Oh wow, it’s a Boeing triple seven (777-800), KLM flight KL590 and time check, it is 21:30 hours GMT and the call for boarding is announced by the KLM air service staff. Camera bag and backpack is grabbed and the seat number is K14.

The travelogue is opened one more time enroute to Riga, the capital of Latvia. The mission to be accomplished is a four-day working visit by the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration, Shirley Ayorkor Botchwey, to the Baltic state to “sell Ghana” to the Balcs and to strengthen bilateral relations between Ghana and Latvia.

At 22:20 hours GMT, Flight KL 590, was air borne. Three officials of the Foreign Ministry, Mr Samuel Yaw Nsiah, Director of the Europe Bureau; Ms Tenewa Asamoah, Deputy Director of the Economic Trade and Investment Bureau; Ms Hilaria Mabel Day, Deputy Director of the Europe Bureau and yours truly, Wilberforce Asare, constituted the advance team going ahead of the entire delegation on the four day mission.

The person elected by the flight schedule officers at the point of check in was rather large. I however,  activated the grace of endurance to sustain me for the next six and a half hours till Flight KL590 landed at Schiphol Airport Amsterdam at about 7am local time in the Netherlands.

The Connecting Flight

The connecting flight of the team to Riga was scheduled for 9:30am and that meant that the team had to hurriedly disembark from Flight KL590, to go through the Dutch boarder protection agency clearance and locate our next boarding gate at the rather complicated Schiphol Airport for the two-hour flight to Riga, Latvia.

The Riga Entry

In no time, all four of us were onboard the flight for the second leg of the journey to one of the three Baltic republics in Europe. In 1 hour 45 minutes, our flight touched down in Riga, Latvia. Because Latvia is an European Union (EU) country just as the Netherlands, there was no need for any entry clearance since we had been cleared by the Dutch in Amsterdam already.

The Luggage Scare

The team of four after disembarking went on a 15-minute walk to recover our luggage in order to catch a taxi to our hotel. After an hour of waiting at the luggage collection point, the conveyor belt stopped. Alas, our luggage did not make it with us to Riga, except for that of Hilaria Mabel Day, Deputy Director of the Europe Bureau. The “disappointed three” headed to the luggage complaint centre which was just a three-minute walk from the luggage claim point. After registering our complaint we were hit with the bad news; our luggage could only be delivered after 24 hours from the time of filing our case.

Off to the Hotel

With three out of four disappointed, we helped the lucky one with her luggage through the exit doors and stopped a taxi at the entrance of the Arrival Hall of the Riga International Airport. We jumped into the taxi and the conversation continued on how we were going to survive the first 24 hours of our stay without our bags.

The Kempinski Grand Hotel

Within 15 minutes, the team arrived at the Kempinski Grand Hotel, located in the heart of Riga. The very well trained, bilingual staff of the hotel made our arrival a pleasant one. After helping us secure our rooms, they took custody of the transaction reports we were given at the airport for our undelivered luggage with a promise that they would follow up to ensure our bags were delivered to us in good time.

The Search for Temporal Clothing

The team after checking in assembled at the hotel lobby so we could hit town and get some temporal stuff to survive the next 24 hours while we patiently waited for our personal effects to be delivered. Thankfully, the nearest mall was just 5 minutes’ walk from the host hotel. The disappointed three got a few essentials and got back to the hotel. The team recessed for the day effectively bringing day one, 17/07/2018, to an end.

The New Day

Day two (18/07/2018) of the mission started with breakfast at the Restaurant of the Kempinski Grand Hotel which is served between 7am and 10am local time in Riga. The team of four thus awaited the arrival of the remaining members of the delegation for the first mission meeting which was scheduled for 1pm.

