Obama Visit Stirs Pride Among Ghanaians

By Karin Brulliard
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, July 11, 2009; 2:24 PM

ACCRA, Ghana, July 11 -- President Obama gave no public speech for the masses on his first visit as president to sub-Saharan Africa on Saturday. So Ghanaians who had eagerly awaited his visit listened to his words in places like Nyasa Enterprise, a dim one-room barbershop with a plastic wall clock and a poster of Jesus.

There, as owner Ebenezer Owusu, 30, shaved the head and face of a client, three of his friends sat in lawn chairs and watched a small television, on which Obama was pledging to help Africa but insisting Africa also help itself.

"We must start from the simple premise that Africa's future is up to Africans," Obama said, speaking before parliament at a conference center a few miles away.

It was a message that went over well in this single outpost of Ghana's capital. Ghana, a stable democracy, is doing better than many African countries, the patrons said, but it has plenty of problems. Indeed, Ghana ranks in the middle on Transparency International's corruption index, and 80 percent of its population lives on less than $2 a day.

"It's good that he was hammering on that point," Kofi Kennedy, 30, a hotel manager. "Because the money comes in, and as I'm sitting here, I'm not privy to what they're using it for. At the end of the day, it's the Ghanaians who suffer."

Out in the streets, several proud Ghanaians sported 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 addressed parliament and helicopters flew overhead. Despite the excitement, some Ghanaians expressed regret that they had no chance to see the first American black president, a man they view as one of them.

"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 outlined his Africa policy to lawmakers and dignitaries in a conference center, not in the oceanfront Independence Square named for Ghana's emergence in 1957 as the first African country to shed colonialism.

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 was welcome news to Ghanaians, who have been oozing thrill about Obama's visit. Even so, the private speech meant no large crowds formed, and many went about their days as usual.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2009 The Washington Post Company