US-Ghana defence cooperation agreement debate: A win for terrorists!

Gh Us Military Ghana and US military personnel exchanging pleasantries

Mon, 26 Mar 2018 Source: Kwaku Antwi-Boasiako

Terrorist like chaos. They love division. They thrive on driving political, social and religious wedge between society. They are knowledgeable, not some dumb ignoramuses.

They know and keenly follow the direction of political debates. They are calculative and manipulative. They don’t just strike; they attack when and where they can inflict maximum casualties and cause maximum division in society at the same time. They rejoice and count their attacks as most successful when post-attack discussions focus on tensions between ruling government and opposition parties, anti-immigration parties and refugees, Christians and Moslems, moderates and hardliners rather than on strategies to counter their terror.

Right now, terrorist in the sub-region would know some Ghanaians may be writing their I-told-you-so speeches for when there would be a terrorist attack in Ghana. They have followed the debate on the US-Ghana Defence Cooperation Agreement that was passed by the (Majority) Parliament of Ghana. They would know the country is split down the middle on this agreement.

Defence Cooperation Agreement, not ‘Sale of Ghana’ Agreement

If you just landed from another planet last week, you would think Ghanaians were debating a Sale of Ghana Agreement as opposed to a Defence Cooperation Agreement. There was talk about sale of sovereignty, re-colonialization, you name it. This wasn’t helped when the US Ambassador to Ghana was pushed to, unwisely and undiplomatically in my view, state that “US$20 million being invested in the Ghanaian Armed Forces in one year is a pretty significant return." Even so, take note that he said “in one year”. He didn’t say ‘US$20 million for the duration of the agreement’. Yet all over the media, some politicians and commentators created the impression in the minds of some gullible Ghanaians that the government was selling Ghana for US$20 million.

And so, it was published and widely circulated later in the week that, “Seychelles parliament has refused to ratify a military deal that will see India investing US$550 million into the country.” The obvious (and fallacious) intention was to compare US$20 million a year to be invested in the Ghanaian Army by the US with US$550 million that was to be invested in Seychelles by India. Nobody bothered to discuss the differences between the military capabilities of the US and India or other merits in each case.

Either way, can we really quantify defence cooperation in Dollar terms? How much would Ghanaians like their government to pay to the US government in exchange for actionable intelligence, military equipment, technology and training to prevent terrorists from blowing up the Accra Mall? Before you answer that, can you imagine the implications of a terrorist attack of that nature on jobs, foreign investment, tourism and the economy as a whole?

Can you imagine how many years it would take for the economy to recover from such an attack? So, let me ask you, why should the US spend their taxpayers’ money to pay for agreed facilities in Ghana, pay for communication spectrum, pay taxes on equipment imported into Ghana and invest further resources on their personnel, and then share the intelligence gathered to protect Ghana, without asking for several hundred millions of Dollars at the time when Ghana would need such intelligence most?

How much is Ghana giving away in tax waivers?

I heard journalists and commentators describe potential tax waivers being given away under this agreement as “huge”. Ghanaians were told that their government was giving away “huge” amount of money in unearned tax Dollars in exchange for nothing. One simple question, how much is Ghana giving away?

Did anybody in all the hysteria manage to tell Ghanaians how much they would be giving away? Without details of exactly what equipment the Americans would be importing into Ghana or what products would be exported out of Ghana, how is anybody able to determine the dutiable value of those equipment and products and hence be able to say with any level of certainty that Ghana was giving away “huge” tax income? You are either a magician or an alarmist sensationalist.

The US is a terrorist magnet

Terrorists thrive on making maximum impact in terms of casualties and publicity. The US is big news and box office. But if anyone tells you that Ghana was not under terrorist threat until the government signed the Defence Cooperation Agreement with the US, they’d be lying to you. Pure and simple.

Terrorists have attacked Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast. Ghanaian security agencies have been on high alert for several years. We have to expect that sooner or later, there would be a terrorist attack, or at least an attempted attack, in Ghana. And it won’t be because of the presence of US military officers and civilian contractors coming to Ghana under the Defence Cooperation Agreement.

Let’s face it, terrorists prefer to attack soft targets, not hardwired military bases. There are several American civilians who visit Ghana every year either for business or leisure. There are a few military attachés on permanent duty at the US Embassy in Accra. And there are many Western citizens alongside their American counterparts who visit Ghana every year. You can find them in top hotels, restaurants, malls, beaches, everywhere.

Why would anybody think that terrorists couldn’t attack any location in Ghana where they can kill US and other Western citizens alongside Ghanaians until Ghana signed a Defence Cooperation Agreement with the US? The world has changed, terrorism is real and isolationist policies will rather expose Ghanaians to danger rather than protect them.

Political risks

Personally, I wish Ghana could have removed from the agreement Article 3(1) that states, “Ghana shall accord to military personnel and civilian personnel the privileges, exemptions, and immunities equivalent to those accorded to the administrative and technical staff of a diplomatic mission under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of April 18, 1961.”

There have been several protests in Japan in recent years following incidents of rape and murder perpetrated by some US military officers and civilian contractors stationed in US bases in Okinawa. Rape is rape. And in Ghana, we have many rape cases that get prosecuted in our courts every year. Under Ghanaian laws, Ghanaians can be assured that convicted rapists will get between 7 and 25 years in jail. Convicted murderers could get the death penalty.

When US soldiers abused Iraqi prisoners in Abu Ghraib Prison, the perpetrators were not tried in Iraq under Iraqi law. They were court-martialled and tried under US military law. There was some outrage around the world when sentences handed out to the convicts were deemed to be lenient. If a Ghanaian citizen were to be raped by a US military officer or civilian contractor based in Ghana and the culprit were to get a sentence that is seen as far lenient than what a Ghanaian court would have handed out had the culprit been found guilty under Ghanaian law, there would be outrage. The NPP government or the party would face a political backlash.

It’s a gamble that the government has to be mindful of. As far as the US is concerned, they would not want to sign a Defence Cooperation Agreement that would cede prosecution of service personnel to the host nation, with the real possibility of leaving behind military personnel in foreign prisons. If that were to happen, it would seriously damage the morale of the US Military. When you sign for the Ghana army, there is every likelihood you may never have to get into a combat situation during your career. When you sign up for the US Army, you almost expect to get into some combat situation at some point in your career.

If you get the sense that your military will abandon you to rot in some jail in a foreign land where your human rights may not be respected, you would think hard about joining the US Army. That is one reason the US would never enter into a defence agreement that would allow Ghanaian courts to prosecute and jail its military officers or civilian contractors. It is precisely the reason why the US did not sign on to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC).

So, let me ask you, should the Ghana government deal with the US on the basis of defence cooperation to fight terrorism and protect Ghanaians? Or, should government deal with the Americans on Pay-As-You-Go basis, by charging them full commercial value for agreed facilities, communication spectrum and import duties on military equipment, so that whenever we need their help they can also charge us whatever is the commercial value for their intelligence, equipment and military support?

Columnist: Kwaku Antwi-Boasiako
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