Sulley Gariba could certainly give any foreign head of mission in Canada a run for their money on who has the deepest ties to Canada.
From his immediate family to his schooling, childhood and work life, he cites strong Canadian connections.
Having presented his credentials Feb. 18 as Ghana’s high commissioner to Canada, the 57-year-old aims to put those links to good use for his home country.
The policy analyst and development expert’s relationship with Canada dates back to high school in 1971 in Wa, in the impoverished northern region of Ghana, where he encountered “two really superb” teachers from Canada. They were there thanks to the Canadian NGO Cuso International, which sends professionals abroad as volunteers to help on projects in developing countries.
“They not only taught us in school regular classes, they were among the first to introduce extracurricular activities: the debating society, the French society. And so they gave their best, and that gave me quite a positive image about Canada,” recalled the high commissioner on a hot July day in his Glebe high commission.
When finishing his bachelor’s degree in political science at the University of Ghana, a major development project was starting in Tamale, the northern city where he grew up, to improve water and sanitation services, agriculture and community health.
He committed to study in Canada and come back to work for the project.
And he acted on that, coming to Canada in 1981 to pursue a master’s degree and then a PhD at Carleton University in political science and international development.
During his decade in Canada, he started volunteering with Cuso, the same organization that sent the two teachers who influenced him as a teen. He would speak to Cuso community committees across the country about life abroad.
It was one of many times in his life where he’s come full-circle.
Another was when he returned to Ghana to start what would become a 22-year career as a development consultant.
Instead of going to work for the development project in Tamale, he ended up partnering with a Canadian mentor, Ted Jackson, to win a call for proposals from the Canadian International Development Agency to independently evaluate the project, which was financed partially by Canada.
“It was a big career break,” he recalled.
Mr. Gariba would keep working with Canadians like Mr. Jackson on development projects, continuing a partnership he started during work when he was still in Canada for CIDA teaching cross-cultural communications skills to Canadians planning to travel to Ghana.
Mr. Gariba also met his wife, Neo Thamae Gariba, in Canada at CIDA. She is originally from Lesotho. They both also attended Carleton University.
Their four kids all have been or will be educated in Canada. One of their sons is a Canadian citizen, having been born here. Another daughter is married to a Canadian and is following in dad's footsteps as a policy analyst. Their youngest daughter, 16, is set to attend Ashbury College in Ottawa in the fall.
How Mr. Gariba got from development consultant to high commissioner starts and ends with policy.
After years of working on evaluation and monitoring of development projects (he was founding president of the International Development Evaluation Association from 2002 to 2005), he started a policy think tank that submitted a proposal to the government of Ghana, which was looking for a national policy to tackle poverty in the North.
The proposal was accepted, leading to Mr. Gariba working as a government policy adviser, and most recently for Ghanaian President John Dramani Mahama as a senior policy adviser.
His policy-wonk roots show as he shifts from talking about his CV to the finer points of the Ghanaian fiscal situation and the country’s sometimes-tough transition from a developing to middle-income nation in West Africa.
Putting his Rolodex to work
Mr. Gariba received an honorary degree from Carleton last year.
Now heading the Ghanaian mission, he’s putting his Rolodex of Canadian contacts to good use: hosting roundtables and inviting Canadian colleagues to bring along friends who don’t have as much knowledge of Ghana.
His Canadian network runs from development consultants like Mr. Jackson and Richard Beattie to former Canadian diplomats like John Schram and others like Universities Canada head Paul Davidson.
One of the high commissioner’s goals in Canada is to reinvigorate the ties to Ghana of his Canadian contacts and extend them through their networks.
He’s also keen to improve consular services for visa-seekers and to facilitate trade between small Canadian businesses like Ghanaian-owned grocery stores to their suppliers back home. It’s all part of his quest to encourage Ghanaian diaspora members in Canada (which he estimates to number 200,000 and 250,000) to use their own professional and personal networks to help develop their homeland.
Of course, after years of evaluating other people’s development projects, he’s not opposed to doing the same within his own high commission and himself. One of the goals he hopes to be judged by is the completion a languishing Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement with Canada.
Talks started in 2011 have since stalled, the high commissioner said. Canadian government briefing notes from 2013 indicate Canada was interested in continuing work on the deal.
Ghana wants it too, said Mr. Gariba.
“Frankly, I don’t know why it’s stalled because I wasn’t here at the time and there’s been discontinuity of officers,” he said.
The Ghanaian institution involved in negotiating the deal has recently changed leadership, he said, but the deal is a priority.
“Our president is very keen to transform what has been a strong development assistance partnership into one of trade and investment.”
Another priority document he helped complete was a Mutual Accountability Framework signed in April with Canada on development assistance. Ghana is one of Canada’s top bilateral development priority countries, disbursing over $108 million in 2013-14. The two countries have pretty solid ties, dating back decades. Canada has praised Ghana for its "established strong democratic credentials."