For the past few days, Ghana has erupted in a frenzied discussion over prospects of signing a military cooperation agreement with the United States of America under which terms the latter country acquires a number of rights which security analysts suggest amounts to ceding space for a military base.
The discussion has mostly been in opposition to the idea but there has also been a considerable constituency who actually think the deal is in Ghana’s favor. it is at times like these that we have to have cool heads. So after days of mostly emotional reactions (and I still stand by my initial emotions), I think it is good to take a step back after some reflection to look at the issue closely.
In 1471 Portuguese sailors reached the shores of what we now know as Ghana. We are told of a popular story involving the Great King Kwamena Ansah, who is reported to have said to the merchants who sought space to build a castle for trading purposes. He is said to have pointed at the ocean, from whence they came and made reference to the tide, saying something like: “At hide tide, the waters come in to visit us, and at low tide, it recedes and leaves us alone to prepare for its next visit. Thus should our friendship be”.
He is said to have pointed at the ocean, from whence they came and made reference to the tide, saying something like: “At hide tide, the waters come in to visit us, and at low tide, it recedes and leaves us alone to prepare for its next visit. Thus should our friendship be”.
He is also reported to have taken notice of D’Azambuja’s dressing. He had known him to be a rascal seafarer (After him visiting the shores a few times to trade) and now here he was all dressed up as an envoy of the king of Portugal.
History records that despite the obvious opposition however, in 1482 the Sao Jorge da Mina also known as the Elmina Castle was built. The initial idea for building that castle, at least on paper was trade. A pretty harmless idea, one would think until the trade takes on a bizarre form; the exchange of human beings for other considerations. Several centuries of this inhuman practice was to follow and almost 600 years later, the descendants of Africa, not just Ghana as the castles became a point of shipment for many other Africans brought to the coast from other parts of the continent- continue to reap the bitter fruit of that decision , harmless as it may have seemed at the time, to allow the erection of the Elmina Castle.
WHY THE AGREEMENT?
There is an existing military cooperation agreement with the United States and even though the Defense Minister Dominic Nitiwul and the government wants to suggest it is just a renewal of the 1998 agreement, it actually is not. There are considerable additions which is what seems to be creating the outcry. In essence, Ghanaians are not necessarily opposed to the idea of military cooperation with the US. They are concerned about certain aspects of that agreement; top on the list, sovereignty.
Ghanaians are not necessarily opposed to the idea of military cooperation with the US. They are concerned about certain aspects of that agreement; top on the list, sovereignty.
THE ISSUE OF SOVEREIGNTY
It is not very difficult to fathom how having another country’s military on your soil can be a problem. Even though this is shockingly pooh-poohed by the pro agreement constituency with the historical antecedent on hand, I think it is only fair that it forms part of the discussion. They cite the example of many other countries that have military bases and ask why not Ghana.
First of all, a quick look at a list of these countries would reveal a certain categorization, none of which Ghana falls under. There are countries that are dyed in the wool allies of the United States; I’m talking NATO level allies like Germany, Italy, Portugal or Spain. Then there are those that have peculiar security concerns, in which case setting up a military base with a a superpower like the US is actually a very smart move. Countries like Japan, Israel, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and frankly even Australia fall under this category.
And then there is also countries which have been or was occupied or used extensively in combat time; Afghanistan etc. Then there is Cuba, itself another whole category.
There is another group which simply probably saw a great reason why they would need a military base on their soil and probably went ahead to make smart deals with it. I wonder where we can place Ghana in this categorization.
I have tried hard to squeeze some really tangible benefits that Ghana stands to gain from the pro agreement guys but the best I’ve got is ‘economic boost’. First of all, I am yet to see examples of that so-called boost in countries which have a US military base. How much is Guantanamo Bay adding to Cuba’s economy? I can bet my bottom dollar a lot of the food and water and other vital stuff will be flown in from the USA. I mean, Ghanaians are going to the malls these days to by food. The food in the malls come from these places. Why would they come to the mall to buy the food they are exporting to you when they can just ship directly to their storehouses? And even if they do, where do we fall on that food chain? We are not the suppliers; we will just be the retailers of their own goods. Yes they may consume some local stuff; how much?
Some are also excited about the cash aspect. $20m. I daresay not much of that will come from outside of Ghana.
