A delegation of media representatives from Ghana visited U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) headquarters as part of an orientation program to offer an in-depth look at the command’s mission, February 22-26, 2010. (africom.mil)
The group consisted of four prominent Ghanaian journalists, an information officer with the Ghanaian Ministry of Information, a public affairs officer from the Ghanaian Navy, and a media specialist from the U.S. Embassy in Accra.
The delegation members were:
Samuel Appiah Darko – Joy FM
R. Harry Reynolds – New Times Corporation
Moses Dotsey Aklorbortu – Graphic Communications Group
George Nayken – Ghana News Agency
Lieutenant Commander Veronica Arhin, Ghanian Navy
Gordon Deku Zaney – Information Services Department, Ministry of Information
Joyce Okyere Asiedu – US Embassy-Accra Media Specialist
The weeklong visit to the command, in which they met with senior staff members to discuss the command’s programs and activities, culminated in interviews with the deputy to the commander for military operations, Vice Admiral Robert Moeller, and the commander of U.S. Africa Command, General William “Kip” Ward.
The delegation received in-depth briefings on the command, its programs and how it conducts military-to-military activities with Ghana and other African nations.
Ward was also able to clarify misunderstood issues about the command, such as how it works with the militaries in Africa and basing.
“We recognize, we appreciate and we respect the sovereignty of our partner nations,” Ward explained. “… We have no design, no intent of telling you what to do, absolutely not.”
One journalist, Samuel Appiah Darko, of Ghana’s Joy FM radio, indicated that his listeners still wonder “what AFRICOM is all about” and whether it intends to establish bases in Africa.
… Ward said, “We have done absolutely nothing that would substantiate that impression, and we’re not going to do anything. There is no intention of setting up bases in Africa.”
The wooing seems to be working:
Ghana is serving as a main hub for the APS flag ship, the USS Gunston Hall. The Gunston Hall will spend the month of March in Ghana …
George Nayken of the Ghana News Agency has covered previous United States ship visits to Ghana. He said he was thankful to the command for hosting the group and for the access they were provided.
He said there has been “a lot of suspicion and fear about the command. But I believe if more public education were to take place, people would not fear the command.
“We need more education on the command,” added Nayken, who has covered previous United States ship visits to Ghana. “The U.S. military is not trying to impose itself on Africa.”
“It’s been a very good experience … getting to know things first hand,” said Moses Dotsey Aklorbortu, a journalist with the Graphics Communications Group, which publishes the largest daily newspaper in Ghana, the Ghana Graphic, during his visit to AFN-Europe.
He said before visiting the command, he didn’t know what to believe and indicated there is “so much misinformation out there. We’ve received the message; the command is not what people say (it is).”
In their clarifications Gen. Ward and Adm. Moeller did not provide the same clarifications they supplied to the American Congress and officials. As Daniel Volman writes:
… neither the commander of Africom, General William Ward, nor his deputy, Vice Admiral Robert Moeller, are under any illusions about the purpose of the new command.
Thus, when General Ward appeared before the House Armed Services Committee on March 13, 2008, he cited America’s growing dependence on African oil as a priority issue for Africom and went on to proclaim that combating terrorism would be “Africom’s number one theater-wide goal.” He barely mentioned development, humanitarian aid, peacekeeping or conflict resolution.
And in a presentation by Vice Admiral Moeller at an Africom conference held at Fort McNair on February 18, 2008 and subsequently posted on the web by the Pentagon, he declared that protecting “the free flow of natural resources from Africa to the global market” was one of Africom’s “guiding principles” and specifically cited “oil disruption,” “terrorism,” and the “growing influence” of China as major “challenges” to U.S. interests in Africa.
And from Michael Klare:
… Although department of defence officials are loath to publicly acknowledge any direct relationship between Africom’s formation and a growing US reliance on that continent’s oil, they are less inhibited in private briefings. At a 19 February  meeting at the National Defence University, Africom deputy commander Vice-Admiral Robert Moeller indicated that “oil disruption” in Nigeria and West Africa would constitute one of the primary challenges facing the new organisation.
