Obama's Message: 'Africa's Future Is Up to Africans'

The streets of Ghana's capital city buzz with anticipation and excitement as President Obama pays his first presidential visit to sub-Saharan Africa.
By Michael A. Fletcher and Karin Brulliard
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, July 12, 2009

ACCRA, Ghana, July 11 -- President Obama, making his first visit to sub-Saharan Africa since taking office, called on people of the oft-troubled continent Saturday to seize control of their future by building strong, democratic institutions and eliminating corruption.

Ghanaians thrilled by the historic visit of the United States' first black president feted Obama. But Obama did not revel in the adulation he received during his whirlwind stop that included a somber visit to a former slave port, a tour of a local hospital and a festive ceremony at the airport here before leaving to return to Washington.

Rather, in a speech to a special session of the Parliament of Ghana held at a conference center in this capital city, he delivered a blunt but optimistic message about how Africa can shape its destiny.

"We must start with a simple premise that Africa's future is up to Africans," he said.

While Obama nodded to the continent's colonial past as a factor in its struggles, he said that Africa's contemporary problems could hardly be blamed on its former European overseers.

"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," Obama said.

Invoking the experience of his late Kenyan-born father, Obama said he knows well the toll exacted by the corruption that grips many African governments. "In my father's life, it was partly tribalism and patronage in an independent Kenya that for a long stretch derailed his career, and we know that this kind of corruption is a daily fact of life for too many."

Obama said that the corruption and violent conflict have continued unchecked in too many parts of Africa, with leaders fleecing their nations' treasuries, brutally repressing dissent and waging wars unnoticed by much of the outside world leaving untold thousands dead.

"No person wants to live in a society where the rule of law gives way to the rule of brutality and bribery," Obama said. "That is not democracy; that is tyranny. And now is the time for it to end."

The president's visit included no public events that would allow the masses to get a live glimpse of him. "The president wanted to use this visit to shine a light on Ghana and on what it is doing so successfully, rather than on him," Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said.

So Ghanaians who had eagerly awaited his visit listened to his tough-love message on televisions and radios in places such as Nyasa Enterprise, a dim one-room barbershop adorned with a plastic wall clock and a poster of Jesus.

Obama's message went over well in this single outpost of Ghana's largest city. Ghana, a stable democracy, is doing better than many African countries, but it has plenty of problems. Indeed, Ghana ranks in the middle on Transparency International's corruption index, and four out of five of its people live on less than $2 a day.

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