Interview with H.E. Nana Konadu Agyeman Rawlings

13 12 1999

Nana Konadu Agyema-RawlingsInterview with H.E. Nana Konadu Agyeman Rawlings, The First Lady of Ghana and Executive President, June 30th 1999

Over the last three days we have covered quite extensively what the Movement does. Some of the main points are that you want to see to the development of a positive image of the woman and to help them get their lives into their own hands. But could you just go over the exact programs that the 31st December Movement is involved in and could you also tell us what you have accomplished over the last 17 years?


I have to get you a book. Well when we talk about being part of the development program, all we are saying is that we want to see a woman developed from a multi-sectoral approach; an all round development. We are not just talking about economic development, we are also talking about political development. Being sensitized to the issues of State, to the issues of their community, to issues on various topics and then being developed in the cultural and social areas and so on. So what we did was to take these 4 pointers; economic, political, social and cultural, and work in those areas. For example in the economic area we asked ourselves, what is it that the women really want? You can only answer it if you go to them and we asked them, so what do you want? Some will say we want to open up a small agricultural project. We want to make them bigger. Some will say we want to move away from planting to processing so we can cut down on post-harvest losses. Some will say we want to go into basketry. We get them to actually tell us what they want and then we give them that push and we help them to become efficient at what they do. And then in the political aspect we realise that most people felt that politics was for men so we had to break down the issue of politics and demystify it so that this myth surrounding politics is broken down once and for all. And now we have really done it. Women now stand for elections at the lowest level, that is the Unit Level through the District Level to the Parliamentary Level and even when they are having little town committees they stand for the elections because they want to be there. And so we now see that they understand why they should be part of the political framework of the country. Because if you want to care about yourself or your community you must understand the politics of the country or of your community to be a part of the decision taking process that we have been talking about. And of course with the cultural aspects we looked at the areas where we had a lot of attitudes: people just form attitudes about how women should be. We said that it was dangerous to form attitudes and when you have this attitudinal fixation it is very difficult to get rid of it. We have been working at it persistently and consistently for 17 years but we have not been able to erase all attitudes about women. We are still working at it because you need a lot of conscientisation not only on the part of the men and the opinion makers but also on the part of the women. Because some women have been “socialised” into believing and accepting their positions and they think that they should not go beyond that. So we have to work on the women, perhaps even twice as much, into knowing that being socialised and accepting that socialisation goes against their own development. They must clear their minds and see themselves as people who can also develop, improve on their lifestyles, improve on whatever they want to do. That is what we mean by taking their lives into their own hands and working towards the total empowerment of women. What we tried to do was to use a multi-sectoral approach instead of just economic or political ones. We adopt the multi-sectoral approach so that when we talk of the health needs of women we do not just talk about it. We make them use it to benefit themselves and make them see why they should be healthy – to be able to take care of themselves and their families. Why they should be involved in environmental and sanitation programs, why they should plant more trees so that when they need firewood they do not have to trek 6 miles to find it. They should plant it right there, so they have wood lots right outside their houses and they can cut in just a matter of 6 weeks. And re-plant and so on and so forth; reducing the time a woman uses for her household chores. Bring water to the community instead of walking so many miles and back. Bring it closer to you then you have more time for yourself and your children. All these things we have put together so that we use the multisectoral approach to empower women rather than taking it step by step. This is what the Movement is doing that has an advantage over others who take just one aspect of empowerment and just go for it. The women see ours as something that is a totality or an embodiment of what they want to be. I think they come to our Movement more than they go to others, and I think we have a program of work that entices everybody. Everybody has an interest in here. Some want education, some want health, some want credit, some want environment and so on and so forth. So we seem to touch on everybody’s if I may say weak point. They look for strength from the Movement so that is how we are able to get so many people in the Movement and these are the objectives that we are working with.

What we saw during these couple of days was mainly agrarian and the Minister of Employment told me today that he hoped that by 2020 30% of the population would be into agriculture. The country is going through a tremendous transformation, tourism, free trade zones, privatisation of companies. How are you keeping up and informed about what is going on in all these places, and getting that down to the grassroots?

