ON 9 NOVEMBER 2010, THE CZECH Republic and Ghana converged at a trade and investment forum aimed at reviving economic and business ties between the two countries, ties that date back to 1959 when Ghana, the first African country to gain independence south of the Sahara, opened diplomatic relations with the then Czechoslovakia.
The investment forum was the initiative of Humanitas Afrika (a civil organisation based in Prague) and the sub-Saharan department of the Czech Chamber of Commerce; but it was organised by the Ghana embassy in Prague and attended by policy makers and business moguls from both countries.
The Ghanaian delegation to the forum was led by Vice President John Mahama, while Prime Minister Petr Necas headed the Czech delegation. The presence of the vice president marked the highest-ranking Ghanaian's visit to the Czech Republic on official business since Ghana's first president, Kwame Nkrumah, visited the country in 1961. Nkrumah s visit was reciprocated by the then president of Czechoslovakia, Antonin Novotny, who visited the Ghanaian capital, Accra, in 1962.
The two leaders thus cultivated friendly relations between their two countries which were reinforced by economic cooperation. As a result, Czech experts and engineers were highly visible in Ghana and helped greatly in Ghana's industrialisation programme by building and running factories in the 1960s.
But Czech economic relations with Africa did not begin with Ghana. As far back as 1939, the Czech multinational shoe company, BATA, had established a regional head office in Gweru, Zimbabwe, from where it conquered the whole of sub-Saharan Africa--to the point that today Africans of a certain age fondly remember their BATA shoes and sandals while growing up in the 1950s, 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s. And the brand is still very strong in East and Southern Africa. There is even now a big African community on Face-book (15,700 strong!) called "I once owned a BATA shoe", where nostalgic BATA shoe-wearers exchange reminiscences. BATA even sponsored the FIFA World Cup once, in Mexico in 1986.
However when Ghana's president Kwame Nkrumah was overthrown in 1966, it heralded a long period in which the Czech presence in Africa became minimal, to the extent that today very few people in both the Czech Republic and Africa are aware of the role Czechoslovakia played in Africa's development although diplomatic relations have always continued.
In 2009, the Czech foreign ministry, in conjunction with the Ghana embassy in Prague and Humanitas Afrika, commemorated 50 years of diplomatic relations between Africa and the Czech Republic. The recent trade and investment forum, coming on the heels of that commemoration, signals a new dawn in these relations.
The investment forum hoped to renew and re-establish meaningful economic ties between Ghana and the Czech Republic, and to welcome Czech entrepreneurs to the exciting business opportunities springing up in Ghana as a result of the discovery of oil and gas in commercial quantities.
At the forum, the areas mapped out for investment were oil and gas, including the petrochemicals industry; infrastructure and energy; manufacturing; agriculture and agro-processing; information and communication technology; tourism and financial services. …