The United States will provide $100m to Ghana and four other West African countries to help them deal with instability and violence from armed groups, Vice President Kamala Harris says during a visit to Ghana.
Harris was in Accra on Monday at the start of a weeklong, three-nation African tour, the latest in a series of visits by senior US officials as Washington seeks to counter growing Chinese and Russian influence on the continent.
“President [Joe] Biden and I have made clear the United States is strengthening our partnerships across the continent of Africa,” Harris said during a joint news conference with Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo.
China has invested heavily in Africa in the past two decades, particularly in infrastructure, mining, timber and fishing while Russia’s private military contractor Wagner Group is providing security assistance in several countries.
Akufo-Addo, who alleged in December that its embattled neighbour Burkina Faso had hired the mercenaries, reiterated that he was concerned about Wagner’s presence in West Africa.
“It raises the very real possibility … that once again our continent is going to become the playground for great power conflict,” he said.
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, which contributed to military coups in Mali and Burkina Faso.
“We appreciate your leadership in response to recent democratic back-sliding in West Africa,” Harris told Akufo-Addo.
“To help address the threats of violent extremism and instability, today I am pleased to announce $100m in support of Benin, Ghana, Guinea, Cote d’Ivoire and Togo,” she said.
That money is in addition to $139m in assistance that the US intends to provide Ghana in the 2024 fiscal year, according to Harris’s office. After Ghana, Harris will head to Tanzania and Zambia.
Harris was asked during the news conference 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.
“I have raised this issue,” Harris said, adding that she felt very strongly about supporting freedom and equality for all people and 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”, practises intended to change their sexual orientation. Parliament held public hearings on the bill starting in 2021. 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 the attorney general had submitted opinions to a parliamentary committee about “the constitutionality or otherwise of several of its provisions”.
“My understanding … is that substantial elements of the bill have already been modified as a result of the intervention of the attorney general,” he said without giving details.
“I have no doubt that the parliament of Ghana will show as it has done in the past … its sensitivity to human rights issues as well as to the feelings of our population and will come out with a responsible response to the proposed legislation,” the president said.