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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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David Isenberg wrote in his Dogs of War column Friday discussing whether or not PMCs are cost effective.

If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it countless times: Governments and corporations turn to private military contractors because it is more cost-effective than using regular military forces. But is it true?

But whether it’s true that contractors are cost effective is at best an open question, the answer to which depends, in part, on what you mean by cost.

While outsourcing can be effective, doing things in-house is often easier and quicker. You avoid the expense and hassle of haggling, and retain operational reliability and control, which is especially important to the military.

Then there is the fact that outsourcing works best when there’s genuine competition among suppliers. …

The Bush/Cheney administration has greatly reduced competition:

An analysis showed that fewer than half of all “contract actions” -­ new contracts and payments against existing contracts -­ were now subject to full and open competition. Just 48 percent were competitive in 2005, down from 79 percent in 2001.

Many academics who examine the issue of the relative cost of private versus public point to the politics behind the ways one can measure cost. What you include or exclude can be a complicated, and highly political, exercise. Economists disagree on how to answer the question at least in part because they use different variables when measuring cost.

… What little cost-benefit analysis there has been to date has focused on narrow economic cost comparisons and generally avoided addressing equally important political factors, such as avoiding tough choices concerning military needs, reserve call-ups and the human consequences of war.

As Tyler Cowen, an economics professor at George Mason University, wrote, “Excessive use of private contractors erodes checks and balances, and it substitutes market transactions, controlled by the executive branch, for traditional political mechanisms of accountability. When it comes to Iraq, we’ve yet to see the evidence of a large practical gain in return; instead, use of contractors may have helped to make an ill-advised venture possible.”

And related to the “human consequences of war”, one big question is who pays which costs? The military budget, and the government’s operating budget are hardly the only ones affected. Many employees of the PMC corporations are finding that their immediate employer is a shell incorporated outside the US to avoid US laws, such as medical coverage for the PMC employees. Quite a number of PMC employees are third country nationals, and as individuals, may have to carry a lot of the cost of their participation. The other cost may be to their countries of origin. What needs or expectations will they bring back? And how will their training in Iraq affect their participation in society and government at home?

Outsourcing is a way of cost shifting rather than cost saving. I see it every day. The young Spanish speaking woman who cleans our offices daily is our colleague. She does a superb job. Yet the contractor she works for pays her minimum wage and no benefits. My employer “saves” money by not paying permanent employees salaries and benefits to do the cleaning. The costs are shifted onto the individual at the bottom of the pay scale who is least able to bear these costs. And of course, the costs come back to government, which must deal with the emergency situations this cost shifting generates. Walmart is famous for these cost shifting “savings”, but its size makes it visible, it is hardly alone.

As Isenberg says, it depends on what you mean by cost.

I am a member of a commission that awards about half a dozen scholarships per year to the local community college. A scholarship pays for a full year of in state tuition, and students can reapply for more than one year. This two year college does a very good job of educating students who come from all over the world, providing them with associate degrees that will give them chances to get better jobs, and to further their careers. Many of the applicants come to the US from other countries. Most came here with their families when they were younger. Some are separated from their families. Many of them were displaced from their homes by war. And the US has often had varying degrees of involvement or responsibility for these wars.

Last night we reviewed the applicants for this year. They were a good group, most with real potential. There was one girl applying this year who fled Sudan. Her family fled and she heard her father had died. Her mother kept them together, fed and sheltered. But war came again. Her mother had a breakdown, and they had to drug her in order to bring her with them when they fled. Eventually she and her family arrived in the United States, and she attended public schools. Another young applicant had fled war in Guatemala, a country in which the US has had a long involvement, managed to get to the United States and attend public schools. Over the six years I have been on this commission we have read many biographical essays by many students who have fled horrors, and suffered here, but refuse to quit.

There are opportunities in the United States, but it is not a kindly place, particularly these days. If you are undocumented it can be brutal. People here, including citizens, often live isolated lives with no support network. If you have a child, or children, there is often no one to turn to for help. And undocumented immigrants often have no legal protections. Many immigrants, in fact many citizens, have to work multiple jobs, because one job may not even pay housing costs. The young applicants we review lead complicated lives, and their stories are often heart breaking. Making the scholarship decision is often very difficult because all the applicants have financial need, and all are deserving. Not all our applicants are immigrants, among those who are immigrants, some are economic refugees, but many are here because their families fled war. In their essays many of these young people say they wish to be back in their own countries, without war.