Take this example: It costs an average $160 to apply for a US visa in Accra. Everyday of the working week, an average of 200 applicants are processed, out of which less than 50 are granted visas. The application fees for those that were refused alone comes to an average of about $24,000.00; a day! And its never given back.
Multiplied by 5 days of the week, this comes up to $120,000; multiply that by 4 weeks, $480,000.00, times 12 months gives us $5,760,000.00. And this is is based just on the fees of those who are refused visas using the lowest applicable fees! This figure multiplied by 4 gives you the $20 million which is rumored to be part of the agreement, and this is one clear example of an avenue they can use to generate the monies from within Ghana so that it is not a burden on the American tax payer at all . Add all the tax breaks and other freebies in the agreement and Ghana will actually end up paying to maintain that facility.
Add all the tax breaks and other freebies in the agreement and Ghana will actually end up paying to maintain that facility.
Are these real benefits?
At any rate what is most shocking for me is for a government who boldly declared a new era; for a ‘Ghana Without Aid’ and sent ripples around the world for being bold in this sense to go drooling over a paltry $20 million in exchange for what it is willing to give away.
Currently, the small island nation of Seychelles is also considering a similar agreement with India. In that agreement, the Indian government was to spend $550m over a 20-year period. This means a capital injection of almost $30 million a year. Yet the opposition in that country have voted to reject the idea citing; yes… sovereignty, as well as transparency and even environmental factors.
As far as I am concerned, no environmental assessment has been done in this case. (I stand for correction). Again it is not clear if cabinet has done a serious assessment of what the fine details of the agreement would mean not only for Ghanaians today but for posterity as well as the implications for our neighbors on the continent.
I think it is time to take the African Union more seriously than we are doing now. If Africa has a common integration agenda, then that must take priority and to me that would mean no African country should permanently host any foreign military on their soil permanently. Currently Djibouti is hosting a Chinese army base. With a US army base in Ghana, a hypothetical Sino-American war could potentially be staged away from both their own populations using Africa as the launchpad for a war that may have nothing to do with us. Another historical antecedent? We fought in both World Wars. What do we have to show for it except a few remaining disgruntled legionaries in the Kumasi Legion Village and other similar settlements, a complete eyesore and betrayal of the men and women who went to fight on one side of a European argument.
Imagine a scenario where the US wants to launch an attack; covert or overt, on another African nation with whom we have or SHOULD HAVE a mutual security agreement, where do we stand on that?
Imagine a scenario where the US wants to launch an attack; covert or overt, on another African nation with whom we have or SHOULD HAVE a mutual security agreement, where do we stand on that? The West has NATO and I don’t think it will allow China or Russia for instance to build a military base anywhere in Europe. Instead of consolidating as a solid block with all 54 nations signed on to forming a common NATO-like military force to defend the continent’s interest, we could end up being unwitting and even unwilling accessories to conflicts we may not even support.
In summary, I would like to end by re-hashing the most striking assessment I read on social media in the midst of all the ‘hot-headed arguments’.
Justice Sai writes
A lot of people can’t read. Of those who can read, many don’t. Of the few who do read, many don’t read much. Of the handful who read much, some can’t analyze. Look what we have here:
You have an agreement in front of you. 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 (not you). They’ll import military equipment which even your security agencies can’t inspect, let alone authorize. Forget about your tax authorities – they can’t even levy. The army will operate the equipment and drive them in your streets without your licence. The laws of your country don’t apply to them.
All this means you have no independent means of knowing what they do in your country in order for you to even regulate 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.
Yet, someone looks into your face and tells you that it is not a military base; and you’re there nodding your head; and you think you’re alright? There should be no problem if, after a careful assessment, you decide that an American military presence is the path out of your third world shithole circumstances. Just know and be bold, proud and honest about what you’re doing. That’s all.
Military cooperation with the United States is a great thing being as Ghana would stand to benefit form certain advancements in the war trade (hopefully). However, considering the possibility and high potential for building a military base going awry, I think it will be prudent on the part of our lawmakers and government and military officials to tread with caution on for now, REJECT this agreement or at best make amendments to it to reflect better benefits for Ghana. And those better benefits must include a strong clause against the establishment of a permanent US military base on Ghanaian soil.