There have been discussions and disagreements within the US as to whether the US needs a base on the African continent, although it already has Djibouti. Presently the US is planning for moving to seabasing. The African Partnership Station is a part of this transition to seabasing. Here is a discription from US Marine Corps Seabasing Brochure (PDF).
Seabasing – A Port and Airfield at Sea
Seabasing is the idea that we can
establish a joint port and airfield
at sea that would allow for followon
forces, allow for combined forces,
allow for whatever we thought we needed
to move ashore, either in a lethal environment or in a
General James T. Conway
Commandant of the Marine Corps
The Seabasing Story
There has been a significant reduction in overseas bases and
basing rights in the last 25 years due to economics and declining
political acceptance of US military boots on the ground. This has
resulted in a “transformation” for the US military, changing from
a forward based military to a CONUS [continental United States] projected,
The challenge with this basing reality is the widely-shared view
in our national security and defense strategies that in order to
reduce the ability of extremists to attack our interests at home
and abroad we must prevent them from gaining a foothold in
other countries. We must be there to assist countries without
maintaining a large presence ashore while integrating and applying
a combination of our national capabilities with those of international
Fortunately, the United States possesses an asymmetric advantage
in this regard: Seabasing. However, the Seabasing capability
currently resident in the Navy-Marine Corps team is not sufficient
to support large scale joint operations of extended duration and
is dependent upon secure ports and airfields ashore.
To realize this new vision we must develop cargo transfer, handling
and stowage technologies into our new ships and develop high
speed craft and connector capabilities. A new connector capability
ship, the Mobile Landing Platform, will be a key enabler.
The cost of Seabasing is considerably less than the costs for
forward basing forces especially when considering the reduced
force protection costs and political concerns associated when
burdening host nations with military presence on
Seabasing will allow for Joint,
Interagency and Multinational
persistent forward presence which
will help preserve global freedom
of action, strengthen existing and
emerging alliances, and better
protect our national interests.
Seabasing is a concept that enables employing the
full range of government capabilities from the sea.
Innovations in shipbuilding, cargo handling, at sea
transfer and sea based defense systems allowed the
Seabasing concept to become a reality. Currently in
order to employ an expeditionary force of 15,000 or
greater, a secure port and or airfield ashore is needed,
however by 2022 it will be possible to do this at sea.
Such a capability recognizes that nations are
increasingly placing restrictions on or denying the use
of their facilities at a time when we must have a greater
forward presence to reduce the ability of extremists
to gain a foothold or disrupt the flow of commerce.
Seabasing will allow the use of the world’s oceans as
large or small scale Joint, Multinational and
Interagency bases for operations without dependence
on ports or airfields ashore. We must be present to
be a part of the solution and protect
One of the questions is, who decides who are extremists. As we already know, one person’s terrorist is another person’s freedom fighter. And the US may decide a legitimate government is an extremist government, wherein “extremism” means that government sees the interests of its own country as different from the interests of the US.
In 1984 John Stockwell wrote In Search of Enemies. This included the first public documentation of the key role the US played in the overthrow of Nkrumah. The United States appears to be in a more vigorous search than ever for people it can call enemies.
Earlier this February Ambassador Mary C. Yates, AFRICOM’s deputy to the commander for civil military activities, met with Ghanaian journalists in Takoradi, from africom.mil:
AMB. YATES: … I think that the African Partnership Station that the commodore and the USS Nashville represents is sort of the representative of what we’re trying to do at the Africa Command. You know, if we’re trying to do sustained security engagement with our African partners, this is the proof of it. And the African Partnership Station had a full schedule of stops in ’07-’08 and now this is the ’09 deployment and it’s — is it five-months long this year? — five-months long this year. And you noticed Ghana made the hit parade again, so I’m delighted.
What I hope we can talk about are some of the critical issues of counternarcotics, other illegal trafficking and illegal fishing; and that was one of the reasons I went to the fishing village. And one thing that I think is interesting is –I’m a stranger in a military command –I was a diplomat here and I’m still a diplomat –it’s the first time a military command has allowed a deputy slot to be filled by a civilian, a State Department diplomat. But the issues that we’re talking about right here are a good example of why this is important; because these are not issues that just have military solutions.
