President Barack Obama walks with Ghana President John Atta Mills, right, at the Presidential Palace in Accra, Ghana, Saturday, July 11, 2009. In his first visit to sub-Saharan Africa since taking office.

President Barack Obama walks with Ghana President John Atta Mills, right, at the Presidential Palace in Accra, Ghana, Saturday, July 11, 2009. In his first visit to sub-Saharan Africa since taking office.

U.S. President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama meet with pregnant women during a tour of LA General Hospital in Accra July 11, 2009.

U.S. President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama meet with pregnant women during a tour of LA General Hospital in Accra July 11, 2009.

Vendor with Obama memorabilia in Ghana, July 11, 2009

Vendor with Obama memorabilia in Ghana, July 11, 2009

I spoke to Ghana today. Everyone is thrilled with Obama’s visit. They loved his speech. Throughout the whole country people were watching and enjoying. At the same time, almost everyone is also adamantly against AFRICOM.

People were praising how simple and natural Obama is. They said the visit to Cape Coast Castle was very sad. Nobody can visit there without being affected. And everyone admired the way the Obamas interacted with the people they met, including the musicians and dancers performing at the airport to see them off. The whole country was watching and enjoying the visit. There were posters, signs and commerative items everywhere. The coverage has been wildly enthusiastic, but with some well placed and serious skepticism about US motives.

In his speech Obama included the following:

We must start from the simple premise that Africa’s future is up to Africans.

First, we must support strong and sustainable democratic governments. As I said in Cairo, each nation gives life to democracy in its own way, and in line with its own traditions. But history offers a clear verdict: governments that respect the will of their own people are more prosperous, more stable and more successful than governments that do not. This is about more than holding elections — it’s also about what happens between them. Repression takes many forms, and too many nations are plagued by problems that condemn their people to poverty. No country is going to create wealth if its leaders exploit the economy to enrich themselves, or police can be bought off by drug traffickers. No business wants to invest in a place where the government skims 20 percent off the top, or the head of the port authority is corrupt. No person wants to live in a society where the rule of law gives way to the rule of brutality and bribery. That is not democracy, that is tyranny, and now is the time for it to end.

In the 21st century, capable, reliable and transparent institutions are the key to success — strong parliaments and honest police forces; independent judges and journalists; a vibrant private sector and civil society. Those are the things that give life to democracy, because that is what matters in peoples’ lives. …


Africa doesn’t need strongmen, it needs strong institutions.

America will not seek to impose any system of government on any other nation — the essential truth of democracy is that each nation determines its own destiny. What we will do is increase assistance for responsible individuals and institutions, with a focus on supporting good governance — on parliaments, which check abuses of power and ensure that opposition voices are heard; on the rule of law, which ensures the equal administration of justice; on civic participation, so that young people get involved; and on concrete solutions to corruption like forensic accounting, automating services, strengthening hot lines and protecting whistle-blowers to advance transparency and accountability. As we provide this support, I have directed my administration to give greater attention to corruption in our human rights report. People everywhere should have the right to start a business or get an education without paying a bribe. We have a responsibility to support those who act responsibly and to isolate those who don’t, and that is exactly what America will do.

Obama used the word partnership a number of times speaking of:

This mutual responsibility must be the foundation of our partnership. And today, I will focus on four areas that are critical to the future of Africa and the entire developing world: democracy; opportunity; health; and the peaceful resolution of conflict.

This last, peaceful resolution of conflict, is how he chose to characterize military partnership. I wondered some about the use of the word partnership throughout the speech. This is a word the Africa Command uses a lot. And I wondered if the use of it repeated in the speech was to soften and blur the definition away from military partnership. Military partnership and the Africa Command have caused ongoing debate and articles in the Ghana news and on GhanaWeb. Obama is very popular, but the Africa Command is not popular at all. Military partnership means, among other things, military proxies, training African militaries to fight for US interests.

In Obama’s words on military partnership:

the final area that I will address is conflict.

Africans are standing up for this future. Here, too, Ghana is helping to point the way forward. Ghanaians should take pride in your contributions to peacekeeping from Congo to Liberia to Lebanon, and in your efforts to resist the scourge of the drug trade. We welcome the steps that are being taken by organizations like the African Union and ECOWAS to better resolve conflicts, keep the peace, and support those in need. And we encourage the vision of a strong, regional security architecture that can bring effective, transnational force to bear when needed. America has a responsibility to advance this vision, not just with words, but with support that strengthens African capacity. When there is genocide in Darfur or terrorists in Somalia, these are not simply African problems — they are global security challenges, and they demand a global response. That is why we stand ready to partner through diplomacy, technical assistance, and logistical support, and will stand behind efforts to hold war criminals accountable. And let me be clear: our Africa Command is focused not on establishing a foothold in the continent, but on confronting these common challenges to advance the security of America, Africa and the world.

