H.E. Dr. Michael Aaron N. N. Oquaye Esq (Jnr) is Ghana’s High Commissioner to India, with concurrent responsibility for Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Maldives. H.E. Dr. Oquaye Jnr is an International Investment Corporate Lawyer with an extensive experience in Project Finance, Infrastructure, Mergers and Acquisitions, General Contract, and Commercial Transactions. His global experience is mainly focused on emerging businesses and markets. Countries of business include UK, USA, the ECOWAS region, and South Africa. His varied areas of legal practice are in the sectors of Energy (Oil and Gas Bio fuels and Renewable Energy), Media and Technology, Telecommunications, Commodities, and Agri-business among others. His work experience spans many years in both the UK and Ghana. His last job in the UK was at 9 King’s Bench Walk, Chancery Lane, London, where he worked with renowned barrister AI Mustakim. In Ghana, he is currently a legal practitioner at Exusia Law Consult with renowned lawyers such as Dr Yeboa Amoa (the first Managing Director of Ghana Stock Exchange) and Mrs. Essie F. Cobbina (Cocoa Board Ghana).
He was called to the Bar of England and Wales at The Honourable Society of Lincoln’s Inn and later called to the bar in Ghana. He holds a BL from BPP University’s Law School in Holborn, UK, and an LLB from the Oxford Brookes University in Oxford, UK. He also started an LLM in Oil and Gas at The University of Dundee, Scotland, UK.
Prashant Tewari Editor in Chief in conversation with H.E. Dr. Michael Aaron N. N. Oquaye Esq (Jnr) to speak on the bilateral relationship between India and Ghana and more, he has successfully completed his tenure in India and he is returning back to his country to enter active politics.
Q H.E. You have spent quality time in India, what is special about India and the people?
Well, let me first of all say thank you and your organization for this opportunity to have a conversation, which is mainly to promote and develop the relationship between India and Ghana's. I'll have so many fond memories. The first one, of course, is the kind of welcome I had from the officials of India and the other African ambassadors, I really started enjoying the great Indian hospitality, that of course, is legendary. I really appreciated the Indian food, thank God, I was introduced to it in the UK, previously, and so I had quite a smooth understanding of it. With regard to sports, cricket has amazed me in India. And it was a fantastic experience with regard to cricket activity, especially combined with the Commonwealth experience. One thing I learned in India is to use sport to create commercial activity. And I was part of the Polo circuit in India, Golf was also another very good means of diplomacy. We introduced Indian Ghanaian food to India, this was done on the big show of Khana Khazana with Sanjeev Kapoor, I'll expand on that later during the interview. These were some of my very fond memories of India.
Q On the work front, what challenges you have encountered during your stay in India?
Yes, the first one I can easily cite is bureaucracy where certain things have been well established. And it makes difficult for most people to move. But luckily for me because of my background, as a private practitioner lawyer, I don't see a stumbling block, I am trained to make a case to change a law or to change the status quo, and to present it to a judge to use his discretion. So, I did the same thing with the Indian government. For example, the EXIM Bank relationship, they have a buyer’s credit, where India gives 85%. I said, why 85% when I have to go and borrow 15% from the commercial market, I will not take the loan. And I rather go to China. So, India wants to be competitive, they must give 100%. The processing fee of 0.5% on concessional loan of 4.5% was unnecessary. I just said look to remove it to make it competitive. The loan has become just 4.5% plus labor. These are some of the challenges in terms of business. Now, fortunately, one thing I noticed about the Indians is that some of them were unfamiliar with Africans, they were not sure what to expect and how to deal with you. That was a challenge because most of the time I have to sort of justify my inclusion to people who are not used to dealing with foreigners who are not used to dealing with diplomats. The same challenge was experienced by our students, especially those in very remote colleges, where I have to ask the university authorities to put down clear discrimination laws, so that anybody who was caught discriminating can be punished. And you can see that changed attitudes. These were some of the challenges I faced but I must say that there were more smooth things happening than the bureaucratic and discriminatory challenges that he faced.
Q India and Africa have great relationship at official level, similarly India and Ghana bilateral relationship is at its peak. But Ghana can lead the African continent to consolidate India and Africa relationship in a leadership role, your government is working on the proposal of being the African leader?
Yes, first of all, I'll say thanks for the compliments to myself my predecessor. And we're looking forward that whoever even succeed me, will do a fantastic job as well. But in terms of Ghana, as a leader in Africa, Ghana is already a leader in Africa. However, what I always keep explaining to the Indian government is that it is very difficult for India to want to deal with Africa as a continent. They have to deal with us bilaterally. So, if India wants a result in Africa, what they have to reach out to the countries themselves. Yes, but as I told you, COMESA and SADAC have secretariats but they cannot influence Ghana. There's something called the Africa continental free trade area, right, which is the new way where you produce in Ghana, and you can supply the whole of Africa without tariffs or duty. It is a commercial arrangement, but it's not a political one. So, this is where there still has to be a certain amount of bilateral relationship, we always keep telling the business community.
And you raised a very good question when you said, Ghana as leader. Ghana at the moment is the headquarters of the Africa continental free trade area. In effect, we are positioning ourselves as the gateway to Africa. When you come to Ghana, either commercially, or even to set up a factory, you'll be able to supply the whole of Africa. So, this is what we're not trying to do to help the Indian business community to be able to penetrate through Africa commercially, before they'll even be any sort of political understanding, which may be a thing of the future. Let me quickly equate this to the EU. We all know that the EU started as that European Economic Community, now they are trying to get a certain political angle which is still not working, but at least the trade and commerce is working. So, this is how Africa and India has to go with us. Let us focus on the commercial aspects. And India must be looking at setting up manufacturing basis in Africa because we are looking at value addition.
