– Obama In Ghana: “I Have The Blood Of Africa Within Me” First Posted: 07-11-09 08:33 AM | Updated: 07-12-09 03:20 PM
(AP) ACCRA, Ghana — America’s president and Africa’s son, Barack Obama dashed with pride onto the continent of his ancestors Saturday, challenging its people to shed corruption and conflict in favor of peace. Campaigning to all of Africa, he said “Yes you can.”
“I say this knowing full well the tragic past that has sometimes haunted this part of the world,” Obama told a riveted Ghanaian Parliament. “I have the blood of Africa within me.”
In the faces of those who lined the streets and in many of Obama’s own words, this trip was personal. Beyond his message, the story was his presence _ the first black U.S. president coming to poor, proud, predominantly black sub-Sahara Africa for his first time in office.
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The emotional touchstone of his visit: a tour of Cape Coast Castle, the cannon-lined fortress where slaves were kept in squalid dungeons, then shipped in chains to America through a “Door of No Return” that opens to the sea.
Obama absorbed the experience with his wife, Michelle, and their girls, Sasha and Malia.
“I’ll never forget the image of my two young daughters, the descendants of Africans and African-Americans, walking through those doors of no return but then walking back (through) those doors,” he said later at a grand departure ceremony. “It was a remarkable reminder that, while the future is unknowable, the winds always blow in the direction of human progress.” Ghanaians lined up on the tarmac lingered for a time even after Air Force One disappeared into the nighttime sky.
The White House said Obama held no big public events in a city frenzied to see him because Obama wanted to put the light on Africa, not himself. But reality proved otherwise.
Obama billboards dotted the roads. Women wore dresses made of cloth bearing his image. Tribal chiefs, lawmakers, church leaders, street vendors _ to them, it felt like history.
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“All Ghanaians want to see you,” lamented Ghana’s president, John Atta Mills, before feting Obama to a breakfast banquet of hundreds of guests at the coastal presidential castle.
To their disappointment, most people did not see him. The lack of open events and the heavy security kept many in this West African nation away from Obama. They watched him on TV.
Overall, there was no dampening the tone of joy. Headlines screamed of Obama fever.
“It makes us proud of Ghana,” said Richard Kwasi-Yeboah, a 49-year-old selling posters of the American president. “We’re proud he chose us. It proves that Ghana is really free.”
At the heart of Obama’s message here: African nations crippled by coups and chaos, like Ghana has been in the past, can reshape themselves into lawful democracies. He said it takes good governance, sustained development, improved health care.
And that the moment is now.
“Africa doesn’t need strongmen,” Obama said. “It needs strong institutions.”
The son of a white woman from Kansas and a black man from Kenya, Obama bluntly told Africa to take more responsibility for itself but proclaimed: “America will be with you.”
Sub-Saharan Africa is one of the poorest places in the world.
Obama also got openly personal _ recalling the grandfather who endured being called “boy” as a cook for the British in Kenya, the father who once herded goats in a small Kenyan village. Not mentioned was the path of his wife, Michelle, who is a descendant of slaves.
In essence, Obama’s history with Africa seemed to give him freer license to speak about the continent, as if he were being honest with a friend. He gave an unsentimental account of squandered opportunities, brutality and bribery in postcolonial Africa.
About every time Obama cited his basic argument _ that democracy is about more than holding elections, that Africa resist the drug trade and enforce a rule of law _ members of Parliament raucously cheered him on. Then again, this audience was friendly. When Obama left, a choir sang a song to his campaign theme of “Yes we can,” a line he used himself.
Evoking the memory of American civil rights giant Martin Luther King Jr., Obama noted that King was in Ghana in 1957 to hail Ghana’s independence from the British. He quoted King as calling the moment a triumph of justice, and told young Africans they must remember that.
“You can conquer disease, end conflicts and make change from the bottom up,” Obama said. “You can do that. Yes you can. Because in this moment, history is on the move.”
All together, Obama was spending less than 24 hours in Ghana. But they packed in personal moments, in contrast to his summit-heavy travels across Russia and Italy over the last week.
At a maternal health clinic in Accra, he turned into a sentimental dad when he met a group of mothers holding newborns. “This is the highlight of the trip,” he said, beaming.
By afternoon, he was contemplating the human capacity for evil at the castle, which served as a headquarters for the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Obama walked with his arm around Malia, 11. The first lady held the hand of Sasha, 8.
“Hopefully one of the things that was imparted to them during this trip was their sense of obligation to fight oppression and cruelty wherever it appears,” the president said.
Ghana and the U.S. have something of a diplomatic kinship. Obama is the third straight U.S. president to visit this tropical nation; George W. Bush was here just last year.
That reflects just how much the United States, which dwarfs Ghana’s size, wants this country to be a model of democracy and invests tens of millions of tax dollars to help it.
But what the Obama White House did not want on this trip was the Bill Clinton moment. In 1998, on a blisteringly hot day, a crowd at a Clinton rally nearly caused a horrific trample.
That also affected why Obama did not hold an outdoor event of his own.
Obama will be back to Africa. But he suggested that he won’t go for the traditional model of devoting a trip to Africa alone, as if it is separated from world affairs. Instead, African nations might be wrapped into his multinational travels more often.