The Delegation

The Minister’s fourteen (14) member delegation comprised, H.E. Ms Gina Ama Blay, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Ghana to Germany and the Republic of Latvia; Mr Yoofi Grant, CEO of the Ghana Investment Promotion Centre; Mr Edmond Boateng, Director of the Office of the Chief of Staff; Mr. Samuel Dentu, Deputy CEO of the Ghana Export Promotion Agency; Mr Samuel Yaw Nsiah, Director of the Europe Bureau of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration; Ms Sena Siaw-Boateng, Director of Office of the Hon. Minister of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration.

The remaining members of the delegation were; Mr Louis Kwame Obeng, Minister of the Economic Affairs of the Embassy of the Republic of Ghana in the Federal Republic of Germany; Ms Tenewa Asamoah, Deputy Director of the Economic Trade and Investment Bureau of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration, Ms Hilaria Mabel Day, Deputy Director of the Europe Bureau of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration; Mr Michael Assibi, Counsellor of the Political Affairs of the Embassy of the Republic of Ghana in the Federal Republic of Germany; Ms Kate Djankwei Abbeo, Deputy CEO of Corporate Affairs of Ghana Free Zones Board; Mr Zakari Khalifa Banda Abdallah, Deputy Director of the Ghana Export Promotion Agency; Ms Megan Elizabeth Maclean, Senior Investment Promotion Officer of the Ghana Investment Promotion Centre; Ms Christiana Joyce Palm, an Assistant at the Ghana Free Zones.

The Fine Tuning Meeting

At exactly 1pm, the entire team, except the Minister and the Director of the Office of the Minister had arrived. The team of the host state (Latvia) and the Ghanaian delegation moved into the conference room and for an hour, they discussed, fine-tuned and completed the programme for the working visit. The Ghana delegation however scheduled another meeting at 7pm to adopt the new document after the necessary changes, owing to the 1pm meeting, had been effected.

Time to hit Town

The five-hour free period till the next meeting offered the team a beautiful opportunity to explore the beautiful and calm city of Riga and also to grab a bite at any of the several local restaurants on the streets of Riga.

Luggage Delivered

Upon return from our expedition into the Latvian capital of Riga and true to their word, the Hotel had liaised with the Airport and our bags were delivered to the hotel some 3 hours ahead of the 24 hours timeline given. All was thus set for the ‘Sell Ghana’ games too begin.

The Arrival of the Foreign Affairs Minister

At about 13:05 hours on 19/07/2018, Minister Shirley Ayorkor Botchwey arrived in Riga, Latvia on board a British Airways flight. The Minister was received at the Riga International Airport jointly by H.E. Mrs. Gina Ama Blay, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Ghana to Federal Republic of Germany and the Republic of Latvia and the Deputy Head of State Protocol of the Ministry Of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Latvia, Msits Briede. The Minister’s motorcade promptly left the VIP section of the airport to the hotel for a breather before work begun.

The Business Forum

The first event for the day was the Ghana-Latvia Business Forum. Three top Ghanaian officials addressed the forum which had about fifty potential investors and business magnates in attendance.

Chief Executive Officer of the Ghana Investment Promotion Centre (GIPC), Yoofi Grant, signaled that Ghana is targeting investment inflows into Africa by the three Baltic States with the aim of positioning Ghana to becomes its gateway to West Africa. The Baltic States, located in the north-eastern region of Europe comprises Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, on the eastern shores of the Baltic Sea. Yoofi Grant, stated that the plan of his outfit is to ensure that it strategically positions Ghana to attract majority of investment inflows from Latvia and the rest of the Baltic world into Africa, particularly, West Africa.

Deputy Chief Executive Officer of the Ghana Export Promotion Authority, Samuel Dentu, on his part observed that the current levels of exports from Ghana to Latvia are significantly low even though a great deal of potential exists particularly in the cocoa derivatives sector. Mr Dentu said the business community in Latvia was shocked about the volume of imports that currently exists from Ghana to Latvia as compared to the production levels of commodities that are of interest to the Latvian market, particularly cocoa production. He indicated that links have been created with the investor community in Latvia which will lead to greater collaboration with Ghanaian exporters. These links, he believes, will lead to an increase in exports from Ghana to Latvia.

