THE OBAMA EFFECT

GHANA REACTS TO THE PRESIDENT’S FIRST VISIT

-BY TOBY THOMPKINS

When Barack Obama became the 44th President of the United
States of America, the enormity of a Black man stepping into
the role of leader of the free world was bigger than most of us
had dared imagine. The frenzy we experienced on January
20 was reignited thousands of miles away on July 10 when Air
Force One landed in Accra, Ghana’s capital city

When Barack Obama became the 44th President of the United
States of America, the enormity of a Black man stepping into
the role of leader of the free world was bigger than most of us
had dared imagine. The frenzy we experienced on January
20 was reignited thousands of miles away on July 10 when Air
Force One landed in Accra, Ghana’s capital city

THE AUDACITY OF GHANA

In 1957, Ghana was the first African country to gain independ-ence from colonial control, and it basically has had a friendly rela-tionship with the United States since then. The nation’s first primeminister and president, Kwame Nkrumah, leader of the PanAfrican movement, welcomed the support of such Black Americanleaders as W.E.B. Du Bois, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. andMalcolm X.

In 1998, President Bill Clinton was received by Ghana’spresident Jerry John Rawlings when the Clinton administrationchose Ghana as the “gateway” for its six-nation tour of Africa.President Clinton’s visit marked a “new” African renaissance,

 Journalists and local citizens documented President Obama’s action-packed schedule, filled with meetings, ceremonies and a public address to parliament.

Journalists and local citizens documented President Obama’s action-packed
schedule, filled with meetings, ceremonies and a public address to parliament.

Ushered  in  by  the  Africa  Growth  and  Opportunities  Act  (AGOA),
which  focuses  on  strengthening  trade  between  Africa  and  the  United
States.
During his 2008 visit, President Bush pledged $17 million to combat
malaria in Ghana. While returning to the United States, Bush comment-
ed, “I would say this is one of the most exciting trips of my presidency.”
The third sitting U.S. president to visit Ghana, Obama was on African
soil for less than 24 hours. His schedule included talks with the country’s
president, John Atta Mills, breakfast with national and international lead-
ers, a hospital visit, a speech to Ghana’s parliament in which Obama pre-
sented his African agenda, a ceremonial meeting with the paramount chief
of Cape Coast and a tour of the Cape Coast slave castle.
Barack Obama has some tough issues to confront if he is to realize the
transformation he has stated he wants in Ghana and in Africa. As Africans
wait and watch, Ghanaians want to know what having Barack Obama as
president of the United States of America means for their country.

OBAMA’S MESSAGE TO AFRICA 

President  Obama’s  address  to  Ghana’s  parliament  spoke  to  the
changes that need to happen on both sides of his proposed U.S.-Ghana
partnership when he said, “The true sign of success is not whether we are
a source of aid that helps people scrape by—it is whether we are partners
in building the capacity for transformational change.” His speech also tar-
geted a number of prickly African issues: corruption, stopping genocide,
building  transparent  institutions  and  replacing  strongmen  leaders  with
strong institutions. Ghanaians were encouraged that Mr. Obama issued a
nod in favor of moving away from a history of patronage toward the cre-
ation of a “mutually responsible” partnership based on “shared interests
and  shared  values.”  His  message  sparked  dialogue  among  many
Ghanaians  and  even  some  sub-Saharan  countries’  presidents  suggesting
that  Obama  should,  perhaps,  address  some  of  the  same  issues  he  raised
about Africa at home.
Still,  Africans  are  keenly  interested  in  the  Obama  administration’s
efforts toward raising, addressing and resolving the inequities and ineffi-
ciencies that exist in their own backyard as they cast a wider net for good

EBONY partnered with the Africa Channel to cover President Obama’s visit to Ghana. 

Toby Thompkins and Africa Channel executive vice president and general manager Bob Reid traveled allover the west African nationinterviewing government officials, businessleaders, education and art consultants to get asense of the import of this historic visit. For moreof these interviews, visitwww.EbonyJet.com,andlook for the two-hour Africa Channel special that

Abuakari Afolabi, restaurateur: 
Local trade and commerce is what we need

“I hope that Obama’s
partnership encourages more
local trade and commerce.
Our culture lives in the things
we make, trade and sell. We
need more support for local
products, and we need the
resources and commitment to
making local things more
valuable in our minds than the
things we import. If you buy
local, you strengthen the local
community, family and
culture,” says Afolabi, co-
owner of Osekan, a restaurant

named for the ghost of the high
priest of the Gan tribe of Ghana
who migrated from Egypt by
sea into Accra. Ed
ucated and
trained as an economist,
Afolabi decided that rather
than pursue a career outside
of Ghana like many of his
friends and classmates, he
wanted to develop a business
in Accra.  
The establishment’s location, a
historic landmark was
overtaken by criminals and
thieves before Afolabi and his
brother went to the chief and
asked to take over the land and
turn it into a cliff side restaurant
and performance stage in the
heart of central Accra. “We
need to honor our culture as
African people, and what better
way than to bring our cultural
and historic landmarks to the
world,” said Afolabi. 

