United States Vice President Kamala Harris on Monday met with Ghana's President Nana Akufo-Addo in the first stage of an Africa trip, announcing a bilateral aid package and $100 million to shore up security in coastal West Africa.
The trip to Ghana, Tanzania and Zambia until April 2 follows a December summit hosted by President Joe Biden in Washington with leaders from Africa, where the US hopes to balance the rising influence of China and Russia.
After a brief meeting at the presidential palace in the capital Accra, Akufo-Addo and Harris said the visit would strengthen ties and opportunities between the long-time partners.
"This trip is motivated by the importance of the direct relationship between the US and Ghana," Harris told reporters.
Ghana-IMF loan deal
Struggling with an economic crisis, burgeoning debt and inflation of over 50 percent, Ghana has agreed on a $3 billion loan deal with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Ghana's finance minister also returned this month from a trip to China, where the two governments discussed debt issues.
"China is one of the many countries with whom Ghana is engaged. The relationship between America and Ghana is a relationship which has its own dynamic," Akufo-Addo said, dismissing concerns over China's investments.
Earlier on Monday, Harris' office said the US would provide Ghana with $139 million in bilateral assistance next year.
This will go towards economic, business and cultural initiatives, as well as in health sector projects such as an anti-malaria programme.
The US VP office also said Washington will also send a special resident advisor to Ghana to help Akufo-Addo's government with its debt profile management this year.
Ghana is one of the Gulf of Guinea nations, along with Ivory Coast and neighbours Benin and Togo, suffering from the fallout from militia violence over their northern borders in Burkina Faso.
Togo, Ivory Coast and Benin have all been hit by attacks blamed on gunmen crossing over their northern borders in the Sahel region, where Islamic State and al Qaeda-allied militants operate.
A French troop withdrawal from Mali after disputes with the ruling junta there, two coups and instability in Burkina Faso have helped refocus Western partners to aid Gulf of Guinea nations to counter the southward spill-over of militant violence.
Ghana has pushed for more regional military cooperation among West African coastal states as well as initiatives to help development and aid in vulnerable northern border regions.
Harris said the Biden administration would invest $100 million as part of a plan to help Ghana, Benin, Togo and Ivory Coast in stabilization, governance and countering extremism threats.
Russian security company Wagner is also operating in several countries in Africa and has been sanctioned by the EU over rights abuse allegations there.
"We made clear our concerns," Akufo-Addo said about Wagner's presence over the border in the Sahel region.
"It raises the very real possibility that once again, our continent is going to become the playground for great power conflict," he added.
LGBTQ issue addressed
Asked about a bill currently in Ghana's parliament that critics say will severely restrict LGBTQ rights, Harris said she had addressed the issue with Akufo-Addo and said the US considered it a matter of human rights.
Akufo-Addo said the bill was still under discussion in parliament and had been reviewed by the country’s attorney general. In addition, substantial elements of the bill had already been modified.
"We will see what the final outcome will be," Akufo-Addo further said.
Other programmes announced by Harris' office will include small business development funds, especially for women and youth, financing to help combat child labour in Ghana's cocoa industry and investments in weather and climate early warning systems.
After Ghana, she will travel on Wednesday to Dar es Salaam in Tanzania.