Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was in Ghana for a two-day official visit. Such a visit would not, under any circumstances, have attracted serious attention, but for the circumstances surrounding the two countries’ international image. The visit would have been labeled as a ‘reciprocal’ visit. In international relations, a reciprocal visit is very much needed, virtually obligatory.
It may be recalled that President John Mahama’s first ever official visit as President was to Turkey. Many observers tried to find the reason behind such a visit. In international circles, a high ranking official visit is taken seriously. Why Turkey? Why not the UK or the US or Germany or France or Japan? Experts in any of the afore mentioned countries would have struggled to find out what the reasons may have been. I cannot say, if they ever found answers to their questions. Now, the reciprocal visit, though brings further questions, is showing the direction of Ghana’s new-found love.
However, the circumstances are also important. Erdogan is visiting against the backdrop of serious problems at home. He is accused of corruption; of supporting the dreaded Islamic State tacitly – profiting from selling their oil; of stoking fire by downing a Russian jet fighter and thereby bringing NATO and Russia close to confrontation; of exacerbating the Kurdish question by using the Syrian issue to suppress the Kurds, who incidentally, are being supported by both the US and Russia to fight ISIS. Meanwhile, the Russian retaliation (economic sanctions) against Turkey for downing the jet fighter has been beefed up by constant provocation – daily flights along the Turkish border. Indeed, Erdoğan is hardly a happy man even as he pays a reciprocal visit to Ghana. He was in with a large entourage (unconfirmed reports had it at 150) of businessmen and intellectuals.
But President Mahama’s circumstance is not the best either. A badly hiccupping economy, with huge balance of payments dis-equilibrium, a hemorrhaging currency, a dis-enchanted business community, and a tax-burdened public – this is Ghana’s unenviable picture. I do not think that the face that either of them put would be reflective of their inner thinking. But while Erdogan would always wear a serious ready-for-battle countenance, trust that Mahama would be seen in his ever-smiling Bole-man’s face. Guans (and I am one of them) are always with a smile! On a more important note, Erdogan came with serious businessmen and intellectuals, a reflection of the fact that Turkey means business. Its economy is about among the most stable and fast-growing in Europe. In machinery and equipment, it runs only second to Germany within the European Union. In trade Turkey is unparalleled. It had just signed a $900 billion agreement with Russia when it shot down the Russian plane. It shows how important Turkey is to trading partners. So, I can imagine that the visit will establish stronger ties with Ghana. The only snag is the state of the economy. True, I can imagine that there would be no Akua Donkor-type of persons in the entourage of the Turkish President. Another snag though would be how the whole international community would relate to the visit.
While, for Erdogan it strengthens his image (acquisition of more friends), Mahama would have to allay the fears of countries like Russia, Iran, and China. Even other European countries would not understand the friendship. Everybody would be asking: What is the direction of Ghana’s foreign policy? Amidst the festering of terrorism in the Middle East and the jockeying of positions by world powers, visits such as this send signals, the interpretation of which may create suspicions and mistrust. And we must also note that other non-state actors will watch with either awe, dismay or anger. The Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union, the Turkish YPG and the PKK, all of whom are looking for the establishment of a Kurdhistan ( a country of their own) will be watching with anger as Turkey gathers friends around the world.
Beyond the visit, two issues are of interest to us in this column. We would like to return to the issue about the two GITMO ‘guests’, whom we out of ‘compassion’ agreed to house here in Ghana. The annoying thing is that some US Senators are threatening to cause the passage of a law to reduce budget aid to Ghana, should the detainees flee Ghana. It is precisely why nothing should have been shrouded in secrecy. The Americans are apprehensive. Yes, some such detainees, flown secretly to other countries found a way to flee and are at the war fronts directing action. According to the Central Intelligence Agency, about thirty per cent of ex-GITMO detainees continue their trade (acts of terrorism) against the US. The two detainees, given to Ghana, Mohammed Bin Atef and Mohammed Salih Al-Joubi, are known to be among the most unrepentant. Their escape will be easy. Has anybody tried to link the sneaking into Ghana of the four Yemenis, two of whom were travelling on French (false) passports, to the GITMO-2? Your guess is as good as mine. The government should have bargained more effectively, using the fact of our prison conditions and the need for proper surveillance.
Why couldn’t we have asked for more modern prisons to have been constructed for Ghana in exchange for the GITMO two? Knowing our Ghanaian conditions, where prisoner escape is easy, we could have bargained better. Without any such tangible offer, we should not have taken them in at all. Another sad story was carried recently, where Ghana signed a pact of prisoner exchange with the UK government. How did we bargain? Rumours are that it was to facilitate the release of Naa Ayele Ametewe, the notorious drug baron, whose arrest so polarised Ghana. I do not buy it. But if it were so, why couldn’t we ask for a better bargain. The prisoners out there in the UK and elsewhere are many. They are not willing to return to Ghanaian dungeons. Do we use specialists or politicians when we are bargaining?