John Marie Alain Auckloo, general manager,
African Regent Hotel: 
Obama is raising the Afropolitan standard

The hospitality industry in
Accra was so excited about
the president’s visit
that one
hotel owner changed the
name of his establishment to
Hotel Obama. “Obama is a
world-class leader, and
choosing Ghana as his first
destination in sub-Saharan

Africa means that the
hospitality industry
[here] must strive to
become the example of
a world-class African
experience,” said
Auckloo. “President
Barack Obama’s visit
to Ghana means for
the hospitality industry
that [this country’s]
hospitality is open to the
world. September 27, 2009, is
World Tourism Day, and this
year it will be celebrated in
Ghana. Now people will know
about Ghana as an Afropolitan
experience, not just an African
experience.” 

 
 Reminiscent of election day in the United States, people took to the streets of Accra in celebration of Obama’s visit.

Reminiscent of election day in the United States, people took to the streets of
Accra in celebration of Obama’s visit.

Governance and democracy throughout the continent

GHANA HAS MADE STRIDES IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION

Obama outlined four key areas of focus in the partnership between the
U.S. and Ghana: democracy, opportunity, health and peaceful conflict res-
olution.  He  emphasized  that  sound  and  sustainable  development  is  the
result of good governance and that Africans must continue to rise to the
call if they wish to unlock their countries’ potential.
Listening to Ghanaians, a recurring concern emerges: how to address
the issue of U.S. foreign aid programs and policies that don’t allow them
greater  involvement  and  accountability  in  how  the  funds  get  allocated,
distributed, implemented and managed. African nongovernmental organ-
izations  (NGOs)  have  historically  been  less  resourced  and  funded  than
foreign  NGOs  doing  work  on  the  continent.  John  Adza,  Executive
Director  of  the  African  Challenge,  a  Ghanaian  NGO  that  focuses  on
responsible  mining  practices  in  Ghana,  believes  that  the  U.S.  should
reserve a full and proper seat for Africans at the decision-making table of
foreign aid. “More of the resources of foreign aid should be placed in our
hands so that we can do the work of good governance our way.” 
Although Obama expressed an interest in being more than a source of
foreign  aid  that  helps  Ghanaian  people  “scrape  by,”  Ghanaians  and
African-Americans  agree  that  Obama’s  commitment  to  a  better  Ghana
will have to start with the end goal clearly defined. Since 1970, Africa's
share of global exports has declined from 3.5 percent to 1.5 percent.  In
implementing his plan for African transformation, the president must col-
laborate  with  African  leaders  to  move  swiftly  to  reverse  this  decline  or.more  African  families  will  slip  deeper  into  poverty.  African-Americans
know all too well the learned helplessness and destruction of family capi-
tal produced through government aid initiatives.
“Dead aid,” as economist Dambisa Moyo discusses in her book of the
same title, does little to promote the ability of an African family to advance
itself  economically,  emotionally,  socially,  spiritually  and  culturally,  all
dimensions  of  how  people  use  capital  to  live  successful  and  happy  lives.
Moyo  believes  the  Obama  plan’s  success  should  correlate  directly  to  its
ability to create, restore and sustain the African family. The upward eco-
nomic  journey  of  nations  such  as  India  suggests  that  empowering  all
members of the African family, not just the women, will be necessary  for
Africans to thrive in the global economy as wealth creators. 
As Eric Drovu, a married father of two who works as a housekeeper in
Accra, stated, “I want for my life what you (Americans) want in yours: the
chance to turn my talents and effort into opportunity.”

WHO AND WHAT MUST CHANGE? 

In the United States, it is a commonly held notion that the end goal of
any person on welfare should be to get off welfare.  Similarly, an African
country  that  is  receiving  foreign  aid  must  determine  the  do-or-die  date
when  that  aid  is  no  longer  required  for  it  to  function  as  a  governing
nation. Anything less risks creating  poverty of mind, spirit and culture for
generations to come.
Afia  Appiah,  a  Ghanaian  development  expert  based  in  Accra,  under-
stands  both  sides  of  this  issue  and  feels  strongly  that  “Ghanaians  must
change. We must be more responsible with the foreign aid that we receive.
We  must  embrace  the  need  to  lift  ourselves  up  by  our  bootstraps  if  any
partnership has a chance of success.” 
Research  confirms  that  sustained  personal  change  must  be  accompa-
nied by sustainable change at the systemic and institutional levels of a soci-
ety. Ghana, America’s shining example of good governance and democra-
cy in Africa, has an annual governmental budget that is more than 60 per-
cent supported through foreign aid. The last Bush administration granted
Ghana $547 million through the Millennium Challenge Corporation, the
largest aid award in Ghana’s history. “That is a lot of money to spend, and
I want to know how we are going to see the full value of it reflected in the
lives of the average Ghanaian,” said Bob, an American who works on an
agricultural development project in Ghana. The belief is that a truly com-
mitted  Obama  administration  will  help  Ghana  achieve  economic  inde-
pendence  and  freedom  from  reliance  upon  foreign  aid  with  a  “mutually
responsible” and determined timetable. This must be a core deliverable in
the manifestation of Obama’s intention that “Africa’s future should be up
to Africans.”
But in her own way, Africa must find her way. This alone will break
the vestiges of colonialism and neo-colonialism and incite a conscious-
ness  of  African  humanity,  cross-tribal  collaboration  and  ethnic  unity.
This alone will stomp out the forces of self-sabotage, learned helpless-
ness  and  uninspiring  leadership  that  diminish  the  good  intentions  of
some  recipients  of  foreign  aid  in  Africa  and  beyond.  The  democracy,
opportunity,  health  and  peaceful  conflict  resolution  that  the  Obama
administration seeks to support will only happen as a natural outcome
of a Ghana that fully owns, benefits from and embraces its destiny

