Thursday, July 30, 2009

Guestblogging on

Hi everyone,
Please check out the guest entry I wrote about how Ghanaian men "con" women on the streets at

Peace and love,

image credits:

Monday, July 27, 2009

What not to wear to XL, a nightclub in Accra

Last Saturday, after lounging with a couple of my usual SOS peeps at the Frankie's lounge, I decided to "broaden my horizon" small and hang out with a different crowd. Twist (also known as headlines) was closed. So me and my peeps go to XL. My first time. Theirs too.

Including myself, our party consists of 3 women, 1 man. We get to the entrance. There's a bouncer. I'm wearing jeans, a tank top and 3-inch heels...well, my hair is loced. My girls are both around 6 feet tall, jeans, nice tops, and one of 'em has locs as well, whilst the other has a chunky afro. But....they're both wearing flats. Understandable since they really do not need the height that the heels bring. The bouncer is not happy. Apparently to enter XL, women are required to wear heels. We're all like for real? You've got to me kidding us! We see a man entering in flip flops. Damn!

One of my girls, let's call her Kemi, asks why they have such a stupid rule. Another points out we're being discriminated against. The bouncer seems unfazed. We ask why there is no poster announcing the dresscode. Bouncer looks blankly past us. Kemi asks what else a woman can't wear to XL. Answer: round neck tops. aka t-shirts. sneakers. and other such comfortable clothing. hehe. A jamaican woman in flats also approaches only to hear the news from us. She cusses. Who is listening?

After bitching for a while, my party crowds back into our beat car, and the guy, Nduka drives us to Afro (another club in the same airport area) where us ladies got to enter free of charge. Flats and all. The time was a few minutes before 1 am. It was only my 2nd time at Afro. We order drinks, and get lost among the energetic boogeying crowd.

Personally, I'm not going back to XL. Ever. Don't need the stress. heels? tseeeeeeew.

Have you ever been bounced at a Ghana club? What can't one wear where? And what do you think of these dress requirements?

Monday, July 20, 2009

Obama’s Visit to Ghana and its implications for Africa

Written by Ernesto Yeboah

Amid excitements over President Obama’s first visit to sub-Saharan Africa since taking office, were debates over why he chose Ghana in the first place. While some insisted that it was because of Ghana’s new found oil, President Obama maintained that he chose Ghana to “highlight” its adherence to democratic principles and institutions, ensuring the kind of stability that brings prosperity.

In his address to Africa from Ghana’s Parliament on Saturday, President Obama’s deep-seated concerns of what he felt has resulted in Africa’s scourge had no hiding place. In deed, the clarity of the 47 year old president’s speech made it difficult to escape the understanding of any civic minded individual including human rights violators like President Omar Hassan Al-Bashir of Sudan and his counterpart, President Yayah Jamel of Gambia.

The speech was also directed at those African leaders who for instance, trooped to the funeral of the recently deceased president of Gabon, Omar Bongo, generously showering praise and eulogizing a long-running autocrat widely known as having stolen his country’s oil wealth on the way to becoming one of the richest Presidents on the Continent, just like his mentor, Mobutuseseseku of desecrated memory in Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of Congo.

It is striking to know that both were devourers, all who stole their way to power, they all amassed the wealth of their country, and they all left their people one of the poorest in the world. Now, because these characters abound so much on our continent, it became rapidly clear that the 47 year old man couldn’t have addressed the issues without seeming to be undermining the intelligence of all Africans in the process. In deed somebody remarked right after his speech,” I felt insulted…” Many Africans must have felt insulted too at a point in his speech but they would also admit that Obama couldn’t have said them any more intelligently.

