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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Ivory Coast: President Mills over spoke, but was right not to go to war

Laurent Gbagbo
Laurent Gbagbo
 It also appears that President Mills' decision is also based on frank assessment of the situation both in Ghana and in Ivory Coast...The frank assessment was based on whether or not Ghana has the capability to wage a sustained war against its neighbour. It was also based on the question of whether or not Cote D'Ivoire has the capability to fight back should an all out invasion occurs. The judgement was also made based on the question of whether or not peace can be maintained after the overthrow of Laurent Gbagbo.

By Lord Aikins Adusei

Many pundits, commentators and analysts have subjected the recent comments made by President John Atta Mills to serious criticisms. During his meeting with Editors of Ghana's media establishments, the Commander-in-Chief, Armed Forces of Republic of Ghana is reported to have said Ghana would not contribute soldiers should the leadership in West Africa (and Africa Union) decide to use military force to remove Laurent Gbagbo. He said: “As Commander in Chief, I consulted with my Military High Command and they advised that they could not release troops to join any ECOWAS contingent to take military action in Cote d'Ivoire”. He concluded his statement by saying Ghana would rather mind his own business rather than those of others. What the president said has become a serious debate both in local as well as the international media.

Some members of the ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC) and some pundits in Ghana have jumped to the defence of the president, but the opposition New Patriotic Party (NPP) in Ghana is accusing the president of undermining efforts by regional leaders to let Gbagbo hand over power. Hackman Owusu Agyemang, former Foreign Minister of the NPP said President Mills "Is now seen to be breaking ranks with ECOWAS. We must take the moral high ground".

A recent BBC discussion of the matter had some contributors saying the president's public pronouncement was unwise, forcing Mohammed Mumuni, the Foreign Minister to accuse the BBC of unfairness. “The BBC has been unfair and unjust because it took that proverb totally out of context and presented it and it clearly gave a certain impression, it portrayed president Mills as a person who is uncaring for others, as a selfish person, an inward-looking president who is only concerned about his own internal affairs and does not care a hoot about what is happening in La Cote d'Ivoire.”

The point is that regardless of what regional leaders, foreign powers, opposition parties, or local commentators say or think, as a commander-in-Chief President Mills reserves the right to decide where and how Ghana Armed Forces should conduct their operations. The right to declare war or peace as vested in the President ought to be respected by those criticising the him because the president is the one who will take full responsibility should the outcome to declare war or peace does not go in the nation's favour.

The President is refusing to go to war knowing very well the outcome of any military involvement can be costly to Ghana both in human and in financial terms. Apart from its potential financial and human consequences and wider security implications, a decision to go to war could also destroy the political career of those who unwisely take their nations to war. The ongoing Inquiry in the United Kingdom in which Tony Blair and his Ministers are being questioned for their decision to take Britain to war in Iraq attests to this fact. Again the 2008 US presidential elections in which President Bush's Republican Party lost to the Democrats also add weight to the importance of not playing ball when it comes to declaring war. Tony Blair lost his post as British Prime Minister and George Bush Jr became the most unpopular president in recent US history largely because of their decision to invade Iraq despite international outcry. In our world full of extremism and terrorism decision to go to war can make a country highly susceptible to attacks from enemies within and outside the country. Several assessments made by security think thanks indicate that the decision to overthrow Saddam has poisoned the security of the world and United States and Europe in particular. Saddam's overthrow has not only worsened the security situation in Iraq but has also made US, Britain and their allies targets of suicide bombers. While Mills' lack of interest in seeing Laurent Gbagbo toppled by military means is inherent in his belief that peaceful settlement of disputes is better than confrontation, the above unforeseen problems have played a part in his decision not to go to war.

