Since gaining independence in 1957 Ghana has broadly followed two major foreign policy guidelines: non-alignment and pan-Africanism, both of which arise from the colonial experience and the country’s reaction to the Cold War. They also reflect Ghana’s awareness that it is the first country in colonial Africa to gain freedom, giving it great responsibility in setting the tone for international relations that other, similar states may follow in the future.
Prior to independence, former Ghanaian President Kwame Nkrumah was one of the leaders that founded the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). This movement sought to present a third force in international politics, one that was neither pro-Western nor pro-Soviet. Thus, during the first few decades of its independence, Ghana attempted to steer a difficult course between the power blocs, while a variety of conflicts in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Biafra, Angola, South Africa and Rhodesia unfolded around the continent.
Ghana was also the first African country to formally recognise revolutionary Cuba, beginning a relationship that continues today. Havana regularly provides many volunteer medical doctors to both remote and rural parts of Ghana.
In the years following the Cold War, the NAM lost much of its original meaning, however, it continues today as a platform for advocacy of the Global South, advocating for the less powerful and more marginalised peoples of the contemporary world. On a global level, Ghana has been a member of the Commonwealth and the UN since independence, and plays a wide range of active roles in many UN organisations and initiatives.
In keeping with its policy of support for multilateralism and global peacekeeping, Ghana is also active in military deployments with a variety of UN and UN-mandated peacekeeping operations. These have included operations in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Lebanon, Cambodia, Afghanistan, Rwanda and the Balkans. In addition, the late Kofi Annan, who was widely known as one of the UN’s most notable secretary-generals, was Ghanaian. Ghana is also a participatory member of the IMF, World Bank, International Criminal Court and World Trade Organisation.
Since the discovery of oil there has been ongoing debate about whether or not the country should join the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries. Although no decision has yet been made, the current government considers it unlikely. Ghana also maintains a good relationship with the UK – its former colonial ruler – as well as with a wide range of other Western and non-Western powers. Accra has worked with both individual EU member states and with the EU as a whole. Additionally, Ghana was a signatory to the 2000 Cotonou Agreement, a treaty between the EU and some 78 African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) states that engages the European states with their ACP partners as equals in the pursuit of development goals such as good governance and sustainability.
However, a recent Ghana-US defence cooperation agreement was considered controversial, with the opposition walking out on its ratification by Parliament in March 2018. Some felt it disturbed the long-standing non-alignment policy, and also possibly provided a military base for the US in the country. Nonetheless, the two nations have long cooperated on many defence and security issues.
Meanwhile, Ghana’s relationship with China has also remained positive, with the China-Africa Development Fund opening an office in Accra in 2011. Chinese investment in both the country and the continent has continued to grow rapidly.
India is an important trading partner for Ghana, and the subcontinent is currently the largest destination for Ghanaian exports. The African country contains a vibrant Indian diaspora, and Delhi is a long-standing ally in the ongoing mission to develop further South-South cooperation.
Ghana also has a good relationship with the Gulf states. These took a step forward in 2018 with the opening of Ghana’s first embassy in Qatar, a move that came shortly after the Qatari emir visited Accra. Qatar is anticipated to open an air link to Ghana sometime in 2019, with hopes of boosted trade and investment expected to follow. Good relations have also been maintained with Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Accra is home to a branch of the Dubai Chamber of Commerce, and Emirati investments in sectors such as infrastructure, communications and tourism are increasing in both number and variety. Furthermore, trade volumes are expected to soon hit $4bn.
Meanwhile, Ghana continues to advocate strongly for pan-African solidarity, seeking to bring the states together and forge African solutions to African problems. The title of the country’s foreign ministry, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration, is a strong sign of this commitment to unity. Ghana has long considered its neighbours’ stability and security crucial to its own, particularly as the country has many economic, familial and cultural links with those countries.
Former President Nkrumah founded the Union of African States in 1958, taking the lead to establish an overarching policy objective of greater inter-African cooperation. This linked Ghana with Mali and Guinea, and formed a foundational stone for the Organisation of African Unity, which in 2001 was evolved into the African Union (AU).
In 1975 Ghana was a signatory to the founding charter of ECOWAS, and provided three of its 21st century presidents. Ghana has also been active in ECOWAS’ various commissions and groupings. In addition, it supplies troops to the ECOWAS military force, the ECOWAS Monitoring Group (ECOMOG).
ECOMOG intervened in the First Liberian Civil War in 1990, Sierra Leone in 1997 and Guinea-Bissau in 1999. In 2003 Ghana supported ECOMOG missions in Côte d’Ivoire and once again in Liberia. ECOMOG’s first commander was Arnold Quainoo, Ghanaian lieutenant general. In 2005 the country also joined the Community of Sahel-Saharan States.
Ghana is currently involved in the AU Mission in Somalia, which is taking place under a UN mandate. In January 2019 Ghana sent a contingent of 160 police to the country in order to help the federal government maintain law and order during Somalia’s transition to peace and stability.
Ghana’s relations with its neighbours have not always been without controversy. In particular, the country has had a series of territorial disputes with Togo, which date back to independence. These disputes erupted again in 2018 with an ongoing disagreement over maritime boundaries, which was triggered by offshore Ghanaian seismic research activities.
A similar disagreement with Côte d’Ivoire over sea boundaries was resolved in 2017, and in that case, the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea ruled in Ghana’s favour. However, the Togo dispute remained unresolved at the end of 2018, after several meetings between the two countries’ representatives. Efforts to establish a negotiated solution will continue throughout 2019. Today, the minister of foreign affairs is Shirley Ayorkor Botchwey, who has held the post since January 2017. As the world becomes both increasingly multi-polar and more interconnected, she now has the challenge of continuing Ghana’s policies in Africa and beyond. The region and countries surrounding Ghana also continue to face problems in terms of security, poverty and climate change. It is important that the country maintains its role in meeting these global and pan-African challenges in the years to come.
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