Relations between Accra and Washington have see-sawed between extremes. Soon after President John Kennedy sent the first Peace Corps volunteers to Ghana in 1960, the relationship turned sour. Prime Minister Kwame Nkrumah wanted Africa to be free from Western domination, and the two countries fell out over the fate of Patrice Lumumba and newly-independent Congo in 1960.
The killing of Lumumba in January 1961 enraged Nkrumah. In October 1965, he published Neocolonialism: The Last Stage of Imperialism. The US ambassador delivered a strong protest and telexed to the State Department that the book “is a clear and comprehensive statement of Nkrumah’s anti-Western, anti-US bias.” The following month, the US refused a request for $100m in food aid for Ghana. The US administration did not hide its relief at Nkrumah’s overthrow on 24 February 1966.
After more than two decades in which Ghana seemed to matter little to the US, an opportunity for a warming came in the 1990s. Respect for the National Democratic Congress’s pursuit of World Bank and IMF-sponsored reforms, and Ghana’s efforts alongside Nigeria to quell instability in Liberia and Sierra Leone, helped to cement a new relationship. In 1998, President Bill Clinton visited Accra on the first leg of a five-nation African tour. The Clintons were overwhelmed by their reception at Independence Square. A decade later, President George W. Bush received a similarly warm welcome from President John Kufuor.
Securing mineral resources, including oil, is a priority for the US. But President Barack Obama also wants to shore up Ghana’s capability to fight off Latin American drug barons targeting West Africa. The US navy pays frequent visits to Ghanaian ports. Obama has also chosen to visit Ghana to signal Washington’s support for liberal democracy and free elections across the continent.
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