“Great results are obtained with passion, persistence, and consistency”
Text: Martina Hošková and M.Zisso; Photo: Archive
“Man proposes but God disposes,” believes Ambassador of Ghana, H.E. Mr. James Komla Nyasembi. In our case, God seems to be on his side, as his working efforts were awarded a successful diplomatic career, as well as on the side of Czechia-Ghana relations, which were established in 1959 and have continued in a friendly manner ever since. What did the Ambassador’s childhood in Ghana look like? How does he perceive the responsibilities of a devoted diplomat? And what can Ghana offer to Czech tourists and businesses?
Can we start this interview with you telling us a bit about your experience growing up in Ghana?
I am the second born in a family of nine, and I come from Agotime Kpetoe in the Volta Region of the Republic of Ghana. My village and Bowri in the Ashanti Region are noted for the hand-woven and adorable Kente cloth, of which Ghana is highly accredited for. Growing up in the village, I, as a young boy, learned how to earn money by weaving Kente cloth since that was the main occupation of our parents. I engaged myself in the Kente weaving industry, and earned enough money to see myself through secondary school, followed by Bishop Herman College at Kpando, which is one of the most prestigious sixth-form schools in the Volta Region.
Did you then proceed with your university studies?
Upon my graduation from the college, I had the intention to enter the Ghana Army in 1982, but as fate would have it, I later shelved the idea and decided to travel abroad for higher university education. I obtained a Bachelor’s and Master of Science Degrees in International Relations from the University of Ife, which is now Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, in Nigeria. I also had the opportunity to attend the Ghana Institute of Management and Public Administration (GIMPA), and did other professional courses in Singapore and Thailand, just to mention a few.
Let me take this opportunity to convey my sincere appreciation to Prof. Edward Mensah of the University of Chicago, and to Prof. George Vukor Quarshie, for all of their assistance and support when in school. Indeed, great results are obtained with passion, persistence, and consistency.
I never gave up and God was on my side, and I made it to the top today.
Indeed, the position of an ambassador is the culmination of any diplomatic career. What made you become a foreign service officer in the first place?
This is a good question. You know, when you are young, you tend to have a lot of fascinating ideas of what lies ahead of you as a profession. In fact, you often cannot settle on one until reality stares you right in the face.
At university, and looking closely at the academic environment and my lecturers at the time, I made up my mind to be in academia, and to work rigorously to become a Professor of International Relations, my choice of course at the undergraduate and postgraduate levels. However, this could not materialise, and I had to look further afield for a career path. With no immediate option at the time, I went in for my National Service and was posted to the Public Services Commission. As God planned it, I met officers from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and from there I decided to join the Ministry and follow the career path of a diplomat.
Once you decided to join the Foreign Ministry, has your path been straight to the top?
I made my first move to join the Foreign Ministry in 1997, but failed because my superiors at the Public Services Commission would not allow me to leave. I stayed on until ten years later, when another opportunity came – and this time, I was successful.
My years with the Commission gave me the opportunity to acquire in-depth knowledge of the Civil and Public Services of Ghana, and made it possible for me to fit into the scheme of affairs at the Foreign Ministry. Thanks to hard work and a dedicated service, I went through the ranks as a career officer. Finally, in 2021, I was recommended for the position of ambassador by the Minister after 19 years at the Ministry, which was graciously approved by H.E. Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, the President of the Republic of Ghana and Commander in Chief of Ghana. I was appointed an Ambassador of Ghana to the Czech Republic.
What are your impressions of Czechia?
I arrived in the beautiful and well-acclaimed United Nations heritage city of Prague on 27th September 2021. It means that I have been in the Czech Republic for a year and five months, to be precise. I arrived during the COVID-19 period.
I can vividly remember my first impression of a city with warm and loving people, ready to engage in conversation with foreigners and share a beer with them. In addition to the warmth of the nationals, the Czech Republic introduced itself to me as a country that protects everyone. The security of the capital city and the country as a whole is superb, and one can go around performing his diplomatic duties without any hindrance.
The layout of the city and its architecture reminded me of the city of Rome. The cathedrals, Charles Bridge, the Zoo, the great buildings of Prague 6, and the city’s history will forever remain in my memories. I noted that Prague, with its numerous tourists, never sleeps. I love the City of Prague and its inhabitants. There was truly a great transformation from socialism to capitalism, and the adaptation and the speed of development that took place in the Czech Republic are really tremendous and mind-blowing. The Czechs are hardworking people, and I am proud to be among Ghana’s ambassadors to serve in this country.
