Saturday, 29 May 2004 was the day when a big ambition became reality in the Ghanaian community in Germany. It was the realisation of a dream, of having a single organisation to represent all Ghanaians irrespective of their ethnicity, religion or ideology, or the city in which they live.
It was the gathering of the Ghanaian Diaspora in Germany for the formal launching of the Union of Ghanaian Associations in Germany (UGAG), a non-religious, non-ethnic and non-political body that had been officially formed in 2003.
The event was also the sweet culmination of the efforts of then Ambassador Roland Issifu Alhassan, who right from his inception of office three years earlier had stated his ambition to see to the establishment of an organisation that would embrace the various ethnic, religious, social and cultural associations to which most Ghanaians belong.
Ghanaians, by their massive presence at the occasion, also showed how important the ceremony was, the birth of a body that would effectively represent their interests in Germany and at home in Ghana. No wonder the Ludwigshafen venue of the grand event was filled with such a powerfully infectious festive mood.
On 29 May, UGAG will be 14 years’ old. Akwasi Opoku Edusei, the General Secretary of the organisation, goes down memory lane, recalling how UGAG came into being and how it has fared in the past 14 years, and he points the way forward for the association.
The past 14 years have been a demanding learning experience for UGAG. As the body marks its 14th year of formation this year, its members have to address the questions of whether UGAG has managed to achieve its goals and what impact its existence has had in the Ghanaian community.
The process of the formation of UGAG started in 2001 as a result of the initiative of Mr Roland Alhassan, then Ghana’s ambassador to Berlin, as well as the enthusiasm and goodwill shown by some Ghanaian associations to come together. I happily recall the diverse meetings and the drafting of a constitution for UGAG. I was the secretary of the then newly founded Ghana Union Mannheim/Ludwigshafen e.V. The union had been officially inaugurated a year earlier in December 2000.
The local associations that assembled in 2003 to write the constitution of UGAG included Hamburg, Krefeld, Kaiserslautern, Aachen, Mannheim/Ludwigshafen, Worms, Munich, Rührgebiet, Düsseldorf, Landshut, Stuttgart and Saarbrucken. UGAG was subsequently inaugurated in grand style in Ludwigshafen on 29 May 2004 after its executive officials had been duly elected.
Special mention must be made of Jonathan Magnussen, then Minister of Consular Affairs at the Ghana Embassy in Berlin, who is also a lawyer by profession. He tirelessly offered legal guidance and moral support from the beginning until the inauguration day of UGAG.
For the purposes of clarity, local associations are referred to as Ghana Unions in a community. UGAG was formed with the expectation to attract all Ghana Unions as well as ethnic, social and religious groups into its membership. One of the goals of the local Ghana Unions and UGAG was to have one mouthpiece for all Ghanaians when dealing with local, state and federal institutions. Other goals included supporting the integration process in Germany and serving as a link between the Ghanaian community and the Ghana Embassy in Berlin.
Have these goals of UGAG been realised after 14 years of its formation? One can respond with either a yes or a no.
The answer yes is appropriate when one recognises that new local associations from Darmstadt, Freiburg and Bremen have joined the family. Another remarkable achievement of UGAG is its acceptance as the official mouthpiece for Ghanaians by local, state and federal institutions. Some state and federal institutions in Germany are prepared to work with or co-operate with UGAG only on certain matters. For example, when a Ghanaian dies the police are prepared to work with UGAG only in identifying the dead and his or her relatives.
In other words the dealings with the public institutions are performed by the local associations. This, as well as others, has placed UGAG in high esteem among Ghanaians. The body has also in the past been able to sell the rich cultural heritage of Ghana to the outside world through the annual Ghana Cultural Festival. Moreover, UGAG has set up the Ghana Solidarity Fund to implement projects in Ghana in support of the needy. Ghanaians in Germany receive the needed assistance from their local associations when dealing with the Ghana Embassy such as when applying for a new passport or renewing an old one.
The answer no will reveal the challenges UGAG faces. One that tears Ghanaians in general apart is the tendency of some people to manipulate ethnic and religious groups for personal gains. We can look at the root causes of the existing ethno-religious competition in the community insofar as we take seriously the following questions: how have the dynamics of ethnic identities influenced the existing understanding of the common good? Have Christian churches and other religious groups managed to stand above ethnocentrism and the anxiety it generates? The search for the answers to these questions will not be easy.
In my opinion, the challenge is not how UGAG stands tall above the ethnic and religious groups, but how to integrate them into the family. It will also be in the best interest of all if ethnic and religious groups are not discouraged. What should be discouraged, instead, is the practice by some people within the community to manipulate other Ghanaians. Tolerance and mutuality should be promoted as a strategy for the way ahead.
Currently, the National Executive Council of UGAG is made up of: Mr William Nketaih – President; Mr Norman Dzackah– Vice President; Mr Akwasi Opoku-Edusei – General Secretary; Mr Aaron Hooper- Deputy General Secretary; Mr Paul Hossou – Organising Secretary; Ms Joyce Dieckmann – Deputy Organising Secretary; Mr Christian Yamoah Gyasi – Financial Secretary