updated 9:44 a.m. PT, Sun., July 12, 2009
CAPE COAST, Ghana – For a new president, there inevitably comes that moment: the first time he hears a foreign crowd hoarsely chanting his name, or sees thousands of well-wishers surging forward, or realizes youngsters are running pell-mell beside his motorcade, desperate for a glimpse of his face.
For Barack Obama, the moment came here — in the teeming streets near a West African castle where traders once shipped human chattel to a life of toil in the New World.
After a week of difficult summitry in Russia and Italy, trying to get balky allies to follow his lead, the outpouring Obama was treated to in Ghana can only be called rapturous — from Africans overjoyed at the visit of America’s first black president to a country south of the Sahara.
As he toured Europe and Africa, conservative “Blue Dog” Democrats sought major changes to the health care overhaul House leaders are working on — and in so doing, forced a delay. At a news conference in Italy, Obama sought to downplay that, repeating his call for action by the August recess, but it was clear his top agenda item had hit a speed bump.
Meantime, though Obama bragged to the allies about House passage of a cap-and-trade bill, the coalition on global warming was fragile, and the measure’s fate in the Senate remains uncertain.
But the start of Obama’s latest foreign trip was a hard diplomatic slog, too.
In Moscow, Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev agreed to negotiate a new nuclear arms accord to replace START I, which expires in December. However, he left Moscow with disputes over missile defense, Russia’s neighbor Georgia and Moscow’s treatment of dissidents unresolved.
In L’Aquila, Italy, the G-8 Summit ended on a similarly inconclusive note, as developing nations balked at G-8 calls to halve greenhouse gas emissions by mid-century.
Which must have made the Ghanaian effusion all the sweeter.
‘I have the blood of Africa’
It began in the capital, Accra, where parliament treated him to a cheering welcome, heralded by a merry trombone-blast fanfare. “I have the blood of Africa within me,” Obama declared, before predicting a new African dawn if the continent can throw off its history of coups and corruption.
But the White House had purposely not scheduled any large, outdoor events in the capital, so the reception there was subdued. Aides said Obama wanted the focus on his message, not him. They also wanted no repeat of President Bill Clinton’s open-air speech in 1998 — after which he was nearly trampled by a jubilant throng.
In Cape Coast, a 40-minute helicopter ride from Accra, any such qualms were swept away.
In this one-time headquarters of Britain’s Gold Coast slave trade, Obama’s likeness was everywhere on placards and billboards. Thousands jammed his motorcade route from the muddy soccer field where he landed to Cape Coast Castle — waving, cheering, chanting, the women ululating, children climbing trees and clambering atop boxes for a better view. They wore T-shirts bearing his likeness, and his campaign motto “Yes We Can.”
His wife, Michelle, the great-great-granddaughter of slaves, was in the armored SUV beside him. His daughters, Malia, 11, and Sasha, 8, were along for the ride, also marveling at the sight.
As the motorcade pulled up at the castle, drummers kept up an insistent beat, and a PA announcer blared, “Let us welcome His Excellency, President Barack Obama!”
‘Door of No Return’
Inside the whitewashed fortress, the first family got a tour of the oven-like brick dungeons where slaves were crammed as they awaited their fate. The Obamas walked through the “Door of No Return” — the gateway through which thousands passed to ships bound for America — and paused in contemplation, arms around each others backs.
Afterward, the president called the castle “a place of profound sadness.” He told reporters it put him in mind of Buchenwald, the German concentration camp he saw last month — evidence of “the capacity of human beings for great evil.”
Yet he also found it inspiring, and hoped Malia and Sasha would grasp its import. “It is here where the journey of much of the African-American experience began,” he said.
Back in Accra, after a quick hotel stop for a change of clothes, Obama took part in a final airport send-off, complete with drumming and twirling dancers in colorful tribal garb.
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“Every day with its success, Ghana sends a simple message to the world, that democracy can thrive in Africa,” Obama declared. “Great days lie ahead for this nation. The future is on Ghana’s side.”
Even President John Atta Mills, the unsentimental lawyer who took power in January, was ecstatic.
“There is not a single Ghanaian who is not excited by your visit,” he enthused. “The good Lord has heard our prayers, and you have come.”
Heady stuff for a young American president just six months on the job.
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African view: Shipshape for Obama?
In our series of weekly viewpoints from African journalists, Elizabeth Ohene, a former government minister in Ghana and former BBC journalist, looks forward to US President Barack Obama’s visit to her country:
We in Ghana are going to have our “Obama Moment” later this week.