Where did you serve before being appointed to the Czech Republic?
As I already mentioned, I started my career with the Public Services Commission of Ghana after completing my National Service with the Commission in 1992. After working there for ten years, I left with the grade of Senior Administrative Officer/ Assistant Director I.
That period was followed by working for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. After five years, I was posted to Rome in October 2005, first as a desk officer for Political and Economic Affairs and later as a Deputy Head of Mission. My duty tour in Rome ended in September 2009.
Back home in 2009, I served as Deputy Director at the Human Resources and Administration Bureau of the Ministry under the late Ambassador Ekow Yankey. This was until 2012, when I was posted to the Ghana Mission in Equatorial Guinea in Central Africa as Minister-Counsellor, and assisted the ambassador in the discharge of his duties. It was a challenging post, in the sense that I was not a Spanish scholar and depended on translators most of the time when dealing with local officials. The tour was fruitful in the end, and I returned home in August 2016. It’s worth noting that I earned my promotion to the grade of Director while serving in Malabo. Back at the Foreign Ministry in Accra, I served in various capacities at the Human Resources and Administration Bureau and the Americas Bureau, before I was appointed as Head of the Africa and Regional Integration Bureau, as well as Head of the ECOWAS National Office. Later, I headed the Ministry’s Policy Planning, Monitoring, and Evaluation Bureau, before my posting to the country’s mission in Cuba, Havana in January 2017 as Minister Plenipotentiary and Deputy Head for one year.
Then, I was crossed-posted to Lagos, Nigeria, where I spent three years as Ghana’s Consul General at the Lagos consulate. In August 2021, I was appointed as Ghana’s Ambassador to the Czech Republic. I am concurrently accredited to the Slovak Republic, the Republic of North Macedonia, Romania, Poland, and Hungary. As an ambassador, I presented my credentials to His Excellency President Miloš Zeman at the Lány Chateau on Monday 20th December 2021.
What do you find the most difficult part of being an ambassador?
The truth is that compliments from friends and colleagues become history once you report at the post and dive into action as an ambassador. First of all, you have to develop your own strategy on how to have an effective and efficient team in place in order to aid the work of the ambassador.
If the Head of Chancery, the Deputy Head of Mission, and the Secretary to the Ambassador are “seated well” and provide the needed support, then everything is all right and you can enjoy smooth sailing. A strong team provides magnificent results. And I do have such a team in place.
Some of the difficulties encountered by ambassadors in the discharge of their duties may relate to the following: a language barrier, a lack of effective planning for the mission, and an inability to attend all diplomatic meetings if two or three are planned for the same day. Another aspect of these difficulties may relate to satisfying the needs of your countrymen and women in the host country. Fortunately for me, a larger number of Ghanaians in the Czech Republic are in suitable employment, and respect the laws and rules of the country. Our students here are also hard working, and take their studies seriously.
Information gathering, negotiation, and getting the needed support from institutions in the host country are all vital to the success of an ambassador. The Ghanaian mission has enjoyed favourable relations with the Czech Foreign Ministry; hence difficulties are limited. My major challenge, unfortunately, is the lack of funds to carry out the planned activities. However, some Ghanaians who studied in Czechia are at the forefront and help to promote Ghana in many fields.
To summarize my answer, I can state that the difficulties are minimal with my strong team of officers and Ghanaians in the Czech Republic.
Can you give a piece of advice to the next generation of ambassadors?
For future ambassadors, I would like to point out the need for selfless devotion to duty, and a penchant for excellence in all activities they undertake in the host country. Interaction with the officials of their country of accreditation on a regular basis goes a long way to pave way for good relations, and for the sharing of vital information.
As I already said earlier, ambassadors, both career and political ones, should work closely with their staff and create a good working environment, where they can tap into ideas that will help accomplish their goals and aspirations in the complex fields of diplomacy in the changing world of the 21st century. Ambassadors should be conversant with their home country, and have pencilled down the needs of their people in order to be able to identify the opportunities that can benefit their country. Knowledge of the economic, cultural, political, social, and human resource potentials of their country can serve as a guide to what they need to do at their post.
Last but not the least, a newly appointed ambassador to any country of the world should be able to tour many parts of that country and learn about the history and culture there. Indeed, for effective diplomacy, an ambassador should have “foreign languages, strong analytical, organisational, and leadership skills, good judgement, and high integrity”, and should not shy away from colleagues.
Do you have any free time to enjoy yourself?
