By Goodfellow Offei
For the past two decades, Michael Ofori-Atta has been at the forefront of African diplomacy with one major focus: helping build on the post-colonial vision to grow Ghana’s importance in the African geopolitical space.
Ofori-Atta is an industry professional in a field that straddles regional political dynamics and geopolitical understandings. In a rare show of force, he began his career as a flagship political show host on Cote d’Ivoire’s national radio and television station, followed by an assistant production role at Reuters TV.
For him, “grasping the subtleties of diplomacy demands a certain level of acuity that comes with not only the right academic and professional backgrounds, but also a practical knowhow that is directly imparted through mentorship”. It helps that he is perfectly bilingual (English and French).
He holds two masters’ degrees from two UK universities: A Master of Arts in International Relations and World Order, from the University of Leicester, and a Master of Arts in Public Communication and Public Relations from the University of Westminster.
The successes chalked in Ofori-Atta’s diverse diplomatic roles have been largely influenced by bi-partisan arrangements at the highest level; a diplomatic exception that is linked to his grooming and mentorship in the politico-diplomatic space by five political stalwarts from both leading political parties in Ghana.
Aside from having spent some 20 odd years by President Nana Akufo-Addo’s side, learning the ropes of diplomacy, Ofori-Atta has benefited from the diplomatic expertise of Hackman Owusu-Agyeman who initiated him into the world of diplomacy. And then there are Ibn Chambas, Baba Camara and Shirley Ayorkor Botchway who stand out as mentors; although these relationships have been borne out of professional ardour.
It is the same ardour that saw the inclusion of Ofori-Atta, in March 2005, as part of the delegation with the African Union Committee of Three — comprising the former Foreign Ministers of Nigeria and Ghana, Hon. Adeniji and Hon. Akufo-Addo, respectively, and the African Union Commission chairman, H.E. Alpha Omar Konare — to the United Nations to present the Africa Union’s position on the United Nation’s reforms to the then UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan.
But perhaps Michael Ofori-Atta’s full awareness of a 360 political recognition of both his talent and success in the diplomatic space came in 2018 when he got a call from former President Jerry John Rawlings’ personal assistant for a tete-a-tete with the now late president.
“During the call, he told me he had observed leadership qualities in me and would like to interact with me from time to time,” says Ofori-Atta. “This was followed by other invitations”.
The Late President’s invitations came at a time when Ghana was helping to broker the peace between diverse Togolese political parties, including that country’s ruling party. As President Nana Akufo-Addo’s advisor on ECOWAS and Regional Integration affairs, he played the principal role of coordinator, ensuring that all parties were present at the table until an agreement was reached. The same was repeated in the Ivory Coast in their post-election situation. “These are diplomatic wins that contribute to safeguarding the integrity of Ghana. Political instability among our neighbours’ risk affecting our investor attractiveness, or even worse.”
A strong diplomatic presence is, however, preceded by national consensus, as it is what allows a country to speak with one voice, whether during negotiations or mediation, with the intention to lead by example. This is a lesson that was inculcated into his grooming at the foreign ministry, beginning 2002, by his first mentors – Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo and Hackman Owusu-Agyeman. “As Foreign Minister, Nana Addo was categorical about unbiased participation, and fostering relationships across party, religious, and social divides”.
An encounter between Ofori-Atta and Diplomat Extraordinaire, Ibn Chambas, during a tour of duty in London as a Ghanaian diplomat in 2005, saw the latter extend an invitation to work with him at ECOWAS. But it would take him another 4 years to move to Abuja as ECOWAS’s deputy head of protocol and head of diplomatic relations unit for all 15-member states; a move that honed the mentorship relationship with Chambas.
Before that move, however, he had been part of a 2004 fact-finding (mission) delegation to Guinea-Bissau consisting of the former chairman of the ECOWAS Mediation and Security Council, Hon. Nana Akufo-Addo, Hon. Cheikh Tidiane Gadio, Senegalese Foreign Minister and the Executive Secretary of the ECOWAS, Dr. Mohammed Ibn Chambas. The delegation was on a fact-finding mission to Guinea-Bissau following the disturbances that characterized the March 2004 legislative elections (28th March, 2004).
Amid the numerous high level delegations and technical working groups, across Africa and internationally, one of his significant achievements has been his role in leading efforts for ECOWAS to be registered under the International Organisations Immunities Act with the U.S. State Department.
As per design, Ofori-Atta’s new role again led to another encounter; this time with Ghana’s High Commissioner to Nigeria, Baba Camara. “We worked together when president Mahama was made the Chair of the Authority of Heads of State and Government to ensure a successful leadership by Ghana’s president”.
According to Ofori-Atta, that was the beginning of a professional relationship based on trust and a profound enthusiasm to learn from Baba Camara.
“It was only organic in the order of things when he requested my technical knowledge to help set up President Mahama’s office at the Flagstaff House in an effort to give it the right outlook”.
Mentorships aside, Michael Ofori-Atta has continued to score a number of big diplomatic wins, after his tour of duty at both the Foreign Ministry and ECOWAS.
As President Nana Akufo-Addo’s lead on African affairs, Ofori-Atta has been influential in the region’s recognition of the Ghanaian president as a natural leader, which contributed to his re-election as Chair of the Authority of Heads of State and Government of ECOWAS.