The United States has a “partnership of tangible results” with Ghana — a nation that is already well under way in its preparations to welcome President Obama July 10–11 — says Aaron H. Sherinian, a senior official with the U.S. Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC).
In a June 22 interview with Africa News Report, Sherinian, who just returned from Ghana, said signs already can be spotted throughout the country saying “President Barack Obama Welcome Home,” or “You Are Welcome in Ghana.” African cloth printed with Obama’s image and sporting a welcome greeting in the local languages is also available in local markets, he said.
The MCC is an independent U.S. foreign aid agency, established in 2004. It forms partnerships with some of the world’s poorest countries, but only those committed to good governance, economic freedom and investment in their citizens.
A smart development program
One of the key means of partnership between the United States and Ghana, Sherinian said, is the Millennium Challenge Corporation’s five-year, $547 million “compact,” which has as its sole purpose the improvement of people’s lives in Ghana.
Sherinian, who is MCC’s managing director of public affairs, said the goal of the MCC is to establish a partnership between the people of the United States and the people of Ghana to fight poverty. He calls the MCC’s compact with Ghana a “smart development program” because it was designed and generated by the Ghanaian people. “We went to them. We went to the Ghanaian people and said, ‘What is it that you need to help your people lift themselves out of poverty?’”
The compact touches people’s lives in the three key areas of agriculture, transportation and rural development. First, it provides farmers with much needed training, title to their land, irrigation development, improved post-harvest handling of products and credit services, he explained. Helping farmers secure title to their land is important, he said, because with a title in hand, farmers can go to a bank and borrow money, using their land as collateral, to improve their farming operations.
In transportation, funds are being used to turn a major unimproved road into a modern highway in Ghana so it can become a major artery for moving people and goods from the capital to a port city. The improvement of that road is going to change people’s lives, he said. “I talked to so many people and they said it is a dream come true, that since the 1960s and 1970s, they have needed this improved road … that will connect the farmers to the capital, to the port. That helps them get their products out. It helps in terms of food security. It helps in terms of improving trade. It is really having a great effect that is going to spill over into all core parts of the economy.” Additionally, compact funds also will be used to upgrade ferry services on Lake Volta and to construct trunk roads, he said.
“People want to pay good money for good products and excellent products like they produce in Ghana,” he said. But, citing pineapples as an example, he said at this point many pineapples will rot on the back of a truck or get to the capital and have to be sold the same day — further depressing prices. The MCC is not only providing agricultural expertise for the farmer, but also building roads to transport the crops for export. “We are talking about real value added. People are hungry for the sweetness of what Ghana can provide.” Speaking of the compact, Sherinian said: “It is partnership; it is respectful and really driven by the Ghanaians themselves. This is not the U.S. government telling Ghana what it needs to do. It is the U.S. government helping provide Ghana what it says it needs.”
A third part of the compact includes rural development, such as construction of new schools and water facilities and support for rural banks and for public sector procurement so local governments can serve the people better. Sherinian said that during his recent trip he visited a school and was greeted by smiling students who could be proud of their modern classrooms and new desks made by Ghanaian people. “You could tell that this meant the beginning of a new future for these kids. So these schools are going to really have a huge impact on the people of these villages and the people of Ghana.”
Look at my field
“There is a lot to look at. There is a lot to see [that shows] we are partners with that country,” he said. To illustrate his point, Sherinian recalled his visit with a Ghanaian farmer named John, who through the MCC was able to get nine weeks of training on how to fertilize his crops, plant them in rows and incorporate the latest, best agricultural practices. “John said flat out, ‘Look at my field. Look at what I have right here.’ He was very open about it and very proud,” Sherinian said. “He let me take a picture of him in the middle of his newly planted cabbage field.” Additionally, Sherinian said farmers are more confident now, having received both agricultural and business training, so they can now go to the banks to borrow money to expand their operations, and, thanks to MCC, banks have been sensitized to the need for providing precious capital to local farmers.
MCC is currently partnering with 11 countries in Africa and 17 countries worldwide for programs in excess of $6.4 billion. Each program is uniquely designed for each country, but Sherinian said the programs usually share some qualities, like farmer training, infrastructure development, education and food security enhancement.
“When U.S. taxpayers think about how their money gets used and where it is invested,” Sherinian said, “I think Africa is a great example of a lot of potential.” While there is still a long way to go, he said, “we are seeing tangible results on the ground.”