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Ghana - Soviet Bloc Relations

In January 1958, Ghana and the Soviet Union opened diplomatic relations. According to many Western observers, Moscow planned to use Ghana as a base to extend its influence and communism throughout West Africa. Nkrumah, on the other hand, hoped that close relations with the Soviet Union would enable him to diversify Ghana's sources of military assistance. Ghana temporarily achieved its goal; Moscow, however, failed to establish a communist foothold in West Africa.

The two countries maintained a multifaceted military relationship. In 1961 Ghana purchased eight Ilyushin-18s, on credit, at more than US$1.5 million each. High operating coats forced the Ghanaian government to return four of these aircraft to the Soviet Union and to transfer the other four to Ghana Airways. Two years later, Moscow presented an Mi-4 helicopter to Nkrumah as a personal gift. In 1965, after a year of internal unrest and several assassination attempts against him, Nkrumah concluded an arms deal with the Soviet Union for the purchase of weapons for the presidential guard. The shipment included twenty-four light artillery pieces, twenty-one medium mortars, fifteen antiaircraft guns, twenty heavy machine guns, and a large amount of ammunition.

Apart from these military sales and the gift of a helicopter, the Soviet Union deployed an array of military, security, and technical advisers to Ghana in the 1960s. In 1964, for example, Soviet crews manned four patrol boats based at Tema; according to anti-Nkrumah elements, these patrol boats cruised the coast of Ghana and carried arms to opposition groups in nearby countries. By early 1966, the Soviet Union had begun construction of a new air base near Tamale in northern Ghana.

Soviet instructors worked at secret Bureau of African Affairs camps, at the Kwame Nkrumah Ideological Institute in Winneba, and at numerous other security and military training facilities. Additionally, at least seventy-six Ghanaian army officer cadets attended military schools in the Soviet Union. Ghana Young Pioneers also received training at Komsomol schools in the Soviet Union.

After the downfall of Nkrumah in 1966, up to 1,100 Soviet personnel were expelled from Ghana. The new government broke diplomatic relations with Moscow and terminated all military assistance agreements. In the following years, Soviet- Ghanaian cooperation was minimal.

In the mid-1980s, Ghana unsuccessfully petitioned the Soviet Union to reactivate some of the projects that had been abandoned after Nkrumah was overthrown. In late 1986, Ghana's National Secretariat of Committees for the Defence of the Revolution reportedly signed an agreement with the Soviet Union for assistance in training national cadres. At the end of the 1980s, an unknown number of secret service personnel and commandos received training in the Soviet Union. As of late 1994, there was no indication that Ghana and Russia, the most powerful of the successor states of the former Soviet Union, had concluded any military assistance agreements.

German Democratic Republic

Like other major communist powers, East Germany sought to exploit Kwame Nkrumah's radicalism to erode Western influence in Ghana and to use Ghana as a base for spreading communism throughout West Africa. The relationship between the two countries began in 1964, when Ghana's Bureau of African Affairs approached the East German Trade Mission in Accra and requested intelligence training for its staff. Subsequently, two East German officers who worked for the Ministry of State Security traveled to Ghana to assess the bureau's training requirements. One of these officers remained in Ghana and inaugurated a "Secret Service and Intelligence Work" course for seven members of the Bureau of African Affairs.

This officer later offered an "Intelligence Work Under Diplomatic Cover" course for six other people who worked in the Bureau of African Affairs and who eventually were assigned to posts in Zambia, Nigeria, Kenya, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, and Burundi. East Germany also helped the Ghanaian government to create an intelligence section in the Bureau of African Affairs. These activities ended after Nkrumah's downfall.


The PNDC policy of restructuring Ghana's education system, moving from purely academic curricula to vocational and technical training, benefited from Ghana's close ties with socialist countries, notably Cuba. By 1985 Cuba was training some 1,000 Ghanaian school children and middle-level technicians. Cuba also offered Ghanaians training in political leadership for "revolutionary organs" and national security. Hundreds of Ghanaian youths left for various socialist countries to pursue professional and technical courses.

The PNDC believed that Cuba provided a fruitful field for cooperation in areas other than education. The PNDC agreed to a joint commission for economic cooperation and signed a number of scientific and technical agreements with Cuba ranging from cultural exchanges to cooperation in such fields as health, agriculture, and education. Cuba trained Ghana's national militia, gave advice in the creation of mass organizations such as the CDRs, and provided military advisers and medical and security officers for the PNDC leadership.

The two countries also signed agreements for the renovation of Ghana's sugar industry and for three factories to produce construction materials. In 1985 Ghana and Cuba signed their first barter agreement, followed by new trade protocols in 1987 and 1988. Cuban medical brigades worked in Tamale in the Northern Region, one of the poorest areas in Ghana. Cubans coached Ghanaian boxers and athletes and taught Spanish in Ghanaian schools.

Ghana's relations with Cuba continued to be strong despite Ghana's return to multiparty democracy and the severe economic crisis in Cuba in 1993 and 1994. A joint commission for cooperation between the two countries meets biennially in the alternate venues of Accra and Havana. Cuba helped to create a faculty of medical sciences in Ghana's new University of Development Studies at Tamale. At the end of 1994, thirty-three medical specialists were working in Ghanaian hospitals. A bilateral exchange of technology and experts in mining and agriculture was also underway. Cuba was training 600 Ghanaians, mostly in technical disciplines, including engineering, architecture, and medicine. The two countries engaged in successful business ventures, too, including a first-class tourist resort at Ada in Greater Accra Region and a Ghana-Cuba construction company.

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Page last modified: 15-03-2017 19:30:34 ZULU