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01.05.2007 Politics

Fears grow in Ghana over US plans for military base in Africa

Fears grow in Ghana over US plans for military base in Africa

A US military base might soon become operational in Ghana, despite the fact that the government denies that any such deal was reached with the American administration. Godwin Nnanna reports from Accra.

Suspicion, speculation and fears continue to grow among Ghanaians

A US military base might soon become operational in Ghana, despite the fact that the government denies that any such deal was reached with the American administration.

The news first broke in May 2003, following a statement credited to General James L. Jones, a US military general and commander of NATO forces that Washington plans to grow its military presence in Africa in order to "respond to new threats."

As Black Britain's investigation reveals, the planned base in Ghana is primarily for the purpose of policing US interests in the oil-rich Gulf of Guinea, particularly Nigeria which is expected to be the source of about 20 per cent of the oil consumed in the US over the next few years.

“Don't mistake it, the US has a strong economic interest in West Africa and with the situation of things in the Middle East, they want to take a strong strategic foothold in the region before China overwhelms them. It is not a hear-say they are here to stay,” a top level source at the Ghanaian Defence ministry told Black Britain last week.

Amid concerns about the situation in Nigeria's oil-rich Niger Delta, Black Britain has learnt that the US is worried about the growing trend of Islamic fundamentalism in northern Nigeria and plans to use the Ghanaian military base to check possible Al-Qaeda infiltration of the region.

Four days after Nigeria's presidential elections, Islamic militants attacked a police station in the commercial city of Kano in the north of the country killing twelve policemen and a woman believed to be the wife of one of the slain cops.

“The signs we've seen here in the last few years lends credence to the likelihood of such a military base in Ghana. I won't doubt it but I will say that that it would be the greatest mistake the Kufour government will make. It is akin to selling the achievement of March 6, 1957 and I think that would be disastrous,” said Kojo Tetteh, a Ghanaian businessman.

Concerns about the planned military base heightened three weeks ago when one of Ghana's leading critics, Kwesi Pratt, of the Committee for Joint Action, stated that he has evidence that the US Army is establishing a military base in Tamale in the northern part of the country. Pratt called for mass action against the move.

Ghana Defence Ministry says there are no concrete plans in place for military base

The Defence Ministry in a swift reaction, denied the claims describing it as “baseless”. The Defence Minister, Kwame Addo Kufuor, brother of incumbent president John Kufuor of Ghana who is seeking to succeed the latter in 2008, say his ministry is not aware of any US military base in Ghana.

A statement from his office last week noted that “there is no official request or proposal to that effect.” The ministry explained that the Ghana Air Force collaborated with troops from the UK, US and other countries in joint training exercises, saying “it is unfortunate that such collaborative efforts by Ghana and friendly countries particularly the US, should be given a conspiratorial interpretation.”

“As a responsible Ministry within the Ghanaian establishment, we do not have the basis to conclude and inform the Ghanaian public that the US is going to establish a US military base in Ghana,” the Defence ministry noted.

However, most Ghanaians Black Britain spoke to in Accra doubt the statement by the Defence Ministry: “They don't want to tell us the truth. They fear the reactions that such information is likely to cause,” said Kantah James, a student union leader.

“We don't want another Guantanamo Bay in Africa. Even if it must be we don't want Ghana to be the host of such an atrocious establishment,” James added.

While Defence officials in Ghana continue to deny the allegations, the US Defence Department has said it would make public the location of its controversial base in six months time. It acknowledges that Ghana is on the shortlist of countries in West Africa being considered for such a base.

According to Ryan Henry, US Principal Deputy Under-Secretary of Defence for Policy who was in Nigeria and Ghana two weeks ago, the Pentagon would like to see its Africa command fully operational by September 2008:

"The only major decision that's been made is that the commander of AFRICOM will be stationed ... specifically ... on the continent. We have to be very sensitive to where we put the headquarters and what the headquarters look like," he said, stressing that its "principal mission will be in the area of security cooperation and building partnership capability. It will not be in warfighting."