Peacekeepers Are Ghana's Treasured Export

Author: Mwausi Afele; PANA Correspondent

Dateline: ACCRA, Ghana

If peacekeeping was an exportable commodity, Ghana would have been a rich country by amassing a huge amount of money from it. Since 1960, when it first sent troops under the UN flag to the former Congo Leopoldville, now the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana has not looked back for 40 years. More than 80,000 men and women have played this cardinal role of peacekeeping all over the world.

Ghana's soldiers and policemen and women have served in dozens of trouble spots, trying to bring peace to those countries. Ghanaian peacekeepers have served in Africa, Europe, and Asia, and successive governments see this role as their contribution to achieving peace in the world.

"Ghana considers her participation in UN-sponsored peacekeeping operations as the country's contribution, as required under the United Nations charter, to the maintenance of international peace and security," according to Defence Minister E.K.T. Donkoh. He said Ghana, despite its size and difficult economic conditions, "is committed to the noble idea of positively towards lasting peaceful co-existence and security in the world."

For 40 years, the UN has relied on the professionalism of Ghanaian peacekeepers throughout the world and they have also produced commanders. Ghanaian UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has himself served as the under-secretary for peacekeeping of the world body. Lt. Gen. Emmanuel Erskine was the first commander of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon from 1978 to 1981. Now Maj. Gen. Seth Obeng is the current commander.

Ghana boasts of professional men and women in its military and police force who have discharged their duties with distinction. The country's president, Jerry Rawlings, proudly points at the high level of professional integrity of the men and women of the Ghana armed forces, saying this is undisputed and has been maintained even during some of the most difficult times. "Indeed, if other professional groupings in our country had maintained comparable levels of integrity over the years, our nation would have advanced further than the stage we have so far been able to reach," he added.

The examples are not hard to find. When the going was tough in Rwanda in 1994, the Ghanaian contingent, under Brig. Henry Anyidoho, offered the much-needed protection to the people at their peril and within the dire constraints at the time. Annan, speaking in Accra recently during a photo exhibition to mark the 40th anniversary of Ghana's peacekeeping, confirms the heroism of Ghanaian peacekeepers who, he said, have distinguished themselves by their courage and professionalism.

"Ghanaians have served in 29 United Nations peacekeeping operations around the world as well as in ECOMOG in Liberia and Sierra Leone," he said. "In UN peacekeeping alone, 98 Ghanaians have made the ultimate sacrifice, giving their lives in the service of peace," he added. "Ghana's peacekeepers have not only made a vital contribution to themselves. They can also inspire others to join in." Margaret Novicki, director of the UN information service in Accra, also has kind words for Ghana in its peacekeeping role.

"Since 1948 many countries have served the United Nations in its quest for global peace and security by contributing their soldiers and police to peacekeeping," she said. "But a few can boast of Ghana's consistent and steadfast willingness to answer this call." She noted that Ghana's peacekeepers have performed in different capacities as military patrols, civilian police officers, electoral observers, deminers, cease-fire monitors, humanitarian aid workers and even fighting against rebel armies.

"Perhaps one of the best-known peacekeeping operations, as far as Ghanaians are concerned, is their key role in the sub-regional Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group, ECOMOG. From its inception in 1990 to help end the bloodshed in Liberia, through 1998 when they helped to reinstate Sierra Leonean President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah to this day when they are wearing blue berets, ECOMOG has become a household word in Ghana.

At the photo exhibition, Rawlings lauded the gallantry of his country's troops and lost no time in pointing out that situations that degenerate into conflicts that attract the call to duty of peacekeepers must be avoided. He linked conflicts to poverty and said the fact that conflicts persist was proof of worsening social and economic conditions in developing countries.

"I believe it is for good reasons that states have failed and conflicts have raged on without cessation in the poorest of our countries. Our search for solutions therefore must no longer deny that poverty, where it occurs in its most intense form, brings with it the worst in human beings," he said.
He asked the UN to look hard at the worsening economic conditions in developing countries in order to find the way out of prevalent conflict situations.

Rawlings said another trend in peacekeeping in Africa is the increasing difficulty in bringing conflicts to an end. In a particular case, the world body had to turn its back on the operations to convey its frustrations with those it had tried to assist. This, he added, had happened because of the increasing availability of arms and ammunition to anyone who could afford it as well as external interests that fuel such conflicts for selfish interests.

"In my view, such external interests should no longer be tolerated by the international community. They should be openly denounced and sanctioned for their greed and hegemonistic intentions," he said.
Ghana, noting its strength in peacekeeping, has set up an international peacekeeping training school, named after Annan. The centre would be a place where the country would be able to share its experience and expertise with other West Africans and the rest of Africa. And this could go a long way to help in achieving peace on the continent and, subsequently, development.

Copyright (c) 2000 PanAfrican News Agency