KUMASI: Taking tea with Osei Tutu II, the Asantahene or king of Ghana’s Asante people, and a reception with paramount rulers is all in a day’s work for the Prince of Wales.
As heir to a throne occupied by his mother Queen Elizabeth II for almost as long as he has been alive, Prince Charles, who turns 70 this month, has spent his life at such occasions.
But while his more recent overseas trips have attracted little interest at home, his latest — and those of other senior royals — are being watched more closely as Britain’s departure from the European Union looms.
London is scrambling for a deal before March 29 and Britain’s most recognisable and trusted brand — the House of Windsor — is helping to prepare for life after Brexit.
Charles and his second wife, Camilla, began their tour of The Gambia, Ghana and Nigeria on Wednesday, just as youngest son Harry and new wife Meghan returned from Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and Tonga.
Not long after the referendum on EU membership in 2016, Charles’ eldest son, William, toured Canada, then Europe, in what was seen as a bridge-building exercise.
The countries chosen are no accident and closely mirror the wider political and economic agenda, according to royal watchers and analysts.
“The choice of place will be because that’s what the Foreign Office has requested,” Penny Junor, who has written several biographies on the prince, told AFP.
The royals’ closely choreographed movements at home and abroad are mainly prestigious photo opportunities, where invitations are highly sought after.
The prince, as the most senior travelling royal and representative of his 92-year-old mother, has diplomatic obligations meeting all three countries’ presidents.
There are ceremonies to attend, notably paying tribute to West African soldiers killed in two world wars before the annual Armistice Day on November 11.
Sunday’s spectacular “durbar” with traditional chiefs in Ghana’s second city celebrate cultural links within the Commonwealth that Charles will one day lead.
But it’s hard not to join the dots with politics and see the royals being used as a steady hand to help steer Britannia through turbulent waters.
Even the Asantahene recognised it, telling Charles: “To make sense of our history and the bonds that tie us together, we must have the courage to develop our economies, even more so when we have Brexit in front of us.”
Elizabeth Donnelly, from the Chatham House international affairs think-tank, said Charles’ current tour was the “soft-power follow-up” to Prime Minister Theresa’s May’s visit to South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya in August.
“This is about post-Brexit ‘Global Britain’ and strengthening Commonwealth ties and bolstering influence,” she added.
The prince, who is well known for his strong views on subjects from the environment to architecture, “will be aware of the wider context”, added Junor.
Quid pro quo
The Gambia, Ghana and Nigeria are Commonwealth members, just like South Africa and Kenya, the countries visited “Down Under” by Harry, and William’s trip to Canada.
Boosting trade with the 52 other Commonwealth countries has been seen as a way of offsetting losses from Britain’s largest trading partner, the EU.
The Commonwealth is potentially a huge market, with 2.4 billion people on nearly a quarter of the world’s land mass on all five continents.
Nineteen of those countries are in Africa, where Prime Minister May wants Britain to be the G7’s largest foreign direct investor by 2022.
In Ghana, British support has meant £2.0 billion in development funding in the last 20 years.
As in Nigeria — Africa’s most populous country — there has been a push for more trade and investment, support for job creation and promotion economic development.
At the same time there is an emphasis on Britain’s strong cultural and social links, particularly the sizeable diaspora, with the obvious hope of economic payback.
Trade, not aid
Isaac Arthur, an international trade policy analyst in Ghana, said the economic backdrop made sense given President Nana Akufo-Addo’s “trade not aid” policy.
Pushing the two countries’ “shared history” alone may not be enough in a place like Ghana, whose economy is predicted to grow at a rate of more than 8% next year.
Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron are among a growing list of potential suitors to have visited recently.
But in countries where traditional royalty play a huge part in life, “this is where a royal visit can differentiate”, said Donnelly.