Queen at 90 an inspiration for UK and Ghana

Jon Benjamin, British High Commissioner to Ghana, delivered the following speech at the Queen's birthday party.

Queen's birthday party


Honorable Ministers / Your Excellencies and colleagues from the Diplomatic Corps / Members of Parliament

Niimei, Naamei, Nananum, Torgbewo, Mamawo

Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, Dear Guests

Akwaaba! Thank you for joining me, my wife Carolina and my excellent, 200-strong team at the British High Commission to celebrate the birthday of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

My friends, this is not just any birthday; as we know, today - this very day - we celebrate Her Majesty’s 90th birthday.

In the spirit of such a joyous occasion, we wanted to make today’s celebration a typical British event with a Ghanaian twist – just as we did last year. So, we have fabulous music in the form of someone who is fast becoming a world-famous daughter of Ghana, Noella Wiyaala – who has just been contracted to play at the UK’s premier world music festival in London this summer.

We bring you hearty traditional food and plenty to drink – courtesy today of Diageo, Blue Skies, TT Brothers, Shampex, Xanadu and Voltic.

Fortunately, though, we have spared you the typical British weather.
Allow me also to thank our other sponsors of tonight’s event: Standard Chartered, Eleqtra, Aviance, G4S, United Biscuits, the Labadi Beach Hotel, VIVO, Old Mutual, Nyanca , the West African Rescue Association, GhOne TV and Starr fm for the live coverage.

And I must draw your attention to our friend Ray Styles; a fantastic young artist who is busily doodling away. Please take a moment this evening to view his work and perhaps have your portrait drawn.

Ladies and Gentlemen

So, today marks a very special day. On this day in 1926, the then Princess Elizabeth was born. Celebrations have been ongoing throughout the day all over the world. We too are celebrating and I encourage you all to make sure that we do so in style this evening. Of course, it is a personal achievement to reach the age of ninety. But it is a truly great achievement to have reached that age when you have reigned as Queen of a nation and as head of a Commonwealth - one, now of 53 countries - for over 63 years.

Her Majesty has worked with 12 different British Prime Ministers, 6 Archbishops of Canterbury and with many, many heads of state throughout our Commonwealth. And I, for that matter, am Her 18th High Commissioner in Ghana! There have also been 12 US Presidents and 7 Popes during Her reign – a reign which last year surpassed Queen Victoria’s to become the longest in Britain’s long history.

Her reign has seen huge change: globally, politically, socially, and culturally. Through all of that, she has been steadfast, a rock of strength, a constant in our lives.

And, above all, one thing shines through: Her Majesty’s strong sense of duty and devotion to her people. This dedication, that has been evident throughout her long reign, has earned her huge respect and admiration in her own country, and throughout the Commonwealth and wider world. We repay that respect today.

On her 21st birthday, in a radio broadcast from Cape Town, over 4 years before she would accede to the throne, the then Princess Elizabeth dedicated her life to the service of the Commonwealth saying, and I quote:

“I declare before you all that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service”.

It is one thing for a 21 year old to utter those inspiring words. It is another to live by them for well over 60 years. For us as UK public servants, it is truly humbling to comprehend the scale of service that Her Majesty the Queen has given to the UK and the Commonwealth.

Her Majesty’s contribution to shaping the future of the Commonwealth has been particularly extraordinary. Some doubted whether this organisation would succeed but she has assiduously supported it, growing it from just 7 members in 1952 to 53 today. She has played a leading role in building a unique family of nations that spans every continent, all the main religions and nearly a third of the world’s population.

It is hard for me to overstate what she has done for our country, representing us on 265 official visits to 117 different countries - including twice to Ghana, as you can see from the photograph of her with President Kwame Nkrumah during her first visit here in 1961 and with President Rawlings in 1999. Her Majesty of course also received President Kuffour on a State Visit in 2007. And I was delighted this morning to receive a call from Otumfuo, the Asantehene passing on his personal regards to Her Majesty and recalling his meeting with Her at Buckingham Palace in May, 2000.

We have seen time and again how the presence and judicious words of Her Majesty can build partnerships like nobody else can. Partnership, exemplified by Her Majesty’s hard work throughout her reign, is the virtue that underscores the UK/Ghana relationship.

