Last week’s parliamentary debate and approval of the bilateral security cooperation agreement between Ghana and the United States has provoked a very robust public response, as it should be in a democratic country like ours. Ghanaians who believe that the government has sold our sovereignty to the Americans by signing the agreement have been most extreme in expressing their views, including accusing the President of the Republic of committing a treasonable act. Obviously, Ghanaians are very proud and protective of their sovereignty and are quick to react to any appearance of encroachment of that space.
Last Saturday night I joined a panel including my old friend David Perssey of the defunct Reform Party fame, and Emmanuel Kotin, the Executive Director of the African Center for Security and Counter-terrorism, to discuss the bilateral agreement on GTV24. Dr. Persseyvociferously and persistently accused the President of treason. Mr. Kotin,for his part, confirmed his intent to go to court to seek an injunction against the agreement’s implementation. Ghana’s democracy is really at work – free expression and action, even if they make no sense to others!
Earlier, the main opposition National Democratic Congress held a press conference. Claiming that government has given away the nation’s sovereignty, they castigated the agreement and the New Patriotic Party and accused the Minister of Defense Dominic Nitiwul and, implicitly, the President of treason. The party’s general secretary AsieduNketia promised the people of Ghana that the agreement will be abandoned, should the NDC return to power.
The promise to rescind the agreement is no news. It would be news and Ghanaians would haverather been disappointed had the NDCfailed to make that promise. It has been the trademark of the two political competitors, NPP and NDC, to almost always vehemently oppose the other on polarizing issues. In 2015 President John Mahama of the NDC signed a secret pact with the Americans to provide safe haven to two freed “terrorist” detainees (GITMO-2) at the infamous Guantanamo Bay. Once the secret became public, the NPP then in opposition raised hell and successfully mobilized public opinion against the pact, promising to return the detainees should they win the upcoming elections. Many believe the NPP victory in 2016 could partly be attributed to their stance on GITMO-2.
So, why shouldn’t the NDC in opposition do the same on this so-called American base in Ghana?It could win them 2020. Would they honor the promise to abrogate the agreement, should they return to power? The NPP did not!Promises seem to mean nothing to these two parties, and their rabid partisanship on almost every issue could be an albatross for our progress.
Sovereignty and National Security
In any case, this piece is not to add to the convoluted arguments, mendacious claims and fear-mongering that has characterized the debate. The focus is rather on the two critical and interrelated undercurrents relatingdirectly to democratic governance, namely, the issues of sovereignty and national security. As we seek to deepen our democracy, conflicts over matters of governance must be addressed within that framework.
What is sovereignty and why should we be protective of it? Stripped of all the encomiums, sovereignty refers essentially to the ultimate power and capacity with which the state takes responsibility for its own affairs. That is to say, there can be no power superior to that of the state in making and directing the affairs of state. Sovereignty bestows dignity and respect to each nation, big or small, strong or weak.
This was all what the 1684 Treaty of Westphalia sought to achieve by ratifying the concept of sovereignty and imposing it on relations among nations. It protects smaller and weaker states from acts of impunity by the strong and, at the same time, entrench the notion of equality of states.Realistically, however, all states are not equal and, since Westphalia, relations among nations have continuously been influenced by the powerful ones. Here, power refers to the military, economic and political capabilities at the disposal of the state and the ability to mobilize them towards achieving a goal.But in our real world not even the most powerful states are able to go it alone, and cooperation and partnerships between and among nations have become the norm for states seeking toprotect their interests, including most importantly security.
The “republic” emerged in the eighteenth century to enhance sovereignty by investing “sovereign power” explicitly in the people, and requiringthe stateto relate to its citizens in ways that are consistent with democratic governance. The republican state is governed by elected representatives and a president who exercises that power on behalf of all. These notions originated from the French and American revolutions that ended monarchical rule. Henceforth, “rule by the people” will be the mantra.
Back to the latest security cooperation between Ghana and the US, I ask myself: Has the country’s sovereignty been sold out by this agreement? Absolutely not! Has it been compromised? I believe so. In other words, I don’t believe by signing the agreement Ghana has lost control over its sovereignty, although the country has been exposed to potential harm from those opposing American interests worldwide. Let me attempt to provide some meaning and context.
