I was one of a few journalists selected to attend a recent press conference at the U.S. Embassy in Accra. Our guest was Anne Witkowsky, the Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of Conflict and Stabilisation Operations. She was on a two-day visit to Ghana.
Ms Witkowsky came towing a trailer of impressive CV and experience. That made her a perfect guest to extract important quotes and sound bites from.
She had been the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defence for Stability and Humanitarian Affairs at the US Department of Defence. She had also served in the US Department of State as the Acting Principal Deputy Coordinator in the Bureau of Counterterrorism.
She had been the Counterterrorism Deputy Coordinator for Homeland Security and Multilateral Affairs. That is not all. Anne Witkowsky had also served as a Director for Defence Policy and Arms Control on the White House National Security Council staff.
Her credentials were important to us journalists because she visited the same week Ghana’s National Security Ministry warned Ghanaians about a threat of a terrorist attack on the country and called on everyone to keep their security feelers alert to any unusual sights.
There is a ten-year U.S.-Ghana partnership on the Strategy to Prevent Conflict and Promote Stability. The White House announced in April 2022 that the U.S. government would partner with Ghana and four other coastal West African states – Guinea, Cote d’Ivoire, Togo and Benin – to implement a strategy. That was the reason Ms Witkowsky came to Ghana.
She came with her agenda. She said she was here to consult, and to listen. But, as journalists, we had our own expectations of soundbites and headlines.
So, when Kevin Brosnahan, the press attaché at the U.S. Embassy passed the microphone around, we probed for the specifics of the strategy, how the U.S. was collaborating with Ghana in the current surge in terrorism and why the U.S chose these coastal West African countries when the Sahel region up north was where the actual fire was burning. Big Brother America is often viewed with suspicion, so we tried to find out more about this partnership.
There was the opportunity to ask multiple questions. Some journalists even asked more than three questions.
At the end of the press briefing, however, the verdict on the part of us journalists was unanimous. We felt our guest brilliantly avoided tackling our questions head-on. She said a lot without saying much.
The clearest response we got that Friday afternoon was when she said the strategy did not include having American boots on our soil. We were, however, consoled by the fact that in security matters, no professional would want to open their mouth too wide in the midst of journalists.
On our way out of the embassy, Albert Salia of the Daily Graphic and I were of the view that it was worthwhile to have a partnership with the U.S. in these crucial times. Mr Salia then revealed to me how the Americans once conducted an operation in Ghana’s Central Region and arrested a terrorist group that had pitched camp there before they hatched their plans.
The imminent danger of terrorism facing Ghana requires more partnerships and collaborations to fight it. From organising a concert to launching an early warning terrorism campaign to appointing celebrity ambassadors, the National Security has not given many Ghanaians hope that they know how to keep the marauding criminals at bay. The few that remained hopeful have been hit by the disturbing leaking of extremely sensitive communication in the fight against terrorism.
The U.S., Britain, and other Western countries appear to have superior security architectures in countering terrorism.
Even if they didn’t have superior security agencies, partnering with them would still be significant because of their experience. If a village is hit by a strange disease, the wise thing to do is to consult the herbalist in the village that has suffered that disease before.
Americans and the British have fought terrorism and other security threats in and outside their countries. Their success and failures are enormous lessons for us. Sharing notes and tapping from their experiences at this crucial moment is something we cannot ignore.
For this reason, the rift between Ghana’s Inspector General of Police (IGP) and the British High Commissioner is disturbing. IGP Dr George Akuffo Dampare did not take lightly a tweet by the British High Commissioner, Harriet Thompson, on the arrest of Oliver Barker-Vormawor an alleged road traffic offence.
The police had earlier arrested, detained, and charged Barker-Vormawor for threatening a coup should the government pass the wildly condemned Electronic Transaction Levy. The delay in granting him bail garnered sympathy and support for Barker-Vormawor even among those who found his pronouncements distasteful.
I was one of those who spoke against his threat. Whether or not he had the capacity to carry it out, I felt it was inappropriate coming from someone who was leading a social media campaign to get Ghana fixed.
I, however, believe that the real “coup plotters” are in the Jubilee House. Those whose actions and inactions have caused many to lose hope in themselves and in our democratic experience are the ones we should worry more about.
The IGP, like many Ghanaians, found the British High Commissioner’s tweet that she was watching the arrest of Barker-Vormawor unacceptable. They accuse her of interference in an internal matter. The IGP’s letter accused the British High Commissioner of breaking the Vienna Convention. It concluded by asking her to mind her own business.
The letter has divided opinion and taken a political angle.
There is a group that is genuinely outraged by the interference of foreigners, especially those with different skin colour. There is a background to the group that views such actions as neo-colonialism, as Nkrumah put it.
We grew up learning about the wicked white man who invaded our land and took many of our kinsmen and women as slaves. When slavery ended, the white man came back to rule over us. And when we were fed up and sacked the white man to leave our land, he went home but continues to control us remotely.
Some of us, however, grew up and learned the other side of the story, the truest part that has subjugated the black man forever.
We learned that some greedy and wicked black men sold their own brothers and sisters into slavery.
When the white man returned to rule us and waged wars against some powerful ethnic groups in our land, some blacks fought with the white man to defeat their own black people.
Then after independence, some greedy black colonisers who took over from their white counterparts decided to sell the resources of their people cheaply to the white man and cater to their insatiable greed. If any black leader rose up to help his people, the greedy blacks would connive with the white man to fight the good leader.
Some of the blacks now steal from their people and carry the loot to the white man’s land to buy houses and stash the rest in their banks. The story that sanitized the role of the black man in our misery will be repeated to grandchildren about how some Chinese invaded our land and destroyed our forests and water bodies in search of gold. They won’t be told that the greedy politicians, individuals and chiefs of our land fronted for the Chinese.
Because of this greed, the white man still has a lot of power over us because we have impoverished ourselves and remained beggars. And I am yet to come across the words “respected” and “beggar” following each other in a sentence.
We have no trust in ourselves and our institutions, so when NDC party supporters pelted the residence of Akufo-Addo with stones in 2016, the NPP looked to the diplomats of the white man’s lands to speak up. They spoke up strongly and in unison. We took them seriously because they are the only ones our omnipotent politicians fear.
At the time, the governing NDC said the Western countries should mind their business. Today, the NDC are in opposition and they are fighting on the side of the British High Commissioner against the IGP.
The governing NPP sees it as interference.
In short, what the British High Commissioner did is either a welcome intervention or an unwholesome interference depending on who is in power and who is in opposition.
In other words, if the interference is beneficial to us, we welcome it. If it is critical of our actions, we condemn it.
For the interest of the nation and the security challenges we face, however, I don’t think the British High Commissioner should be told to mind her business. We are her business. She’s here because we are here. She is in Ghana as an interface between her country and Ghanaians.
Like other foreign diplomats, she is valuable partner in the fight against terrorism. The ministries of National Security and Information have launched the #IfYouSeeSomethingSaySomething campaign.
If the British High Commissioner has any intelligence about a security threat against Ghana, she cannot mind her business. She should reach out to the security agencies and their heads, including the IGP.
Our world is now more interconnected than ever. If the war in Ukraine has consequences for our economy, then the likes of Assistant Secretary Witkowsky and Harriet Thompson cannot be said to mind their business.
If Ghana’s president can speak up against racism in America, then Harriet Thompson and others should have their say. If they’re wrong, we will point it out to them.
But they cannot mind their business, especially in the area of our national security. If they see something, they should say something.