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On Ghana’s Mind Right Now: Sanctions, COP27 and Terrorism in West Africa

Ambassador Harold Agyeman from Ghana
Ambassador Harold Agyeman of Ghana, center, tells reporters that his country will focus on as president of the Security Council for November, emphasizing West Africa. Carolyn Oppong-Nitri, left, is his deputy and Felix Boateng, political coordinator, Nov. 1, 2022. JOHN PENNEY/PASSBLUE

Ambassador Harold Agyeman, Ghana’s permanent representative to the United Nations, said the jury was still out on the use of sanctions to bring Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, to heel over his decision to challenge the sovereignty of Ukraine. With Russia pulling the plug on the Black Sea grain deal recently — then rejoining it, for now — observers are wondering how effective combining sanctions and negotiations in dialoging with Putin has been to end the war.

Speaking to PassBlue less than 48 hours before Moscow announced its sudden suspension from the grain agreement brokered by Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s president, and António Guterres, the UN secretary-general, Agyeman said that sanctions were more useful when they were multilateral and well targeted.

“Sanctions need to be targeted, and this is an established point of departure over the years,” he said in an interview late last month. “So that innocent populations and third parties are not affected unduly by the sanctions imposed.” Except for the European Union, no regional bloc has placed sanctions on Russia.

While the countries that have placed economic embargoes on Russia have carefully avoided pinpointing essential commodities such as food and fertilizers, the related restrictions from the impositions have made paying for such supplies a challenge for businesses, resulting in hindering global trade and hurting consumers. The sanctions have also helped to toughen Putin’s demonstrated resolve to rely on a wide arsenal in his armory, inflicting constant suffering on civilians throughout his eight-month war.

Even though Agyeman thinks the war is the main culprit behind global cost-of-living pains, Ghana’s economy is “affected by both,” said President Nana Akufo-Addo in a national address on Oct. 30 about his country’s economic crisis. The cedi is the worst-performing currency against the United States dollar this year.

“If you’re going to vote at the [UN] General Assembly in support of those who are instituting these sanctions, I would have thought that you would have also thought about your interest,” Azamati Ebenezer, an international relations scholar at the University College Oxford, said in an interview with PassBlue. He was referring to the African countries, including Ghana, that voted last month to condemn Russia’s illegal annexation of certain Ukrainian territories. “These African countries would ask themselves, if we’re going to vote in support of the US and the European Union, we must find a way to see how the sanctions would not affect us that much.”

Agyeman and his team at the Ghana mission must drive the Security Council in November under the continued climate of international uncertainty worsened by economic downturns back home. Ghana has set out three priorities for its Council presidency.

The first is a conversation on Nov. 3 that preferences “resilience-building,” as Ghana’s delegation calls it, instituting and executing the deployment of multilateral forces in Africa. According to the ambassador, the absence of social services and “state presence” in areas where UN peacekeeping operations are working reduces the effectiveness of the missions. Ghana’s foreign minister, Shirley Ayorkor Botchwey, will chair the open debate. No resolution is expected.

In West Africa, the Sahel region will provide the backdrop to this Council session. The UN peacekeeping mission in Mali, Minusma, was created to protect civilians as the French helped liberate northern Mali from Tuareg control in 2013. The mission has since found itself saddled with carrying out projects that should be done by the Malian government, according to sources close to Minusma. Agyeman will outline Ghana’s position on the matter at the Nov. 3 debate, but in a media briefing on Nov. 1, he elaborated on the theme, saying that “resilience building” to “undercut” radicals in the Sahel area of West Africa is often done at the tail-end of a mission. He said it needed to be integrated into peace-building and peacekeeping work at the start.

The second priority for Ghana is an open session on counterterrorism in Africa. Ghana, a West African country, wants to move discussion forward on more Council financial support for regional forces to fight terrorism in the Sahel. (The G5 Sahel force is a regional counterterrorism operation, but it lacks consistent funding, and some experts are saying it has not been successful.)

Sustainable financing for such operations, Agyeman said, can be made through a UN-assessed contributions mechanism. Counterterrorism missions can then be launched faster, even when the Security Council does not have the political will to send a global battalion. The open debate is scheduled for Nov. 10, and President Akufo-Addo is expected to preside. No resolution is planned as a product of the meeting.

This month, Ghana is also expecting a report from Guterres’s office on the possible links between maritime piracy in the Gulf of Guinea and terrorism in the hinterlands of the Sahel. The report will be discussed in the Council on Nov. 22. Agyeman expects the report to elucidate the situation of piracy in the Gulf and how it can be resolved through existing multilateral systems.

“Our own preliminary assessment suggests that the terrorists in the Sahel have an interest in getting access to the sea, which will help them to mobilize more effectively and mobilize funding from kidnappings and looting oil tankers,” he said.

Nigeria’s 850-kilometer coastline abuts the Gulf of Guinea and is home to the Niger Delta, where most of Nigeria’s oil is produced. On Oct. 11, the country’s navy burned a vessel loaded illegally with about 4,000 barrels of oil headed for Tema, a coastal city in Ghana. Two months earlier, Equatorial Guinea’s navy intercepted what is called a “very large crude carrier,”  capable of carrying two million barrels.

The tanker had evaded arrest in Nigeria while trying to load petroleum without authorization from the Nigeria National Petroleum Company before the tanker was held in neighboring Equatorial Guinea for sailing without permission. Although piracy has been a phenomenon in the Gulf of Guinea for years, it has been associated with criminal elements seeking a ransom from detaining crew members, siphoning and selling Nigeria’s crude in the international market. The piracy has not been connected to known terrorist cells.