This sounds good, but there are very few specifics and still plenty of reason for skepticism.

An article in The Scotman sees AFRICOM HQ in Ghana as a done deal:

Controversial matters such as the impending transfer of US Africa Command’s HQ from Germany to Ghana, heavy narcotics trafficking and burgeoning oil production, are topics for Mr Obama’s talks with Ghanaian president John Atta Mills.

On development, I tend to agree with Kwesi Pratt:

What we need in the developing world, is not gifts and not aid. What we need must be fair trade. If we could get equitable prices for our products and so on, we could make it on our own.

In putting responsibility squarely on Africans, Obama glossed over ongoing interference in African governance by the US and others. Without this interference, arming sides and picking favorites, Africa could work out its own problems. Obama criticised the violence stemming from the recent Kenyan election, but the US actively interfered with that election. If Obama actually intends to back off from this interfering behaviour, I heartily endorse him.

The Africa Command is wildly unpopular in Ghana, as Kwesi Pratt also said:

The Cheney report also makes a recommendation for the establishment of military bases in order to protect American interests and American oil. For me these are the two key reasons why the United States and Obama are interested in this. It has nothing to do with democracy, but the preservation of American interests.

In Ghana, I do not think there’s any possibility of establishing such a presence, [AFRICOM] because it will be resisted

And NO to AFRICOM has been the overwhelming sentiment expressed in the articles and in the comments published in Ghana news sources and on GhanaWeb.

As Nii Akuetteh says in the same interview with Kwesi Pratt:

Currently, a lot of the oil comes from Nigeria and we know that in southeastern Nigeria, where the oil is, there is a lot of agitation, even including some violence because oil companies from Shell to Chevron have been behaving in a predatory manner. Therefore, the oil is an issue, and the establishment of AFRICOM, where twisting arms of African governments to agree to host AFRICOM, has also been going on. I do support Kwesi. He’s been leading the fight in Ghana to make sure that it doesn’t come. I think the democracy factor is one small factor and it is up to us in Washington and around the United States to make sure that it becomes bigger in the calculations of Mr. Obama. So it is up to us to push him. And because he himself has said it, and his staff in the White House also did say that democracy and governance in Ghana is the reason they chose Ghana, our strategy here in Washington is, okay, we will hold them to their words. We will make sure that any agreement they sign, U.S. policy, U.S. aid projects, put the priority on democracy and strengthening civil society.

And that is what must be done. President Obama has said he values democracy. It was the main theme of his speech. That is the reason he told us he chose to visit Ghana, to recognize and honor its vibrant and successful democracy. But democracy is always fragile. We have seen that in the United States in the last decade. People in Ghana and the US must keep pushing for more democracy, for strengthening civil society, and for the transparency and accountability that makes democracy possible.

In some ways I worry the Obama visit is honoring Ghanaian democracy by offering Ghana the tools and means to dismantle that democracy. But the symbolic importance and resonance of Obama, that the US has elected a black man, the son of an African, with the name Barack Hussein Obama, as president, cannot be overstated. If he is not all we would wish, we ourselves need to make our democratic ideals and aspirations manifest.

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Pictures of Obama from GhanaWeb
Pictures of Obama in Ghana from Yahoo, view as slideshow or gallery.

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Added July 12, links to stories from GhanaWeb on Obama in Ghana. You can view the comments to the stories for more opinions. Be advised there will be some rude and partisan remarks in the comments to the articles, democracy allows for all opinions to be voiced.

Text of Obama’s speech to parliament
Dignitaries savour Obama’s speech
Obama begins historic visit to Ghana
Obama in Ghana on first sub-Saharan Africa visit
Where will Obama Sleep?
Guests for breakfast meeting to park vehicles at State House
Obama admits to be a long admirer of Ghana
Obama lauds La Hospital
Obama tours Cape Coast Castle
Oguaa residents step out early to welcome Obama
Expectant crowd disappointed as security prevents them from seeing Obam
Africa to shape the 21st century- Obama
Obama leaves after Ghana visit

YouTube videos on Obama’s visit:
Ghana goes Obama-mad in preparation for president’s visit (ITN News)
Obama’s Ghana Speech – July 11, 2009 (Part 1 of 4, 8:19)
Obama’s Ghana Speech – July 11, 2009 (Part 2 of 4, 8:39)
Obama’s Ghana Speech – July 11, 2009 (Part 3 of 4, 8:07)
Obama’s Ghana Speech – July 11, 2009 (Part 4 of 4, 8:35)
Welcome song for Obama to Ghana, An All-Star welcome song for President Obama on his visit to Ghana, Africa July 10-11 (4:43)

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