ACCRA (Reuters) -The United States will provide $100 million to Ghana and four other West African countries to help them deal with violent extremism and instability, Vice President Kamala Harris said on Monday during a visit to Ghana.
Harris was in Accra at the start of a week-long, three-nation African tour, the latest in a series of visits by senior U.S. officials as Washington seeks to counter growing Chinese and Russian influence on the continent.
“President Biden and I have made clear the United States is strengthening our partnerships across the continent of Africa,” she said during a joint news conference with Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo.
China has invested heavily in Africa in the last two decades, particularly in infrastructure, mining, timber and fishing, while Russian private military contractor Wagner Group is providing security assistance in several countries.
Akufo-Addo 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, standing alongside Harris.
Several countries across West Africa and the Sahel region have been struggling to quell Islamist insurgencies that have caused humanitarian disasters and fuelled discontent — contributing factors 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 $100 million in support of Benin, Ghana, Guinea, Cote d’Ivoire and Togo,” she said.
That is in addition to $139 million in bilateral assistance that the United States intends to provide to Ghana in the fiscal year 2024, 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, though no one has been prosecuted in years.
The new bill would lengthen jail terms and force people to undergo “conversion therapy”, practices 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 U.S. 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 country’s attorney-general had submitted views to a parliamentary committee examining the bill 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.”
(Additional reporting by Estelle Shirbon, Nellie Peyton and Hereward Holland; Editing by Peter Graff and Alison Williams)