Trump, Jerusalem and religious tension in Ghana

Trump, Jerusalem and religious tension in Ghana

Ghana’s religious communities have split of the US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

WHAT’S HAPPENING?

President Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel is rousing local conflicts in parts of Africa, including in Ghana, where there is a risk of religious tension and political instability.

KEY INSIGHTS

– The acrimonious impact of Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital has transcended the Middle East, the traditional epicentre of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, to Sub-Saharan Africa.
– In Ghana, issues arising from Trump’s decision may be putting Christian-Muslim relations at risk of further deterioration.
– Trump’s decision might cross-pollinate with pre-existing conflict fault lines to create serious threats to Ghana’s national security.
– Reactions to Trump’s announcement may be putting Ghana in the direct line of fire of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
– The above insights point to a future that could disregard Ghana’s reputation as a country largely insulated from large scale ideological conflicts.

On December 6, 2017, US president Donald Trump unilaterally recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. This decision overturned decades of US foreign policy, as well as defying international consensus on the status of the city.

There was immediate global condemnation of the decision, with key US allies such as France, UK and Australia stating their opposition. The Muslim and Arab world demonstrated their disgust with statements and mass protests. The UN has also rejected Trump’s declaration.

But Trump’s decision has had wider ramifications. In the midst of the above denunciations, two top African lawmakers — Job Ndugai, speaker of the National Assembly of Tanzania, and Professor Mike Ocquaye, Ghana’s Speaker of Parliament — praised Trump’s announcement. These officials were a part of a delegation of African Speakers of Parliament who were visiting Israel at the time of Trump’s announcement, as part of the ‘Power Africa” initiative. Tanzania’s Ndugai thought the decision was “very commendable,” predicting that “several African countries” will follow in Trump’s steps. Ghana’s Ocquaye sanctioned Trump’s decision by declaring Ghana’s support for “whatever Israel wants”.

The Ghanaian government has since distanced itself from Ocquaye’s comments, stating that the comments were the Speaker’s own and not those of his government. Ghana subsequently voted along with 127 countries in UN General Assembly to declare Trump’s decision on Jerusalem ‘null and void’.

WIDENING PRE-EXISTING FAULT LINES

Larabanga Mosque - one of the oldest mosque in sub sahara built in 14th century / Ghana

Photo: Sathyan Velumani / Wikimedia Commons

Trump’s declaration might dangerously cross-pollinate with pre-existing religious tensions in Ghana. In 2016, the Ghanaian government under then-President John Mahama decided to allow two former Guantanamo Bay detainees — Khalid al-Dhuby and Mahmoud Omar Bin Atef (the “Gitmo-2”) — to stay in Ghana under a controversial agreement with Washington.

The Gitmo-2 case resulted in public outcries from both sides of Ghana’s two major religious groupings. The issue enraged some Christians and the then opposition, and currently governing, party. The spokesperson of Ghana’s National Chief Imam commented that the Christian Council of Ghana (CCG) was “xenophobic”, and that its position on the Gitmo-2 decision was biased because of the faith of the former detainees. The CCG was against the acceptance of the former detainees in Ghana.

Separately, in early 2016, people from the Muslim community of Old Tafo — a surburb of Ghana’s second largest city of Kumasi — clashed with their predominantly Christian neighbours. The conflict began over access to burial land but it immediately donned a religious garb and led to the death of one Muslim and some injuries.

There is also the thorny question of the fate of Muslim students in Christian schools, and vice versa. In 2008, this question was at the centre of the death of a Muslim student in Adisadel College, a Christian-managed high school. In 2015, it was the cause of much Christian-Muslim religious suspense, warranting the intervention of the Ghanaian president.

The tensions and religious fault lines created by these events within Ghana’s social spaces are extant. Trump’s announcement and issues arising therefrom place a wedge between these pre-existing fault lines, putting Ghana’s Muslim-Christian relations further on edge.

FRAGILE PEACE CAUGHT IN THE CROSSFIRE

The Accra Ghana Temple at night decorated for Christmas

Photo: Paul Moncur / Wikimedia Commons

By African standard, Ghana is peaceful. Yet its ideological tensions mean that a lot needs to be done to consummate the peace. Contemporary geopolitics has illustrated that ideological conflicts can reach far and wide, as the rise and rapid spread of ISIS to East Asia, the Sahel and Europe demonstrated. With regional vulnerabilities and adverse global geopolitical issues lurking around, any adverse security event in Ghana is potentially perilous.

For example, Mike Ocquaye’s comments may open local spaces for dangerous global grievances to seep through. Re-taking pre-1948 Palestine (before the creation of the state of Israel) is an ambition of several violent ideological groups across the world, including Hamas, which declares Israel as an illegitimate and oppressor state. Hamas has stated that Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as capital of Israel “opens the gates of hell”. Groups such as Hamas which share the ambition of “liberating” Palestine may see any endorsement of Israel as opposition to their own liberation struggle.

Ocquaye’s support for Israel, particularly during a period of global condemnation of Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem, may have placed Ghana in the line of fire of the Palestine-Israel conflict. With the potential security implications of the religious rifts within Ghanaian society, his comments may be yet another indication that Ghana might be overlooking its internal tensions.

RELIGIOUS GROUPS ON A COLLISION COURSE?

The consequences of Trump’s decision and the potential implications of Ocquaye’s comments paint a portentous portrait of peace and security in Ghana. So far, the Ghana police has moved to stop a planned Muslim demonstration led by a member of Parliament. This suggests that the government’s explanation for Ocquaye’s comments has not settled feelings of religious unease that Muslims in Ghana might harbour. This is likely due to the senior position of Ocquaye in the current government, though Ocquaye has also failed to issue an apology to members of the Ghanaian Muslim community who might have been offended by his comments.

At the same time, segments of Ghana’s Christian community, including some prominent Christian leaders, have praised Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem, much to the chagrin of Muslims. Ghana’s UN General Assembly vote against Trump’s Jerusalem decision offended these segments and Christian group has called on the government to reconsider its stance. Ghana’s President Akufo Addo, a Christian, recently held a closed-door meeting with Christian leaders on “issues of mutual concern”. The nature and context of this meeting may feed the perception that it represented attempts by the Christian leaders to secure their religious interests at Muslims’ expense.

Conjointly, cases of mutual suspicion and bad blood following Trump’s Jerusalem decision might have placed Ghana’s two major religions on a collision course. This situation may draw Ghana into the wider ideological conflict shaping up across the region, and compromise peace and security in the country.