After spending my evening reviewing these applicants and their stories, and the mostly glowing recommendations from their teachers, this morning I read the latest post from Riverbend in Baghdad. She and her family are leaving Baghdad. She writes:

The Great Wall of Segregation…

…Which is the wall the current Iraqi government is building (with the support and guidance of the Americans). It’s a wall that is intended to separate and isolate what is now considered the largest ‘Sunni’ area in Baghdad- let no one say the Americans are not building anything. According to plans the Iraqi puppets and Americans cooked up, it will ‘protect’ A’adhamiya, a residential/mercantile area that the current Iraqi government and their death squads couldn’t empty of Sunnis.

The wall, of course, will protect no one. I sometimes wonder if this is how the concentration camps began in Europe. The Nazi government probably said, “Oh look- we’re just going to protect the Jews with this little wall here- it will be difficult for people to get into their special area to hurt them!” And yet, it will also be difficult to get out.

The Wall is the latest effort to further break Iraqi society apart. Promoting and supporting civil war isn’t enough, apparently- Iraqis have generally proven to be more tenacious and tolerant than their mullahs, ayatollahs, and Vichy leaders. It’s time for America to physically divide and conquer- like Berlin before the wall came down or Palestine today. This way, they can continue chasing Sunnis out of “Shia areas” and Shia out of “Sunni areas”.

I always hear the Iraqi pro-war crowd interviewed on television from foreign capitals (they can only appear on television from the safety of foreign capitals because I defy anyone to be publicly pro-war in Iraq). They refuse to believe that their religiously inclined, sectarian political parties fueled this whole Sunni/Shia conflict. They refuse to acknowledge that this situation is a direct result of the war and occupation. They go on and on about Iraq’s history and how Sunnis and Shia were always in conflict and I hate that. I hate that a handful of expats who haven’t been to the country in decades pretend to know more about it than people actually living there.

I remember Baghdad before the war- one could live anywhere. We didn’t know what our neighbors were- we didn’t care. No one asked about religion or sect. No one bothered with what was considered a trivial topic: are you Sunni or Shia? You only asked something like that if you were uncouth and backward. Our lives revolve around it now. Our existence depends on hiding it or highlighting it- depending on the group of masked men who stop you or raid your home in the middle of the night.
(emphasis mine)

The United States needs to deal with other countries in ways in which the military is the last option, not the first. Oil has been behind a number of the wars that have sent refugees fleeing into other countries and to the US. Oil is behind the Iraq war. And oil is behind recent US interest in Africa, including Ghana. That is the background for creating the US Africa Command. The people involved in Africom talk about leading with diplomacy, and talk about peaceful intentions. I recently heard a soldier interviewed on TV who said, the job of soldiers is to kill people and break their stuff (he said as opposed to police, whose job is to protect people and protect their stuff.) As long as your military is your lead contact with a country, the people you contact are in danger. The US should not be making it unsafe for people to stay in their own countries.

Pay is low in Ghana, and it can be a long time between paychecks. A policeman makes the equivalent of about $100 per month. On this he needs to feed his family, clothe them, pay school fees, and housing expenses. This low pay is an invitation to corruption, especially when the citizens see the people at the top taking bribes, “gifts”, and profiting from the drug trade. Everyone gets the message that this is how business is done.

In December a number of prison workers in my region were not paid, and had to ask for credit in order to buy food to celebrate Christmas with their families. I have posted before about health care workers low pay and incentive to move abroad, citing this article in the New England Journal of Medicine that describes the issue.

If the police and the prison workers cannot make ends meet, how can we expect them to uphold the law fairly, bring criminals to justice, and keep convicted criminals jailed. Big criminals, whose crimes, such as drug dealing bring large profits, are in a very good position to bribe their way out of legal entanglements if the people responsible for enforcing the law cannot make a living wage. Reports vary on if, and how well, the Ghana government is enforcing the drug laws.

Recently, a post on Say It Loud read:

I travelled to Holland some days ago, and at the last check point before entering the plane, I was SHOCKED to be SEARCHED (not only me, but all the passengers) by some white foreigners. I asked them who gave them the power to search Ghanaians, at the last check point & the answer was: “Your govt.” we’re looking for drugs’) I almost fell down. This was real & were searched by Kufuor’s own white Security people. What happened to our local (Ghanaian) security personnel?

In reply, another comment stated a particularly important point:

I am sure that if we give Ghanaians the same training and the SAME SALARY that these white men are given, they will do a better job.

Another comment added:

They (those looking for drugs) should go to the VIP lounge.
The VIP lounge is where the NPP top dogs (Kufuor administration) pass with their drug cargoes.