 

Obama’s firm message
against corruption
led some
people to wonder why
Western leaders are so quick
to mention corruption when
they talk about Africa.
“Africa was poor long before
it was corrupt.  Why are
Western leaders comfortable
talking to Africans in this
way? When they go to China
or Russia, both of which are
known for corruption, they
don’t talk to them about
[such things],” says Rosa
Whitaker, who also served as
a former U.S. trade
representative to Africa.  “I

was pleased with President
Obama, but I was
disappointed that he was the
first president to come to
Africa since the enactment of
the AGOA who did not talk
about it. He did, however,
mention the importance of
market access, but the AGOA
delivers to Africa $63 billion
each year, [which] is the
value of African products
being sold in the U.S. Three
hundred thousand jobs in
Africa depend upon AGOA,
and it may expire. I would like
to see it expanded.” 


Regina Dennis, supervising program officer,
U.S. Agency for International Development: 
The Obamas represent a commitment to service

U.S. civil service
professionals such
as Regina Dennis will serve
as the key implementers
of the partnership
strategy that President
Obama has proposed.
In her spare time, Dennis
takes President Obama’s
track record of community
service to a global level. As
the founding past president
of the Accra chapter of
Toastmasters International,
she helps Ghanaian
professionals find their
voices as effective and
powerful communicators to
local and international

audiences.  She further
challenges young American
professionals, especially
African-Americans, to
seriously consider careers
in the international civil
service (which, she
mentioned, is hiring.)
Dennis had the opportunity
to meet the president and
was one of the key people on
the ground in Ghana who
supported the White
House’s observance of local
Ghanaian protocol and
honored traditional African
practices. “I am hopeful that
President Obama’s visit will
inspire others, especially
African-Americans, to
consider a career in
international foreign service. I
knew that a career in the
foreign service would help me
grow as a person,” she says.
In her role as a supervising
program officer, she is
responsible for managing a
$115 million budget for
designing and monitoring
economic and sustainable
development programs.


Young Africans

An evening spent at Busy
Internet,
the most popular
Internet café in Accra, found
young Africans interested in
life-building opportunities.
They are industrious and
interested in being in the best
possible positions to build
successful lives for
themselves.  This sentiment
was repeated often in their
comments, both from some
who are hoping to find their
way to the U.S. and others
who have lived in this country
and have now returned to
Ghana ready to build a future
in the motherland.  Kofi Anku,
a young Ghanaian realtor
who has lived in the U.S.  and
is now back in Ghana, said of
Obama’s visit, “Africans in
the U.S. are economic
immigrants. They are there in
search of opportunities. If the

proposed partnership
creates business
opportunities for young
African people, especially
those of us who want to
become entrepreneurs, we
will come back home. For
example, now we have
technology that goes into the
African bush. This wasn’t
possible before and the
opportunities are limitless.”


Rita Marley: 

Obama as a “natural mystic”

“Love brought me to
Ghana. A love that
goes beyond place.”
Ghana is a dream come true
for its most famous
repatriated member of the
Diaspora, Rita Marley, widow
of legendary reggae singer
Bob Marley, and her family.
“Growing up in Jamaica, the
Caribbean, we use to say
they [slave traders] carried
us beyond. It was ordained
that I should return home.
After Bob died, I came to
Ghana for a concert. The
stones were glistening on the
beach and someone said to
me, ‘This is where diamonds
come from.’” Upon returning
to Jamaica, she told her
family how impressed she

was with Ghana, its people,
its food. 
After moving to Accra, Rita
knew that she was supposed
to settle on a mountaintop.
So she went to the chief of
the nearest mountain village
outside the city. Much to her
surprise, the village received
her warmly and she was
subsequently enstooled as a
queen mother. “Bob always
told me I was a Black queen.
So when they told me they
wanted to make me a queen
mother, I accepted it.” 
Generous in her support of
local projects, Marley says
“Barack Obama’s dynasty
means a lot because he
comes from Africa. He must
have listened to Bob when he
was a boy. He was able to
take the doubts and fears out
of our minds and teach us,
yes we can. If Bob were here,
he would have encouraged
President Obama to continue
to give a voice to the
voiceless. He would have
asked the Obamas to help
create a one Africa, because
Africa must unite. That is the
role of a natural mystic.”