Significantly, although President Obama’s sermon was nothing new, as he reechoed what is already in us and what Africa’s great leaders have always stood for, his visit points to Ghana as the path for Africa’s political development. His continuous reference to the building of democratic principles and institutions essentially assumed the character of his speech. We will take time to visit the spirit of the speech too but for now, it is the character. He said, “In the 21st century, capable, reliable, and transparent institutions are the key to success—strong parliaments; honest police forces; independent judges; an independent press; a vibrant private sector; a civil society. Those are the things that give life to democracy, because that is what matters in people's everyday lives…”

In a continent where conflict is just but a way of life; where leaders steal and brutalize humanity without cringing; where Rule of Law is utopian and Military coups recur; where women are raped, babies pounded and hands and legs of otherwise productive men amputated because of tribe or political affiliation, we couldn’t have agreed with him more. In such an environment, hope becomes a revolutionary aspiration and once again, the only people who are usually able to fall on it convincingly to bring about the needed change are our ordinary men and women, mothers and children. This is exactly what they did when they fought to bring independence to Africa. Thus, one of the major implications of Obama’s speech beneficially, is the psychological uplifting it brings to Africa.

As old men and women, some professors others nothing, sat listening to the brilliant Youngman preach on the features and gains of democracy, the need for quality health care, an end to conflict and the realization of opportunity, what ever must have been going on in their minds, will gradually result in the causal acceptance of the youth of also being able to contribute meaningfully when given the chance.

In the coming days our young men and women on the continent will be breaking into the circles of not just politics but governance. Barely a week after President Obama’s departure, Ghanaian youths are reported to have stormed the Parliament demanding for the passage of a National Youth Policy. Already, our curios and adventurous youths all across the continent have made dominant strides in the ICT world; they are involved in businesses and inventions and are already beginning to look inward for answers. Before Obama would say that “We must start from the simple premise that Africa's future is up to Africans”, these Africans had already concluded in their strides to convert their energies to building exactly what Obama came to admire, “a Kenyan Per capita economy larger than South Korea’s before he was born.”

President Obama added that “Disease and conflict have ravaged parts of the African continent” and even went on to admit that “The West has often approached Africa as a patron or a source of resources rather than a partner”. The stolen lands of Zimbabwe immediately came to mind. But Obama surprisingly excuses the west of not having a hand in “the destruction of the Zimbabwean economy over the last decade, or wars in which children are enlisted as combatants.” So what about the diamonds of Sierra Leone, who bought them?

The perfidy of these artifices cannot be too strongly denounced because in it lies America’s way forward, not Africa’s way forward, taking into account America’s foreign policy which places loyalty in permanent interest over friends. Although he did not touch on African Unification which is clearly in Africa’s interest, the real motive of their Africa command (Africom) was latent in his speech. He insists that the Command is not focused on establishing “a foothold in the continent, but on confronting common challenges to advance the security of America, Africa and the world.” But there is no way this is possible if America does not intend to establish a foothold in Africa; just as their physical presence was material to the destruction and killing of innocent civilians in Afghanistan and Iraq in search of Osama Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein respectively, so would their physical presence be material in confronting common challenges to advance the security of America, Africa and the world as he puts it.

America intends to establish a military base somewhere in Africa, the people of Ghana are poised to resist it, and so must every African country. We must realize that if those first stones that came to build the Cape Coast and Elmina castles were resisted, Ghana and to some extent Africa would have been excused from colonialism even after signing the bond of 1844. We in Ghana have come to realize that politics respects power and Africa will always be peripheral so far as we gleefully stay apart in our insignificant inferior sovereignties. We cannot be swollen headed therefore by some of the good things president Obama said about us until that total unification of Africa has come. But it won’t come by itself, unless we fight for it.

It was shocking to find in Eritrea just three years ago that shop owners and keepers could leave their shops open for prayers to the mosque and back to find everything intact; they have an honest and upright police force who would not accept or ask for a dime for service rendered or an appreciated service; and an unlettered market men and women who advance their trade with measuring scales, indicating their mathematical abilities and their great potential to develop. Africa abounds with sincere people who would return evil with good; we have admirable brains to turn things around. However, it is this stunning brilliance and ingenuity of the African and its lack of exploitation that is sadly the curse in our situation today.

Africa is confident. The future is bright. Despite the great difficulties that were encountered in communication, the social interactions that begun amongst the African people long ago have eventually grown and ceded into the integration efforts long commenced by our forefathers. Thus, whether it is liked or not the integration is inevitable, day in and day out we realize how likeminded we are as a people. Company’s and businesses are fast positioning themselves to receive all the goodies it promises to bring, the youth, with the gift of hope all across Africa are building friendships and fostering partnerships through the internet with the aim of meeting someday. Africa is seasoned enough to brave the storm. For the majority of us, economic meltdowns are a daily affair; they only became global when the mightier started falling. Today, America borrows from China, given a choice to choose between the falling and the standing, I don’t think Africa will make a mistake.