Given our history, sovereignty has special significance and evokes passion and emotions because of its relatedness to freedom. Once upon a time, we suffered slavery and colonizationand lost our freedom. Understandably, therefore we have a phobia for imperial powers, especially when such powers seek to encroach on our sovereignty and territory. In that context, a mutual defense agreement with an imperial power such as the United States could be scary.
As a relatively less powerful country, Ghana’s sovereignty has always been at risk, and has required our leaders to navigate cautiously in preserving it. At independence in 1957 Ghana gained “partial” sovereignty until three years later in 1960 when we installed the First Republic and Dr. Kwame Nkrumah replaced the Queen of England as sovereign head. To avoid entangling the country in the ferocious superpower rivalry of the Cold War era, Nkrumah publicly chose the “non-aligned path” but secretly signed a pact for Soviet military protection; in return, the Soviets gained access to Ghana’s naval base. Meanwhile, he received American economic support to carry out some of his monumental projects, including the Akosombo Dam.
Dr. Nkrumah has not been the only sovereign head to play it safe in global politics. Others following him have had to do same in varied forms when hit with the reality of the game nations play. For instance, when “revolutionary” Jerry Rawlings and his PNDC discovered that the Soviet Union could not save Ghana from total economic collapse in the early 1980s, he turned to the imperialist Bretton Woods institutions for redemption. President John A. Kufuor in his time signed the Bilateral Immunity Agreement with the US, the so-called ‘non-surrender’ deal to protect American nationals from the International Court of Justice. As presidents, both Jerry Rawlings and John Mahama also signed security cooperation of lesser scales with the Americans in 1998 and 2015 respectively.
Can we condemn these past leaders for selling our sovereignty? I am sure they all acted in good faith, seeking to protect our interests. But we can agonize over possible compromises they could have made accepting the agreements. It is almost impossible for a small weak state to attain equity negotiating with the powerful. But, of course, even the weakest has options, including not cooperating and staying away.
In democracies Presidentstake difficult decision to safeguard the interest of the people. It is even more difficult in matters of security, where not all issues should necessarily be publicized. Thus, in the US, for instance, matters of high security are shared by the Executive with only the key Congressional Committees where bipartisan blessing is sought; they are never debated on the floor of Congress. This could be something to learn from to minimize the over-exposure of what should be a national secret that serves the interest of the nation.
Though a proposal to keep anything secret from the people offends the democratic imperatives of transparency and participation, we must accept the imperatives of secrecy in security matters of the democratic state. In the real world, not all deals to achieve security goals can be public. May be such were the considerations of Rawlings and Mahama for not putting their deals with the Americans in public.
National Security Strategies
Needless to say, there are always risks associated with approaches to national security strategies. Thus, in addition to the relevant state governance institutions and civil society, we should encourage independent security experts and think tanks to become the second layers in scrutinizing agreements and ensuring adequate measures to protect our interests. We also need to sharpen our negotiation skills in dealing with external powers.
Trust between government and citizenryis crucial in managing national security. We elect our government trusting that our collective interests will always be protected. But citizens become cynical and distrustful when governments consistently fail on their promises. The mendacity in our politics today has lowered the people’s trust and confidence. This condition has made all of us highly suspicious of government actions, especially in matters bordering on sovereignty.
When all is said and done, President AkufoAddo in his wisdom as sovereign head has exercised his powers within the law, and the people of Ghana through their representatives in Parliament have endorsed the agreement with the Americans, never mind the opposition walkout. Going forward, we must focus on how best to monitor the implementation and, with eagle eyes watch out for possible breaches by our guests. Also, measures should be initiated to secure the nation against possible backlashes from the American presence. If, for good reasons, the government of the day decides to abrogate the agreement, there is a provision to give notice.
Those rabidly against the defense cooperation agreement, like my friend David, must pipe down and bid their time to express their disgust at the 2020 polls. If GITMO-2 undid the Mahama administration, as some say, then those opposing the latest security cooperation agreement should seek solace in the coming elections. Those who believe the Constitution has been violated and want to challenge the agreement in the courts, like Emmanuel Kotin, should be encouraged to proceed to exercise their rights as citizens. That is how we grow and strengthen our democracy!