Forget that talk about Ghana being the second country in Africa President Obama is visiting. We know better.
Ghana is a truly admirable example of a place where governance is getting stronger, a thriving democracy
Barack Obama’s spokesperson
Africa texts Obama before visit
Africans welcome Obama
That Egypt stopover does not count as a trip to Africa. He did not go there with his wife; he is coming here with Michelle and daughters Malia and Sasha.
And he will be going to Cape Coast, which has been given a well-deserved makeover.
He did not sleep in Cairo and it was obvious he was using the city only as a backdrop to make a speech to the Arab world.
True, he is making a big speech here in our parliament aimed at Africa, but this is different.
He is coming to Ghana because, to borrow the words of his spokesperson: “Ghana is a truly admirable example of a place where governance is getting stronger, a thriving democracy.”
Their words, not mine.
We are the envy of the whole continent and as for our cousins the Nigerians, this is the ultimate humiliation.
I suspect the president will be begging people this week to demonstrate against his government
Obama snubs Nigeria?
They will never be able to live this one down.
Then there is Kenya and I ought to tread gently for there might be some raw emotions here, since there are blood claims.
So we sympathise with our Kenyan brothers and sisters, but as the White House sees it, Kenya, like Nigeria simply doesn’t make the good governance grade.
The trip to Ghana is intentional. It is worth quoting The White House on Ghana again:
“An extraordinarily close election, decided ultimately by about 40,000 votes, the country remained peaceful, power was transferred peacefully, and they continue to pursue a development agenda and bolster the rule of law.”
The Americans probably are aware many in Africa have wondered aloud that a sitting government could not find 40,000 votes to stay in power.
With such enthusiastic endorsement, it is not surprising that the government here is over the moon and is milking the Obama magic for all it is worth.
The promotions by the Ministry of Information and the Office of the President seek to portray the new Ghana government as being on the same wavelength as the new United States government, both led incidentally by law professors.
It is a bit tricky trying to liken the charismatic and erudite 47-year-old wordsmith world leader Mr Obama to the halting 64-year-old John Atta Mills, taunted as “dull” by his mentor, ex-President Jerry Rawlings.
The Clintons were given a huge welcome 11 years ago
We have consequently run into some very odd incidents.
This past week, there was the strange case of the president asking, or maybe, ordering the police to allow a street demonstration by a group that wanted to protest against a litany of things.
The police had gone to court and got an injunction to prevent the demonstration on the grounds, among others, that the police were so busy with the planned Obama visit they would not have the manpower to handle a demonstration.
Nobody here imagines that President Atta Mills intervened so dramatically to ask that a court order be put aside and the group be allowed to protest because he is dying for people to protest against him.
But imagine this: Here is Mr Obama, daily criticising the Iranian government for not allowing its citizens to demonstrate; and here is Ghana, the “admirable example of a thriving democracy” refusing to allow peaceful demonstrations… Obviously that would not do.
I suspect therefore that not only will the president be begging people this week to demonstrate against his government; there will be a lull in the frantic denunciations of the former government.
No former officials will be stopped at the airport and prevented from leaving the country and no former minister’s car will be seized by state security officers on the streets of Accra.
My bet is there will be no such drama any more until Mr Obama has been and gone.
I have been trying to dream up the most outrageous thing I could get away with in this thriving democracy during Obama week.
But the truth is all Ghanaians are really chuffed about the visit and if only the Americans would let us, we would put on such a welcome show, the world would be astounded.
After all, this is the country in 1998 that gave Bill Clinton the largest crowd in his life, but then that was in the pre-9/11 world and these days they do not allow American presidents to be exposed to such crowds.
All the same, we guarantee to make the trip memorable for the Obamas.
At the moment, if we have any anxieties it has to be a collective fear that our president will falter in pronouncing President Obama’s name.
He seems to fluff his lines on the big occasions, and there is a wicked rumour making the rounds that President Atta Mills has been practising the name of his host, “Bama Obarack, Marack Omaba, President Omarack”…
We are all willing him on to get it right on the day.
If you would like to comment on this column, send us your views using the post form below.
