The controversy over the US–Ghana defence deal, which came into effect late last month, rumbles on, with the opposition accusing the government of ‘selling out’ to the Americans, contrary to Kwame Nkrumah’s non-aligned stance. Report by Femi Akomolafe.
The deal, designed to give the US military an expanded presence in Ghana, brought out thousands of protestors in Accra in late March, criticising what they termed the establishment of a ‘US military base by stealth’ and accusing the government of ‘selling the country’s sovereignty for a handful of silver’.
Both Ghana and the Americans denied that the US was building a military base and said the new facility would be used for storage, training and joint military exercises. The ‘handful of silver’ mentioned by protestors refers to $20m that the US has said it will invest in equipment and training for the Ghanaian military, as well as in carrying out joint exercises.
What seemed to cause the most ire among opponents of the deal was what they described as the surreptitious manner in which it had been made, with terms that they called ‘humiliating’.
As criticism mounted, President Nana Akufo-Addo said: “I will never be the president that will compromise or sell the sovereignty of our country. I respect deeply the memory of the great patriots whose sacrifice and toil brought about our independence and freedom.”
News that the Cabinet had approved a MoU and recommended that parliament ratify the agreement to allow the US Forces and their equipment unhindered access to Ghana, had earlier brought about heated debate and criticism. According to the agreement, members of the US military will be allowed to enter Ghana with only their military ID cards and will be exempted from paying tax on the equipment they bring into the country. In addition, they will not only be authorised to establish their own telecommunications system, they will be allowed to use Ghana’s radio spectrum free of charge.
Ghana will also furnish to the US, without rental or similar costs, all agreed facilities and areas, including those jointly used by the US Forces and Ghana.
US Forces and their contractors will be allowed to undertake construction to make alterations and improvements to facilities and areas. They will also be authorised to control entry to the facilities meant for their exclusive use.
Article 8 stipulates that Ghana will bear the cost of providing security for the US Forces. Article 12 removes restraints on the movements of US Army personnel in Ghana; Article 13 allows them to drive without licences; and Article 15 stipulates that American law will be used in disputes involving members of the US Forces.The agreement does not state a termination point, which has been interpreted by some to mean that it would exist in perpetuity and be binding on successive governments.
A bad deal for Ghana?
The General Secretary of the main opposition party, the National Democratic Congress, Asiedu Nketia, said: “We wish to state here and now that if President Akufo-Addo and his NPP administration proceed to ratify the agreement despite protests and public sentiments, the NDC administration, which will assume the reins of government in 2021, will suspend the agreement and initiate a far-reaching review.”
The Minority Caucus in parliament was the first to raise alarm. In a statement, the group lambasted the secrecy that surrounded the agreement and the surreptitious manner in which it had been introduced in parliament.
Earlier, the Minority Caucus had issued a strongly-worded statement in which it said: “We find it difficult to appreciate how the government could enter into an agreement from which the country derives virtually nothing. We take note of claims by Defence Minister, Dominic Nitiwul, that an amount of $20m would be given to the Ghana Armed Forces as part of regular support.
“We fail to see how this amount can qualify as the direct benefit that we are deriving as a nation from this agreement, which is so disproportionately skewed in favour of the USA… We wish to stress that the primary interest of any truly free State as Ghana, is the preservation of its sovereignty and the autonomy of its people. The proposed agreement denigrates both, as well as the authority of our government and laws.”
A law lecturer, Justice Sai Put, was caustic: “The agreement tells you that the army of another country will come into your town. They’ll occupy some places, access to which will be controlled by them. They’ll import military equipment which even your security agencies can’t inspect, let alone authorise. Forget about your tax authorities – they can’t even levy. The army will operate the equipment and drive it in your streets without your licence. The laws of your country don’t apply to them… On top of that, no court under the sun can review what they do. And the relationship is such that use of force will not end in your favour. And there’s no foreseeable end to the relationship.”
Negative perceptions of Trump-era US
Although Ghanaians largely have a positive attitude towards the West, President Trump’s openly insulting remarks about African countries, including the statement that when Nigerians see “America, they will not want to go back to their huts in Africa”, have incensed many.
Responding to Trump’s infamous ‘shi***le’ countries remarks, President Akufo-Addo himself tweeted: Ghana “will not accept such insults, even from a leader of a friendly country, no matter how powerful”.
In Africa, the public perception of US foreign policy has veered between outright suspicion, even hostility, to a resigned, if less than enthusiastic acceptance. Given the role of US foreign policy in various African countries (as well as the Middle East), the US is largely regarded as an implacable enemy, or ‘a dangerous ally’ with little or no understanding of African realities and more concerned about its own aims than African welfare.
A bridge-building trip to several African countries by former US Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, was cut short when he was sacked by Trump, thus leaving a diplomatic vacuum filled largely with Trump’s incendiary tweets.
This perhaps explains the vehemence which the current military expansion deal has aroused among Ghanaians. In fact, a much more limited defence arrangement between the US and Ghana has been in existence since 1998. It is the expansion of this programme, which ostensibly gives the US unfettered and largely unaccountable access to Ghana, that is causing considerable worry that the country’s cherished sovereignty is under threat.
Speaking in defence of the deal on prime-time TV in early April, President Akufo-Addo lashed out against his opponents, saying: “And how else would we have exposed the unspeakable hypocrisy of the fraternity of some frontline politicians… who secretly wallow in the largesse of the USA, whilst, at the same time, promoting anti-American sentiments to a populist constituency? Submitting this Agreement to open scrutiny now allows us to clear the fog clouding our relations with the USA.
“So let me state with the clearest affirmation that Ghana has not offered, and will not offer a military base to the USA. Indeed, the USA has not made any request for such consideration and, consistent with our established foreign policy, we will not consider any such request.”
However, several prominent Ghanaians have pointed out that it was exactly against such deals that the country’s first President, Kwame Nkrumah warned when he said: “Aid proposals need to be examined with care. Most of all, we must beware of any kind of military help, for it can so easily place us in the hands of foreign powers and make them, in effect, arbiters of our fate.”
While the military expansion pact seems a done deal, the controversy is set to rage on.