Three years after becoming Ghana's Ambassador at Large for African Integration, Michael Ofori-Atta has been decorated by the Ivorian Government with its Officer of the National Order award.

The honour by President Alassane Ouattara is in recognition of Michael Ofori-Atta exceptional diplomatic career.

It was 7pm on Friday, and a small gathering of a select group of top diplomats and family members waited expectantly on the immaculately manicured grass at the Ambassade de Cote d'lvoire in Accra.

It was a warm, humid evening, and the weather was threatening to rain on a beautiful parade. Literally.

As if on cue, a seagull, which was perched on one of the high trees in the garden, sang loudly before flying off. The low crackling sounds from the microphone signalled the beginning of the ceremony.

Presenting Michael Ofori-Atta with the medal of honour, Felix Assielou Tanon, Cote d'lvoire's Ambassador to Ghana said: "Our diplomatic relationship goes back over a decade when we worked together on ECOWAS-related issues."

"But above all else, His Excellency Michael Ofori-Atta has been instrumental in the strong diplomatic ties between our two countries, Ghana and Cote d'lvoire, and on behalf of His Excellency Ally Coulibaly, Grand Chancellor of the National Order of the Republic of Cote d'lvoire, acting in the name of the President of the Republic of Cote d'lvoire, His Excellency Alassane Ouattara, with this medal, I bestow on His Excellency Michael Ofori-Atta, Officer of the National Order."

The medal of honour, an elaborate boutonniere, consists of a red and gold cross set in a central gold medallion hanging from an orange ribbon, which has a central rosette that bears the emblem of the Republic of Cote d'Ivoire. This rare national honour, which has been conferred on a non-national, speaks to Michael Ofori-Atta's decades-long work in fostering deep ties between the two countries.

Accepting the medal of honour in front of his close colleagues and family members, Ambassador Ofori-Atta, who has so far had an illustrious career that has segued from political journalism in the mid-'90s to diplomacy since the early part of the current century, shared the story of how he first met President Alassane Ouattara.

"As a young journalist at Reuters Television in Abidjan, my first encounter with Alassane Ouattara was on the very day of his return from exile. It was an important newsroom assignment that was meant for headline news, and it meant the world to me.

"The story began when I joined a number of local and international journalists at the Abidjan airport to get footage and a few words from former Prime Minister Alassane Ouattara, who had gone into exile after the death of President Felix Houphout-Boigny, Cote d'lvoire's first president."

"The day of his return was marked by a heavy military presence at the airport, and it was obvious from the look of things that journalists were being discouraged from meeting him."

"The press corps was directed into a waiting room with refreshments where, according to the military commander at the airport, they would be met by the returning politician for a press briefing. One needed the subtlety of a sledgehammer not to grasp the plan that was afoot. My journalistic instincts weren't exactly aligned with the commander's warm invitation. I declined the offer, but like the pied piper with the promise of a cozy waiting area with food and drinks, most of the other journalists followed him into a room where they were sequestered for minutes on end until Alassane Ouattara's eventual arrival and departure from the airport."

Under strict instructions from his bureau chief to obtain an interview with Alassane Ouattara, Michael Ofori-Atta's decision not to join the other journalists was rewarded after he and a few others secured a personal invitation from Alassane Ouattara for an interview at his residence.

This made the young Ghanaian journalist one of the first to interview the former Prime Minister upon his return from exile. Michael was also a political show host at Cote d'lvoire's national radio and television station in Abidjan and later editor-in- chief in the print media.

For over two decades, Michael Ofori-Atta has been a force to reckon with in African diplomacy, tirelessly working to enhance Ghana's role in the African geopolitical space.

As the Ambassador-at-Large for ECOWAS and Regional Integration he has been at the forefront of peace efforts in Cote d'lvoire, Burkina Faso, Togo, Mali, and Guinea, while engaging with diplomatic partners from the European Union, the United States, and the United Kingdom to garner support in the fight against terrorism in the ECOWAS space and countries in the Gulf of Guinea enclave.

Ambassador Ofori-Atta's remarkable career began as a flagship political show host on Cote d'lvoire's national radio and television station and later as a journalist at Reuters TV. His mentor at the time, Macy Domingo, one of the top Francophone journalists, was quick to instruct him on the dos and don'ts of political and diplomatic reporting and why good journalism is undergirded by deep ethical imperatives.

Michael Ofori-Atta's academic prowess is evidenced by two master's degrees from prestigious UK universities: a Master of Arts in International Relations and World Order from the University of Leicester and a Master of Arts in Public Communication and Public Relations from the University of Westminster.

The success of Ofori-Atta's diverse diplomatic roles can be attributed to the bipartisan mentorship he received from five political stalwarts in Ghana, including President Nana Akufo-Addo, Hackman Owusu-Agyeman, Ibn Chambas, Baba Camara, and Shirley Ayorkor Botchway.

His inclusion in the African Union Committee of Three delegations to the United Nations in March 2005 to present the African Union's position on UN reforms to then-Secretary-General Kofi Annan is a testament to his diplomatic acumen.

Ambassador Ofori-Atta's dedication to fostering relationships across party, religious, and social divides has been instrumental in reaching a national consensus, a crucial factor in maintaining a strong diplomatic presence. His mentorship under Foreign Minister Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo and Hackman Owusu-Agyeman, beginning in 2002, instilled in him the importance of unbiased participation in international affairs.

His tenure as ECOWAS's deputy head of protocol and head of diplomatic relations unit for all 15 member states further honed his diplomatic skills, leading to significant achievements such as his role in leading efforts for ECOWAS to be registered under the International Organizations Immunities Act with the U.S. State Department.

Ambassador Michael Ofori-Atta's unwavering commitment to building a prosperous, peaceful, and stable Africa has solidified President Nana Akufo-Addo's reputation as a natural leader, contributing to his re-election as Chair of the Authority of Heads of State and Governments of ECOWAS. His role as a link between the Ghanaian President and multilateral African bodies has been instrumental in amplifying and enforcing initiatives that benefit the entire continent.

This decoration "is indeed a recognition of his exceptional contributions to African diplomacy, his tireless efforts in promoting peace and stability, and his dedication to fostering unity and cooperation among nations, and we honour Ambassador Michael Ofori-Atta with this well-deserved Officer of the National Order decoration," said Ambassador Tanon.

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