In Ghana, Obama Addresses African Parliament
Saturday, July 11, 2009; 8:44 AM
ACCRA, Ghana, July 11 -- Proud Ghanaians fanned out in this capital city in t-shirts, stocking caps and dresses printed with images of President Obama, who is making rounds this morning on his first presidential visit to sub-Saharan Africa.
But although the setting was the sultry West African coast, the environment was American-style security. About 10,000 police officers lined city streets and blocked roads near Obama's itinerary stops, dogs sniffed around the building where Obama is addressing parliament, helicopters flew overhead. Amid the excitement, some Ghanaians expressed regret that there would be no public address by the man they had been eagerly awaiting for two months.
"We are not tourists. We are Africans. This is our home," said Muhammad Bako, a businessman who was standing with about 40 onlookers near a police checkpoint several blocks from the conference center. "So they should set up a situation where we could see him."
In Ghana, like many African countries, life is largely lived in public. But Obama is outlining his Africa policy to lawmakers and dignitaries in a conference center, not in the oceanfront Independence Square named for Ghana's distinction as the first African country to shed colonalism in 1957.
Ghanaian officials attributed the indoor venue to security concerns and seasonal downpours, but some analysts said Obama made the choice to underscore the seriousness of his visit. Obama has said he chose to come to Ghana for its strong history of holding elections in which power has been peacefully handed to one party to another, and to emphasize good governance.
Early this morning, Obama told his hosts he had opted for a quick stop in Ghana at the tail of a world tour -- as opposed to a one-week visit to various African countries -- to emphasize that "Africa is not separate from world affairs."
That is welcome news to Ghanaians, who have been overflowing with excitement about the visit. This morning, most people went about their mornings as usual, even as Obama's speech started. Earlier, modest numbers of people gathered on the streets in hopes of catching a glimpse of the American leader -- or at least of "The Beast," as many here know is the nickname of Obama's limousine. Vendors roamed with Obama stocking caps and paper fans.
As a convoy of dark vehicles rushed past the downtown stadium, Kobina Arkaah, 37, craned his neck.
"Where's The Beast? Is it among them?" he asked. "We are in love with Obama, a son of Africa."
"Maybe we can wave at him," said Michael Mingle, 26, who by 9 a.m. had been waiting for two hours at a cemetery, where he works part-time as a gravedigger.
Obama's visit has stirred extreme pride in Ghana, a nation of 23 million that was visited by former presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush and has strong ties with African-Americans, several thousand of whom reside in Ghana. The visit is viewed as a major stamp of approval for Ghana's democracy and relatively well-managed economy
"It is the third time Air Force One has spent a night in Ghana," a news anchor said this morning on Ghana's TV3, as footage rolled of Obama's arrival late Friday. "That says a lot about Ghana's democratic process."
In interviews, several people said they hoped Obama would give more money to help address the problems that plague many African nations, including Ghana.
"We have financial problems. And jobs. We need jobs. And the youth, the education," said Sam Owusu-Ansah, 45, a driver who sat with his 2-year-old son, Michael, as close as they could get to the conference center. "Obama is an African. We hope he will look at Africa and make improvements."
Obama has made it clear that he expects African leaders to step up to that task. In an interview with AllAfrica.com this week, he urged them not to blame their woes on the West or colonialism, a comment some analysts applauded.
"Most of our development solutions are home-grown. They are already with us," said Franklin Cudjoe, executive director of the IMANI Center for Policy and Education in Accra.
In downtown Accra this morning, Arkaah said he did not expect a major shift in policy from Obama, though he hoped otherwise.
"Personally, I don't think Obama has the power to change Africa," said Arkaah, adding that trade imbalances are Africa's biggest development obstacle. "But America should see Africa in a different light. It is only Africa that can sustain America with its natural resources."