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Opinions of Tuesday, 27 March 2018

Columnist: Cameron Duodu

Was the hullabaloo about the Ghana-US military co-operation agreement really worth it?

It was a sorry sight to see the Speaker of the National Assembly having to suspend the sitting of the House on Friday 23 March 2018 “for five minutes”, in order to have a word with the leadership of the House “in chambers”.

Prior to the suspension, the House had experienced rowdy scenes. Tables were being banged. Songs were belted out. The Speaker's incessant appeals for “Order!” were ignored.

Shortly after the House reconvened after the consultations “in chambers”, the Minority actually walked out altogether. The Majority then displayed elements of triumphalist “body language” that would have fitted well with that of spectators at a football match.

Now, Parliament is not a gladiatorial arena but the place where the views of the 30 million or so people of Ghana can be sized down to an infinitesimal sampling. “Representation”

of their constituents by MPs means they do speak on behalf of their supporters. So it is important that they be properly heard.

The fact that in the House, the numbers of the Minority are easily dwarfed by those of the Majority does not mean they do not represent a significant section of public opinion. That's why good Parliamentary leaders in other countries lobby hard to try and reconcile opposing views, through a carefully-calibrated process of give-and-take. (Sometimes behind the scenes.)

The sad thing about last Friday's ruckus was that it wasn't even strictly necessary! The Minority had, whilst their party was in office, signed an agreement that was similar in many respects to what the current Government had brought before the House.

So, the practice of entering into an agreement with the USA is nothing new. But, of course, well has it been said that “the devil lies in the detail”. Discussing details takes time and calls for persuasion.

Unfortunately, at a certain stage during the discussions on the Agreement, the Majority gave up the idea of listening carefully to what the Minority had to say about some of the details. They suspected the Minority – and not without reason – of being rather hypocritical, given the fact that similar agreements had been signed by earlier governments.

As far as I can see, the idea in the new agreement, that the Americans would be allowed to construct a “runway” to their own specifications to suit their purposes, should have been the bone of contention. This is the reason: suppose the Americans wanted a place were they would construct a runway 2,000 metres long. What would that location be called? Would it be a “military base” or not?

The answer is that it would be a “military base!” That's because 2,000 metres is almost the exact length of say, the runway of the Royal Australian Air Force “base” at Richmond”, in Greater Sydney. And no-one calls it anything other than a “military base”. Bhagram Air Base, in Afghanistan, has a runway that's 3,602 metres in length; Lages Field, in the Azores, operated by Portugal but available to US forces, has a runway that is 3,314 metres in length. And they are both known as military bases.

So, it is only if and when the Americans actually propose to construct a runway in Ghana, and tell the Ghana Government its specifications, that we shall be able to compare the facility to others of its type, and be in a position to accurately designate it as a “military base”. Or not. Do we snt an agreement that is so open-ended?

The dimensions of a “base” apart, what goes on there and at other installations which the Americans might be able to establish (with the Ghana Government's approval, under the Agreement) also deserves examination. Ever since the dastardly attack on the US known as 9/11, the US has constructed so-called “Black Sites” abroad, under the control of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), where interrogation methods that are unlawful in the United States itself – such as water-boarding – are used against suspected terrorists.

Our famous GITMO-2 came from such a prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. It's reported that there are similar sites in Morocco, Romania, Thailand, Lithuania and Kosovo. Amnesty International has compiled a list of at least 20 “Black Sites” in various parts of the world.

The main objection to the “Black Sites” is that the US can set up the camps sometimes without the explicit knowledge of the host governments and that, as pointed out earlier, practices occur there that the US authorities know are unlawful in their own country. Why is what's good for the “gander” not good for the “goose”?

Many countries claim to be deceived over the fact that “Black Sites” are located in their territories. That is easy to do, for many of the agreements under which such practices occur are entered into in good faith. It is up to countries to take note of what happens elsewhere when they sign agreements with very broad or vague provisions. They ought to note, in particular, that their world-view will not always coincide with that of the USA. The US has the right to fight “holy wars” against terrorists like those who carried out 9/11. But it has no right to enlist into that, countries that do not have truck with the idea of “holy wars”.

Not only that – countries can sign an agreement with one US administration with which they think they can do business, only to find that it falls to another administration – with a completely different complexion – to implement the agreement.

The election of Donald Trump in the US, with his contemptuous attitude towards some African nations, whom he has petulantly called “shit-hole countries”, ought to have stayed the hand of our Government over the vagueness of some of the provisions of the current agreement.

Indeed, the hullabaloo over the agreement could easily have been evaded. All we needed to tell the US Government was this: “Ghana has always been a good friend of the US. When we got our independence in 1957, the US sent no less a person to represent it at the celebrations than the then Vice-President, Richard M Nixon, later to become President of the United States. It was with US assistance that we were able to build the Akosombo Dam, which has remained one of our biggest projects ever undertaken by us.

“Therefore, in the spirit of that spirit f friendship, the Government of Ghana will always look with favour upon any reasonable request made of it by the US. But such requests must take the form of ad hoc supplications, made in respect of particular situations represented to us. Ghana, as a member of the Non-Aligned Movement; of the African Union; and of the Economic Community of West African States, would court the suspicion and even disdain of those countries we most need to co-operate with at the continental level, if we give any Great Power blanket permission to construct military installations and carry out military operations on our territory. Ghana would also become a target for reprisals by jihadist groups who do not hide their loathing for America.”

We should transmit, alongside such a message, a copy of an article published by a Nigerian newspaper, Pmnews, which asserted that the “Ghana Parliament has mortgaged its sovereignty” to US troops” (and which can be found at):

https://www.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/NewsArchive/Ghana-s-Parliament-mortgages-country-to-U-S-troops-637442

It is not in Ghana's interest to be viewed in such a manner in Nigeria, the biggest of her regional neighbours.

An honest reaction of the sort sketched above would have saved us from the indecorous hullabaloo that erupted in our Parliament on 23 March 2018, and which has, without doubt, succeeded in soiling the name of our National Assembly and shamed its esteemed members.