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27.03.2003 Feature Article

WAR ON IRAQ: Why Ghana Must Remain Neutral & Diplomatic

WAR ON IRAQ:  Why Ghana Must Remain Neutral & Diplomatic
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An unfortunate and dangerous war is indeed taking place. The world stage is now confronted once again with a very delicate issue. The international platform is torn apart and the UN humiliated. The world is bracing for a new order. Despite all what is happening and its expectations, this war's precise motive is not easy to pinpoint. It is difficult to tell whether the war is a continuation of the war against terrorism or a war to dispose of a brutal dictator and to free its people from oppression or a struggle to disarm a rogue state of weapons of mass destruction. The code name of the operation, "Iraqi freedom" seems to suggest the objective is to remove the Iraqi leader, President Saddam Hussein. It is clear that there are lots of complications that need to be studied before giving support or disapproval.

Some of the countries that have openly shown their approval for the war are, Kuwait, Afghanistan, Albania, Australia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Colombia, Czech Republic, Denmark, El Salvador, Eritrea, Estonia, Ethiopia, Georgia, Hungary, Italy, Japan (post conflict), South Korea, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Netherlands, Nicaragua, Philippines, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Spain, Turkey, Britain, and Uzbekistan. According the US state department sources, 45 countries now support the war. Norway and Israel remain neutral.

The Ghana govt has been accused by its critics for been silent on the war. To extend the blame further, I will say that almost all African countries south of the Sahara (if not the entire countries on the continent) have kept their cautious distance. This is not the first time that Ghana is maintaining a non-align posture over a delicate international issue. The US who is spearheading this war is currently the only superpower in the world. What this implies is that the country's foreign policy is very crucial to world order. The decision to go to war with Iraq has been variously criticised, for being a mere wish of President Bush and his govt to continue from where his father fmr. US president Bush left off in Iraq. North Korea thinks it is a war meant to seek world dominance by the great USA. Arab and Muslim fundamentalist groups see it as a crusade to conquer and humiliate Islam. Some people think it is the beginning of the crash of civilization. Some think it is a continuation of the global war against terrorism. There are opinions that are a mixture of some of the above.

Whatever be the case, the war has begun. Mixed feelings have gripped the international community. The first loser seems to be the United Nations headed by our own Kofi Annan. It is clear that whenever diplomacy and negotiations fail, the UN has no chance of succeeding. The other losers are France and Germany who were particularly vocal and openly against this war. These two nations were prepared to go any length to avert this war. The traditional friendship between the US and Europe was endangered because of the resistance by these two European nations. But, luckily for the US, its number one and perhaps the most important ally, the Great Britain, led by Prime Minister Tony Blair, stood firmly behind and for the war to oust Saddam Hussein from power. Russia, whose future is currently more d! ependent upon support from the US has also shown some resistance but has never confused words by expressing their wish that the two countries agree to disagree and that the war must not endanger the relationship between the two former enemies.

The world's most populated People's Republic of China has been the most cautious and (surprisingly) low profiled country on the war. Beijing has voiced its disapproval for the war but this has mostly taken place at the United Nations. The country's leadership has done everything possible to discourage demonstrations against the war, as has been witnessed across the globe. Other major areas where support has been open and precise are Japan, Australia, Spain and Italy. What has been most surprising so far is the quick support the US got from the newly baptized EU members - Poland, Romania, Czech Republic and others. Their support has not been without criticism. In a television interview, the French President Jacque Chirac accused these countries of not showing respect and acting immaturely.

