Interview with Bishop Robert Aboagye-Mendah

Bishop Robert Aboagye-Mensah, the Presiding Bishop of The Methodist Church in Ghana, addressed Methodist Conference during a presentation on the Make Poverty History campaign. Bishop Aboagye-Mensah will be in Edinburgh for the G8 events, along with many other Methodists and supporters of Make Poverty History.

Here is a transcript of Bishop Aboagye- Mensah in conversation with Steve Hucklesby, Methodist Secretary for International Affairs.

Steve Hucklesby: Most Revd Dr Robert Aboagye-Mensah, the Presiding Bishop of The Methodist Church Ghana. Bishop Ð you worked with the Christian Council of Ghana for 5 years prior to your election as Presiding Bishop. How has the Methodist Church in Ghana engaged with issues of economic justice such as debt relief and trade policy?

Bishop Robert: People accept that such social issues are a part of the gospel that we should proclaim. Such an understanding fits well with our Methodist understanding of social holiness.

The Make Poverty History campaign is asking for a substantial increase in aid Ð an additional $50 billion a year each year between now and 2005 in order to achieve specific goals such as universal primary education or to make treatment available for all those living with HIV/AIDS. There has been much recent debate about corruption and government accountability. Can we be confident that governments will be held accountable for their management of this major increase in development aid?

This concern is felt in Ghana too. We all in Africa feel that there is a need for good governance. The drawing up of budgets should be supported by a democratic system that calls the government to account. Leadership should not be given too much power. We in Ghana are happy that we are promoting the peer review mechanism in NEPAD ( New Partnership for Africa's Development) so that our government will need to respond to recommendations from other governments for improvements to our systems.

We need a very strong civil society. There are many developments that could be mentioned for example in Ghana we have a national commission for civic education that educates citizens about their democratic rights and responsibilities.

The World Bank and IMF have in the past required economic liberalisation, for example the abolition of tariff barriers for crucially important agricultural commodities in return for debt relief or aid. Has this presented problems for people in Ghana?

You know where some of the World Bank and IMF conditions have not worked especially the structural adjustment programme. You can see it like this. People talk about wanting a level playing field and if you have free trade then the playing field is level. However, we have a saying in Ghana that if the giraffe and the antelope are standing on level ground their situation is not equal if all the leaves are high up in the tree. We do not have all the advantages of the West the industry, the transport and the large commercial farming. Therefore we are not equal. Sometimes the antelope needs to be lifted up to be able to compete on equal terms.

What we need is flexibility that enables us to develop our own trade policies. At the end of the day we need fair trade not free trade.

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