Ghana-Burkina: Akufo-Addo’s ‘Russia mercenaries’ comment sparks diplomatic rift

By Jonas Nyabor
Posted on Friday, 16 December 2022 17:13

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)

Burkina Faso has summoned Ghana’s ambassador in Ouagadougou for questioning over president Akufo-Addo’s allegation that it has hired ‘Russian mercenaries’ to fight insurgency in the country. The move is the latest in what may be a brewing diplomatic row between the two neighbouring countries.

Speaking at a session during the US-Africa Leaders’ Summit in Washington on Wednesday, President Akufo-Addo alleged that Burkina Faso has given out a mine as payment for the Russians’ service.

“Today, Russian mercenaries are on our northern border. Burkina Faso has now entered into an arrangement to go along with Mali in employing the Wagner forces there,” he said.

“I believe a mine in southern Burkina has been allocated to them as a form of payment for their services. The Prime minister of Burkina Faso in the last 10 days has been in Moscow.

“And to have them operating on our northern border is particularly distressing for us in Ghana,” Akufo-Addo added.

Besides summoning Ghana’s ambassador, Burkina Faso’s news agency reports that the Captain Ibrahim Traoré regime has recalled its ambassador in Ghana.

According to Reuters, a foreign ministry spokesperson confirmed that “The ambassador of Ghana was summoned this morning about what the President (of Ghana) said… for explanations.”

Ghana is yet to comment officially on the development.

Russian influence

The growing influence of Russia and linked groups like the Wagner paramilitary group in Africa is upsetting western powers that have had long economic and military engagements on the continent.

France earlier this year pulled out its troops fighting insurgency in Mali after nearly a decade in the western African country, accusing Wagner of human rights abuses and plundering.

Wagner, a Russian paramilitary group has been present in some African countries including the Central African Republic and Mozambique to deal with the problem of insurgency.

Ghana has been concerned about recent incidents of terrorism and insurgency in the Sahel with data from the 2022 Global Terrorism Index  showing that Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger account for three of the 10 countries with the largest increases in terrorism-related deaths in 2021.

According to President Akufo-Addo, Wagner – with its controversial reputation – operating near Ghana’s border with Burkina Faso created great discomfort, and Ghana seeks to have the US as a partner “in confronting these threats.”

Cold war thinking

But analysts like Professor Vladimir Antwi Danso, the dean of the Ghana Armed Forces Command and Staff College say President Akufo-Addo’s stance is problematic.

“Somehow the comments by President can bring the cold war to the doorstep of Ghana. The four pillars of our foreign policy must guide us.

“We are one of the main pillars of Pan-Africanism – anything concerning Africa, we are at the forefront, then good governance, non-alignment, and then multilateralism,” he said on Accra-based Joy News.

Mutaru Mumuni Muqthar, the executive director of West Africa Centre for Counter-Extremism, told The Africa Report that the comments by President Akufo-Addo will hamper security and economic cooperation between Ghana and Burkina Faso especially as they recently committed to collaborating more under the Accra Initiative.

Somehow the comments by President can bring the cold war to the doorstep of Ghana….

“This was a big miscalculation and misjudgment. The comment undermines our cooperation with our neighbouring country, especially along the lines of regional security and trade and clearly, there is already some diplomatic rift that has started [as a result],” he said.

“If we do not backtrack on that rhetoric, we are putting ourselves in danger… The foreign ministry must sanitise conversations around this issue going forward,” he added.

Local reports from Burkina Faso say foreign affairs minister Karamoko Jean Marie Traore in a meeting with Ghana’s ambassador Boniface Gambila Adagbila said President Akufo-Addo got his facts wrong and should have engaged the Burkinabé government on the security concerns before making the comments.

The Russian embassy in Ghana has taken to Twitter to share an opinion piece that criticises President Akufo-Addo’s comments.

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