I am a Zimbabwean and boy am I so jealous of Ghana right now. Imagine Obama visiting us. Wow lucky them. but I guess we asked for that didn’t we us Zimbabweans. I cant last remember when we had a President of USA visiting Zimbabwe or a British one come to that. Hopefully in the near future when everything is ironed out neatly we might get a chance to see them here. Otherwise I guess I have to glue my self to the TV and watch BBC, Sky and CNN displaying Obama in Ghana. ps at least some jealousy is eased as I comfort myself and say he is visiting the home of our First First Lady Sally Mugabe . Our cousins welcome him for me.
Ms Ohene I have and will always admire your journalistic prowess. But, as succinctly though as you written this article – there one thing I would like to know? is there any bitterness running between you and the current administration of Mr Atta Mills? You are a former Government Minister – right? Thus, portraying Mr Mills as wanting to appear democratic before Mr Obama’s arrival is a step in the wrong direction, I beg to disagree with you but democracy, as the powers that be will want to see, is at play in Ghana,
Muctaru Stevens, Berlin, Germany
Ghana is Kwame Nkrumah country for us Indians. Reading about the welcome Ghanaians are going to extend to President Barak Obama of USA I am excited and happy. I want to read the full text of his speech to Ghanaians. Going by the address he gave at the Russian New Economic School graduation convocation, Pres. Obama will surely make himself an unforgettable president of America and Ghanaians are deservedly lucky to hear him him speak. Thanks.
M Krishnamachary, Mumbai, India
I don’t see how Nigerians can be upset at this.
The mere fact that the author felt the need to refer to Nigeria shows that Ghanaians do recognize that their country is less powerful and important than Nigeria. Just let them have their moment….it won’t last for long
I do love Obama , but he should go to these countries in trouble to real understand what is going on. The are DR Congo, Rwanda, Sudan, Angola, Zimbabwe, Kenya… Kib, london UK
President Obama is welcome in Africa. But whereas he’s praising Ghana, there are some Countries on the continent which are key to the USA Strategic interest on many issues such as terrorism, HIV/Aids, environment, and provision of key natural resources. These are part and parcel of good global governance! He would have considered visiting at least five countries spearheading the above US interest in Africa and beyond. Thanks,
Dukundane Emmanuel, Kigali, Rwanda
LOL, this is hilarious. Talk about pride. I don’t blame the Ghanaians though. If Obama and co were coming to Nigeria, we wouldn’t hear the end of it. Shoot, MJ’s news coverage wouldn’t even come close!!! So Ghanaians, be prideful that he chose you!!! Means you must be doing something right!
I am proud to be associated with Ghanaians or living in the country call call Ghana, i have been in Ghana since 1996 and i think that Ghana is one of the best country on the continent and they really deserve a great president visit, life is not all about wealth but peace, love respect for your fello man and that is why i have decided to stay in Ghana, i stay in Lagos for just six months, i decided never to go back. I might likely experience Obama convoy passing infront of me going to cape coast, what a moment that i will never forget, if he don’t go by chapel, Ghanaians deserve this moment of my favorite Leader in the world, the GREAT OBAMA
PRINCE FALLAH, liberian refugee in ghana
I have faith in this man. President Obama’s visit to Ghana has made a lot of people happy. Hopefully he will have some positive economic offers that encouraged fairer trade between Ghana and the USA… If he opens this door in Ghana he will see that the majority of them have a hard working and entrepreneurial character, not too distant from the Americans, moreover they may name that day after him. I’m waiting to see what developments take place after he’s left as the proof of the pudding is in the eating. I’m expecting too much am I?
Paul Otchere, London, England
Ghana, Africa is taking pride in hosting the first black President and family of the United States of America through you! We are behind you in prayer and well wishes.
Akiror Harriet Ariko, Kampala, Uganda
You can think what you like Elizabeth, Obama’s first Presidential visit to Africa was Egypt and we are justifiably proud of that. To say this country is nothing more than a gateway to the Middle East is actually quite insulting. We participate in the majority of sporting and political African nation events and consider ourselves fully integrated into Africa in that respect.
Khalid Jamal, Cairo, Egypt
I like the commentary it sounds familiar and the blogs all seem so similar. Is this a developing nation scenario where we clean and prepare for the leaders of the developed states. The same sentiments were echoed in Trinidad and Tobago for the visit of the Fifth Summit of the Americas and particularly the presence of President Obama.
Antoinette Matthews, St Augustine, Trinidad & Tobago
Will the visit bring the much anticipated boost in Ghana’s flagging “ecomony”, or should say economy? Mills’ government should get it right and not fluff it.