Mr. Dentu added that some Latvian business people he interacted with on the sidelines of the Business Forum have expressed interest in areas such as the freight forwarding sector and Information and Communication Technology (ICT) sector. He was hopeful that these interests that have been expressed will result in tangible business ventures for the mutual benefit of the two countries.

The Ghana Free Zones Authority, a body established by an Act of Parliament and charged with the responsibility of enabling the establishment of free zones in Ghana for the promotion of economic development, also brought its mission to Latvia.The Deputy Chief Executive Officer of the Authority, Kate Djankwei Abbeo, showcased Ghana’s Free Zones regime to the Latvian business community at the forum. In an interview after her presentation, Ms Djankwei Abbeo said her interaction with the investor community of Latvia has seen several potential investors expressing interest in investing in the processing and manufacturing of goods through the establishment of export processing zones which will be used as focal points to produce goods and services for foreign markets. Ms Abbeo added that the Free Zones Authority will keenly follow up on the contacts it has established to ensure that the considerations given to the offerings of the Authority by the business community in Latvia materialize in actual investments.

The Minister’s Schedule

Minister Shirley Ayorkor Botchwey, an hour and a half after arriving in Riga, commenced her working visit with a trip to the Parliament of the Republic of Latvia (Saeima) where she met with the Deputy Speaker of the Saeima, Ms. Inese Lībina-Egnere. At the meeting, it was proposed that law makers in the Republic of Latvia and the Republic of Ghana develop a strategy to share best practices with each other to improve their legislative functions as required by their sovereign constitutions.

Possible Areas of Collaboration

The proposal by the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration, herself a member of Parliament, was readily accepted by the Deputy Speaker. Speaker Lībina-Egnere, hinted that the Latvian Parliament would be glad to share it’s rich experience in the areas of ICT-aided law making, the approach to constant engagements between MPs and their constituents, and processes leading to the passage of laws to protect consumers and the development of privacy rights with their counterparts in Ghana.

Minister Shirley Ayorkor Botchwey pointed out that she would forward the content of the discussions to the leadership of Parliament for the actual processes to initiate the exchange of ideas to begin without delay.

The Latvian Parliament

The Speaker of the Latvian Parliament is one of the top officials of the State who represents the Saeima, chairs and maintains order during the plenary sittings, as well as ensures that the sitting is held in accordance with the rules of procedure. The work of the Saeima is supervised by its Presidium, which is elected by each new convocation of the Saeima at the beginning of its term of office. The Presidium consists of five MPs: the Speaker, two Deputy Speakers, the Secretary and the Deputy Secretary. A member of parliament is one of the hundred representatives of the people who is elected in general, equal, direct elections, by secret ballot, and on the basis of proportional representation. At least five members of the same candidate list may form a parliamentary group. Members elected from the same candidate list may form only one parliamentary group and may not join another parliamentary group.

A visit to the National History Museum of Latvia was next on the Minister’s itinerary. The Minister and her delegation were given a guided tour of the Museum as well as the Exhibition dubbed “Latvia’s Century”. The last assignment of the day saw Minister Shirley Ayorkor Botchwey hosting a working dinner for the Business delegation of the Republic of Latvia with the State Secretary of the Ministry of Economics of Latvia, Ēriks Eglītis, as the Guest of Honour.

The State Secretary in an address before dinner was served said that Latvia is very much impressed with the economic development of Ghana in the last few months and as a result, his country is looking forward to widening its economic ties with Ghana for the mutual benefit of both countries.

Mr. Ēriks Eglītis said his country, like Ghana, has been growing steadily over the last few years and he saw a lot of synergy in that respect. He added that his country has identified a few touching points that will be the driving force behind the move to widen economic cooperation between Ghana and Latvia.

