I have known and enjoyed relations of intimacy with President Ouattara for nearly two decades. It seems as though the events of our lives are intertwined and fairly similar, whatever happens to him, happens to me. Let me outline a few – we were once high functionaries of a ruling government, and then became leaders of the opposition, and now, here we are again, as Presidents of our respective countries.
I recall vividly the events that occurred in Cote d’Ivoire prior to, and in the aftermath, of Gen. Robert Guéï seizing the reins of power in this country. The political crisis that ensued afterwards led to the signing of the Linas-Marcousis Accord of 2003, and, subsequently, the various Accra Accords, which were signed to resolve differences hindering the full implementation of the Linas-Marcousis accord. I was Foreign Minister at the time, and under the firm instructions of my leader, another outstanding African Statesman, His Excellency John Agyekum Kufuor, then President of the Republic of Ghana, we put the full force and resources of Ghanaian diplomacy to the fore in search for lasting peace in Cote d’Ivoire, on the simple principle of ‘if your neighbour’s house is on fire, help put it out before it engulfs yours’. Indeed, at the Accra meeting of 30th July, 2004, which came to be known as Accra III, history will bear testimony to the fact that the arrangements that were made to accommodate the leaders of the Ivorian factions helped to cement the alliance of the democratic forces, which, eventually, saw Alassanne Ouattara win uncontestably the election of 2010.
His ascendency to the high office of the land was not smooth, to say the least. The excessive love of power of the then president brought about the tragic developments that accompanied the victory of Alassane Ouattara in 2010. Back home in Ghana, we also had a moment of deep concern and worry, as it appeared that Ghanaian diplomacy, under the leadership of President Kufuor’s successor, turned its back on the affairs of our western neighbour. Fortunately, Ghana’s foreign policy at the time of “Dzi wo fie Asem”, to wit “Mind your own business”, did not impede the satisfactory resolution of the crisis, and ensured that the will of the Ivorian people prevailed.
Since then, the work that Alassane Ouattara has done in diversifying Ivorian agriculture, and thereby enhancing agricultural productivity; reviving the economy, and ensuring, consistently, the fastest rates of growth of any country on the continent in the last decade, has vindicated the choice of Ivorians. Indeed, during my campaign for election as President of Ghana last year, I made constant reference to the Ivorian success story, and urged the Ghanaian people to vote for me, so I could do for them what Alassane Ouattara is doing for the people of Cote d’Ivoire.
By the same token, the efforts President Ouattara is making at promoting national reconciliation, a process which is still on-going, are also testimony of his determination to establish full normality in this country. My understanding is that the recent constitutional changes that he initiated, which were overwhelmingly accepted by the Ivorian people, support the process of the re-establishment of full order, legitimacy and national reconciliation in Cote d’Ivoire. Ghana stands firmly with the Ivorian people and President Ouattara in these efforts of political and constitutional growth.
Mr. President, our relations with Cote d’Ivoire are for us of the highest priority, for reasons which are self-evident. Together, we produce 65% of the world’s cocoa, and if we work together and coordinate our policies, we can protect our farmers and guarantee a better life for them. We are amongst the biggest economies in West Africa. We are also bonded by common history, by common ethnic ties, by common culture, and by geography. Our ties impose on us the necessity to work together, and to live as good neighbours, with each one being the brother’s keeper. That is why on my first official visit to the nations of the ECOWAS community, I have come to this city of Abidjan, which is clearly regaining its past glories of the era of the late great, first president of Cote d’Ivoire, Felix Houphouet-Boigny, to renew those ties. I should have been here much earlier. However, I was preoccupied with the important matter of putting together my government, a process which I have now virtually completed. Thus, naturally, when such an opportunity to visit presents itself, you begin with your closest neighbours, and that is why I am here today in Cote d’Ivoire, after visiting the Republics of Togo and Burkina Faso, both of whom are Ghana’s immediate neighbours to the east and north, respectively.