Samuel Gyamfi, Bracknell, UK
Here at home, nobody thinks this is other than a stunt calculated to extend influence to counter China’s. The president faces a growing backlash in the USA due to the lingering recession and what many see as high-handed meddling with the Constitution. Let’s pray this cynical influence-peddling visit does not leave the hangover that his election did.
Pat, Carthage, USA
Obama’s visit to Ghana is NOT in any way Humiliation to Nigeria or any other africa nations…..OBAMA is Not JESUS CHRIST simply a president who chosed and decided to visit Ghana and may decide to Visit Nigeria some day. He can not visit all Africa nations same day same moment, Ghana is down to inferiority complex that makes them to see themselves as Brazil of Africa When Nigeria had beaten the real Brazil in a major football competition.
marcel eze, abidjan
My dear writer, we should concentrate more on what unites us than wasting time an energy on trying to whip up sentiments. What does it matter if Obama visit Ghana or Nigeria, better still Togo. We are supposed to be united rather than making claims or utterances that will not engender oneness. A black man is a black man, that should be our ethos. No place in the whole wide world that do not have its problems; we cannot deny the problems of democracy and corruption in Nigeria but all these are surmountable. Our prayers should be how both Ghana and Nigeria or any African country should develop together. When Ghana had its problems in the late 70s they ran to Nigeria. It will be easier and feasible for Ghana to help Nigeria or Nigeria help Ghana, for a non-African country to help. I don’t care if is USA, UK or what have you; they are all after their interests. Please wake up!
Moses Akinmuyiwa, Birmingham, UK
Moses Akinmuyiwa, Birmingham, UK – Your comments are meaningful to Africans. You all have made my DAY.
Ahmed Shaibu, London
Ghana wan an obvious choice for President Obama. Numerous African countries have had elections where the opposition won outright but never got seated. Ethiopia, Nigeria, Zimbabwe to name a few. Ghana is one bright exception. Thank You Mr. President for sending a strong message to African despots.
Tariku I, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Bravo Ghana, if all africans can do like ghana them there will be no problems like nigeria, kenya and others i wish am in ghana to welcome my humble african bro. African leaders should try and emulate ghana of there good governace so that the continent can enjoy its wonderful resources.
halima jatta, banjul the gambia
I am a Liberian, and very happy for the visit of US President Barrack Obama to Ghana. And i hope that the President will make another visit to Nigeria. Nigeria is Africa’s super power. All of the blood shells that took place in Liberia, Nigeria was the first African countries that arrived. Especially, in 2003 when we (Liberian) were dying in blood shells, Nigeria was the only and first African countries that came to our aid. So in this light, I will like for President Barrack Obama to pay a special visit to Nigeria. And i also want him to come to Liberia.
Sekou S Sheriff, Monrovia, Liberia
I really am disappointed at our Nigerian brothers for crying foul about Obama’s visit to Ghana……The secret simply is…good governance, respect for human rights hospitality and above all the home and origin of African Americans…that’s what we are
Nana Tutu Yeboah, Accra
My Ghanaian friend, I am a Nigerian and don’t envy Ghana even if President Obama and his disciples visit your country everyday. President Obama is just another American president looking after American interests. In this case, it is your newly acquired oil shores. Your comments justifies my views about Ghanaians. Let me add that Ghana is the same size as Lagos Nigeria if not smaller. Good luck with your thriving democracy and good governance. I am happy that you are basking on something that is already in Africa.
Simms, Umuahia, Nigeria
SO sorry to see that the fact of choosing Ghana is a source of debate. Wherever Obama visits in Africa, he’s a guest of the whole continent. It is high time we stopped thinking as Ghanaians, Nigerians, Senegalese, Kenyans etc. We have to believe and work hard to bring African Unity into reality. Still, let us all congratulate Ghana for the efforts made to implement true democracy and let us hope this example will be followed by the remaining African countries. Ghana, welcome President Obama as a guest of mother Africa, and let him and his family remember that even if we are poor, we know how to treat our guests. Thanks
Alphousseyni DIAMANKA, Dakar, Sénégal
As we all aware that water always flows following a specific course of its current, the fact that Ghana has demonstrated undisputable state of good governance and democracy throughout the African Continent is a yard stick which has set a precedent in determining the tour of the high profile World leader of this century.
Lucas Phillip Kiswizah, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
He’s just going there because there are US oil interests there. Enough said.
Michelle, Dallas, TX
Never thought a political piece could be so funny! Thank you, my day is made.