Our leaders therefore, must recommit themselves to their separate oaths of office and collectively lead to protect the sovereign interest of the people. From today, they must bare in mind that in all their relationships with the world overseas, the key consideration must be not merely the superficial or even intrinsic advantage of such relationships for the given African country but the obligation to the African continent as a whole. However, our affirmations will be hollow unless we accept this approach as the principal guide to our actions.

Ernesto Yeboah, Ghana

Saturday, July 11, 2009

What Africans Think About Obama's Speech to Ghana

Text of President Barack Obama's speech Saturday in Accra, Ghana, as prepared for delivery and provided by the White House:
Good morning. It is an honor for me to be in Accra, and to speak to the representatives of the people of Ghana. I am deeply grateful for the welcome that I've received, as are Michelle, Malia and Sasha Obama. Ghana's history is rich, the ties between our two countries are strong, and I am proud that this is my first visit to sub-Saharan Africa as President of the United States.
I am speaking to you at the end of a long trip. I began in Russia, for a Summit between two great powers. I traveled to Italy, for a meeting of the world's leading economies. And I have come here, to Ghana, for a simple reason: the 21st century will be shaped by what happens not just in Rome or Moscow or Washington, but by what happens in Accra as well.

This is the simple truth of a time when the boundaries between people are overwhelmed by our connections. Your prosperity can expand America's. Your health and security can contribute to the world's. And the strength of your democracy can help advance human rights for people everywhere.
So I do not see the countries and peoples of Africa as a world apart; I see Africa as a fundamental part of our interconnected world — as partners with America on behalf of the future that we want for all our children. That partnership must be grounded in mutual responsibility, and that is what I want to speak with you about today.
We must start from the simple premise that Africa's future is up to Africans.
I say this knowing full well the tragic past that has sometimes haunted this part of the world. I have the blood of Africa within me, and my family's own story encompasses both the tragedies and triumphs of the larger African story.
My grandfather was a cook for the British in Kenya, and though he was a respected elder in his village, his employers called him "boy" for much of his life. He was on the periphery of Kenya's liberation struggles, but he was still imprisoned briefly during repressive times. In his life, colonialism wasn't simply the creation of unnatural borders or unfair terms of trade — it was something experienced personally, day after day, year after year.
My father grew up herding goats in a tiny village, an impossible distance away from the American universities where he would come to get an education. He came of age at an extraordinary moment of promise for Africa. The struggles of his own father's generation were giving birth to new nations, beginning right here in Ghana. Africans were educating and asserting themselves in new ways. History was on the move.

But despite the progress that has been made — and there has been considerable progress in parts of Africa — we also know that much of that promise has yet to be fulfilled. Countries like Kenya, which had a per capita economy larger than South Korea's when I was born, have been badly outpaced. Disease and conflict have ravaged parts of the African continent. In many places, the hope of my father's generation gave way to cynicism, even despair.

It is easy to point fingers, and to pin the blame for these problems on others. Yes, a colonial map that made little sense bred conflict, and the West has often approached Africa as a patron, rather than a partner. But the West is not responsible for the destruction of the Zimbabwean economy over the last decade, or wars in which children are enlisted as combatants. In my father's life, it was partly tribalism and patronage in an independent Kenya that for a long stretch derailed his career, and we know that this kind of corruption is a daily fact of life for far too many.

Of course, we also know that is not the whole story. Here in Ghana, you show us a face of Africa that is too often overlooked by a world that sees only tragedy or the need for charity. The people of Ghana have worked hard to put democracy on a firmer footing, with peaceful transfers of power even in the wake of closely contested elections. And with improved governance and an emerging civil society, Ghana's economy has shown impressive rates of growth.

This progress may lack the drama of the 20th century's liberation struggles, but make no mistake: it will ultimately be more significant. For just as it is important to emerge from the control of another nation, it is even more important to build one's own.