My brother, let me make a very important contribution here with regard to trade. India and Ghana have a trade at the moment of about five billion dollors. In the last two years, we have risen 48% in trade, because we have come to India to change the game. And now the trade balance is even in favor of Ghana, because India is now becoming more of an upper middle-class economy, where they are now becoming more of a consumer but where are the raw materials? Let me give you an example. Ghana trades in cocoa, gold, we supplied more gold than South Africa last year, we do cashew, we do rubber, all these things India needs. But if you look at the markets, they are all in Europe. London bullion metal exchange is in London, but the gold is produced in Africa, and consumed in Dubai or India. We need to change some of the structures look at diamonds produce in Africa. The diamond capital is in Belgium though India has the technology to polish diamonds. So why can the market shift to Asia? We have cocoa: Ghana and Ivory Coast cocoa produce 60% of the world's cocoa but the cocoa market hub is in Geneva Switzerland. Why is that the case? India is producing a lot of chocolate. So, we need to merge Asia and Africa even more to be able to do that. India has some of the biggest oil refineries with reliance and so on. Yet the trading of oil is done in Rotterdam. There is oil in Middle East and Africa that can be supplied to India direct, how do we make this happen? And that is why recently, just last year, Ghana in India signed an MOU for LPG gas, where you would help us with technology. Secondly, the technology of the west is very expensive and very advanced but India with your cheaper reverse technology is more practical for the African climate. I think we make better bedfellows, and we can even work to a better and common future together.
Q As suggested by you, G2G relationship is great between India and Africa but P2P relations are weak, you suggest the ways to increase the people to people contact to push for comprehensive improvement in India Africa relations?
In fact, you have raised a fantastic question. The first thing that I want to tell that in Ghana, we have something called one district one factory. So, we welcome Indian companies to manufacture steel, pharmacy, leather goods, electronic equipment’s by joining other Ghanaians in joint ventures. But the reverse is not happening. The Indian government doesn't have any schemes, which they will assist African or Ghanaian businesses to overcome and establish here. For example, we produce shea butter for cosmetics. Can we not supply here and then come and set up small factories, which will at least do the first or second stage of processing before we give to the Indian cosmetic and pharmaceutical businesses. How is the Indian government ready to open up on that?
It has to be talked about education in every country: Indians go to Australia and they go to America or Europe, Africans go to Australia, Europe, America, Canada. When you finish studying, you are given internship for a year or two in some countries to pick up work experience from that country. It allows the Indian industry to be familiar with Ghanaian work ethic and work output. But in India, African students finished studying hardly get the internship. And they have to go without any commercial experience. You are raised fantastic thing where the government of India, for example, should look at more B2B encouragement because Ghana is really encouraging from our side. We want African corporations feel free to come in here, especially when it comes to value addition. We don't want a relationship where it's all about borrowing money from EXIM bank. And I must commend India, that in the last two years alone, India invested private money of over $500 million foreign direct investment. India was the second largest in terms of funding and number of projects in Ghana in 2019, this again, was above 500 million, that's half a billion dollars of investment. And because we are welcoming you this way. So, we also want you to start welcoming us so that we can expand in Asia, and then we become partners in friendship.
Q Africa is a fabulous tourist destination for the world yet it is under marketed in India, why? And is there any scope for improvement in Travel & Tourism?
Yes, very much. I must say that, to be honest, Ghana has not really experienced much difficulty in traveling to India, India really are very accommodating in terms of visas to Ghanaians. In fact, there have been some occasions where the Ghanaians may not have all the documentation that bureaucratically India may want, and I've had to intervene and they've understood that these things. The only problem and most people face challenges is when they need to renew their papers, especially with FRRO. This is something that India needs to look at when it comes to FRRO Rule. And that is one little hitch that we have. And with regard to business again, I must say that generally, there are no major issue, because the Indians who come to Ghana, they trade happily, there are many Indians in Ghana at the moment who have lived there for hundred years and never been to India, Indians in Ghana are very unique because they marry Ghanaians. There is no discrimination in terms of Christian, Hindu: there are gurudwaras in Ghana, everybody is being treated as a human being.
I think in my personal opinion, India is a fantastic country. India is virtually a continent, an enigma. And I encourage a lot more Ghanaians to come here for tourism, and a lot more Indians to also go to Ghana for tourism, because it's when you go for tourism, that you are able to sample our cuisine, and most importantly, look at business opportunities. So, I think you're right, tourism will be a very good way of expanding the relationship, both sides, and let us see how best we can put it together. Ghana Tourism Authority is to be the Tourism Board is now an authority to promote tourism. The main focus of the Ghana Tourism Board has been in America, and Europe and Canada, simply because they are also trying to attract more of the Africans though I must admit that our focus should be more in Asia. I think that we can start developing that more, we've already started a few ad-hoc things. Our visa has increased within the last three years to double the amount, but it's mainly business that we are focused on. And I think we can focus more on tourism. We welcome any such introductions, who would want to come and meet the Ghana Tourism Authority.
Q Your message to India before you leave the country to take plunge in active politics?
My departure is actually on Saturday, the 31st. And I must say that of all the interviewers I've spoken to, you have been able to extract deeper information from the way you've phrased your questions. I think the question that you asked about my challenges faced in India is a genuine heartfelt question because some people they only want to hear just the rosy things. And that is a fake friendship or relationship. So, I'm very grateful style of chatting. And it made me very relaxed and maybe even open up more. And I felt like I was having a private conversation rather than an interview. I will continue to be the informal Ambassador of Ghana in India & vice versa to consolidate bilateral relationship.