Ghanaians shouldn’t worry overmuch about the American military

By Rafiq Raji, PhD
Twitter: @DrRafiqRaji

It came to light in late March that Ghana would be hosting the American military from time to time. That is putting it mildly. The louder headlines were that the Americans would be setting up a military base in Ghana; the birthplace of pan-Africanist and leader of the independence movement, Kwame Nkrumah. Naturally, Ghanaians would have none of it. They made their feelings known on the streets. Such was the outcry, President Nana Akufo-Addo had no choice but to address his country men and women to set the record straight. The Americans would only be using existing Ghanaian military facilities for joint exercises and so on. They could land their fighter jets and other planes at designated airports, for instance. They would also be able to use the country’s radio channels. What would Ghana get in return? Its military would get $20 million worth of equipment and training, courtesy of the American government. This is pittance, of course. A better deal could have been struck.

Easing in
Ghana has long cooperated with the Americans on military matters. This much the U.S. embassy in Accra said in a statement on 20 March 2018: “The current Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) between the United State of America and the Republic of Ghana is approximately 20 years old. It does not cover the current range and volume of bilateral exercises and assistance.” So why the outcry now; especially as under the new Defense Cooperation Agreement (DCA), the U.S. asserts its military would only be able to enter Ghanaian territory with permission of the government and that “…it has not requested, nor does it intend to request, the establishment of a military base in Ghana or the permanent presence of U.S. troops in Ghana.” The government accuses opposition parties of making mischief by playing politics with the matter. There is some truth there. Still, there is a genuine aversion to any foreign military presence in Ghana and perhaps elsewhere on the continent.

To put blame on the Americans would be unfair, though; especially as a previous Ghanaian adminstration is believed to have actively sought the increased military cooperation. Even so, America’s military expansionism in Africa has taken on a new dimension in recent times. It used to be that it only needed these military bases to fight terrorist elements scattered across the continent. It also sought access to ports along key sea routes for its military ships, aircraft carriers and so on for proximal logistical support for its operations. But now there is an additional motivation: China. Hitherto, the Asian nation’s interest in Africa was largely economic. That has changed, it seems.

More the merrier
But why is it important now for America to have broader access to Ghana’s military infrastructure? The United States already has military facilities in Niger in west Africa, from where it carries out drone attacks, and Djibouti in east Africa, which has locational advantages from being by the sea and at the horn of the continent. What the American military did not have in west Africa hitherto was unfettered access to a port. Since neighbouring Nigeria has always shown stiff resistance to any military arrangement that puts American equipment or boots on the ground in its territory and is clearly not an option, Ghana is a natural alternative. In the agreement, the American military would be able to bring in equipment via the sea and store them in a designated area; with permission, of course. Still, how unlikely is it that it desires and might actively seek more permanent arrangements in the future? That said, outside of a desire to preserve their independence, is there really cause for Ghanaians to be concerned? A guest with connections, who the head of the house decides to give a proper room, and would be bringing along his dog in future visits, could hardly be considered threatening.

Also published in my BusinessDay Nigeria newspaper column (Tuesdays). See link viz.

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