AmCham Thanksgiving Dinner – Ambassador Palmer’s Speech

Ambassador Palmer Speech
AmCham Thanksgiving Dinner
November 18, 2023

As prepared for delivery

 

Good evening, everyone!

Thanksgiving is a cherished American holiday, as you all know, and one that is often all the more poignant for those of us far from family!  I love to tell the story of the pilgrims – it’s a very American story:  refugees essentially fleeing religious persecution came to the New World and suffered incredible hardships.  They were helped through the difficult winter and given seeds and tips on new farming techniques by the Native Americans who had been there for millennia.  When they survived and were able to complete their first harvest, they invited the Native Americans to a great feast of Thanksgiving.   (In maybe typical American fashion, we gloss over subsequent monumental injustices to those Native Americans when we commemorate that feast, but) I do so love the celebration of togetherness – and diversity and freedom, and a chance to pause a give thanks.

In my family – and around my thanksgiving table in 11 different countries so far – that’s one of the blessings I count! – we go around from the youngest to the oldest and say what we’re thankful for.   I’ll jump the queue s little today and say a few things I’m thankful for and then since this is also AmCham’s year in review celebration, I’ll make a few reflections on this ….difficult….year.

We are all thankful for the blessing of the health of our families –this year, I have to brag – mine includes new grandbaby!

And I say every year – but it’s true every year though challenged in recent years more than in past – I am thankful for the prosperity and, most of all, the liberty we enjoy as Americans.

I am thankful for the tremendous work of AmCham and our partnership with you. Your support for Ghana’s private sector-led recovery as well as your concrete advice to the U.S. and Ghanaian Governments is more essential than ever to improving the business environment.

We should all give thanks for is the service of the outgoing Chamber executives.  Please let me salute President Ayesha Bedwei Ibe; Vice President Pakwo Shum; and the other board members who have been terrific partners. (Encourage applause)

And congratulations to incoming President Kimathi Kuenyehia (KOON-yeh-ee-ah).  We look forward to your leadership, Kimathi, and to working with you.

One of our highlights this year was our cooperation with AmCham on the U.S. – Ghana Business Forum.  Thank you for your tremendous efforts on that event.  Attended by more than 800 people, the Forum projected the full spectrum of U.S. – Ghanaian economic and commercial engagement.  A new Budget Enterprise franchise was launched, and several new MOUs were signed as a result.  It also sent a key message that the United States remains Ghana’s steadfast – and best – partner and – if steps are taken to improve the business environment – American business is extremely interested in trade and investment in Ghana.

One of the key issues at the Forum was the role of the African diaspora and how to better leverage that force.  Every day, I am reminded how critical the diaspora is to our partnership with Ghana.  The deep, historical, relationships among our peoples are a crucial dimension of our bilateral relationship.

And they are growing.  For example, the number of Ghanaian students in the United States grew by over 30 percent last year, one of the highest increases of any country in the world, and Ghana is now the 14th largest sender of student to the U.S. worldwide.  These students are forging new ties — business, academic, and personal — that will define the Ghanaian diaspora for the next generation.

The head of Brookings’ Africa Growth Initiative Dr. Landry Signé calls the Africa diaspora a “megatrend” that will positively impact Africa — and I would argue — will positively impact Ghana, in particular.  We know it well here in the business community.  Mona Boyd, Joe Mensa, and others – you were leading the charge of this megatrend.

The diaspora began in the horrors of the Transatlantic slave trade but evolved with Ghanaian students studying in the United States, including Kwame Nkrumah, who returned to lead Ghana to independence – that “Black Star Rising” that meant so much not just for other African countries but for African Americans struggling for justice at home.

Vice President Harris’ historic visit highlighted the role of diaspora in creative and other industries in Ghana.

Back at home, the White House created the President’s Advisory Council on African Diaspora Engagement to recommend to President Biden how we can further leverage the diaspora’s strong interest in furthering Africa’s development, prosperity and security.

The Council’s 12 members, sworn in by Vice President Harris just last month, are representatives of the African American and African immigrant communities.  They are distinguished individuals from government, sports, the creative industries, business, academia, and faith-based organizations.  One of them, Director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture  Kevin Young was here with Vice President Harris in March.  I think we should see if we can get the Council to come!

Ghana has the African diaspora community’s attention. As our Global Diversity trade mission to Ghana in August showed, the African diaspora is ready to do business in Ghana.

However, macroeconomic stability and trade and investment policies matter to the diaspora – just as they do to all businesspeople. Diaspora investors know if others are not getting paid, if there is a lack of contract sanctity, or if there is overly aggressive tax collection.  Treating existing investors well tangibly improves the investment climate.  And unnecessary barriers to entry and partnerships – such as the high minimum threshold for investment – hinder it.  We have terrific Small- and Medium-Sized Enterprises on both sides of the Atlantic that could be partnering and creating ventures. For Ghanaian companies facing high interest rates, an investment infusion of even $50,000 from a foreign partner could be transformative right now.

But when we talk about lowering barriers to trade and investment, we also need to talk about treating people fairly and ensuring your employees are safe and protected from legalized discrimination.  I want to broach a subject that I know is sensitive, but is more important in a business context than most people realize.

Ghana’s Parliament is considering a bill that would curtail the human rights of the LGBTQI+ community, their families, allies, and quite frankly all Ghanaians.   Everybody has opinions about the issue – and I respect that, even if I may disagree.  But  very few people have read the Bill.  The reality is that the bill undermines basic free speech rights that Ghanaians otherwise enjoy.  The goal of the bill, which the drafters are not shy about advertising, is to make Ghana hostile not only to LGBTQI+ people, but to anyone who even sympathizes with them.  It seeks to make illegal all discussion and all media that even mentions LGBTQI+ issues.  If passed, this bill will make it harder for you to not only recruit and hire the best people from overseas, but it will also marginalize educated and hard-working Ghanaians by making it clear they are unwelcome.

I have no doubt such legislation would have a chilling effect on Ghana as an investment destination.  The bill, in any form, will make it harder for me to sell Ghana as a place American investors and businesses should come.  I have talked with American businesses who tell me they are concerned and re-thinking their investment and purchasing strategies in Ghana because of the threat of the bill.   You see then that the legislation – in addition to undermining public health and public order – would reduce forex inflow, cut into your bottom lines and reduce your workforce options, not something Ghana’s suffering business environment needs.

I am truly thankful to those of you who have raised these issues to Ghanaian policymakers.  As representatives of the business community, and as the partners Ghana needs to build a truly inclusive 21st century economy, your voices need to be heard – and they need to be heard now, before irreparable damage is done.

So to sum up, implementing simple, pro-business policies could accelerate the diaspora megatrend that we are all seeing — and some of you are embodying.  But Ghana won’t automatically benefit from this trend.  Foreign companies moving here to invest and employ Ghanaians need to see trade, regulation, and legal frameworks that allow businesses to thrive, while protecting employees.

It is my hope that our trade and commercial relationship will continue to benefit all Ghanaians. That’s what we work every day to achieve.

Before I close, please allow me to congratulate in advance tonight’s honorees and award recipients.

Let’s give thanks for the many blessings in our lives, both big and small, and remember that the heart of this holiday is the spirit of togetherness.  I am very thankful for all of you!  Happy Thanksgiving!