Areas of Cooperation

Firstly, the State Secretary was impressed with the level of recognition given by Ghana to Latvia as a potential country for higher education for Ghanaians. He indicated that Latvia will consider giving more Ghanaians the opportunity to study in their country. Secondly, the area of Food Processing and Agriculture where Latvia has a strong record of growth is another sector were Ghana stood to benefit from cooperation with Latvia. The last area of interest according to the State Secretary is the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) sector. Latvia has had significant growth in that regard and would therefore be willing to assist Ghana to further develop her current thriving ICT sector. The team drew the curtain down to bring the dealings of the day to an end.

The Last Phase

Time check and it is 11:20am. Every member of the team located their car in the convoy, the Police escort turned on their sirens, traffic was halted on both sides of the highway by the hotel. The Minister’s motorcade made its way to the National Library of Latvia for an official visit and a book donation ceremony to the magnificent National Library of Latvia. The book which captures Ghana in its entirety was signed and presented to the Director of the library to be added to the shelves to serve as a reference for all visitors of the library who may want to learn and know about Ghana.

The Climax

From the National Library of Latvia, Minister Shirley Ayorkor Botchwey climaxed her working mission with a visit to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Latvia. The Foreign Affairs Minister met with her Latvian colleague Foreign Affairs Minister, Edgars Rinkēvičs. The two Ministers held a private tête-à-tête meeting, attended a working luncheon hosted by Minister Edgars Rinkēvičs and held a joint Press Conference.

Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Latvia, disclosed that as part of efforts on the part of the three Baltic states to strengthen their links with West Africa, their flagship airline, will initiate processes leading to the signing of an Air Services Agreement (ASA) with Ghana. The ASA when completed would see the Latvian carrier commencing direct flights from Latvia to several West African states with Ghana as the hub state for the various flight schedules.

Why the Air Service Agreement

According to the Latvian Foreign Minister, citizens of the three Baltic States; Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania, are very interested in visiting Ghana and the rest of West Africa. Flight connections to and from the Baltic states to West Africa as well as cost of same have been the major challenge to this potential business venture. He added that with the current economic and political stability in Ghana, a fine opportunity had presented itself for an Air Services Agreement to be entered into to pave way for direct air traffic services to commence between West Africa and the Baltic republics.

Latvia, a Shining Example

The achievements of Latvia the last one hundred years as she celebrates a century since gaining independence  from Russian control, are worth emulating by Ghana as the country takes steps to develop its economic and infrastructural deficit, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration, Shirley Ayorkor Botchwey, observed during the Press Conference.

Minister Shirley Ayorkor Botchwey said Ghana is excited to have been invited to visit Latvia at such a significant time in the country’s history. She emphasized that after her visit to the National Library of Latvia where she donated a book on Ghana to be added to the shelves of the Library, and the guided tour she was taken through by the Head of the Department of Medieval,  Modern and Contemporary History and Curator of the Exhibition dubbed “Lativia’s Century”, Dr. Hist Toms Limits, she could confidently say that Ghana stood to learn a great deal from Latvia’s achievements in her quest to tilt the development paradigm in her favour. To that end, the Foreign Minister stressed that Ghana, going forward, would take her collaboration with Latvia very seriously to ensure that the country reaps the full benefits of the now strengthened bilateral relations between the Baltic state and her West African counterpart.

Appointment of an Honorary Consul

The last issue of interest from the meeting of the two Foreign Affairs Ministers was on the appointment of an Honorary Consul of Ghana to Latvia. A formal request was made to the government of Latvia to assist in identifying a suitable person in Latvia who would be appointed as an Honorary Consul of the Republic of Ghana to Latvia, as part of measures to help boost economic cooperation between the two countries.

Latvia has an Honorary Consul in Ghana who is resident in Kumasi. On the contrary, Ghana’s Ambassador to Germany, Gina Blay, has concurrent accreditation to Latvia, making it difficult for potential Latvian businesses and investors who may require consular services to receive same in real time since they have to embark on a journey to Berlin, Germany.

Minister, Shirley Ayorkor Botchwey, observed that to shore up the economic cooperation between Ghana and Latvia, it was extremely important that consular service was brought to the doorstep of the Latvian people.

