It’s been over three months since the passing of Mr Kofi Annan. Ghana did well to honor him with a befitting funeral, attended by thousands including major international figures such as heads of states and government, as well as their representatives. There were also calls for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Building and LECIAD to be named after him. While I recognize the spirit and intent behind these recommendations, I think a more relevant and beneficial way to honor and remember him, as well as to promote his ideals and continue his good works, would be to promote and foster the diplomatic career among the youth.
Whereas developed countries create numerous opportunities for their youth to build careers in diplomacy, the Ghanaian youth’s main entryway into this field is through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Youth from developed countries have opportunities to intern or work at their diplomatic missions or development and cultural cooperation offices abroad. Their governments and private or institutional donors offer scholarships to aspiring diplomats for foreign language study abroad; these studies are solely for proficiency in the foreign languages and are not fulfilled as part of the requirements of a degree. Another example of how other countries support the diplomatic aspirations of their youth is by facilitating their entry into the United Nations System through their sponsorship of UN Volunteer positions and UN Junior Professional Officer positions. The positions they sponsor are reserved for their nationals, thereby reducing the competition their nationals have to endure for such positions and increasing their chances of getting into the UN.
The results of their efforts are evident. Nationals of developed countries are heavily represented at the UN, including at the senior-most levels. It is noteworthy that language skills factor prominently into recruitment at international organizations such as the UN, especially at the senior levels. Kofi Annan’s fluency in French factored into his selection as Secretary-General.
Ghana can lead the charge for increasing recruitment from developing countries by providing sponsorship and opportunities to youth interested in diplomacy. UN Volunteer assignments last on average between six months and a year. The base rate for the international volunteers’ monthly allowance is $1,602–much less than what is paid to Ghanaian Foreign Service Officers posted abroad. This amount is adjusted, depending on the cost of living at the assigned duty station. Service benefits include medical insurance, life insurance, and a settling-in grant.
The Foreign Ministry can also introduce a competitive process for recruiting interns into Ghana’s diplomatic missions abroad. Government should provide sponsorship for such internships, where the interns are unable to support themselves financially. Similarly, there should be avenues for youth with backgrounds in international affairs to work at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, without having to join as Foreign Service Officers. The current system which limits employment at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to Foreign Service Officers must be reviewed, as it deprives the country of talent in this field and needlessly adds to the unemployment situation.
President Akufo-Addo has stated his intention of making French an official language in Ghana. This is a sound policy, considering Ghana’s proximity to Francophone countries and the dominance of the French language across Africa. One way to help achieve this objective would be through sponsoring aspiring diplomats and other interested youth to study French in the immersive environments of Francophone countries. Such studies could last between several months and a year. Scholarship support should also be available for studying other foreign languages, in addition to French. The opportunity to study foreign languages abroad doesn’t have to be restricted to university students in degree programs.
The government is doing well to support youth entrepreneurship by holding forums and providing seed funding to young entrepreneurs. However, other fields are equally important and contribute significantly to the country’s economy and positive image. Let’s not forget about our young aspiring diplomats. The diplomatic career is an honorable and extremely challenging one, ever more so in today’s highly interconnected world where the ability to correctly anticipate and respond to events is critical for both domestic and international stability and prosperity.
Mr Kofi Annan set a fine example for us all. Let us now rally behind the youth who aspire to follow in his footsteps.