“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy and all play and no work makes Jack a lazy boy” – so goes the saying, and this applies to all human beings, no matter their status in life. Apart from engaging in real diplomatic activities in the host country, I find time to watch football and take walks in parks around my area. I also appreciate nature; hence I find time for sightseeing and bird watching. Back home, I engage in activities such as gardening and engaging school children in tree planting, as well as other environmental activities.
Can you tell us more about your environmental activities?
I would begin by indicating that it should be the general concern of each one of us to prioritize issues relating to the protection of the environment. We all know that when the last tree dies, the last man also dies. Mother Earth provides all that we see around us, and if we neglect the protection of mother Earth we are digging our own graves, since the consequences will be unbearable to us. The over-exploitation of the world’s natural resources, the pollution of our oceans, rivers, and lakes, and the destruction of our forests are beginning to impact our lives in a negative way.
I have developed a strong interest in the environment over the past 30 years, and this compelled me to join the Evergreen Club of Ghana and serve as its General Secretary, with Madam Sukeena Bonsu as the Club’s Executive Secretary. The aim of the Club is to “draw the interest of children and youth into the protection of trees and the environment as a whole”. Based on the Club’s objectives, environmental clubs were established in some junior secondary schools in Ghana, with the support of teachers to instil environmental protection activities into the children. Tree planting is a major part of our activities.
I am currently working closely with a Slovak NGO engaged in the Planting of Trees for Peace Initiative. I strongly believe that the outcome will be beneficial to Ghana, especially in the area of forest protection and the degradation of the landscape in the mining communities.
Do your country’s natural resources make Ghana an attractive holiday destination?
Tourism is a key economic driver in Ghana. The tourism sector has generated foreign exchange earnings, and has created jobs and wealth, as well as stimulated other sectors. Ghana as a country has many breathtaking tourist attractions, thanks to our natural resources’ endowments.
Ghanaian wildlife species account for 222 mammals, 128 reptiles, 38 amphibians, and 721 bird species. There are also about 20 national parks and reserves, covering approximately 5% of Ghana’s total land surface. With waterfalls, Ghana can boast of Kintampo Waterfall, Wli Waterfall, and Boti Waterfall. With regards to animal sanctuaries, the country has Wechiau Hippo Sanctuary, Paga Crocodile Pond, Mole National Park, and monkey sanctuaries like Buabeng Fiema and Tafi Atome.
Tourists are also interested in Ghana’s African cultural heritage. Do you promote this side of Ghana too?
The country has over 30 forts and castles. Among the most visited are Elmina and Cape Coast castles, and Manhyia Palace Museum, which has historic relics and artefacts of Ashanti Kings. You can also visit quite a number of religious monuments, such as Larabanga Mosque, which is among the oldest mosques in West Africa. Other man-made attractions include the Akosombo Dam, conference facilities, hotels, casinos, art galleries, and bustling nightlife, among others. Ghana has over 30 festivals celebrated by different ethnic groups in different calendar months. Recently, the month of December began our greatest celebration season.
For those who enjoy sports, Ghana offers paragliding events that are held every Easter season, plus also sports such as soccer, boxing, golf, etc.
Promoting tourism requires showing the many available attractions to the Czech people and inviting them to visit Ghana. Above all, Ghanaians living in Czechia should always act as tourism ambassadors of Ghana. Cultural shows and concerts of our music in Prague and other cities should be encouraged.
The Czech – Ghanaian relations date back to the time of the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic. Did this era leave a great mark in Ghana?
Indeed, the political and economic ties between Ghana and the Czech Republic date back to Ghana’s First Republic, under Dr. Kwame Nkrumah. Diplomatic relations between Ghana and the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic were established in 1959. Since then, the Czech Republic and Ghana have maintained diplomatic missions and exchanged envoys at the ambassadorial levels in their respective capitals. Fifteen Ghanaian envoys have served in Prague, and I am the sixteenth on the list.
The Czech contribution to Ghana’s socio-economic development efforts is massive, and I can immediately recount the assistance in the establishment of strategic industries in some parts of the country during the First Republic. The Aboso Glass Factory, Saltpond Ceramics, Kade Match Factory, Komenda Sugar Factory, and the Kumasi Shoe Factory, among others, featured in Ghana’s economic development in the 60s. We need the Czechs back to revive some of these collapsed companies.
What is the current status of Czechia – Ghana relations?
