Friday, 24 July 2009


Obama at Cape Coast Castle, a former slave trading
fort, during his visit to Ghana

Obama n' Ghana

By heart he spoke and his people listened.
However homecoming
it was not, assesses
Gamal Nkrumah

Al-Ahram Weekly

You are straight into it with United States President
Barack Obama, no messing around. His words resonated in the
hearts and minds of his Ghanaian listeners and all
Africans. Those words conveyed as powerfully as they gave
sheer pleasure.

In an age when celebrity and media profile are meant to be
the oxygen of success, Obama's oratory is always eye
opening and salubrious. Africa is not a continent for the
squeamish, and that is something that Obama knows all too
well. According to Obama, the continent has been drifting,
but in the right direction. True, there are at least some
hopeful signs.

However, until it is clear that the continent can drive
through change, foreign investors are likely to remain
wary. This was onus of Obama's speech. Foreign investment
is not seen as the panacea for all of Africa's ills. The
continent, after all, needs technocrats to drive a reform

And who says that the land that spawned Charles Taylor will
easily adopt democracy. Africa must not take the road to
The Hague, where Taylor stands trial. The former, and I
hasten to add, democratically-elected president of Liberia
was singled out for retribution. The Western media
persistently plays that down. The entire question of the
quest for good governance, accountability transparency
ended up in mediocrity. And Taylor never caused the death
of so many innocent civilians as did ex-president George W
Bush in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The sentiments expressed by Obama are ones that resonate
well with Africans. Yet, Africans as impressed as they are
with the attentive US president whose own father is
African, still cannot forget that he is the president of
the United States of America.

There was something of the preacher in Obama's tone.
Proselytising is not becoming, not even coming from Obama.
"The West has often approached Africa as a patron or a
source of resources rather than a partner. But the West is
not responsible for the destruction of the Zimbabwean
economy over the last decade, or wars in which children are
enlisted as combatants. In my father's life, it was partly
tribalism and patronage and nepotism in an independent
Kenya that for a long stretch derailed his career, and we
know that this kind of corruption is still a daily fact of
life for far too many."

For many Africans, the West was indeed responsible for
demonising Robert Mugabe, scaring off investors and
ultimately ruining the Zimbabwean economy. The ensuing
ordeal created another African tragedy, which was not
entirely of Africa's making.

Africa's special relationship with and its cultural bonding
with African Americans was emphasised during Obama's visit
to Ghana. To the Ghanaian parliament Obama was
complimentary. "The people of Ghana have worked hard to put
democracy on a firmer footing, with repeated peaceful
transfers of power even in the wake of closely contested
elections." Yes, that much is true.

"Countries like Kenya had a per capita economy larger than
South Korea's when I was born. They have badly been
outpaced. Disease and conflict have ravaged parts of the
African continent," Obama correctly pointed out. But the
question is what is the solution to the continent's many

"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," the American
president insisted.

One thing, however, that Obama said and that rang true was
that democracy in Africa must be moulded in the African
manner. "This is about more than just holding elections.
It's also about what happens between elections. Repression
can take many forms, and too many nations, even those that
have elections, are plagued by problems that condemn their
people to poverty." And herein lies the answer to Africa's
crises. Poverty must be tackled first before democracy is
instituted. Much has been promised in the way of
humanitarian aid. However, a lack of a cohesive leadership
has hampered the smooth transition from underdeveloped to
developed status in much the same manner as South Korea

There is a certain irony in the fact that in the 1950s-60s
African-American leaders such W E B DuBois, Malcolm X and
Martin Luther King came to Africa in search of inspiration
in the struggle against racism and imperialism, whereas
Obama came to exhort Africans to follow a US- inspired
political agenda. True, much has changed in the past half
century, but for the better? This is what Obama would have
us Africans believe.

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