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Last update: 1 July 2022 h. 10:44
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When silence is golden

The Ghanaian government has been accused of being silent on the war in Iraq. There is considerable concern in Ghana regarding this.
Sam Sarpong

Ghanaians do not even know their government's position on the US-Iraq conflict to this very day. Whether the government is supportive or not remains a close-guarded secret. Whilst it hasn't condemned the aggression towards the Iraqi regime, Ghana hasn't offered its unflinching support, at least, publicly to the US cause.

This reticence has continued to baffle a number of Ghanaians, who seem unsure where the government really is. There is a justification for their concern, in that, Ghana as a force on the continent, wields some considerable influence on issues concerning the continent. Besides, as the current home to the Chairman of ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) its pragmatism on African issues easily provides it with a lead role on the continent's stance on international issues.

However, this has not been brought to bear in the conflict between the US and Iraq. It took the acumen of three African leaders, Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria, Thabo Mbeki of South Africa and Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal to send an urgent letter to George Bush expressing the reservations of the African continent over the war in Iraq, when it became clear that the US was contemplating going to war. The apprehension of the leaders was that any war would have a devastating effect on the economy of Africa, shatter world peace and make any reconciliation of the disputes within the Middle East impossible.

Although a number of organisations including the ruling government's own party have called for restraint and the use of diplomacy instead of resorting to military manoeuvres, it has been difficult for the government to give a definite statement on the issue. It has maintained a dead silence perhaps conscious of the repercussions of any misgivings.

Many Ghanaians have not been happy with Ghana's inability to join forces with the three countries. Some now believe the government is in tandem with the American cause hence its silence. A recent anti-war demonstration in the country even went to the extent of describing the 'silence' as ambivalent.

In the list of 30 nations said to be backing the US in its war, Ghana's name was conspicuously absent. Yet when the Presidential Spokesperson, Kwabena Agyepong, denied a report in an opposition mouthpiece, Ghana Palaver, that Ghana had joined a list of African countries supporting the invasion of Iraq, it sent the state machinery reeling.

The Chief of Staff at the President's office, Kwadwo Mpianim was swift. He issued a statement thereafter saying the Presidential Spokesman's comments were made without consulting the government and that Agyepong did not have the authority to make the said statement. But he stopped short of confirming or denying what Agyepong said. If Agyepong's denial was laced with suspicion, the subsequent statement from the President's Chief of Staff proved more confusing and never helped in the riddle.

But the crisis facing the government seems understandable in the face of the US stance on the matter. With the exhortation by the Bush Administration that either countries are with the US or against it, it stands to reason that many countries, today, are playing it safe in order not to incur the wrath of the only super power in the world.

Ghana continues to forge close ties with the US and undoubtedly, would not be prepared to lose that 'special relationship' it has with her. All over Africa, countries are being cautious on how to react to the present crisis knowing very well that the consequences that await them could be swift and long lasting should they express any misgivings.

In the Gambia, the police refused a permit to Muslim students for a peaceful march, on what was seen as the Gambia's wish to maintain good relations with the US.

In Nigeria, the police boss, Tafa Balogun, has already directed his men to deal decisively with whoever plans to disturb public peace. Balogun has told his top officers that, "demonstrations in whatever form are illegal" adding that, "we (Nigerians) are neither Americans nor Iraqis and therefore nobody should be allowed to stage any protest on the on-going war between the two countries."

Despite the ban on anti-war demonstrations, US-Nigeria relations took a dip following the Nigerian President's stance on the war. The US American Ambassador, Howard Jeter expressed his country's 'disappointment' over Nigeria's position.

The US, meanwhile, is said to have suspended military assistance to Nigeria for a different reason. Nigeria's Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Deum Onyia was not amused. He invited Jeter to his office to find out the reason for the military aid suspension. At the said meeting, the Minister was quoted as saying, "Nigeria is a sovereign country and has a right to take a position on world issues…and would resist any attempt by anybody to undermine this sovereignty." Onyia also maintained that Nigeria would not succumb to any subtle intimidation over the country's opposition to the ongoing US-led Iraq war.

Meanwhile, there are indications that President Wade of Senegal had written a letter to Washington on what amounts to be a withdrawal from the joint letter he signed with Obasanjo and Mbeki to Bush. Wade's motivation, insiders say, stems from the need 'to be in the good books of the US.'

What makes the present situation very intimidating is that any criticism of US policy is now seen as anti-American and again, clarified in a vein akin to terrorism.

Evidently, if France, Germany and Russia as well as the entire UN body could be trampled over, and even blocked from post-conflict contracts in Iraq, then it follows that smaller countries like Ghana, perhaps cannot have a basis to challenge any intransigence on the part of the US.

Russia, whose future is currently dependent upon support from the US has also shown some resistance but has now backed off from its earlier position. China has voiced its disapproval for the war in the UN but the country's leadership has done everything possible to discourage demonstrations against the war. France has even been cautious by saying it will 'support the US should Saddam Hussein decide to use weapons of mass destruction', which in every sense is a softening of its earlier stance.

Even outside the political arena, the heat continues to be felt. At the Nasdaq Open in Florida, French tennis star, Emile Loit, suffered defeat when she was subjected to heckling and boos from the home crowd because of her nation's anti-war stance.

For developing countries especially, making a choice on this conflict is such a difficult one. It is a war where neutrality seems as risky as making a choice. It will be too risky a business for a country like Ghana to voice an opinion on this war, especially when such a country depends on the magnanimity of the US and Britain. The consequences will be too much to bear.

The avenue clearly opened for Ghana is to remain silent and keep to itself. After all, silence is golden.

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