In your government it is much broader; you have a ministry of fisheries and you have a – the interior, you have the police, and these are all people I’ll be calling on in Accra. But your government and our government, we have to look at it in a broader way. So one of the things I’ve done is reach out to other law-enforcement agencies: the Drug Enforcement Agency, the FBI, TSA, our Treasury Department so we can trace the money, where the illegal money is going.
And we are bringing representatives of all of those agencies into the Africa Command to advise the military and help plan the programs; but it’s equally important that when I come to your nations I listen to you. In Cape Verde we had a roundtable that had the police and had other — because, you know, Cape Verde is the first stopping point of all those drugs coming across from Latin America.
So it’s very important for me to listen to not only the military in your country but the other civilian organizations that are concerned with the illegal and illicit trafficking. I’m going to get to your questions in just a moment, but I have to tell you that since I left Ghana — that was in August of ’05 — and at that time even before I left, President Kufuor had raised his concern about the increase in narcotics trafficking and his concerns for Ghana. But it is absolutely shocking what has happened; it is shocking the increase in the drugs flowing from South America through the West Coast of Africa and into Europe.
The estimate right now is that $2 billion dollars of cocaine traffics through West Africa — that’s $2 billion worth — that is twice Ghana’s annual gold exports. So you put it in perspective, $2 billion. Now, that’s not all trafficking through Ghana but throughout West Africa. They estimate it’s between 40 and 50 tons of cocaine. But the good news story in this is that in the last four or five years, the seizure of cocaine has almost tripled.
So that’s why it’s so important that Commodore Thebaud comes with the Nashville. We work with the militaries here and the other organizations so they learn search and seizure, they learn how surveillance and reconnaissance and figure out how to stop this. I have seen from talking to the people at our Southern Command that work with Latin America how it destroys entire countries.
The drug cartels take over the country so your government doesn’t have the power and it takes years, if not decades, to reclaim your country. And there’s time for Ghana and the countries of West Africa to hold on to their governance and their country. And I should have started by congratulation Ghana on the elections; I want you to know that in Europe and in America, Ghana is seen as a beacon and a light of democracy in Africa.
So you want to hang on to that good governance so that the country can prosper and the people can move, you know, into the middle class and beyond. I’m going to stop in just a moment. Another worrying statistic is about the seizure and how many of the flights — it’s not just maritime — how many of the flights are coming from Ghana. Of all of the cocaine seized in Europe, 8 percent were on flights coming out of Ghana. So we’ve got to work with the air authorities as well, the air-security authorities.
But I’m very pleased that the cocaine seizures have gone up; I’m just terribly worried about the increase. And, more and more, the South African cartels want to make the payment in product not in cash. So that means the product comes in here, the cocaine comes into your country as well; and that is a surefire way to begin to destroy the fabric of your society. So I don’t want to end on such a depressing note. I actually — who was with me in the fishing village? You were all there.
Well, I want to hear your impressions because it was fascinating to me that on the grassroots level, to listen to Nana (sp), who’s trying to take care of his village and he sees the trawlers come in from foreign countries, in close enough so that the life that he and his village have known for decades, if not centuries, is being disrupted. So we need to help him find a way, and you as journalists can find a way to surveil that and get that back to the authorities so they can come up with a plan and try and address it.
So that is equally important to the illicit trafficking and the narcotics because, as I said in my comments to the folks on board, if my statistics are right that 60 percent of the protein that Ghanaians eat comes from fishing; goodness, gracious, you know, you want to be able to sustain the population. Sorry I didn’t mean to take so much time; I just get excited. (Laughter.)
Q: Like you said, I’ve worked with you some time back when you were in Ghana and I’m so happy for this particular trip. I would like to start from the fishing village and their concerns. You realize that they as fishermen who have to go up there to take pictures of the trawlers — I’m taking about the trawlers where they put –(inaudible) — it depletes everything scooping it. And when they go out there and they take their pictures and they bring it to that NGO, Friends of the Nation, who ensures that action is taken against those people; because we are making their livelihood useless if and — to say that.
Now when it goes there and nobody does anything about it, you’re where?