It also appears that President Mills' decision is also based on frank assessment of the situation both in Ghana and in Ivory Coast. Available information indicate that President Mills was in fact being honest and frank with Ghanaians when he said Ghana won't commit troops to Ivory Coast. Though President Mills did not elaborate when he said Ghana's armed forces was overstretched, sources inside the military have confirmed that the armed forces after assessing its role in other theatres around the world decided to inform the President to shelve any idea to contribute troops should ECOWAS and its military wing (ECOMOG) decides to invade Ivory Coast.

The frank assessment was based on whether or not Ghana has the capability to wage a sustained war against its neighbour. It was also based on the question of whether or not Cote D'Ivoire has the capability to fight back should an all out invasion occurs. The judgement was also made based on the question of whether or not peace can be maintained after the overthrow of Laurent Gbagbo. In other words if Gbagbo's forces decide to retreat to the forests of Ivory Coast and wage a guerrilla war do we have the capability to defeat them. What happens if Gbagbo's forces decide to launch attacks in villages inside Ghana along the Ghana-Ivorian border?

Of all the issues that informed the President to arrive at the conclusion not to invade Cote D'Ivoire the question of capability was very prominent.

To begin with in 2009 Pieter D. Wezeman authored a document titled “Arms transfers to Central, North and West Africa”. It was published by Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), an independent security think thank that tracks military spending world wide. According to the document, between 2003 and 2007 Cote D'Ivoire's total military expenditure stood at US$1.27 billion, representing an average of US$253.8 million per annum. During the same period, (2003-2007) Ghana's total military expenditure was US$381.3 million representing an annual average expenditure of US$76.26 million. That is Ghana's expenditure for the period represented only a third (about 30%) of Cote D'Ivoire.

All things being equal, it is not difficult to predict the outcome of a war between two countries one spending US$1.27 billion, the other spending US$381.3 million. That is giving their expenditure a confrontation between the two neighbours will in no doubt be in favour of Cote D'Ivoire. Weapons are very important because weapons and its technology can determine the outcome of a battle. In any military confrontation with an enemy one would want to know the enemy's capability, the weapons the enemy is using, its troop numbers, the combat experience of the enemy forces etc. As Israelis used to say “to beat your enemy you must know the weapons your enemy is using” therefore giving the level of expenditure of Ghana and Ivory Coast, it can be concluded that it is the capabilities of both countries: weapons and arsenals in possession, as well as available number of soldiers ready to be involved in a combat operation which actually informed the President not to go to war.

Other factors such as the power of the Ghanaian economy to support a war in Cote D'Ivoire also informed the President to refuse to go to war. Analysis of Cote D'Ivoire's economy indicates that by West Africa standard Cote d'Ivoire is relatively a rich country; its military is well resourced and is probably one of the best in West Africa (a fact that also reflect in its military spending). The huge funding available to the Ivorian military means that it is better equipped than its Ghanaian counterpart. In addition, Ivorian soldiers appear to be better remunerated than their Ghanaian counterparts which mean all things being equal, morale and the will to fight favour Ivory Coast than Ghana. That means any invasion will be tough and costly in human and financial terms and Ghana does not want to be involved in a long battle with with a powerful neighbour. President Mills after careful analysis of the strength of Ghana's economy and the capabilities of its military concluded that a war with militarily strong neighbour with an over stretched army is in nobody's interest.

But there is even a bigger problem. At the ECOWAS meeting of Heads of governments, it was discussed that any invasion force was to be made up of soldiers from West Africa and some other countries. That means Ghana's weak position could be strengthened with that of Nigeria which according to Pieter D. Wezeman leads military spending in West Africa, spending US$3.7bn between 2003 and 2007. The problem however is that very few of the French-speaking countries in West Africa (though they form the bulk of ECOWAS) are prepared to contribute soldiers and logistics to the invasion. It became apparent that the cost of any invasion would fall on Ghana and Nigeria, echoing the memory of the Liberian civil war where Ghana and Nigeria footed most of the bill and contributed most of the soldiers who helped to restore peace in the country. The failure of French-speaking West Africa to show interest in military build up against Gbagbo forced Mills and his military Generals to conclude that a war against Gbagbo will drain Ghana's resources and therefore will not be in the interest of the nation.

