The United States has pledged $100 million to five West African countries to help them tackle instability and violence from armed groups. Vice President Kamala Harris announced the aid during a visit to Ghana, the first stop on a weeklong, three-nation African tour. The move is part of Washington’s efforts to counter growing Chinese and Russian influence on the continent. China has invested heavily in Africa over the past two decades, particularly in infrastructure, mining, timber, and fishing. Meanwhile, Russia’s private military contractor Wagner Group is providing security assistance in several countries.
During a joint news conference with Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo, Harris said that President Joe Biden and she had made it clear that the United States was strengthening its partnerships across the continent of Africa. Akufo-Addo, who alleged in December that Burkina Faso had hired mercenaries from Wagner, reiterated his concern about the Russian group’s presence in West Africa. He said it raised the possibility that the continent would become the playground for great power conflict.
Several countries across West Africa and the Sahel region have been struggling to quell violence by armed groups that have caused humanitarian disasters and fuelled discontent, contributing to military coups in Mali and Burkina Faso. Harris praised Akufo-Addo’s leadership in response to recent democratic backsliding in West Africa. She said that the $100 million would help address the threats of violent extremism and instability in Benin, Ghana, Guinea, Ivory Coast, and Togo. The money is in addition to $139 million in assistance that the US intends to provide Ghana in the 2024 fiscal year.
After Ghana, Harris will head to Tanzania and Zambia. During the news conference, she was asked whether she would be promoting LGBT rights during her tour, including in Ghana where a bill that would severely restrict those rights is going through parliament. Harris said that she had raised the issue and felt very strongly about supporting freedom and equality for all people. She added that LGBT rights were a human rights issue.
Ghana’s draft bill would make it a crime to be gay, bisexual, or transgender. Gay sex is already punishable by up to three years in prison under Ghanaian law, although no one has been prosecuted in years. The new bill would lengthen jail terms and force people to undergo “conversion therapy,” practices intended to change their sexual orientation. Parliament held public hearings on the bill starting in 2021, but it is unclear when it will be put to a vote.
Akufo-Addo responded to a question about the bill from a US reporter by saying that it was not official government policy but rather had been put forward by legislators acting in a private capacity. He also said that the attorney general had submitted opinions to a parliamentary committee about “the constitutionality or otherwise of several of its provisions.” Akufo-Addo said that he had no doubt that the parliament of Ghana would show its sensitivity to human rights issues and the feelings of the population and come out with a responsible response to the proposed legislation.