Akufo-Addo: ‘Russian white man, French white man…Africa must break dependency mindset’

By Nicholas Norbrook
Posted on Monday, 17 October 2022 11:11

Ghana's President Nana Akufo-Addo, interviewed by The Africa Report in Paris on 13 October 2022
Ghana's President Nana Akufo-Addo, interviewed by The Africa Report in Paris on 13 October 2022 (Photo: Vincent Fournier for JAMG)

Speaking exclusively to The Africa Report, Ghana's President Nana Akufo-Addo says ECOWAS has to balance sanctioning coup makers with dialogue, but insists West Africa is no place for 'Banana Republics'.

Akufo-Addo also tackles whether ECOWAS should be talking or sanctioning coup makers, and says arguments about the popularity of France and Russia show a failure of African dependency.

Ghana’s President was on a visit to France to receive an honorary degree from the Sorbonne.

He also met with French President Macron to discuss security and economic ties.

The Africa Report: We’ve seen repeated coup d’états in Mali, Guinea and most recently Burkina Faso. Are we headed for a generalised failure of democracy in the region?

Akufo-Addo: No, I don’t believe so. I think that the attachment of the populations to democratic governance is intact even in these countries that have had the misfortune [of going] backwards in terms of governance and experienc[ing] coup d’état[s].

We have seen significant pressures mounted by the population for restoration of democratic order.

[Recently], the Malians announced the constitution of the interim electoral commission, a major step towards fulfilling the pledges that they have made towards the restoration of democratic governance in their country. We know the [democratic] pressures that have been mounted in Guinea, the same kind.

The programme for the restoration of constitutional rule in Burkina Faso has [even] been accepted by […] the new leadership from Burkina Faso, […] but these are aberrations in the path that we want to go down. Three or four years ago ECOWAS was the one space within the African polity [that] had […] democratically elected leaders, across all 15 countries.

[…] There’s been a recognition that many of the alleged defects of democracy within the African [continent] have turned out to be double speech: “it will breed insecurity, it will breed division, they will create ethnic conflict”, all these things have not been [recorded in] history [as] false accusations.

My own country [has a] democratic government [and this] has been the most united period in Ghanaian history[…]. It has also been the period where ethnic and religious conflicts have been at the lowest level. [Instead of] being a vehicle for disunity, […] ethnic strife and rivalry, it has turned out – within the Ghanian context – that democratic governance has been the exact opposite, and I think that this is a matter that is recognised. Who doesn’t want to have a say in who rules them?

Should we talk with coup plotters or sanction them? How do we find a balance?

That’s a good question. That’s a really good question, because this is the matter with which ECOWAS has been struggling with in the last two years. To strike the right balance.

As for the sanctions, they are there in order to register the disapproval of the community for people who violate the fundamental laws of the community. The protocols of good governance and democratic engagement that are the heart of the ECOWAS community prescribe that people who go against these teachings be sanctioned. There’s no way that that can be avoided.

[…] At the same time, insofar as they’re operating within the space, you must create an opportunity to have a meaningful dialogue.

[…] That is why we have the concept of the mediator that we have in Mali, […] Burkina Faso and […] Guinea; to give us the opportunity, even on the sanctions, to be able to talk and appeal to the good sense of the soldiers.

What has happened in Burkina Faso? A coup followed rapidly by another coup, which we saw in Mali. This is the inherent instability of military government because you don’t need anybody’s consent to take up arms to remove your fellow officer; so long as you’re successful in doing so, you just need careful planning, and some courage.

[…] It’s a process that can snowball and go on and on and on, and […] we don’t want that for our continent.

Do you think there’s a link between some of the economic pressures and environmental pressures, which were well known in the Sahel, but also in the last 18 months, the whole of the world has suffered this inflation shock? Is it too easy to draw links between what we’re seeing in West Africa in these countries and those pressures,

It would be impossible for there not to be any link. You can’t rule out the pressures. They’re a part of the reality of our time, and [they’re] influencing all of us and the way in which we are behaving and reacting. There are inflationary pressures in my country, across the region, […] so […] I have no doubt that they’re all part and parcel of the basket of issues that we are confronted with.