So I believe that this moment is just as promising for Ghana — and for Africa — as the moment when my father came of age and new nations were being born. This is a new moment of promise. Only this time, we have learned that it will not be giants like Nkrumah and Kenyatta who will determine Africa's future. Instead, it will be you — the men and women in Ghana's Parliament, and the people you represent. Above all, it will be the young people — brimming with talent and energy and hope — who can claim the future that so many in my father's generation never found.
To realize that promise, we must first recognize a fundamental truth that you have given life to in Ghana: development depends upon good governance. That is the ingredient which has been missing in far too many places, for far too long. That is the change that can unlock Africa's potential. And that is a responsibility that can only be met by Africans.

As for America and the West, our commitment must be measured by more than just the dollars we spend. I have pledged substantial increases in our foreign assistance, which is in Africa's interest and America's. But 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.

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.

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.

Time and again, Ghanaians have chosen Constitutional rule over autocracy, and shown a democratic spirit that allows the energy of your people to break through. We see that in leaders who accept defeat graciously, and victors who resist calls to wield power against the opposition. We see that spirit in courageous journalists like Anas Aremeyaw Anas, who risked his life to report the truth. We see it in police like Patience Quaye, who helped prosecute the first human trafficker in Ghana. We see it in the young people who are speaking up against patronage and participating in the political process.

Across Africa, we have seen countless examples of people taking control of their destiny and making change from the bottom up. We saw it in Kenya, where civil society and business came together to help stop postelection violence. We saw it in South Africa, where over three quarters of the country voted in the recent election — the fourth since the end of apartheid. We saw it in Zimbabwe, where the Election Support Network braved brutal repression to stand up for the principle that a person's vote is their sacred right.

Make no mistake: history is on the side of these brave Africans and not with those who use coups or change Constitutions to stay in power. 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.
This leads directly to our second area of partnership — supporting development that provides opportunity for more people.

With better governance, I have no doubt that Africa holds the promise of a broader base for prosperity. The continent is rich in natural resources. And from cell phone entrepreneurs to small farmers, Africans have shown the capacity and commitment to create their own opportunities. But old habits must also be broken. Dependence on commodities — or on a single export — concentrates wealth in the hands of the few and leaves people too vulnerable to downturns.

In Ghana, for instance, oil brings great opportunities, and you have been responsible in preparing for new revenue. But as so many Ghanaians know, oil cannot simply become the new cocoa. From South Korea to Singapore, history shows that countries thrive when they invest in their people and infrastructure; when they promote multiple export industries, develop a skilled work force and create space for small and medium-sized businesses that create jobs.

As Africans reach for this promise, America will be more responsible in extending our hand. By cutting costs that go to Western consultants and administration, we will put more resources in the hands of those who need it, while training people to do more for themselves. That is why our $3.5 billion food security initiative is focused on new methods and technologies for farmers — not simply sending American producers or goods to Africa. Aid is not an end in itself. The purpose of foreign assistance must be creating the conditions where it is no longer needed.

America can also do more to promote trade and investment. Wealthy nations must open our doors to goods and services from Africa in a meaningful way. And where there is good governance, we can broaden prosperity through public-private partnerships that invest in better roads and electricity; capacity-building that trains people to grow a business; and financial services that reach poor and rural areas. This is also in our own interest — for if people are lifted out of poverty and wealth is created in Africa, new markets will open for our own goods.

One area that holds out both undeniable peril and extraordinary promise is energy. Africa gives off less greenhouse gas than any other part of the world, but it is the most threatened by climate change. A warming planet will spread disease, shrink water resources and deplete crops, creating conditions that produce more famine and conflict. All of us — particularly the developed world — have a responsibility to slow these trends — through mitigation, and by changing the way that we use energy. But we can also work with Africans to turn this crisis into opportunity.

Together, we can partner on behalf of our planet and prosperity and help countries increase access to power while skipping the dirtier phase of development. Across Africa, there is bountiful wind and solar power; geothermal energy and bio-fuels. From the Rift Valley to the North African deserts; from the Western coast to South Africa's crops — Africa's boundless natural gifts can generate its own power, while exporting profitable, clean energy abroad.