The Minister’s Name Spelt in Latvian

Just before the end of the Joint Press Conference, I took judicial notice of the name of Minister Shirley Ayorkor Botchwey spelt in the native language of Latvia (Latvian). It was an interesting one. There you have it, Šérlija Ajorkora Bootčveja for Shirley Ayorkor Botchwey.

The Minister’s Departure

With pressing assignments both home and abroad, Minister Shirley Ayorkor Botchwey’s planned departure from Latvia on the 21/07/2018, had to be rescheduled to 20/07/2018. As a result, upon completion of the courtesy call on her Latvian colleague, her motorcade headed straight to the airport to catch the next available flight to the United Kingdom and subsequently to Accra.

Out and About in Riga

With the departure of the Minister ahead of schedule, Saturday, 21/07/2018, had become a free day to explore the Latvian way of life.

What I Observed

The Latvians are a music-loving people. They play music everywhere; by the highways and the byways, in the taxis, on the trains, buses and community trams, in the hotel lobby also and in the lift, at the shopping malls and even in the open markets, music, both local and foreign, can be heard constantly.

Crossing the Bridge

Riga has several water bodies with uncountable bridges constructed over the water bodies. It is a custom in Latvia for newlyweds and couples alike to cross nine of these bridges the day they get married. It is their belief that crossing the bridges signifies that they have leaped over poverty, childlessness, divorce, financial lack, amongst others, as far as their marriage and family life is concerned. This practice, the Latvians observed with great diligence.

Love Locks

As part of crossing the bridges, the newlyweds must procure a padlock with two keys. The bride and the groom under the supervision of a third party will lock the padlock against one of the bridge’s railings as they crossed after their wedding ceremony and throw the keys into the river or water body over which the bridge is constructed. This tradition, the Latvians believe, will seal their marriage covenant, never to be broken.

The “Odaw River” in Latvia

As I crossed one of the bridges in Riga, it came to my attention that I have a similar water body in my home city Accra in my beloved country Ghana, the Odaw River, that also could have had some few bridges constructed over it.  However, the Riga ‘Odaw River’  was serving a different purpose as compared to what the Accra Odaw River in my country is used for. Apart from serving as a means of ferry transportation for citizens to move from one end of the city to the other, boat owners used it for recreational rides while others sat by the riverside to eat, chat, sing and soliloquize.

The Riga Departure

The team of four was scheduled to depart Riga at exactly 7:40am. In line with international travel best practices, we were supposed to be at the airport two hours before departure. At about 05:00 hours local time in Riga, I made my way to the hotel lobby and in no time, three officials of the Foreign Affairs Ministry joined me and we all cleared ourselves with the hotel. With the assistance of the hotel attendants, we got our bags loaded into the trunk of the taxi, rerouting to Riga International Airport. We were on time as was the airline, Baltic Air. Our two-hour connecting flight to Amsterdam was air borne at about 07:53 hours. At about 09:00 hours local time in the Netherlands, we touched down at Schiphol Airport.

The Six Hour Wait

A check of the flight departure time on the monitors at the airport confirmed the 15:25 hours timeline for our KLM (Flight KL589) to the homeland. That meant that the team of four had some six hours to spend at gate E 20, while we waited for our flight. After chatting each other for an hour, we pitched our tents at a bar in the airport where we spent another hour and a half having breakfast. After nearly three hours of waiting, the call for the long awaited boarding was announced. At about 15:45 hours, the six and half hour flight to Kotoka International Airport commenced. This edition of the travelogue was written during this flight back home to the motherland. At about 19:35 hours, the activated landing tyres of Flight KL589, touched down. Alas, the “Sell Ghana” Diplomatic Mission had ended.

My Take

The “Sell Ghana” Diplomatic Mission can best be described in one word, as PROMISING, for the economic and diplomatic development of Ghana. The delegation owes the country a duty to ensure that proper follow ups are carried out to sustain the momentum that this visit ignited.

The travelogue signs out now. Hopefully, it won’t be long and the pages of the log in will be reopened with a new destination.