AMB. YATES: But you’re the fourth column; you’re the watchdog.
Q: Of course, we — my president will tell you that some of our guys in the central region did that and the former minister for fisheries actually said it wasn’t true when they brought out the pictures and notices because in all these things that we are doing trying to fight for the people, the big men walking the corridors of power will actually sideline us …
Q: And, also, I would like to know — you talk about the fishery sector. I don’t know if there’s going to be an aspect that you’re going to move down to get these people involved, because, honestly, these people, when the cocaine was floating in Axim somewhere in 2007 — I was in Axim — I don’t actually know what exactly the parcel is and some people even use it as powder until they finally started feeling dizzy and then the cartel — those people involved move into the environs, move into the community and frankly then they’ve got to know the value of it.
So if the fishermen don’t know that their job went beyond — what you call it — fishing — and also have a role to play in the maritime domain. And you educate them, because most of the time they have a row with the navy; they don’t see them as partners; they see them as people who oppressors.
So what exactly do you have in the package for them to be able to identify certain things and be able to say this or be able to spot a vessel and say, this one looks suspicious, this one looks bad — because it seems to be those that are normally used until the issues came out.
AMB. YATES: Well, in a general sense, I can say that I know that some of the training that they are doing on the USS Nashville — and there are 18 different nations on that ship and I had the pleasure of having dinner with some of them last night — but maritime domain awareness is certainly one of the courses that are taught. Now, the next step will be having the Ghanaian navy listen to the villagers and share what they’ve learned. Would you like to say anything about the maritime domain awareness, I mean, the type, I mean who gets instructed and I’m not as aware of the details of that.
CAPT. THEBAUD: As I think you know, we are working a number of workshops and seminars both with navy and civilian people having to do with a wide variety of maritime security issues. I’m helping to discuss and build some plans for oil rig security, port security.
The Coast Guard is here running some courses on maritime law enforcement and also the process for going aboard and inspecting vessels and verifying their documents and that they’re doing things that they’re legitimately authorized to do. And some of that is with your Navy personnel and some of that is from civilians, other organizations.
As I think you know, last fall there was a transfer of three small boats, patrol boats, that the Ghanaian Navy has now been using and going out — (inaudible, background noise) — and being able to respond a little better to things that are close in shore. And they have had one of them down in the Tema-Accra region, operating down there and they keep one here. And there’s one that’s going through some maintenance right now.
We have also worked with the Ghana Navy on enhancing — this is for bigger ships — but AIS, which is Automated Information System, kind of like IFF for ships. And we’re looking at ways to expand that system. That is great for vessels that are broadcasting the way they’re supposed to, but it’s hard if you don’t know that they’re out there and they’re not broadcasting.
So there are some other ideas that are being formulated that hopefully we can bring down to Ghana within the next year or so. And all of that is being worked in concert with your Navy and the embassy: what the priorities are for Ghana.
AMB. YATES: Maybe what the media could do is, after the Ghanaian Navy go through this training and courses, maybe you can ask for a briefing. And you have a dialogue with the Ghanaian Navy and you help be the conduit to the people so that they understand that their navy are working, that their Navy is working on their behalf, that the reason they’re getting this training is to try and be able to do search and seizure and find out. But I think you could play a very constructive role
CAPT. THEBAUD: On account that they will plan to use the information that they have learned to challenge them.
AMB. YATES: Mm-hmm, challenge them.
Q: I think I would want to know whether the folks along the coasts, like where we visited, now, most of the time, you realize that these ships carrying the drugs, they sometimes come up there and they ask the canoe fisherman to cart the narcotics to the shore, to bring it onshore for them.
AMB. YATES: I’m not aware of that, but, I mean, I believe what you’re saying to me.
Q: Because the Prampram issue: for example, the one that happened in Ghana here, where they used a local fisherman to bring the stuff down here. So what I want to know is the relationship between this project and those along the coasts – not just the patrolling and the fishing and all of this — but to educate them as well, to understand that, look, this thing can destroy, it can do that; so they should not – how are you doing that as well, if indeed you are aware that they can use the fisherman in carting down their goods?
