For West Africa’s regional integration efforts to work, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), like the European Union, EU, needs to be strengthened to have more control, and countries in the sub-region must agree to rationalise their common laws on movement of goods and people, South Dayi District Chief Executive, Honourable Ernest Patrick Kodzo Mallet tells MARTIN-LUTHER C. KING in Peki, Volta Region of Ghana. Mallet who is also Ghana’s ruling New Patriotic Party, NPP’s parliamentary candidate for the South Dayi Constituency in the December 2020 general elections also spoke on prejudice within the sub-region, the intermittent closure of shops owned by Nigerian traders in Ghana, and the Africa Continental Free Trade Area, AfCFTA.
Prejudice is a human problem that not only threatens individual safety but can also stifle development. How can West Africa use intra-regional trade to de-escalate rising prejudice among its peoples?
I agree with you. Prejudice leads to a lot of things, and is borne out of ignorance; and, at times, out of envy. The world-over, I believe, it is a curse on humanity to say that some people are this or that. Even in Ghana here, they say some people from Nkawkaw area, the Kwahus, know how to make money. But how do they make money? They live very simple lives, very thrifty; and, they save money. Unlike some of us who when we get the money, we spend it. So people see them (the Kwahus) and they think they are money-conscious. And that’s where some of the prejudice comes from. We see foreigners who come into the country and because they don’t have family here so they don’t go for funerals; they don’t go anywhere; they don’t spend their money on things I, for instance, spend money on; they don’t change their clothes everyday; they eat their eba and egusi sauce, and they are happy. So they make money; and people see them and go like, ‘we are in our country and we are not making money; but look at them!’ And they are envious.
Some of these things start the prejudice, and they start pigeon-holing people, giving you names just to hang you. I think the solution to it is to continue to frown on it, to continue to reject it, and to continue to educate people. And, I want people to be able to travel round the world. I keep telling people that I think I’ve been around the world. Anywhere I wanted to go, I’ve been. And humans, we’re the same people. I went to Germany where I went to farm communities. I was in Yugoslavia where I also went to some farming communities. I remember this farmer; he and his family were glad to have a black man in their home. They said no black man had visited their house; and, that was Novi Sad, in the northern part of Yugoslavia along the border with Germany. Very nice people.
We had in this country, when I was growing up, a lot of Lebanese, a lot of Syrians; we had a lot Nigerians, a lot of Chinese. They come and, then gradually, people start pointing at them. In fact when I was small we had the people we described as Lagosians. We didn’t really know where they came from. They all came from Lagos, anyway. So, they called them Lagosians, and they were petty traders. They exemplified what we call the corner-shops now where even at midnight you go and say you want a button for your shirt, and you will get it. They sold small things, daily stuff that people needed. Even salt and pepper, you would get from them. Maybe you are walking and your slippers have cut and you needed a new pair of slippers, they will have it. And, they were useful. But when they make money, the locals will start saying, ‘See them!’. I think that education is needed, and that we should talk about it. Also, people should travel. When you travel and see, you’ll think differently. You will realise that the people out there are like you: they have their fears, they have their needs. And, people move out of their country for one or two reasons. It could be economic; it could be because of war, the environment is hostile; it could be social, there are instances people may point at you and say, ‘O, your mother was a witch, your father is a juju-man’. You cannot live in that community; you’ll want to go away. So you should find solace, you should find asylum for people like that. You don’t tell them to go home. Go home and do what? Go home and die? So education, I want to believe, should do it. We are not there yet. We have to work at it. I’d been pointed at when I was in Nigeria as omo Ghana. I heard it many times. I went to a local government area one day looking for a job, when the universities closed I was looking for a job. I’d gone through the interview process; and just when I was about to get the job the guy just said, na Ghanaman. And that was it. I felt bad, but I understood.
You did your post-graduate studies in Nigeria, specifically the University of Ibadan. Could you briefly reminisce about those days?
Yes, I was at the University of Ibadan. I did my masters in animal breeding. Now that you asked me, my mind has gone back to Ibadan. Those were interesting days. That was 1983, 1984, 1985; early ’85 I was back here (in Ghana). We had the university closing down for a while; those times were difficult times everywhere. It was the same period that we had a lot of border closures; Nigeria will close its borders, Ghana will close its borders. And, so travelling was not that easy.