Well, we have also involved ourselves, as we did not stick strictly to the agrarian programs and projects. Apart from the agrarian sector, we have people who are into manufacturing little products or producing cloth or kente and also exporting them. We are teaching them how to export, how to link up with exporters directly and moneys come to them. To I was inspecting a cheque that the Northern Region branch of the Movement had received in respect of a tree planting lot which was part of a World Bank sponsored project. It was a cheque for 67million and I asked them “how much are you going to give us?’ and they said “you take what you want” and I said “no, you look at your needs first and take out what you need”. This is what we are getting them to do, to stand on their own two feet. It was a labour intensive road project. We fed the workers and planted trees and we got paid. And that is how they made the money. Now I do not think this is agrarian at all. They have moved from the agrarian sector and are using a lot of ingenuity to look at how they can make money and make themselves useful as they develop the community.

How do you keep in touch with for example the Export Council or with the Tourist Board, so that you are on top of where they are going?

We organize workshops and we bring in experts to come and brief the women about what is happening in the tourist front. For example, we bring women in to a talk not just on export but say tourism. What do they have in their areas that they can develop towards the tourism sector? A lot of them have come up with programs that if we follow will help the women a lot. However, there are always problems of finance and so on. Some of the areas that we have discovered that are good for tourism are places that women told us about which neither we nor the Ministry of Tourism knew about. They bring information to us and we then hand it over to the sector ministry. So when they want to go and see the place we say ” Go and get in touch with this person in this district or region and they will show you where”. They have been able to compile a very comprehensive program on areas of tourist interest and they have a document for each region. In that respect we also get informed and we know how we can fit into these areas. Some want to go into catering to cater for tourist when they come, so we go to the Ministry of Tourism and find out what it is doing in that district or region to be able to inform the women so that they can take part in what is going on. Now, in the area of free zones, the Movement itself has looked for land there because we want to go into the production, properly bagging the gari that we produce because people come to us to buy the gari and we do not bag it properly. We just put them into sacks and they buy it and go and bag it properly, and label it. And they make the money, not us. So we want to do it properly so we can make some money for the women who make it. Secondly, we are looking at how we can process cocoa at the free zone and we are looking for partners to join up with us. We have already got the land and we have a couple of people who we are negotiating with, because we want to move away from little things so that we can make money and lend in small micro credits to the poorest of the poor. So we are looking at these areas but we do not make a lot of noise about it because it is from the headquarters. In the regions they are smaller, much, much smaller.

Your 2 million members make up just over a fifth of the voting population of Ghana and could therefor be useful politically. Now, there have been calls for you to stop being assessed on political lines and just be considered for your work in securing the welfare of women and children in the Ghanaian society. Which of the two images do you associate yourself with more. The first lady who is a political campaigner or president of the Women’s Movement?

I think the Women’s Movement. But whenever I get the opportunity I will talk for the government. If I really did not believe in the gender sensitivity of the N.D.C. I probably would just keep quiet, but I do and I see the programs that have been put up for women and I see it as enhancing my work, enhancing the women’s position in the country. That is why I just keep going on and on. And I am a member of the party and for example I do not expect Mrs. Clinton to go and stand on a platform and start campaigning for the Republicans. I do not. Whatever she talks about she talks about the policies of the Democratic Party and I do the same. But my emphasis is on what policies are there for us as women to take advantage of? Is there anything else we can get this government to do for us while it is there? This is where my emphasis is directed. But I would prefer to be seen as a woman activist who is very, very political because I am. I think you must be political to want to see a change and an improvement in your country to begin with. Otherwise you might as well be sleeping in your room.

With all these problems facing the country; domestic debt, foreign debt, cocoa and gold price falling, what are your major concerns for the country as we go into the next Millennium? What worries you most? What has to be done?