“What happens here,” he said, “has an impact everywhere.”
Associated Press writers Mark S. Smith and Todd Pitman contributed to this story from Accra.
Obama’s visit to fort a ‘full-circle experience’
Ghana’s coastal castle was departure point for African slaves
George Osodi / AP
On Saturday, President Barack Obama and his family will visit this coastal castle in Ghana that was Britain’s West Africa headquarters for the shipment of millions of slaves to Europe and America. Video
updated 3:29 p.m. ET July 10, 2009
CAPE COAST, Ghana – From the rampart of a whitewashed fort once used to ship countless slaves from Africa to the Americas, Cheryl Hardin gazed through watery eyes at the route forcibly taken across the sea by her ancestors centuries before.
“It never gets any easier,” the 48-year-old pediatrician said, wiping away tears on her fourth trip to Ghana’s Cape Coast Castle in two decades. “It feels the same as when I first visited — painful, incomprehensible.”
On Saturday, Barack Obama and his family will follow in the footsteps of countless African-Americans who have tried to reconnect with their past on these shores. Though Obama was not descended from slaves — his father was Kenyan — he will carry the legacy of the African-American experience with him as America’s first black president.
For many, the trip will be steeped in symbolism.
“The world’s least powerful people were shipped off from here as slaves,” Hardin said Tuesday, looking past a row of cannons pointing toward the Atlantic Ocean. “Now Obama, an African-American, the most powerful person in the world, is going to be standing here. For us it will be a full-circle experience.”
Built in the 1600s, Cape Coast Castle served as Britain’s West Africa headquarters for the trans-Atlantic slave trade, which saw European powers and African chiefs export millions in shackles to Europe and the Americas.
Nearly two centuries later, misery still lingers
The slave trade ended here in 1833, and visitors can now trek through the fort’s dungeons, dark rooms once crammed with more than 1,000 men and women at a time who slept in their own excrement. The dank air inside still stings the eyes.
Visiting for the first time, Hardin’s 47-year-old sister Wanda Milian said the dungeons felt “like burial tombs.”
“It felt suffocating. It felt still,” said Milian, who like her sister lives in Houston. “I don’t know what I expected. I didn’t expect to experience the sense of loss, the sense of hopelessness and desolation.”
Those who rebelled were packed into similar rooms with hardly enough air to breath, left to die without food or water. Their faint scratch marks are still visible on walls.
Down by the shore is the fort’s so-called “Door of No Return,” the last glimpse of Africa the slaves would ever see before they were loaded into canoes that took them to ships that crossed the ocean.
Horrible history contrasts with present
Today, the door opens onto a different world: a gentle shore where boys freely kick a white soccer ball through the surf, where gray-bearded men sit in beached canoes fixing lime-green fishing nets, where women sell maize meal from plates on their heads.
Behind them is Africa’s poverty: smoke from cooking fires rises from a maze of thin wooden shacks, their rusted corrugated aluminum roofs held down by rocks. Children bathe naked in a tiny dirt courtyard.
“I just can’t wrap my mind around this,” said Milian, who works at a Methodist church. “If it weren’t for all this” — for slavery — “I wouldn’t be standing here today. I wouldn’t be who I am. I wouldn’t have the opportunities I do. I wouldn’t practice the religion I do.”
Milian also grappled with the irony that fort housed a church while the trade went on, and that African chiefs and merchants made it all possible, brutally capturing millions and marching them from the continent’s interior to be sold in exchange for guns, iron and rum.
“It’s mixed up,” Milian said. “It’s not an easy puzzle to put together.”
Though slavery in the U.S. ended after the Civil War in 1865, its legacy has lived on. The U.S. Senate on June 18 unanimously passed a resolution apologizing for slavery and racial segregation.
“This is part of our history,” said Hardin, who first visited Ghana in the late 1980s and later married a Ghanaian engineer she met in the U.S.
Her 15-year-old son was along for the first time. “I want him to understand what his liberty really means, who he really is,” Hardin said.
But racism, both sisters agreed, would not end with Obama’s visit.
“Let’s not be naive. When your skin is darker, you are still going to be treated differently,” Hardin said. But Obama’s trip “will be a turning point, not just for America but for the world.”
Milian said Obama’s journey would also bear a message to those who organized the trade.
“It will say they failed, it all failed,” she said. “The human mind is capable of horrible things, but the fact that we’re standing here, the fact Obama will be standing here, proves we are also capable of great resilience.”
Obama says tour of Ghanaian slave fortress should be eye-opener for daughters
Bureau News July 11th, 2009
Obama: Daughters should learn from slave tour
CAPE COAST, Ghana — President Barack Obama says he hopes his family’s tour of a former slave fortress on the coast of Ghana shows his daughters that history can take very cruel turns.
Eleven-year-old Malia and eight-year-old Sasha accompanied Obama on a tour of Cape Coast Castle Saturday.
Speaking afterward, Obama said his daughters are “growing up in such a blessed way.” He said one of the things he hopes they picked up from the tour is a sense of their obligation to fight oppression and cruelty everywhere.
Cape Coast Castle was the place where shackled Africans were held in squalid dungeons before they were shipped off into slavery.