These steps are about more than growth numbers on a balance sheet. They're about whether a young person with an education can get a job that supports a family; a farmer can transfer their goods to the market; or an entrepreneur with a good idea can start a business. It's about the dignity of work. Its about the opportunity that must exist for Africans in the 21st century.
Just as governance is vital to opportunity, it is also critical to the third area that I will talk about — strengthening public health.

In recent years, enormous progress has been made in parts of Africa. Far more people are living productively with HIV/AIDS, and getting the drugs they need. But too many still die from diseases that shouldn't kill them. When children are being killed because of a mosquito bite, and mothers are dying in childbirth, then we know that more progress must be made.
Yet because of incentives — often provided by donor nations — many African doctors and nurses understandably go overseas, or work for programs that focus on a single disease. This creates gaps in primary care and basic prevention. Meanwhile, individual Africans also have to make responsible choices that prevent the spread of disease, while promoting public health in their communities and countries.

Across Africa, we see examples of people tackling these problems. In Nigeria, an interfaith effort of Christians and Muslims has set an example of cooperation to confront malaria. Here in Ghana and across Africa, we see innovative ideas for filling gaps in care — for instance, through E-Health initiatives that allow doctors in big cities to support those in small towns.

America will support these efforts through a comprehensive, global health strategy. Because in the 21st century, we are called to act by our conscience and our common interest. When a child dies of a preventable illness in Accra, that diminishes us everywhere. And when disease goes unchecked in any corner of the world, we know that it can spread across oceans and continents.
That is why my administration has committed $63 billion to meet these challenges. Building on the strong efforts of President Bush, we will carry forward the fight against HIV/AIDS. We will pursue the goal of ending deaths from malaria and tuberculosis, and eradicating polio. We will fight neglected tropical disease. And we won't confront illnesses in isolation — we will invest in public health systems that promote wellness and focus on the health of mothers and children.
As we partner on behalf of a healthier future, we must also stop the destruction that comes not from illness, but from human beings — and so the final area that I will address is conflict.
Now let me be clear: Africa is not the crude caricature of a continent at war. But for far too many Africans, conflict is a part of life, as constant as the sun. There are wars over land and wars over resources. And it is still far too easy for those without conscience to manipulate whole communities into fighting among faiths and tribes.

These conflicts are a millstone around Africa's neck. We all have many identities — of tribe and ethnicity; of religion and nationality. But defining oneself in opposition to someone who belongs to a different tribe, or who worships a different prophet, has no place in the 21st century. Africa's diversity should be a source of strength, not a cause for division. We are all God's children. We all share common aspirations — to live in peace and security; to access education and opportunity; to love our families, our communities, and our faith. That is our common humanity.

That is why we must stand up to inhumanity in our midst. It is never justifiable to target innocents in the name of ideology. It is the death sentence of a society to force children to kill in wars. It is the ultimate mark of criminality and cowardice to condemn women to relentless and systematic rape. We must bear witness to the value of every child in Darfur and the dignity of every woman in Congo. No faith or culture should condone the outrages against them. All of us must strive for the peace and security necessary for progress.

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.
In Moscow, I spoke of the need for an international system where the universal rights of human beings are respected, and violations of those rights are opposed. That must include a commitment to support those who resolve conflicts peacefully, to sanction and stop those who don't, and to help those who have suffered. But ultimately, it will be vibrant democracies like Botswana and Ghana which roll back the causes of conflict, and advance the frontiers of peace and prosperity.

As I said earlier, Africa's future is up to Africans.
The people of Africa are ready to claim that future. In my country, African-Americans — including so many recent immigrants — have thrived in every sector of society. We have done so despite a difficult past, and we have drawn strength from our African heritage. With strong institutions and a strong will, I know that Africans can live their dreams in Nairobi and Lagos; in Kigali and Kinshasa; in Harare and right here in Accra.

Fifty-two years ago, the eyes of the world were on Ghana. And a young preacher named Martin Luther King traveled here, to Accra, to watch the Union Jack come down and the Ghanaian flag go up. This was before the march on Washington or the success of the civil rights movement in my country. Dr. King was asked how he felt while watching the birth of a nation. And he said: "It renews my conviction in the ultimate triumph of justice."