I have come here, in an atmosphere of fraternity and solidarity, to give a new impetus to our already strong relations, and to establish a framework of co-operation to resolve whatever outstanding problems there are between our two countries. We are all aware of the litigation in Hamburg on the delimitation of our maritime boundaries. Whatever the result of that litigation, and, naturally, I hope it goes in favour of Ghana, I want to assure President Ouattara, his government and the Ivorian people of the determination of my government and I to work with you in a healthy manner of co-operation to deal with the consequences of the pending judgement. What is of paramount importance to our two populations is the peaceful exploitation of the maritime resources for their benefit. The close co-operation of stable, fully functioning democracies, such as ours, will give a great push to the growth of stable, constitutional governance not just in our region, but on the entire African continent, which can only inure to the benefit and welfare of the African peoples.
Close co-operation is going to be facilitated by the new initiative proposed by President Ouattara, that is the signature by the two of us of An Agreement For a Strategic Partnership (Accord de Parteniriat Strategique) that will bind our two countries in even closer intimacy and go beyond the bounds of the concept of the Permanent Joint Commission, which is the conventional tool for co-operation. This Partnership should embrace all aspects of our national lives, and, if undertaken with sincerity and transparency, it should enhance considerably the chances of our two countries to attain progress and prosperity. I welcome the idea warmly and will ensure, on the Ghanaian side, its success, which will have obvious, positive repercussions for the growth of ECOWAS.
Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire are two of the most important members of the ECOWAS community. On my part, I am willing to do whatever I can to strengthen the ECOWAS community. I believe it is extremely important for the welfare of the 350 million people of the community that we, the leaders, demonstrate strong political will to make the community an economic and political success, and to make the project of integration real. I am fully committed, and I know President Alassane Ouattara is too. With West Africa’s population set to reach some 500 million people in 20 years time, there are immense opportunities to bring prosperity to our region with hardwork, enterprise and creativity. The time for West African integration is now. Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire should be at the forefront of the process that will convert ECOWAS into a true regional market. A working, common regional market in ECOWAS has to be a very fundamental objective of all of our peoples and governments in the region.
As I indicated in my visits to Togo and Burkina Faso, Africa is breeding a new generation of leaders – leaders who are committed to governing their peoples according to the rule of law, respect for individual liberties and human rights, and the principles of democratic accountability; leaders who are looking past commodities to position their countries in the global marketplace; leaders who are determined to free their peoples from a mindset of dependence, aid, charity and hand-outs; leaders who are bent on mobilizing Africa’s own immeasurable resources to resolve Africa’s problems; leaders who recognise the connectedness of their peoples and economies to those of their neighbours. This generation of African leaders must not fail the longsuffering African masses. They must help bring dignity and prosperity to our continent and its peoples.
Mr. President, I am grateful once again for the high honour done me, which I accept on behalf of the Ghanaian people, who remain, as always, steadfast in their brotherliness and friendship with the Ivorian people. I look forward eagerly to hosting you in Accra, and reciprocating the exceptional hospitality which my delegation and I have enjoyed in this great city of Abidjan.
J’aurais bien voulu prononcer cet discours en francais, mais, malheureusement, mes compatriots auraient du mal à encaisser comment ca c’est fait que leur president parle officialment en public dans une langue qu’ils ne comprennent pas. Mais ce ne m’empeche pas d’affirmer ma satisfaction complete de ce visite et de l’accueil chalereux que le peuple Ivorien et leurs hauts responsables ont accordé ma delegation et moi-même, dont on est tres reconnaissant. Je vous remerci beaucoup, Monsieur le President, cher Alassane, pour votre aimable hospitalité et les mots genereux que vous avez addressé à mon personne ce soir. J’esperé bien que j’aura bientot l’occasion de vous accueillir à Accra pour reciproquer cette geste d’hospitalite.
I want, in conclusion, to thank you very sincerely, Mr. President, for your presence at my inauguration, as guest of honour, in Accra, on 7th January, 2017, at a time when there were disturbing events here, which could have provided an easy excuse for your absence. You decided nevertheless to come. The Ghanaian people and I will always treasure this show of brotherhood. You are, indeed, a great friend of Ghana, and dare I say it, of myself, too.
May God bless President Alassane Ouattara, the peoples of Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire, the peoples of ECOWAS and Mother Africa. Thank you, and let me ask you to raise your glasses to toast to the health of the President of Cote d’Ivoire, Alassane Dramane Ouattara.