AMB. YATES: Well, certainly what I’m doing is a little different than what the U.S. military, who are on the USS Nashville, in my visit, not only am I trying to raise people’s consciousness about this and, again, you are the ones who will carry that message, but when I speak with the senior leadership in Accra, I will raise it again. But I think that anytime you can get a hold of UNODC, the U.N. Office of Drugs and Crime, their statistics, they’ve got reports out. They held a big conference in Cape Verde a few months ago; Ghanaians participated.
Get those statistics and publish them — but also there could be little teach-in seminars in villages so people begin to understand. So I think anything you can do to help stop the threat and the menace now will be the right thing to do for Ghana.
Q: But even to — to get your point that we might not even receive funding to be able to do that. Is it like –let’s say if the local association of journalists who want to do that kind of educational program will hit the end of the road because there might not be funding for us. You send beautiful proposals and this is where you hear big English like, oh, you didn’t bring it on time. We spent already our budget and–
AMB. YATES: (Chuckles.) Is that called “big English?” (Laughter.)
Q: Big English.
AMB. YATES: I learned a new term after all of this time.
Q: Because if they don’t want to give it to you, they’ll find an excuse and that is big English to me. (Laughter.)
AMB. YATES: Actually, one thing that we are building inside the Africa Command is we’re trying to have a strong CNT office, counter-narcotics and terrorism. And they come with some of their own funds. We are sending people out to do assessment missions and, again, it’s not just the military; we have a DEA agent, we have the FBI, we have somebody from State international narcotics and law enforcement.
So we are trying to find where in West Africa our programs will be most effective because we don’t have unlimited resources. But we will take this back as an idea that the grassroots education is really important, exactly because that’s where the drugs, as you say, are arriving. So you can take this back to the embassy as well.
MR. EAST: Send us your proposal for our “big English?” (Laughter.)
Q: But I think we mentioned about the volume of the coke trade; we want to talk about the fact that it transcends — (inaudible). One thing that I think is important that you have to note is the fact that, the trick is that it’s more lucrative than the fishing industry. (Inaudible)– fisherman were lying — (inaudible) — yet the transporter. So perhaps it could be one thing with the program of enforcement.
AMB. YATES: Yes.
Q: Two, the lucrative aspects and, three –(inaudible) — to cooperate. And even sometimes we even get to hear it, that they then said might be wrong? (inaudible) — might be wrong. That one as to how we can go on the sea in — (inaudible).
AMB. YATES: Or expose it, you know. But you have to be sure of your facts.
Q: There is also another issue that we need to really touch on in your meeting — (inaudible). It’s the fact that political leadership has not been the best. Of course, our poor journalists have reported about this, naturally — (inaudible). It is not through or even at the point — maybe — (inaudible) — look at the — (inaudible) and say you are being — (inaudible) — this party.
And that’s a problem. You mentioned they’re going to just elicit a lot response. So what I’m saying that what exactly could be done about enforcement and the volume of trade, the part that transcends — (inaudible). And then what exactly political vision — (inaudible) — you to do to make it a policy — (inaudible) — for example, the community should be aware that the drug trade is a menace even to the future of our children. Very soon, when the — (inaudible) — gets more, they will not attend those — (inaudible).
AMB. YATES: That’s right. Well, those are just all wonderful comments and observations. And clearly all of you are aware of the things that I said. I mean, you’re aware of the threat.
(Off-side conversation. – Amb. Yates handed a note by staff)
What, I mean, the observations you’ve made need to be made more publicly and you are making your politicians accountable. And that’s what’s going to happen. I mean, outsiders can’t come in and solve this, but certainly if you look at the lessons of Colombia, Mexico, of Afghanistan, you don’t want to lose your country.
So there will be politicians — and Ghana has much of the legislation in place? it has to be the implementation. So if we get people trained to do the patrolling and then if we help strengthen the judiciary and the rule of law so that there will be prosecutions as well to those who are trafficking so it doesn’t seem to be the right way to go.
You know, when we walked in here, there were black clouds out there. And the note I was just passed was: “The storm is moving in and we have to go get on the plane right now” — so that I can get back to Accra.
