with Ghana. Ultimately, countries like Ghana must be able to develop from exporters of raw materials to value-adding industries.

With our development cooperation, we aim to support Ghana in this endeavour. A German investor has just opened a chocolate factory in Suhum, jobs for 70 people, production from bean to bar.

The chocolate is produced there, packed and shipped to Germany to be sold. All the value addition takes place in Ghana. A great “Compact with Africa” project realised in less than 12 months.

Some challenges

So things are going in the right direction, the government has set the right course, but there are still considerable challenges to be tackled.

Too many people still live in poverty in Ghana and the gap between the rich and poor is widening. Everybody should of course be able to live a life in dignity. Young people want a better future and decent jobs. Investment and jobs are needed.

Critical infrastructure need to be built. The environment has to be better protected. Deforestation, ‘galamsey’, these are very pressing issues. Ghana cannot destroy its own livelihood.

We want to support Ghana to tackle these challenges. Together with the Government of Ghana, we have launched the country’s biggest public solar power plant in 2020, as well as a state-of-the-art energy plant in the Ashanti Region.

We have also supported the launch of the new Development Bank of Ghana, which can really become a game-changer to create investment and jobs in Ghana, and we are offering support for the fight against corruption, a very important fight.

Q: What memories will you take with you from Ghana?

A: Ghana has been an amazing country for me and my family; we leave with very positive memories. We spent five great years here. My wife and I always wanted to come to West Africa since our first tour in 1990 through West Africa.

The people in Ghana are friendly, we were lucky to make really good Ghanaian friends and these friendships will last. Ghana has a rich cultural heritage and good potential for tourism.

Music — from the traditional highlife to rap — is a global brand. Fashion designers from Ghana are becoming famous.

A country with wonderful people and I’m indeed grateful for having had the opportunity to serve as German Ambassador to Ghana. We will certainly come back one day.