On Wednesday, an estimated 3,500 Ghanaians took to the streets of the capital Accra to protest against Ghana’s expansion of its defense cooperation with the United States—a rare public display of opposition to the growing foreign military presence in West Africa. Demonstrators blowing vuvuzelas and beating drums filled Accra’s business district, holding placards criticizing a new deal with Washington that they say threatens Ghana’s sovereignty. Despite the presence of officers in riot gear, no violence was reported. Opposition to the deal, formally known as the Defense Cooperation Agreement (DCA), comes as international powers, including the United States and France, are looking to extend their presence in the remote Sahel region, in particular, where al-Qaeda and Islamic State militants have gained a strong foothold in recent years. But those efforts—specifically by the United States—have taken a hit, in light of the damage caused by President Donald Trump’s widely reported comments in which he described African nations as “shithole countries” in a discussion on immigration. Amid the firestorm caused by those words, the White House denied that he had used that language.
Under DCA, which was approved by Ghana’s parliament last week—despite being boycotted by opposition lawmakers—the United States will invest around $20 million in training and equipment for the Ghanaian military this year. In return, the U.S. military will be allowed to deploy troops and import military equipment tax-free, use an airport runway that meets U.S. standards, and have free access to Ghana’s radio spectrum.
Ghana has maintained long-standing military and trade ties with the United States—ties that span over 20 years. But for many, the latest agreement between the two countries is a step too far. And it is in reaction to that sentiment that the U.S. Embassy in Accra released a statement, in which it under-scored that it had no plans to establish a military base in Ghana. It said the existing 20-year-old cooperation agreement “does not cover the current range and volume of bilateral exercises and assistance.” The fact that the U.S. has felt obliged to respond twice to “misleading” claims surrounding the deal—it did so again this week on Thursday—speaks to the level of negativity surrounding the DCA and the fears (both real and imagined) that the deal threatens Ghana’s sovereignty. Those fears were echoed by a local trader named Gifty Yankson, who was quoted as saying: “As a right-thinking citizen, I am here to fight for my country. I am against selling our peace and security for $20 million,” before adding that the U.S. military “become a curse everywhere they are” and that he was not “ready to mortgage my security.”
Amid the protests and public debates that have taken place in Ghana in recent times, it is crucial to point out that the U.S. has similar deals with several countries around the world, including European, Asian and African countries. In the case of the DCA specific to Ghana, the deal provides a legal framework to govern the ongoing security cooperation between the two nations—something of high importance in the context of the region’s recent experience with extremist groups like al-Qaeda, ISIS and Boko Haram. Ghana, even though it has no recent history of terrorism, could benefit from potential U.S. military assistance, especially since those very same extremist groups enjoy relative freedom of movement in much of West Africa—a fact that makes it crucial for local armies to be better trained/equipped to combat them. U.S. military leaders, who are acutely aware of the need to respect the sovereignty of the local military, have adopted a stance that stresses the importance of developing African solutions for African problems. Developing these solutions goes hand in hand with deals like the one in question. The signing of this most recent deal, to that end, should be seen as “strengthening the capacities of the security forces of Ghana and the USA,” as opposed to selling “the sovereignty of Ghana.”
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