Ghana’s coastline also sits on the Gulf of Guinea. The country has been exporting oil from its jubilee field since 2010 and hoped to ramp up production from 174,000 barrels a day, as of May 2022, to 420,000 in 2023, but the 2019 projection is now expected to be unattainable. This push comes amid an increase in drought and flooding — possibly connected to the warming globe — that have ravaged Africa this year.

In Africa’s two largest economies, Nigeria and South Africa, more than a thousand people have died this year from water surges, with devastating consequences for food security. Like other African leaders, Agyeman does not think that his country should sacrifice its own economic growth for the benefit of countries that have a long history of heating up the earth.

“For Ghana, it is important we serve our development needs as best as we can, in a way that makes sense to our national aspirations,” Agyeman said. “We need to rebalance that narrative, and COP27 gives those of us in Africa an opportunity to point out to those who have committed the problem that we find ourselves in that they have a greater responsibility to address it.” COP27, the climate-change conference, is taking place Nov. 6-18 in Egypt.

Part of that “greater responsibility,” Agyeman noted, would be giving Africa more money from the international climate fund set up to help with mitigation and adaptation for poorer countries to tackle global warming at home.

Each month, PassBlue profiles UN ambassadors as their countries assume the Council presidency. To hear more details about the goals of Ghana in November, listen to PassBlue’s podcast, UN-Scripted, produced by Damilola Banjo and Kelechukwu Ogu, on SoundCloud and Patreon. (Allison Lecce is the researcher.)

Here is an excerpt — edited and condensed — from the interview with the ambassador, held on Oct. 28:

PassBlue: What are your signature events for November in the Security Council? There’ll be two. The first relates to peace-building and sustaining peace. We seek to see how we can integrate effective resilience, building it into operations for sustainable peace. The backdrop of this debate is the situation in the Sahelian region. The second priority relates to counterterrorism in Africa. We’ve seen that UN peace operations, particularly peacekeeping missions, have not been mandated to effectively counter terrorism.

Passblue: How much are the sanctions imposed on Russia by the global North hurting Russia’s ability to export certain foodstuffs like grain as well as fertilizers? I think it would be presumptuous on the part of anyone to claim that they have a clear understanding of how much of the impacts of the sanctions that have been imposed by the United States and other countries against Russia have affected the global food situation or in relation to energy. Because at this stage, the data that at least some of us have seen does not clearly delineate between what is attributable to sanctions or what is attributable to the war itself. But I think that what we can all perhaps agree on is that if there’s a war, then there’ll be a disruption to trade, to finance.

PassBlue: Have the sanctions been helpful in stalling Russia’s advances in Ukraine and making President Vladimir Putin rethink this war? I think that the jury’s still out, so we cannot [say] how effective [sanctions have] been. But certainly, these are not multilateral sanctions; these are imposed by individual countries and groups of countries. So our position on that is different from what is the generality of sanctions as we do it, under multilateral contexts. In that case, we are very supportive of [multilateral sanctions] because we think they are a useful tool for the Security Council and other international institutions to modify the erring behavior of states regarding their conformity with agreed norms and standards. The other tool is mediation, and it has to be used with a lot of common sense so that you don’t overplay it. But sometimes, you can also legitimately question whether sanctions are useful, whether they are intended for the overall interest of all of us or the parochial interests of a few. The aggression that has taken place against Ukraine is not necessarily one of Europeans against Russia. It is Russia against the Charter of the United Nations. So when a member goes out of their way to flout it, all of us have a responsibility as member states to ensure that we defend the charter.

Ghana’s ambassador to the UN: Harold Agyeman
Ambassador to UN since: 2021
Language: English
Education: Advanced degree in international affairs from the Legon Center for International Affairs and Diplomacy, in Accra; B.A. in political science with philosophy from the University of Ghana.

His story, briefly: The ambassador has always had a love for diplomacy, starting as a child. His curiosity was piqued when he was young through his love for radio. When he started going to school, he continued to read extensively about international policy. “My love for diplomacy is from my love and care for the world,” he told PassBlue. In his career path, Agyeman was most recently director of administration for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration (2019-2021) and director of the African and Regional Integration Bureau of the ministry (2018-2019). He has also worked for his government in India and in Benin. This is his second time working in New York City. He was with Ghana’s mission to the UN from 2000 to 2004. He loves the city, he said, but understands it “can also get on your edge.” He calls it a melting pot of all cultures, saying, “Most of our cities in Africa can actually learn so much from New York City.”

Country Profile
President of Ghana: Nana Akufo-Addo
Minister of Foreign Affairs: Shirley Ayorkor Botchwey
Type of Government: Presidential
Year Ghana Joined the UN: 1957
Terms in the Security Council: ​​Four, since 1962-1963
Population (2020): 31.73 million
Per capita CO2 emission figures for 2020 (in tons): 0.75 (by comparison, US: 13.68)


We welcome your comments on this article.  What are your thoughts on Ghana's goals in the Security Council?

Damilola Banjo is a staff reporter for PassBlue. She has a master’s of science degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and a B.A. in communications and language arts from the University of Ibadan, Nigeria. She has worked as a producer for NPR’s WAFE station in Charlotte, N.C.; for the BBC as an investigative journalist; and as a staff investigative reporter for Sahara Reporters Media.

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