Ghana’s status and reputation as a democratic nation will be further bolstered this year, in November, when Ghana holds its 7th democratic election. A peaceful, safe and fair election would see Ghana cement its place as the leading democratic country in West Africa. We recognize that the path of electoral democracy is often bumpy, with its own share of pot holes. And that is why just three weeks ago in this very garden, we announced a £4m Deepening Democratic Governance Programme funded by our Department for International Development, DFID. This program will see us working alongside the Electoral Commission, the police service, the judiciary and civil society – with the UK as a trusted partner but entirely neutral with regard to the outcome of those elections.

In that regard, let me make clear, though we don’t think it even needs to be said, that we will always – always – happily work with whoever is elected in Ghana at any given election. We favour no party; we have no candidate. The election project I have just mentioned is a partnership; it is technical, logistical and administrative; it is not party political. And it is designed as our final electoral assistance programme to Ghana, in recognition of the fact that by 2020 Ghana will be a firmly established Middle Income Country by then running its eighth consecutive democratic election.

This electoral project is just one example of our unique partnership. I am proud that eleven different British government departments are working here in Ghana; each one of them an example of our shared partnership of cooperation and collaboration in so many fields. Across the broad spectrum of our work we are partnering with Ghana to achieve great results; we have recently signed a bilateral compulsory prisoner transfer agreement and we are working closely together to counter the threat of global terrorism.

Over the past year the UK provided well over £100 million in bilateral and multilateral development assistance to Ghana, focusing on health, education, governance and economic development. Together we are making a difference to the lives of Ghanaians, particularly young Ghanaians who are the key to the country’s future. As an example, last week, Jim McAlpine, the Head of DFID Ghana, was in Brong Ahafo to hand over 54 adolescent reproductive health facilities – two in each of the region’s 27 districts - which the UK has either built or refurbished. More generally, the UK will continue to support Ghana, as a committed and leading development partner and friend, in the years ahead.

And of course, we must not forget the work of the British Council here in Ghana. This year, they are running a series of events to mark the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare – which will include a comedy stage production highlighting the challenges that face women in Ghana.

Our deep-rooted defence cooperation with Ghana continues to grow, with members of the Ghana Armed Forces undertaking professional training in the UK, including through our Chevening Scholarship programme, and our Staff Colleges collaborating over military education. We reiterate our respect for the considerable contribution that Ghana continues to make to Peace Support Operations worldwide, including in some of the most dangerous and demanding missions, such as in Mali or South Sudan.

All the examples I have just cited represent great progress achieved through a great partnership.

This partnership, bound together by our shared Commonwealth values, is at its heart about individual people and the contribution they each make. The vibrant Ghanaian Diaspora community in the United Kingdom comprises several hundred thousand people, many of them now third and fourth generation British citizens. It is best showcased by the Ghana UK Based Awards - or ‘GUBA’ as it is commonly known - now celebrating its 6th birthday.

And there are so many other interpersonal links between us, not forgetting of course the 5 Ghanaian footballers currently playing in the English Premier League, and several other players of Ghanaian family heritage.
Similarly, a vibrant British community here in Ghana continues to play a significant role in commercial relations between our two countries. Ghana is the UK’s fifth largest export market in sub-Saharan Africa and the total bilateral trade in goods and services between the UK and Ghana has reached £1.3bn.

British companies continue to invest in Ghana, forming partnerships with Ghanaian companies, creating jobs, building local capacity and expertise in sectors such as education, health, agriculture, infrastructure, oil and gas and financial, legal and professional services.

I believe that the partnership between our two countries will only enhance our progress. Together we are better; together we are stronger; and only together can we create a more prosperous future for the UK/Ghana relationship.

Through her leadership of the Commonwealth, Her Majesty has set the example of partnership and progress. She has reigned for just over 64 years, longer than I, a large majority of us here tonight, or even Ghana as an independent nation, have existed. I speak on behalf of the Commonwealth when I say that the Queen is a Queen for all of us. And we could not be more proud of her. She has served our community with unerring grace, dignity and decency …… and long may she continue to do so.

My friends, before I hand over to Honorable Minister Spio Garbrah please join me in a toast to the health and well-being of His Excellency President John Dramani Mahama, President of the Republic of Ghana, and to the health of the Government and of all of the people of Ghana.

Toast: “His Excellency, the President” [National anthem of Ghana]

Published 21 April 2016