Ghana represents a “bastion of democracy” in a region beset by political instability. With Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo visiting Washington, D.C., this week, the United States can deepen cooperation in a way that “really supports the U.S. message of bringing peace through democracy,” says USIP’s Donna Charles.

U.S. Institute of Peace experts discuss the latest foreign policy issues from around the world in On Peace, a brief weekly collaboration with SiriusXM's POTUS Channel 124.


Laura Coates: Joining us now is Donna Charles. She's the director of West Africa at the United States Institute of Peace. She joins us now. Donna, welcome and good morning. How are you?

Donna Charles: Fine. Thank you, Laura. Thank you for having me.

Laura Coates: Thank you for joining us today. I wanted to talk to you a little bit about what's going on right now in Ghana. As we're looking at all of the and taking a really retrospective look, or an introspective look about the security of democracies across the world, particularly in light of what's happening in Israel, and, of course, the continuing fight in Ukraine as well. You've been speaking a lot about this issue, particularly as there is a visit coming up from the president of Ghana. Tell me a little bit about and orient our conversation, what we need to know in terms of that visit?

Donna Charles: Sure, well, the most important thing to understand here is that Ghana's visit to the Institute and to the United States comes at a pivotal time in not just West Africa and the greater Sahel, but in the International Peace Forum, writ large. You know, Ghana has gone through its own convulsions in democracy, and in peace, especially around the independence movement of the late '50s and early '60s, but it has weathered serious storms. It has come through economic challenges. It has come through political challenges to become one of the most stable democracies in West Africa. And so, burnishing that partnership between the United States and Ghana is critical at a time where we're seeing countries like Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso, Guinea, Sudan, the list goes on, experience their own convulsions in democracy. Political instability is running rampant throughout the region and of course, we're seeing that throughout the world, Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa in particular is not unique in that regard. And so, it's important for us to have President Nana Akufo-Addo come this week, to share the message of what his country has gone through, where he sees his country going, and the leadership role that Ghana had, not just in ECOWAS, and also in the U.N. Security Council, but on the international stage.

Laura Coates: And has this been a long-standing relationship politically, with the United States government? Have they been recognized as a partner in that effort?

Donna Charles: Absolutely. You know, Ghana, the relationship between the United States and Ghana goes back, obviously, decades. And, you know, not just with the independence movement, but, you know, military to military partnerships, engaging on many political issues. But you also realize that the Ghanian diaspora here is one of the largest in the world. We share a lot of common values and at the end of the day, you know, Ghana represents that bastion of democracy in a way that really supports the U.S. message of bringing through -- bringing peace through democracy, bringing peace through stability and prosperity. Yes, Ghana is weathering its own economic challenges, again, not immune to a lot of the shocks that many countries around the world are facing in the wake of COVID and the global economic crisis that ensued. But at the end of the day, Ghana's partnership with the United States has been a long standing one and it's going to be even more critical as we look at the wave of insecurity, especially with the terrorist movements that are sweeping countries like Mali and Burkina Faso, edging closer to Ghana and the littoral states, that partnership is even more important. Ghana is the head of the Accra initiative, an initiative of several countries in the region to get together to address some of the insecurity challenges that are coming their way from the Sahel. So as we see issues with Niger, where you know, our air bases are still operational but at the end of the day, we do have some serious questions about how far our partnership can go in a country like Niger, when you see that democracy topple. And you see a lot of the other partners in the region become less accessible due to restrictions that we have on our security cooperation, Ghana becomes even more critical at this juncture.

Laura Coates: Is there a connective tissue between the recent wave of coups that are sweeping the Sahel?

Donna Charles: Yes and no. And I think it's important to have a very nuanced conversation and perspective on that. While there are some common features, right, you have the putschists claiming that, you know, insecurity and terrorism and an ineffectual militaries and governance is what spurred them to overthrow their governments, so you're seeing threads there. But generally speaking, you have very different motivations when you look at the panoply of coups that have occurred in the last several years. At the end of the day, though, what I find to be the most interesting point about what we're seeing in -- everywhere, from Sudan, to Gabon, to Guinea -- is that what these putschists what these juntas are doing are basically saying, you know, what, we are going to take matters into our own hands, we no longer trust the people to make the decision and we don't want to do the hard work to enter the political parties, the political fray, to make ourselves known, and our voices heard that way. We're just going to do it by force, because we don't trust you to make the right choice. And so that, to me, is where I like to highlight the connective tissue when it comes to these coups, it's about a lack of trust in the people. It's about a lack of trust in the process. And at the end of the day, while insecurity may be an issue in some of these countries, it's never really an excuse to disenfranchise a whole population of people.

Laura Coates: Outside of the United States, or their other allies in the west and partners?

Donna Charles: In the region, yes, I mean, we are seeing a very concerning trend when it comes to France, stepping back from West Africa and Sahel, and in some cases, actually being asked to leave, as we saw most recently in the Niger, and in many other countries in the region. France was really one of the foremost partners we had, to the extent that you know, United States essentially took a backseat, more or less took a more of a partnering role to France as they partnered with a lot of the militaries and the governments in the region. That level of dissatisfaction with, you know, France's presence, France's way of partnering in the region is definitely concerning. And so, we look to other Western partners, you know, the UK, et cetera, all of whom are weathering their own issues, especially when it comes to, you know, increasing support for Ukraine. And now we're pivoting to or not pivoting to, but increasing our focus on what's going on in Israel. It'll be critical that the United States continues to rally support for a lot of the efforts that we're trying to undertake in West Africa and the Sahel, especially when it comes to the Global Fragility Act, legislation that essentially says these are target countries that we want to look at to ensure that we address some of the drivers of fragility, before things get too dire. And so, our partnerships there are strong, but when it comes to partners outside of the region, like the United Kingdom, France, etc. We are concerned that the attention span is waning a bit as you look at other regions in the world.

Laura Coates: Donna Charles, this was so interesting. Thank you so much for joining us and giving us what we need to know. There's so much of a nuanced conversation. Glad to have had it with you. Thank you so much.

Donna Charles: All right. Thank you for having me, Laura.

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