But I know that at the time, unlike what happened in Ghana then, it was so easy to travel around Nigeria than in Ghana. So you could fly from Lagos to Warri or Benin City, Enugu, etc. You could fly around. It made travelling around Nigeria more interesting. You had your highways; I don’t know how they look like now. But I remember Lagos was difficult to go through. And the number of people I thought I saw in Ibadan, I was petrified. I remember I was somewhere, a hilly area, and I could see the Ibadan market area. On a good market day, the crowd was something else. I just didn’t want to go near anybody.
But it brought a lot of interesting things. Because from the university, I remember we’ll go to ILCA (International Livestock Centre for Africa, now International Livestock Research Institute, ILRI), the research station. It was also easy for me to go to Benin City, where we had a lot of friends. I met a Nigerian family who was very nice to me. I went to their home and met the mother and the brother. They were nice people. They treated me so well. I felt so much at home. I’ve not really been able to go back to Nigeria since I left the country, not because I don’t want to go there, because I still have a lot of friends there. But my career and others took me to other places. Like you said earlier, I had to work with the NEPAD, and the programme we were running was a skills training programme on agriculture. We thought that everybody goes into agriculture thinking that my grandfather did it, so let me also do it; and they didn’t have to learn anything.
If you look on top of the shelf there (points to his veranda where he displays a row of potted avocado seedlings), I put certain plants there. I am demonstrating a few things: when people walk in here, I invite them to come and have a look at the plants. And they look at me and say, ‘Ah, you do all these?’ And, I say, ‘Yes, that’s my hobby.’ When the plants grow up, I give them out; because I want people to see what is possible. I do it because I think people should learn a few things. So, activities kept me away from Nigeria. We were working from Benin; Togo joined later; Burkina Faso; Kenya; South Africa joined later; Uganda also joined later. So, my movements went to those areas. Nigeria at the time did not show a lot of interest in agriculture; it still had a lot of money coming from oil.
But, for example, I met a Nigerian Catholic priest (Reverend Father Godfrey Nzamujo) in Songhai Centre, in (Porto-Novo) Benin Republic; and, it was good. I took some people from here to that place. It’s good to remember Nigeria. I remember vividly. But there were a few things that scared me: For example one evening, around 7pm, I was with my friend and we entered a shop in Warri. Suddenly all I heard was, ‘Bring all your money!’ Armed robbers. Then my friend said, ‘Let’s go down!’ So we went down. And then we realised there was a door we didn’t know where it led to. We followed it, and realised it led us outside. By the time we got to the car, I realised I’d lost one of my slippers. So I was wearing one slipper and running for dear life. Another incident, this time in Benin City, I’d come to visit my brother and was going to Warri early in the morning. We stopped at a filling station. Suddenly, there was this group which came shouting, ‘Everybody lie down!’ I was sitting in the front seat of a Peugeot caravan car, so I just bounced myself; the petrol attendants all were down. They collected I don’t know how much money, and took off. And that was a dual-carriage way. But they headed in the wrong direction, clearing traffic and forcing oncoming vehicles to drive off into the bush. Those were the scary experiences. But then on a few other occasions me and my friend from Warri will drive from Warri to Accra, which trips i really enjoyed. It took us two days to do the thousand kilometre trip. I remember vividly I was behind the steering. We enjoyed it. Those are some memories from Nigeria.
How can West Africa use intra-regional trade to obviate this problem of prejudice?
That is the essence of the ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States). I think that ECOWAS is not strong enough, unlike EU, for example, which has a little more control than ECOWAS has. ECOWAS appears to be a club, a friendly type of thing. And, because there are big-brother players and small players, and, so when a big-brother says this everybody keeps quiet, or don’t participate. So a lot of things that they’ve been trying to do, like the West African common currency, just when somebody says it’s coming through Ghana will say ‘we are not interested’, Nigeria will say ‘we are not interested’. Or, you find the francophone areas say ‘Ok, let’s start’; but they are not strong enough to start. So, we have problems like that.
The regional integration needs to work better, it needs to be encouraged; and, let’s rationalise our common laws on movement of goods and people. I am very mindful of the difficulty that the (Nigerian) traders in Accra are having. Yes, I’ve listened very closely to their arguments. The ECOWAS treaties allow them to move and to do business; and, the Ghana regulations say you cannot go into retail trade. If you come from outside and you want to trade, you must bring so much capital. Those are all the difficulties. But, we should rationalise them.
