President Barack Obama, left, meets with Ghana President John Atta Mills at the Presidential Palace in Accra, Ghana, Saturday, July 11.Â In his first visit to sub-Saharan Africa since taking office, President Barack Obama is seeking to lift up the continent of his ancestors while keeping its emotions in check.
Photo by AP Photo/ Haraz N. Ghanbari
Obama in Africa
Some news reports have stated that President Obama’s trip to Ghana was his first trip to Africa as president. However, last month he visited Cairo, Egypt and Egypt is in Africa.
Last Saturday President Barack Obama made a brief stopover in Ghana and the Ghanaians welcomed him like the prodigal son returning home. Though the president’s visit was just shy of 24 hours, the impact will be felt for a long time to come. There was a fever pitch of excitement and a high expectation for things that did not happen–especially a public appearance at an outdoor rally.
“This isn’t just some abstract notion that we’re trying to impose on Africa,” he told AllAfrica.com. “The African continent is a place of extraordinary promise as well as challenges. We’re not going to be able to fulfill those promises unless we see better governance.”
The highlight of the president’s visit was his address to the Ghana parliament. Joyce Bamford-Addo, the Speaker of the Parliament welcomed Obama and expressed, on behalf of the country, the pride and joy they felt that Ghana was picked by the President Obama for his first official visit to the sub-Sahara region of the continent.
Then President John Atta Mills of Ghana introduced President Obama who immediately expressed his gratitude about the spectacular welcome he received from the people claiming him as one of their own–despite his actual family roots being in Kenya. Obama spoke bluntly since he recognized his words would be received as coming from a member of Africa’s extended family.
“We must start from the simple premise that Africa’s future is up to Africans,” he said. “I say this knowing full well the tragic past that has sometimes haunted this part of the world. After all, I have the blood of Africa within me, and my family’s own story encompasses both the tragedies and triumphs of the larger African story.”
“This is a new moment of great promise and to realize that promise, we must first recognize a fundamental truth that you have given life to in Ghana and that development depends upon good governance,” Obama continued. “That is the ingredient which has been missing in far too many places, for far too long. That is the change that can unlock Africa’s potential. No country is going to create wealth if its leaders exploit the economy to enrich themselves, or if the police can be bought off by drug traffickers.”
“First, we must support strong and sustainable democratic governments,” he emphasized to a resounding applause. “As I said in Cairo, each nation gives life to democracy in its own way, and in line with its own traditions. But history offers a clear verdict: governments that respect the will of their own people, that govern by consent and not coercion are more prosperous. They are more stable, and more successful than governments that do not,” he concluded.
After his speech to Parliament, Obama, along with his wife, Michelle, and his children, Malia and Sasha, toured Ghana’s Cape Coast Castle, calling it the first step on the journey of the African American experience. He compared it to the concentration camp he had visited on his previous trip to Germany, noting, “It is reminiscent of the trip I took to Buchenwald because it reminds us of the capacity of human beings to commit great evil.”
However, Obama stated that his African American experience differed somewhat from those of his wife and children since his relatives are very much alive in Kenya and he knows them. Unlike his wife and children, and most African Americans, their connection to Africa is emotional and abstract–they do not know their relatives. “As painful as it is,” he said, “it helps to teach all of us that we have to do what we can to fight against the kinds of evils that sadly still exist in our world, not just on this continent, but in every corner of the globe.”
Despite the rousing welcome and the vast turnout, there were detractors and critics who denounced Obama’s reason for making Ghana his first stop in the continent’s sub-Sahara region. He gave his reason for visiting Ghana as “the strength of your democracy can help advance human rights for people everywhere.” And since he mentioned his visit to Cairo, Egypt, during his speech, Femi Falana, a human rights attorney remarked, “Is Egypt a democratic country?” Of greater significance was the fact that Egypt was indeed Obama’s first trip to Africa as president.