Ghana is backing off claims that neighboring Burkina Faso has hired Russian mercenaries to fight insurgents after the allegations sparked a diplomatic row.
Burkina Faso recalled its ambassador in Accra after President Nana Akufo-Addo made the allegations at last week’s U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, a Ghanaian foreign affairs official told Semafor. It also summoned Accra’s ambassador in Ouagadougou for questioning.
Akufo-Addo, speaking in a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, sought Washington’s support to ward off Russia-backed private security force Wagner Group which he said was operating around Ghana’s northern border with Burkina Faso. Akufo-Addo, who did not cite any evidence, also claimed a mine had been allocated to Wagner forces as payment.
Accra has struck a note of contrition since Akufo-Addo’s remarks and failed to provide more details to support the allegations.
Ghana’s ambassador to Burkina Faso, Boniface Gambila Adagbila, said Akufo-Addo did not mean to create discord, according to a Facebook post by the Burkinabe Ministry of Foreign Affairs after a meeting behind closed doors. "The intention was above all to attract the attention of partners in order to arouse great interest in Burkina Faso,” he is quoted in the post as saying.
Meanwhile, Ghana’s presidency and ministry of national security did not respond to Semafor’s requests for comment.
On one level, the Ghanaian president’s comments appear to be the latest push by Accra to improve regional security. Last month, representatives of seven west African countries met in Ghana’s capital where they agreed to create a military force to combat jihadist insurgents in the sub region. But the row caused by Akufo-Addo’s remarks looks likely to undermine efforts for closer regional collaboration on security.
Burkina Faso was not in Washington for the summit, having been among five nations that were not invited. In a brief statement on Facebook, its foreign ministry said the government “disapproves of these statements” by Akufo-Addo. The country’s foreign minister also said Accra could have spoken to his country ahead of the summit “to be informed.”
The lack of evidence initially provided by Akufo-Addo, followed by his administration rowing back on the issue, calls the Ghanaian president’s judgment into question. Rather than pursuing quiet diplomacy with a neighbor that wasn’t at the summit to respond to the claims, he has risked damaging relations with the Burkinabes with whom Ghana has had a good relationship on a proposed railway, trade, and security.
The veracity of the Ghanaian president’s claims and the motivation behind the timing of the comments remain unclear. However, the deployment of Russian mercenaries is unquestionably one of the major geopolitical battles playing out in Africa. Wagner Group fighters have been rolled out in around half a dozen African countries in recent years — most notably in Mali and the Central African Republic — with reports of human rights abuses by some of its fighters.
Russian fighters enable Moscow to exert influence in countries around the Sahel at a time when France and other European countries are pulling troops out of the region. That’s vital for Russia as it tries to shore up alliances away from western countries that have imposed sanctions on Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine.
Akufo-Addo’s remarks came within days of the announcement that his government had reached a $3 billion provisional loan agreement with International Monetary Fund staff. The comments and subsequent furor have diverted attention from Ghana’s worst economic crisis in a generation.
Room for Disagreement
Yao Akakpo, a security analyst at the Africa Centre for Policy Analysis and Public Interest think tank in Togo, said Ghana’s president acted responsibly by drawing attention to his concerns about the northern border with Burkina Faso.
“When your neighbor’s house is burning, you fetch water to prevent further destruction,” Akakpo told Semafor. “Burkina should rather be grateful to Ghana for using such a huge platform to possibly seek support from the US to help with the regional security situation.”
The View From Burkina Faso
A Burkina Faso border security chief, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Semafor: “Akufo-Addo’s comments are inaccurate. We need to unite to fight the common enemy else it is sub regional security that will suffer. If Burkina abandons the southern border region, then our region will be in trouble.”
— With Alexis Akwagyiram