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Shirley Ayorkor Botchwey talks “Commonwealth” at the University of Buckingham

The Ghanaian diplomat delivered a lecture at the University of Buckingham, on “Realizing the Democratic Dividend: A Commonwealth Imperative”

Ghana’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration, Shirley Ayorkor Botchwey, has put forward proposals that she believes would help deliver socio-economic benefits to citizens of the Commonwealth, in the face of the threats of disinformation, populism, and declining trust in democracy.

Ms Botchwey, one of Africa’s top diplomats, and candidate for Secretary-General of the 56-member Commonwealth of Nations, was speaking on Thursday, 23 May 2024 at a lecture at the University of Buckingham, UK, titled, “Realizing the Democratic Dividend: A Commonwealth Imperative.”

Safeguarding democracy required international cooperation for transformative change in economic, environmental, and social dimensions, said Ms. Botchwey, a lawyer and former chair of the Council of Ministers of the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas), a region buffeted in recent years by political instability.

“In an increasingly interdependent world, collaboration among countries is essential for everyone. The climate crisis, in particular, has shown that collective action is needed, if we are to address the challenges of the global commons effectively,” she said.

The world must “lay the foundations for a robust and equitable global economy, not just in fine words, but in reality,” she told her audience of students, academics, diplomats and civil society activists some of who joined an online audience.

She pointed out that many developing countries, particularly, Small States and Small Developing Island Developing States, operated at the periphery of the global economy, relying on just a few raw agricultural export products, and tourism.

Ms Botchwey, a former deputy trade minister, said their heavy debt burden had become a hindrance to galvanising adequate investment to achieve robust economic growth and sustainable development. In 2023, their share of foreign direct investment had dropped by 10 percent when the reverse was what was desired.

She recommended that industrialised countries provide more resources to international financial institutions to enable the Commonwealth and other developing countries to access resources to respond effectively to the climate challenge.

Additionally, governments of the Commonwealth should incentivise the private sector to facilitate the transfer of technology and catalyze their usage. This would fast-track the transition towards a more equitable and sustainable global economy, said Ms. Botchwey, who is also a former deputy communications minister.

Governments, she said, must take steps to galvanise the promise of new technologies to ensure that young people participate in economic transformation. This means ensuring that investments in education and skills correspond to the needs of a modern workforce.

She established a link between social and economic outcomes and democracy saying, “I believe that the greatest threat to democracy today emanates from the diminished expectations for socio-economic advancement in recent years compared to the high promise of some two decades ago.

“If we are to address successfully the threats to democracy, we cannot ignore the lesson that the current democracies evolved and survived based on their ability to deliver on the expectations of the greatest majority of the people,” she said.

Ms Botchwey, a member of Ghana’s National Security Council, referred to the 2021/2022 Afrobarometer surveys conducted in 28 African countries which revealed that only 38% of Africans were satisfied with the way democracy worked in their countries.

She said today’s 24-hour news cycle enabled citizens to weigh in on policies and national direction by the minute, irrespective of the manifesto of the ruling government, thus diffusing political power more than ever before.

As these new dimensions of democracy increased each year, she said the Commonwealth must be a leader in re-engineering the democracy.

“The Commonwealth of Nations is the organization that best demonstrates in its Charter the direct link between its values and the realization of the aspirations of its citizens.”

Ms. Botchwey was a legislator for 16 years from 2005 and represented the most populous constituency in Ghana for eight of those years.  She was a member of the Ecowas parliament where she served as deputy chair on the New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD) and Peer Review committee.

The Commonwealth, which has a total population of 2.6 billion people and a combined GDP of over 13 trillion dollars, will choose a new Secretary General when heads of government meet in October this year. The next Secretary General who is expected to come from Africa, will replace Baroness Patricia Scotland, a Dominican-British citizen.

Reporting by Wilberforce Asare in Accra

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