Perhaps you spoke about this with President Macron earlier, but why is there such anti-French sentiment at the moment in the Sahelian regions? Is turning to Russia a solution?

You wonder how widespread and how deep this [is] because I don’t know; for me, […] 1000 people getting out on the streets of Bamako, or Burkina Faso [and] waving red flags is itself not conclusive of anything as [fas as] I’m concerned. [If] we’re dealing with Mali [or Burkina Faso] there are [over 20 million people]; to say that these 1000 or so people who appear on the streets waving flags and chanting […] are representative [is questionable].

My point of view is that it’s neither the French and the Russians. We should be thinking about what we can do for ourselves as Africans and not always have this dependency syndrome where we need to be dependent on [the] White man, [whether] Russian […] or […] French […].

Clearly they achieve a propaganda purpose, there’s no doubt about that. [W]hether they’re truly significant of the wider feelings of generality of the population, I don’t know.

[However], there have been difficulties in post-Independence development. It has not been spectacular. We’re not where we should have been […] countries after independence, and it’s relatively easy to find somebody to blame.

I think the French are unlike, for instance, the British who were very quick to stand way back from the colonies. Yes, the British had the influence because of commercial and economic ties, relations with the leaders and all of that, but it was not very visible in the post-independence lives of Ghana, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, or Gambia; whereas the French continue to be very visible in their countries. [..] As a whipping boy […] it’s relatively easy to see how the French can be portrayed.

I think the propaganda value of these things is […] much more than the reality.

To what extent the Russians can be a serious alternative: My point of view is that it’s neither the French and the Russians. We should be thinking about what we can do for ourselves as Africans and not always have this dependency syndrome where we need to be dependent on [the] White man, [whether] Russian […] or […] French […].

I [don’t think] it really makes that much difference; it is the same dependency and I think that our struggle should be about getting rid of that mindset of dependency. I’m installing a much more positive outlook about what we need to do for ourselves and we’re capable of doing so much for ourselves.

On the 46 Ivorian soldiers still held hostage in Bamako, is that something that the region can help unstick?

We have […] been working on it. I’ve led an ECOWAS delegation to Bamako to make the case for the[ir] immediate release. Unfortunately, that still hasn’t happened. I think it’s very regrettable that we were confronted with such a problem, such an unnecessary problem.

I cannot see for the life of me any reason why the Malian authorities continue to hold on to the Ivorian soldiers. It’s been well established that they were not mercenaries. If there were bureaucratic errors in the documentation that brought them there, there’s been enough time now, to sort it out, for them to have been let go.

[…] I think it’s unfortunate […] that the Junta in Bamako has not seen it fit to release them and I don’t know what they gain by picking a fight with Côte d’Ivoire. […] Cote d’Ivoire is [the] most important of their neighbours.

There are three million Malians living in Côte d’Ivoire. Côte d’Ivoire is a source of supply of many essential aspects of life in Mali.

They’re an important supplier of power and electricity, so many other things, and foodstuff etc. I would have thought that a neighbour like [this one] would be […] one that you[…] court and want to be friendly with rather than antagonistic. I don’t [know] what they have to gain and I’m hoping that very soon this whole problem will be behind us.

Part two of this interview will focus on Ghana’s current economic difficulties and the extent to which the government’s developmental agenda will be at jeopardy from the negotiation with the IMF. 

Understand Africa's tomorrow... today

We believe that Africa is poorly represented, and badly under-estimated. Beyond the vast opportunity manifest in African markets, we highlight people who make a difference; leaders turning the tide, youth driving change, and an indefatigable business community. That is what we believe will change the continent, and that is what we report on. With hard-hitting investigations, innovative analysis and deep dives into countries and sectors, The Africa Report delivers the insight you need.

View subscription options