Is Ghana helping to destabilize Ivory Coast?
Moses Kofi Yahaya
Over the last two decades under the auspices of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) Ghana has hosted thousands of refugees fleeing from its war ravaged neighbors, Liberia and Ivory Coast. But a troubling trend has emerged among the refugees; some of them are brazenly using Ghana as a launch pad to stage potentially destabilizing incursions into their homelands. Ivorian authorities are reportedly livid over the recent cross border incursion into their territory by a ragtag band of loyalists of the jailed former Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo. The ill-fated foray though swiftly neutralized was seen by the Ivorian government officials as an attempt by individuals still angry over the ascendancy of President Alassane Quattara to throw the country into chaos, once again.
Truth be told, the Ivorians are itching to point a finger at Ghana for complicity in the attack, but diplomatic niceties preclude them from going that far. However, their words and actions have not been subtle. Paul Koffi Koffi, the Ivorian Minister of Defense did little to conceal his sentiments. He pointedly stated that the attackers came from Ghana. Readers should extrapolate from his statement and draw their conclusions.
Their anger is not misplaced; for months now, the Ivorian government has complained to Ghanaian authorities about the presence among the thousands of Ivorian refugees of people loyal to Gbagbo. These individuals, Ivorian public officials insisted, were keen on disrupting the fragile peace in the country. They therefore appealed to the Ghanaian government to stop these desperadoes in their tracks before they hatched plans to destabilize Ivory Coast.
But the Ghanaian government response has been one of inaction and gross indifference; the official refrain is standard political hogwash; pledges to cooperate and work with Ivory Coast to maintain peace and security, blah, blah, blah, which invariably bolster the argument the Ivorians have been making all along— that the NDC government sympathized with Gbagbo during the conflict and was therefore sheltering his ardent followers.
Here was President John Mahama at the 67th United Nations General Assembly last week. “Ghana will not allow its territory to be used to destabilize any nation or disrupt their peace. We will not harbor any groups who want to use us a base for attacks against the security of our neighbors.”
It is hard to buy into the President’s forceful assertion that Ghana is committed to peace in West Africa which has seen its fair share of wars and mayhem. His reassurances to the international community but especially to our close neighbor and friend, Ivory Coast, were not comforting enough. Many dismissed Mahama’s positive spin on the issue as a belated attempt to deflect criticism of his government’s feeble efforts at clamping down on the activities of Gbagbo’s followers.
It is disheartening to watch Ghanaian government officials feign ignorance about the presence in Ghana of Ivorian dissidents. After all, it was just in summer that worried Ivorian authorities sounded the alarm bell (BBC carried the story extensively) and warned the Ghanaian government about these miscreants. But up to the time of the incursion, no visible action had been taken to flush out the dissidents. This is an indictment of our security apparatus. What has the BNI been up to? It is our most vaunted sleuth agency and should be used to keep a close eye on refugees who are bent on causing trouble in their homelands from our soil.
Ghanaians may see the incursion as a distant occurrence far removed from their daily lives, but much is at stake here, not least our national security and our well-earned reputation as a bastion of stability and calm. What is more, our commitment to international law and norms will be seriously questioned if the government continues to issue pledges instead of taking action to weed out the motley crew of Ivorian malcontents.
Anytime a neighboring country explodes in violence, Ghana ends up opening its doors to thousands of refugees. And the strain on the economy is felt by all. So, the need to rein in those who will use our territory to destabilize their countries is now more urgent than before.