The Ghana govt has been pressured by the opponents, political parties and other interest groups to make its position on the war clear. I read from the popular Ghanaian website "the Ghanaweb" that, the New Patriotic Party (NPP), the National Democratic Congress (NDC), the People's National Convention (PNC), the Trades Union Congress (TUC), the Civil Servants Association (CSA) of Ghana, the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), Legon Centre for International Affairs (LECIA), the Ghana Centre for Democratic Development (CDD-Ghana) and Mr. James Victor Gbeho, the immediate past Foreign Minister and a former Permanent Representative to the UN have asked the government as a member of the UN to make its position clear on the matter. This puts the govt in a critical position to make a choice. It bec! omes more critical for the government as Ghana holds the presidency of Ecowas. Perhaps sensing some uncomfortability for the govt's apparent silence, a spokesman at the Castle, Mr. Kwabena Agyapong, was reported to have put some words in the mouth of the government. The report published by the Ghanaian watchdog news daily, the Palaver, is reported to have drawn the displeasure of the Kufuor govt. Perhaps rightly so.

Making a choice by a hipc country like Ghana is not (and should not be) as easy as many of us may think or wish for. It is a war where neutrality seems as a risky business as making a choice. This is because of President Bush's famous "either you are with us or with them" (them = the terrorists spearheaded by Osama bin Laden\s al Qaeda). This means those who support this war have their house in order and their position clear on choosing between the US' foreign policy on terrorism and disarmament of perceived rogue states (axis of evil). It is now clear that the elephant is on rampage and the jungle is surely shaken. The fighter planes are flying over and, cruise missiles and precision-guided bombs are raining on Baghdad. The international community has perhaps never before been divided as i! t stands today. Though being neutral on this war against Saddam Hussein may sound a bad idea to the Bush administration, the NPP government should have no choice than to do just that in a highly diplomatic manner. My reasons are:

I think the wisest thing for Ghana and the NPP government to do is to be non-align. It will be too risky a business for a country like Ghana to voice a partisan opinion on this war. This is because, among numerous other reasons, the war lacks a clear motive and is happening without the UN's blessing. There exists no hiding place like taking a position under the umbrella of the UN direction. This means any country showing support or disapproval should be ready to bear the consequences by herself. Ghana is too petty to engage herself and mount such a platform. The avenue clearly opened for Ghana to belong is the pro-side. This is not only because its major aid donor Japan is there but also because most of her traditional international friends and partners like the Britain, Spain, Italy, the N! etherlands, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia (recently) belong there. But, I think, it will not be a wise thing for the country to choose that path.

It must be note that even opponents like France has shown caution by promising that they will 'support the US should Saddam Hussein decide to use weapons of mass destruction'. A clear diplomatic statement for the steering of any future damage control. This also clearly means the country is playing its cards carefully. And if even Paris is thinking this way, then a word to the wise.... With our country's economy still hugely dependent on foreign aid, any step within the international community should be made with a high degree of precaution and diplomacy. One thing, which is clear since the US operation started, is that, the war is highly unpopular among countries with large Muslim population. Ghana's neighbours and friends like Nigeria (the most populous nation in Africa), Mali, Ivory Coast! , and Burkina Faso are predominantly Muslim countries. Besides satisfying our neighbours, South-South cooperation is a concept in resurrection. It is and should be now clear that this war is unpopular in the third world. This means every attempt needs to be made not to endanger our great nation's relationship with members within the south bloc. On top, our wonderful vice-President, Alhaji Mahama Aliu is a Muslim and, though we do not know what is in his mind as an individual, we have reasons to think of a possible sympathy by him for the huge Muslim world's disapproval for this war. This must not be overlooked.

The first president of Ghana, Osagyefo President Kwame Nkrumah, led and taught the country how to act in such delicate situations by spearheading the formation of the Non-Align Movement. The situation and circumstances that prompted the formation of the Non-Align Movement may be different from the war at hand today but our interests still remain the same. That, we still have significant need for our foreign partners and friends, and not least, their financial, technical and cultural support. Let us learn from the experiences during the cold war and the principles of the non-align movement. It is a good thing for our country to keep our thoughts and let our prayers be with the good people of Iraq (not the leadership) whilst at the same time, being careful not to step on big toes, where ! the consequences could be too much for our blessed nation to bear, now and, especially, in the future.. Ohemeng, Peter (Oslo, Norway)

Peter Ohemeng
Peter Ohemeng, © 2003

The author has 12 publications published on Modern Ghana. Column Page: PeterOhemeng

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