But let me just take one more question. Bridget, can you check and see if — do I have five minutes? Can one of you just see whether I — I’d like to just give a couple of the other journalists a chance, but I don’t want to come down in the sea.
Q: How long will this visit last and how many of our sailors can be trained? After the training, without the requisite equipment, what would they do?
AMB. YATES: Well, the commodore will be better to answer that, but the Africa Partnership Station, I said, had its first round of training with multiple tours in West Africa last year. This training is five months long, but this stay in Ghana is for the training here. But what we hope is that the Africans who are trained — and we have Mozambiqueans over, we have a Brazilian here — we hope after they’re trained they go back and train others so that there’s a repeater effect going on.
But already I know the U.S. Navy is working and planning for the next Africa Partnership Station. It is something we’re dedicated to and General Ward, when he talks about the sustained security engagement, that’s what he means: We’re not going to be episodic as we’ve been in the past. We have a new Africa Command where we focus on Africa 24/7. So we hope to have programs that match that.
But then you and your military have to step up, too, and keep training others.
Q: I think my question is for the commodore.
CAPT THEBAUD: I want to go back to your question, too. But I hear a lot. How do we know this is going to continue? You need to go back and look at the relationship between the U.S. Navy and the Ghana navy. There has been a long-standing relationship between the U.S. Navy and Ghana. And there seems to be a lot of concern that it’s going to end. But I think, as long as Ghana keeps moving forward and keeps doing things with the information, the training and the resources, that partnership is going to continue.
Q: But mine has to do with logistics for the Ghana navy. After the training, if the needed logistics are not there —
CAPT THEBAUD: Let me get back to that. Questions for the ambassador, okay?
AMB. YATES: Just what we were saying: She is not going to get on a plane so I may leave her —
CAPT. THEBAUD: I’m staying here. (Chuckles.)
AMB. YATES: All right. She’s with the ship. So how about — any last question for me and I’m going to go. Hopefully the plane won’t come down. Yes?
Q: Here in Takoradi, the fisherman said that they take pictures and give them to our NGO. And I –(inaudible)–NGO is not actually there to help the fisherman; they’re there to help themselves. So there’s a need to educate the fisherman to know where the appropriate channels are —
Q: Because that NGO, Friends of the Nation, they are there for themselves. They are not to help —
AMB. YATES: I don’t know anything about the NGOs so I don’t have an opinion on that. But, truly, they need to be helped to get the word to the authority. So you’re correct. And if you have another way of doing that, you know, you can —
Q: (Inaudible) – Maybe you can help us speak big English.
AMB. YATES: And if they don’t even speak English — (inaudible, laughter). You start publishing the photos in the paper and somebody will have to read it.
AMB.: You get the pictures for the NGOs and you print the pictures.
Q: They may not bring them to us.
AMB.: Ask them. (Laughter.)
AMB. YATES: Thank you all. And I’m so sorry I have to cut this short, but I have to go talk to the “big English” guys back at Accra. Okay, thank you. Are you staying here?
MR. EAST: I’m staying here so —
I wish I could have confidence that the US was actually helping deal with the drugs and fishing. Ghana could use some genuine help in this. Off Somalia, where the US has a huge naval presence, it has done nothing to curb illegal fishing, which has devastated the Somali economy, and driven so many Somali fishermen into piracy. That does not promise well for other African countries.
And the US war on drugs has been a disaster for half a century. The only thing it has done for Africa is drive the Latin American smugglers into West Africa, creating a new nightmare.
The reporters in Takoradi asked about equipment that the Ghana Navy and police need for this fight. Money for that equipment should come from the:
AFRICAN COASTAL AND BORDER SECURITY PROGRAM (ACBS) – provides specialized equipment (such as patrol vessels and vehicles, communications equipment, night vision devices, and electronic monitors and sensors) to African countries to improve their ability to patrol and defend their own coastal waters and borders from terrorist operations, smuggling, and other illicit activities.
The ACBS was not funded in FY 2007 and 2008, and so far as I know funding for this program has not been restored since then. So all that the police and navy who need the equipment are going to get is more Big English. It is another indication that the help being promised is not intended to help Ghana.