Given our experience with ECOWAS and the other regional integration bodies across Africa, what hope do we have with the African Continental Free Trade Area, AfCFTA?
What hope we have? I think it’s again another effort to want to bring us together.
But we have not succeeded in the regional ones?
It’s not as if the regional ones are dead. In the agricultural sector, for example, when I was with the (Ghana) Ministry (Food and Agriculture), we had the ECOWAP (the ECOWAS Agricultural Policy); and, then we had the CADEP, which is the continental programme on agriculture. The CAADP (Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme) is looking at the totality of the continent, and we have the ECOWAP looking at West Africa. We want to see policy alignment, policy synchronisation in a way that the smaller policies, like what’s going on in my district fits into the national, fits into the regional, fits into the continental programmes. That’s the beginning, at least that’s what we can do. Because we cannot really decree behaviour, we cannot decree these changes. We have to grow with it and hope that the next generation will be looking at things in a different way. Because at the end of it, an ECOWAAS market is bigger than a Nigerian market or a Ghanaian market, unless we want to continue to think small. The world is getting smaller, and we should be looking bigger than we are.
May we meet you? Who is Honourable Ernest Mallet?
I want to say that I am somebody who believes that I’ve benefitted from my people, from my country; and, that it’s time to give back. And for me anything that I want to do I want it to be to the benefit of the common man. There are people I’d lived in this community with who were not as lucky as I am, who did not make it anywhere. I see them, I know them. And, so I call myself very lucky. I am very grateful to God for bringing me this far. That is me. I have two children, though they aren’t children any more. Separated from my wife for some 10 years now. I am the first son of my father. There are eight of us from my father. And, we are all in the Diaspora, far away in different places; some in America, some in Canada, in Accra, in Kumasi; and, I’m the only one here now. So that’s the family. But on the Mallet family, I will say the name ‘Mallet’ is not a local name. It’s a name that my great grandfather adopted when he was a young boy. He was just eleven years old, and he benefitted from the training by the missionaries at the time who had come and were looking for young people to educate, or to go to school. So, he opted to go to school. He was the youngest in his family, but he lived with the missionaries who brought him up in a Christian way, which was totally different from what the other people in the community were going through. He became a teacher. Gradually, when the missionaries realised that they could not really live among the locals, because they come and they die of malaria; the maximum they could stay was three years. Eventually, when they realised that the best way to grow the church was to indigenise it, they brought him up. So he was the first black pastor among them. Then he had a benefactor among the missionaries who was taking care of him. They were paying him one-shilling a month or something for him to go to school. So he was fine. He went to school, he became a teacher, and he became a pastor. He was ordained as the first black pastor in the community, to hold the church up. Actually the church started from the family house here. So the name ‘Mallet’ was adopted from that his benefactor, called Rev. Dr. William Ludwig Mallet. And, my grandfather adopted the name Rudolf Ludwig Mallet.
Yes, a German. He was the head of the Bremen Mission at the time. So, that’s where the name came from. When I went to Germany, I went to look for the Mallet family there. And, I want to say that the Mallet family in Ghana are more than the Mallet family in Germany now. It was very sad to see that.
WAP: There is constant communication between the Mallet family of Germany and the Mallet family of Ghana?
I tried to establish one. The only person I met said he is the great grandson of that William Ludwig Mallet. So we hold the name very dearly. We believe we are the chosen ones of God. We believe we should do things to please God at all times; and, that whatever we do on earth there is a judgement that would come. That on judgement that we should be able to stand tall and say that ‘My name is Ernest Patrick Mallet; and, I deserve to be in here’.
WAP: Your final words?
My final words, especially to my people in my constituency, are that there is hope. There is a brighter future ahead, and I always believe that what is ahead of us is more, much more and better than what we missed or what is behind. That we should work at a lot of personal differences and things that take us back, and forget them. It’s going to be difficult; but we cannot continue to carry that load and hope to make good progress. And I want to say that Ghana is going to come out (of the covid-19 pandemic) better and bigger. Things are not going to be the same again; there is going to be a new normal for the whole world. And I expect to see us standing tall. To my friends in Nigeria, I want to say that I really will have to visit Nigeria again. I may not be able to find my way around having not visited for a long time, but I will remember a few things. I’m sure a lot of things have changed.
So, there is hope.