Out of Africa

Ghana severed relations with Israel in the wake of the Yom Kippur War, but reopened its mission in Tel Aviv in 1996.

ghana mission int 224 (photo credit: Eyal Izhar)
ghana mission int 224
(photo credit: Eyal Izhar)
The ambassador of Ghana, Nana Owusu-Nsiah, and his wife Agnes, welcomed me recently into their home in Herzliya Pituah. "Nana" means chief in his tribal language, and the title granted certain privileges to the head of a tribe. "As a chief, one acted on behalf of the people and was called on to settle disputes," explains the ambassador. Then, pointing to his wife he adds, "but her father was a king." Relations with Ghana have had their ups and downs, but Owusu-Nsiah is quick to point out that Ghana established formal diplomatic relations with Israel in 1958 soon after gaining independence from Britain in 1957. Soon after Ghana achieved independence, an Israeli consular office was set up in Accra, and from 1958 to 1973 the countries enjoyed full diplomatic relations. "Many Israeli businessmen came to Ghana and still do," says Owusu-Nsiah. "Israelis built a shipping line and there was major cooperation in agriculture, science, medicine and other fields." In 1973, after the Yom Kippur War, all African states severed diplomatic ties with Israel. "We couldn't do otherwise," he says rather apologetically. In 1994 it was agreed that relations be resumed and Ghana opened its mission in Tel Aviv in 1996. For a reciprocal arrangement the Ghanaians are still waiting and the issue is rather a sore point. "I have been given firm promises, first by president [Moshe] Katsav, and now by President [Shimon] Peres, that an embassy will open in Accra, but we are still waiting and it's very problematic," Owusu-Nsiah says. "If someone from Ghana wants to visit Israel, he has to travel to Nigeria to obtain a visa. Or sometimes we arrange visas on arrival, which is not easy and puts a lot of pressure on the embassy. "We very much want our people to come here legally and be able to work and learn from Israel, which is so much more developed technically. If students or workers had legal status, we would be able to monitor them better and protect their human rights. As things are living conditions are bad and they can be arrested and deported." One famous Ghanaian who did come here legally to play football was John Pantsil, who horrified the world (but not Israel) by waving an Israeli flag which he had hidden in his sock at the end of the World Cup match between Ghana and the Czech Republic in June 2006. "I am sure he had no political motivation," says Owusu-Nsiah. "It was just a case of youthful exuberance." The residence, which is in a popular part of Herzliya Pituah, was purchased for the embassy three years ago. It was built about 10 years ago. The pool, which looks very inviting on sultry July days, has recently been installed. Since all the five children of the ambassador and his wife live abroad, a very large house was not needed and receptions for Ghana's national day are usually held in hotels rather than in the modest living room which looks onto the front garden. However, foreign visitors are often entertained here and there are several seating areas in the room for general and private conversations. All the furniture was purchased here and the lounge has a pleasing color scheme of chocolate brown leather sofas arranged in a square around two central low tables, with touches of orange in the cushions to enliven the overall look. The large French windows out to the garden and the pool are dressed in filmy tinted drapes in a biscuit shade, echoed in an easy chair, with heavier beige drapes held to the side. One wall is devoted to a display of African art set out on dark wood sideboard, and this includes ceramic pots to store water and carved-out gourds. Above this display hangs a portrait of the president, John Agyekum Kufour. Owusu-Nsiah, in his autobiography, writes that he was born to peasant farmers and raised on a farm but always dreamed of higher education to escape the poverty of his early life. Today he has a string of academic degrees and has held top positions in teaching, banking and the police force. He wants his fellow Ghanaians to have the opportunity for self betterment and feels that the good relations Ghana and Israel enjoy can only contribute to that desire. Do you feel you own one of Israel's most beautiful homes? Please e-mail: [email protected]