Kholofelo, Johannesburg, South Africa
Whom the Lord love He chastise. Obama’s refusal to visit Nigeria at this time is a clear body language, demonstrating his love for Nigeria. He say it best when he said nothing at all. It is now left for Nigeria to return Obama’s love by amending her ways.
King, London, England
Ghana deserves all the accolades and time in the political limelight. Obama is not naive to Africa’s inadequacies. Kenya failed big time to think big and reap from what she deserved. Their primitive politics is so repellent to forward-looking leaders like Obama. Ghana may not be perfect but it is the effort and intention that counts. Nigerians may be smarting from sour grapes but Obama knows the deceptive cord running deep inside. Congrats Ghana and please bask in the sunshine responsible.
Taabu, Eldoret, Kenya
A mere 40,000 votes unseated an African government!? Wow, a lesson in good governance to all African countries who must choose the rule of law going forward. It took a month plus, to reconcile a huge gap in Zims elections to a 0-0 draw last May, and that for a country that boasts a literacy rate of 90%. Ghana is the cradle for African democracy and its a shame some dictators refer to the legendary Kwame Nkrumah as their inspiration. Obama must use this opportunity to lash out at such leaders, Zim & Kenya included.
Gadama N, Bulawayo, Zim
I am certainly failing to understand why all the fuss about the President Obama’s visit to Ghana. What do people in Ghana and Africa stand to benefit apart from disrupting their businesses? Nothing and this trip will not change Ghanaians lives in any way. Observing and respecting democratic institutions in Ghana has not in anyway been influenced by President Obama.
Give Mr Mills a break. Mr Obama probably cant pronounce a number of Ghanaian names. And why couldn’t he come to Zambia? Our political tolerance is truly remarkable in my view. And our peacefulness is legend.
Rose Phiri, Lusaka, Zambia
it is indeed great news that Obama has chosen Ghana as one of the first countries in Africa to visit. the euphoria in the small West African country is so high i suspect Friday might be an unofficial holiday. my only problem is that major businesses will be closed for 48hrs because of Obama’s visit and this is going to make a lot of business people lose money running into millions. Is Obama really taking us forward?
Selase Attah, Accra
Aw pulezzzz!!! Whether Obama comes or not, Nigeria is still the giant of Africa. It is okay for Obama to encourage Ghana’s democracy. In spite of our current woes we still have a profound influence across Africa. Imagine what happens when we work through our problems….the whole world will come to our door steps.
Ono Vu, Abuja-Nigeria
To be sincere, I admired the true democracy in the Republic of Ghana. I live in Ghana for four years consecutive and not a day I was humiliated by any law implementers. Even though some of our Liberian friends once complained of human right abuse but I believe that Ghana being a law abided state, you are only trouble if you trouble the law and that’s what make the nation what she is. Ghana, you deserve all the world class leaders visit always.
Tamba Kpakima, Monrovia, Liberia
Right on! Absolutely like it is. I haven’t read such a cool opinion in a long time, haven’t laughed so righteously on ‘Bama Obarack’…
Andy Zimmermann, Berlin Germany
Ghana is a leader in Africa whether people like it or not. Ghana was the first sub-Saharan country to gain independence. Ghana has been holding credible elections. Corruption not rampant. No xenophobia attacks on fellow Africans. Ghana is indeed a BLACK Star. There could be no better country for Obama and family to visit than Ghana. Make us (Africans) proud our dear brothers and sisters in Ghana. If for any reasons you wont host him (Obama), could you recommend MALAWI – The Warm Heart of Africa as an alternative destination. Viva Ghana, Viva Africa.
Sam Gonthako Nganjo, Blantyre, MALAWI
What’s the talk about Obama’s visit to Ghana being a humiliation on Nigerians and Kenyans? His visit to Egypt to douse the fire of religious fiasco should be considered a political obligation, and that to Ghana; a start point of political tour. That doesn’t imply that he’s not going to be elsewhere in Africa for the same purpose for which he’s in Ghana. After all Ghana hasn’t the best political culture and practise in Africa-good governance grade or not, is all a front. Therefore, the amiable president has his reasons for starting with her. So, no noise.
Solomon A Akande, Lagos, Nigeria
It is a shame really that the first American Black President will not be visiting Nigeria,(the self-acclaimed giant of Africa) but Ghana, on his first African tour. I hope it is a big lesson to the Nigerian leaders that democracy can truly work in Africa with total commitment and will of the leaders and the citizens alike.
OLALEKAN OMOTAYO, LAGOS, NIGERIA