It is a matter of prioritising because we have a number of issues that need to be addressed very, very seriously. If we look at the economic situation first and try to improve on that area, not only looking at this issue of foreign debt and what have you, but also for the rest of the world to try and see from our point of view, how we are suffering. We continue growing items like cocoa, coffee, tea and bringing out gold that we do not even refine, and somebody says if you do not have a stamp you cannot refine your gold and so on. If people put blockades in our way which mean that we cannot dictate our prices, you will continue having an impoverished third world, if I may put it that way, which in the long run will not be able to satisfy your need for your primary products, anyway. So it is in the interest of developed countries to make sure we also develop. That is the bottom line. So if we are talking about the economics of this country I can only express it deeply by relating it to the prices of our commodities outside the country because we have worked very hard in the last 18years? I do not know. We have really worked hard and have sacrificed a lot. The people of this country have sacrificed a lot. We can see definitely that the country is moving in an upward trend. But the point is that we are not seeing the fruits of our labour as we should. And that is because as we bring out more gold the price of gold is falls even further, as we produce more cocoa and coffee the prices fall even further. And yet we are blocked from bringing finished products into develloped countries. There is a blockade, especially in the United States. You cannot get much in there.

That might change

I hope so. But I do not see it in the very near future because there are all sorts of impediments. I can give you one example: somebody who wanted to export peanuts. So they bought some from Africa, from Central and Southern America and he told me he was not allowed to sell them in the US because they said, “we already grow our peanuts”. We also produce certain things and yet open our doors to you. So if we are opening ours, why are you closing yours? So how did he get the peanuts in? He got the Venezuelans to say, “If you do not let the peanuts in we will stop buying cars from you” and as everything there is from the US the peanuts were allowed in. But they only took 40%, which for the moment they say is okay. So it is like blackmail; a little of this here and a little of that there. If you do not have that leverage it means you are not going to sell anything. So with globalisation, either we are going to be the poorer or I do not know how it is going to work.

Do you not have faith in the African Growth Opportunities Act that is going to be passed in the United States.

I also have hope in that and I am hoping that Congress will pass it because we will have at least our little toes in there. Not the foot, just the little toe. And once you have the little toe in the doorway maybe you can push the door to get your foot in there and maybe you will have a little space in there. We are hoping.

You are good friends with Mrs. Hillary Clinton I believe?

Yes.

Do you have the same political aspirations as she does?

In what way? What does she want to do?

She wants to run for the U.S. Senate.

Really? I did not know that. That is a brilliant idea.

So are you thinking of running and when?

No, I am not thinking of running. If I am going to run at all, IF, it definitely is not going to be now. Because I do not think that is what I want to do. I want to get the women really empowered in a way that nobody can turn the clock back. That is what I want to do.

Can you not do that better if you are in the leadership of the nation?

It is not going to be easy because you are looking at the whole country. Well, it might be easier, I do not know. I have to look at it. I have not weighed it. But I think that it is not what I want to do at the moment. I have not given it much thought either because I always thought of getting on with my work. I haven’t really given it deep thought but I do not think that is what I am going to do, yet.

In the year 2004, maybe?

You know situations can sometimes change your mind about things, because you say 2004 but maybe in 2002 I will find something so exciting that I will not want anything to do with leadership position. I would want to restrict myself to the women and that is what is occupying my mind now. Since I cannot read into the future I do not want to make predictions because it is not something that I am thinking about yet. It is not something I have planned for.

Do you not discuss this with your husband?

Not really. We have sort of discussed what to do after the year 2000. And I have told him I am going to continue with my Movement, I am not going to stop and he said he does not expect me to stop because I have to continue empowering the women. But it is not the kind of discussion like strategising. Just how we can get our lives going and so on.

I really will not take any more of your time, but just conclude this thought, what does he want to do after the year 2000?

Lots of things. He wants to be able to help build his party well. He wants to be able to help bring peace to the sub-region and the continent of Africa. He understands the problems that spark the little conflicts, whether it is ethnicity or in the area of development.

© World INvestment NEws, 1999.
This is the electronic edition of the special country report on Ghana published in Forbes December 13th 1999 Issue. Developed by AgenciaE.Tv

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