African countries are becoming increasingly open to visitors from across the continent, with most countries making “steady progress” in terms of visa openness, according to the Africa Visa Openness Index presented by the African Union Commission and the African Development Bank at the Africa Investment Forum (AIF) in Johannesburg last week.
Things will be much better if diplomacy is left to work – Anna Bossman
Elegantly dressed in a multi-coloured African print attire, with a scarf hanging on her shoulder, Anna Bossman, appears relaxed as she sits down for a chat at the Jeune Afrique headquarters in the south of Paris. A few days prior, on 13 October, the Ghanaian diplomat was one of 20 ambassadors to have presented their credentials to France’s President Emmanuel Macron at the Élysée Palace, giving her the formal recognition as Ghana’s ambassador to France.
That meeting happened during a crucial moment, she recalls excitedly, as the heated election for a new UNESCO Director-General was taking place less than 5km away. “It was really tough because you probably know that the strong contenders were Egypt, Qatar and France,” says Bossman, who is also Ghana’s ambassador to Portugal and the Permanent Delegate of Ghana to UNESCO, OECD and La Francophonie. Eventually France’s candidate Audrey Azoulay and a longtime supporter of President Macron was declared winner, lightening the tense atmosphere: “Macron was smiling, I was smiling, and he was in a great mood,” she adds.
The Ghana-trained diplomat is not new to France, and the Villa Saïd building in the affluent 16th district of Paris where the embassy is located holds fond memories. “I’m actually sitting at his desk,” she says of her late father, Dr. Jonathan Emmanuel Bossman, who served as Ghana’s Ambassador to France between 1964 and 1967 and was the country’s first ambassador to the Maghreb region.
Her time growing up in France with her father explains her good command over the French language, which she borrows from occasionally to better drive home certain points during the meeting.
She recounts a particular incident in the 1960’s in Paris when as a child she had her first encounter with racism. She was hanging out with a French female friend at the popular Monceau park when they overheard two young boys making derogatory terms about black people.
Her friend immediately jumped to her defense. “She got up and she was going to fight them, and I remember she told them off, which gave me the courage to also tell them, ‘What do you have against blacks?’,” she shares of that day. She says that experience sparked an interest in protecting the rights and freedoms of others, something she had never thought of before that day.
Now a prominent human rights lawyer and ardent anti-corruption activist, Bossman has been the Director of Integrity and Anti-Corruption (IACD) of the African Development Bank Group since July 2011. Prior to this appointment, she served as Deputy Commissioner of the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ) in Ghana from 2002 and subsequently as Acting Commissioner from 2004 to 2010.
During her time at CHRAJ she handled several high-profile cases, some involving key members of the ruling party at the time. “I investigated [then President John Agyekum] Kufuor’s son and I investigated one or two of his ministers who were forced to resign,” she shares. She has won numerous awards for her work, including being decorated Officier dans l’Ordre National du Merite, conferred by the French government in May 2007.
She is proud of her work at Ghana’s state anti-corruption body but bemoans the organisation’s inability to initiate its own investigations without a referral. “That was something that we took to the Supreme Court [to change], we did not agree with the Supreme Court, and I still don’t agree with the Supreme Court,” she says vehemently, with reference to one of the judges’ dissenting decision.
On Morocco’s application to join the West African regional body ECOWAS despite being in North Africa, Bossman says as far as Ghana is concerned, it’s the right thing to do. Personally, she also has a connection to the Kingdom: “My father was the ambassador to Morocco a long time ago, he presented his credentials to the father of the King. So Ghana has had long relations with Morocco and therefore I do believe that we will continue that,” she says.
With regard to Brexit and the rise of nationalism in Europe, she says the negative impact on negotiations will be minimised if political constraints don’t become diplomatic constraints. “I think if diplomacy is left to work things will be much better. I think that it’s very difficult when there is a lot of noise around,” she explains.
Having previously expressed her disinterest in politics, Bossman seems to have fully embraced her ambassadorial role, eager to learn and to further strengthen France-Ghana relations. After her meeting with President Macron, she met with the Ghanaian community in France for the first time a day later, outlining her plans and priorities, as well as her commitment to be accessible to all.
Building on her long history with the nation of France, it remains to be seen now how this new ambassador who is following in her father’s footsteps, will make a difference and prove she’s worth her salt.