ACCRA, Ghana — The sudden decision to ban advertisements for contraceptives here, reported recently under a bold headline in the local newspapers, was not very startling news in a country where such ads are rare.
But it was rather bewildering news for the United States. The only people here with any interest at all in contraceptives are in the U.S. government. Washington has a $3-million contraceptive distribution program here, one of its largest assistance projects in Ghana.
The U.S. conclusion: Ghana was once again thumbing its nose at the United States.
U.S.-Ghanaian relations in the past year have been characterized by miscues, missteps and misunderstandings--as well as CIA operations, expelled diplomats and violent anti-U.S. demonstrations.
What has happened in Ghana is a case study of what is happening in other small Third World countries that spew out anti-U.S. rhetoric, often at forums such as the recent summit conference of the Nonaligned Movement, and pay the price in deteriorating relations with the United States.
Carter Walked Out
When a government minister in Zimbabwe mounted an anti-American diatribe at a Fourth of July celebration this year, former President Jimmy Carter and U.S. officials walked out--and the United States later cut off all aid to the Harare government.
In Ghana, the relationship with the United States has come to resemble a stormy marriage. America and Ghana have a long history of friendship, dating at least to 1961, when the first group of Peace Corps volunteers arrived here. Shirley Temple Black, a popular U.S. ambassador here from 1974 to 1976, is still remembered fondly, and thousands of Ghanaians have degrees from American universities. Ghana has even embraced a Western-style economic recovery program that has made it the prize student of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.
This kinship with the West has sustained the U.S.-Ghana marriage, but Ghana's political rhetoric and America's angry reaction to it have slowly undermined the relationship.
Officials of Ghana's revolutionary government, led by Flight Lt. Jerry J. Rawlings, regularly say things that rankle the State Department, both in speeches here in Black Star Square and at the United Nations. Meanwhile, Ghana has plenty of nice things to say about Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi and Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev.
U.S. Aid Cut Back
As a result, America's promised $23 million in aid this year has been whittled down to $14 million, even as most other Western governments have increased their assistance.
"That's the price Ghana paid for kicking us in the shins and spitting on us," one U.S. analyst said.
The U.S. contribution is a relatively small share of the foreign aid Ghana receives. But keeping the United States happy is important because Washington has a large say in World Bank decisions. And the World Bank has a large say in Ghana's economy.
Many Ghanaians and even Western diplomats cannot understand why the United States is so sensitive to what Ghana says about it. After all, this West African country has virtually no strategic importance to either East or West.
A U.S. diplomat here jokes that Ghana's strategic position in the world could be summed up as "a dagger pointed at the very heart . . . of Antarctica."
'It's Just Rhetoric'
Another diplomat said: "The U.S. takes all that stuff personally. And it shouldn't. If it could rise above that, and carry on business as usual, it'd be in a lot better shape. After all, it's just rhetoric. People here don't believe that stuff."
Rhetoric, perhaps, but it accumulates quickly. A recent front-page story in the People's Daily Graphic carried the headline: "Be Guided by Nicaraguan, Cuban Revolutions." It was quoting a member of the ruling Provisional National Defense Council as urging Ghanaians to follow the example of Nicaragua's Sandinistas and Cuba's Fidel Castro.
This month a Soviet delegation arrived here for talks on "bilateral relations," saying Ghana and the Soviet Union had been brought closer by their "common goals." Meanwhile, a member of Ghana's ruling council is in Moscow on an official visit, and his next stop is North Korea.
It is Ghana's friendship with Libya, however, that seems to most upset the Reagan Administration. On a Friday in April, Rawlings gave everyone the day off and urged them to attend a rally outside the U.S. Embassy to protest the U.S. bombing raid on Libya. About 2,000 Ghanaians showed up, and an unarmed policeman trying to control the crowd was shot to death. A government security man was arrested for the shooting.
CIA Activities Charged
The present U.S.-Ghana troubles have their roots in the early 1980s, when Ghanaians frequently accused the CIA of backing attempts to overthrow Rawlings. The United States called the allegations "baseless" and speculated that they were designed to whip up anti-American sentiment here and divert attention from the poor job that Rawlings was doing in running the country.