Since my assumption of duty as ambassador, Ghana – Czechia relations have been given a boost, in both the political and economic spheres. A notable event behind this state of affairs was the successful visits of the countries’ representatives, which I would like to mention here.
- The working visit of the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration of the Republic of Ghana to Prague in February 2022.
- The official working visit to Prague by the Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration of the Republic of Ghana in September 2022. While in Prague, the Deputy Minister held discussions with his Czech counterpart, Martin Tlapa, on bilateral and multilateral issues of interest to Ghana.
- The visit to Accra by the Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic, Martin Tlapa, and the fruitful discussions held on this occasion.
- The visit to Accra by the first Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic, Jiří Kozák, accompanied by a delegation of members of the Association of Manufacturers and Suppliers of Medical Devices, and representatives of financial houses, in July 2022. This visit was in order to discuss the ongoing projects of building regional hospitals, among other health issues. Note that the meeting afforded the two sides the opportunity to explore avenues for the enhancement of bilateral relations and cooperation on health, as well as peace and security issues within the West African and Sahel regions.
- The visit to Accra by the Deputy Minister for Defence of the Czech Republic in July 2021, and the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding between the Government of the Czech Republic and the Government of Ghana on Defence Cooperation during the visit, which would enable the two sides to work closely in addressing security challenges both in Ghana and in the region.
- The two-day exploratory visit to Ghana by the delegation of experts on cyber security from the Czech Republic, led by the Minister of Justice, Pavel Blažek, to discuss issues pertaining to cyber security with some relevant Ghanaian stakeholders. The discussions culminated in the proposals for practical collaboration.
The current status of the bilateral relations is also illustrated through the cooperation of the two countries in various international fora, including support for each other’s candidatures for positions at various multilateral institutions. Aside from the above, other activities under economic diplomacy have been through infrastructure development. For instance, the construction of 50 steel bridges across the country, the setting up of tram and railways in the Ashanti region of Ghana, and the ongoing building of hospitals, among others.
Ghana is celebrating its 66th Independence Anniversary this year, therefore we asked Ambassador Nyasembi for a few words on this occasion.
Firstly, I would like to say that Ghana is celebrating her 66th birthday. The proclamation of our Independence was made at the Polo Ground in Accra on 6th March 1957, when our first President, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, declared: “At long last, the battle has ended! and thus, Ghana your beloved country is free forever.” He further stated that “our independence is meaningless unless it is linked up with the total liberation of Africa”.
On this occasion of the 66th Independence Anniversary of Ghana, it is my honour to extend to all my compatriots in the Czech Republic and countries of concurrent accreditation, warm felicitations. Sixty-six years of Ghana’s independence should make us all proud as a people, irrespective of our challenges.
I wish my countrymen and women peace, joy, love of one another, and God’s blessing in whatever venture they are into. Secondly, I also call for unity of purpose in tackling our current economic challenges, in order to create a better future for our children and mother Ghana. Let us resolve to live in peace, join our hands together in all spheres of life, and devote our thoughts and energies to building a better Ghana, and, for that matter, a better, prosperous, and resilient Africa.
To my compatriots, I would like to state that nation building is a collective enterprise and is the responsibility of all citizens, both at home and abroad. Therefore, I entreat everyone to contribute their quota to the building of a better nation.
We as a nation have suffered the pains of COVID-19, the terrible impact of the Russo-Ukrainian war, the downturn in our economy, and other challenges that may not allow us to celebrate our national day as planned. I therefore entreat each of us in the diaspora to contribute our quota to the building of a better and prosperous Ghana. I hope and believe that things will turn around for mother Ghana, and we shall have a grand 67th birthday celebration in 2024.
Let me use this opportunity to thank the government and the good people of the Czech Republic, and
to thank our development partners for the sound relations, friendship, and support received from them over the past six years.
As we commemorate our Independence Day, I wish to state that Ghana will continue to work towards global peace, security, democracy, good governance rule of law, and respect for human rights, which are the underlying factors for human prosperity and development in Ghana. We are confident that Ghana can count on the cooperation and support of the Czech government and people in her efforts to harness its resources for national growth and development. I wish to use this medium to invite the Czech business community to consider Ghana as a viable investment destination.
I would also like to invite the Czech people to visit and enjoy Ghana’s beautiful coastlines, forts and castles, flora and fauna, and the charm of the beautiful people of Ghana. Above all, we are inviting the business community to come and take advantage of the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AFCFTA). Ghana is a viable investment and tourism destination.
Long live Ghana. Long live Czechia. Thank you!