There is no indication to suggest that president Mills erred when he spoke about the invasion. He was very right in his judgement and was in fact telling Ghanaians the truth. There is nothing wrong with the President announcing that he met with his Generals who advised him against going to war to remove Laurent Gbagbo. So the decision not to go to war was a wise and smart move intended to protect the one million Ghanaians living in Ivory Coast.

In my candid opinion, the President's only fault is that he over spoke (over stepped the diplomatic cordon) when he answered the question of Ghana not sending troops to Cote d'Ivoire. His assertion that Ghana should 'mind her own business' ('Dzi wu fie asem') shows his lack of understanding of the strategic importance of Ghana as a key player in regional affairs. Whether President Mills likes it or not Ghana is a major player that cannot be ignored when it comes to regional issues whether it is security or economics. For Mills to say that Ghana will mind its own business shows that he does not appreciate (or understand) the importance of Ghana to influence decisions in the sub region.

The import of his statement also has a wider implication for any decision regarding the impasse in La Cote D'Ivoire. First of all, his statement that Ghana's military is overstretched has the effect of weakening Ghana's influence in the sub-region because nations (within out and inside the sub-region) that count on Ghana's ability to project power and influence key events in the sub-region will begin to have doubts.

Secondly, President Mills' unconditional public statement has the potential to torpedo effort by regional leaders to let Gbagbo go peacefully. Mills unilateral action is being interpreted by Gbagbo as a support from Ghana and Gbagbo is using it to advance his hold on power. Watching how events are unfolding in Cote D'Ivoire suggest that President Mills' statement has in fact emboldened Laurent Gbagbo. We could see Gbagbo's emboldened position in a recent visit by the AU mediator, Raila Odinga where Gbagbo failed to recognise or cooperate with him. We could also see it in Gbagbo's statement praising President Mills. Speaking on TV Africa's The Bare Facts, hosted by one of Ghana's ace journalists Mr Kwesi Pratt Jnr. Gbagbo said of President Mills: “He is a wise man; he has taken a very good decision that his country intervention in Cote D'Ivoire. This is in the spirit of the creation of the Organisation of African Unity in the 1960s and the African Union (AU) in 2000".

The unfortunate aspect of President Mills' statement is that it has the effect of producing the same problems he is trying to avoid: the status of the one million Ghanaians living in Cote D'Ivoire. Whereas Gbagbo may see Ghana as an ally and will not harm Ghanaians living in Abidjan and other cities controlled by his forces, the same cannot be said of Alassane Ouattara. Ouatarra forces may interpret the President's decision as a declaration of support for Gbagbo and they may vent their anger on Ghanaians living in the areas controlled by them with very serious consequences.

Although it is wise decision not to go to war, but declaring it publicly is a complete diplomatic blunder. The diplomatic blunder however, is a symptom of a larger problem within the ruling NDC. It was caused because of the fact that most of the president's inner circles are people who appear to be learning politics: little foreign policy experience. So far within the NDC Ambassador James Victor Gbeho is the most experienced foreign policy expert with the acumen and credentials to advice Mills on major foreign policy issues such as the one the NDC is confronted with in Cote D'Ivoire. Ambassador Gbeho's appointment as President of ECOWAS has left the NDC with few individuals who could offer the President the kind of advice he needs to pursue a well articulated foreign policy.

So far as Ivory Coast is concerned President Mills was right not to go to war, but he over spoke. It would have been very right if he had kept quiet and done his bidding behind the scene rather than going public. The impact of Mills public pronouncement is that it will help keep Laurent Gbagbo in power, but will end up making Ghana lose credibility in the eyes of our allies. Ghana may altogether lose some allies within and outside the West Africa sub-region, but in this era of global interdependence losing many allies for the sake of one country however is not a good decision.

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