Now, that triumph must be won once more, and it must be won by you. And I am particularly speaking to the young people. In places like Ghana, you make up over half of the population. Here is what you must know: the world will be what you make of it.

You have the power to hold your leaders accountable and to build institutions that serve the people. You can serve in your communities and harness your energy and education to create new wealth and build new connections to the world. You can conquer disease, end conflicts and make change from the bottom up. You can do that. Yes you can. Because in this moment, history is on the move.

But these things can only be done if you take responsibility for your future. It won't be easy. It will take time and effort. There will be suffering and setbacks. But I can promise you this: America will be with you. As a partner. As a friend. Opportunity won't come from any other place, though — it must come from the decisions that you make, the things that you do, and the hope that you hold in your hearts.

Freedom is your inheritance. Now, it is your responsibility to build upon freedom's foundation. And if you do, we will look back years from now to places like Accra and say that this was the time when the promise was realized — this was the moment when prosperity was forged; pain was overcome; and a new era of progress began. This can be the time when we witness the triumph of justice once more. Thank you.

Well, Obama has had his say, but communication is a two-way street. So as Ghanaians, as young people , as Africans, what are your reactions? What do you think? And what's the way forward?

Friday, July 10, 2009

The 3 things Obama really hopes for Ghana

I must be the only blogger this side of the Atlantic who has managed to blog actively for the past year without a single mention of Obama. That’s because there’s so much to cover – so many fun, interesting, and funny things, relevant things happening in Ghana, that writing about them leave no room for even Obama. But today that Obama is in Ghana, he’s in our territory. The conversation is no longer merely about Obama – for whom I have great admiration but about whom I find little reason to speak on a blog about Ghana – but about his relationship with Ghana. And when the conversation includes Ghana, you’d better believe I’m participating. Today, I’d like to focus on what Obama says is his hope for Africa, a hope I find particularly relevant for Ghana.

In an interview with, Obama was asked: what, when you finish your presidency, do you expect your stamp on Africa policy to be? What do you think that will be?

Obama’s response was: I would like, at the end of my term in office, to be able to say that the United States was an effective partner with countries throughout Africa in building the kinds of institutions, political, civil, economic, that allowed for improving standards of living and greater security for the people of Africa; that we moved them on a trajectory in which they are integrating with the global economy; and that a young person growing up in Johannesburg or Lagos or Nairobi or Djibouti can say to themselves: I can stay here in Africa, I can stay in my country and succeed, and through my success, my country and my people will get stronger. That would be a good legacy. I don't expect that we're going to get there in four years or eight years, but I think we can get on that path. And the United States is a critical partner in that process.

A lot of what he said centre around the methods for achieving the end, but he hopes for 3 things for the people of Africa:

1. Improved standards of living and security
2. Integration with global economy
3. That a young person growing up in Accra can say: I can stay here and succeed, and through my success, my country and my people will get stronger.

Now every educated Ghanaian has heard the first two many times before. It is something that we’ve been talking about since before Obama. Sure, they’re good things to have, and I do not wish to diminish their importance and the role that may play in achieving the third hope but I deem the third hope to be the most powerful; the most measurable; and the most important.

Reading this from Obama inspired me personally because I moved back from the US last year with that conviction. A conviction I still hold.

In an email that I sent one of my friends who is still in the US on 7th July and before I had read Obama’s words, I said and I quote

“Omari (name disguised) tells me not to waste my life for Ghana when I have other options. But I don't see it that way. I think you can make money here. It doesn't come like the [wall street] investment banking money but that model is ridiculous and is not a model I’d want to import here anyway. But more important than money, u can make a difference here. You can build a whole industry where none currently exists. I believe that. It's not going to take 5 years. Maybe I’ll wake up in 20 yrs, look back and see how wealthy all my friends [who remained abroad] are and realize I was wrong. But how will I know that unless I try. I know myself. I think I can do this, so I want to try. In 20 yrs when I tell my kids that it can't be done in Ghana, I want it to be because I know it to be so not just because that's what people say. People who have not tried it. Because all we know is people like Patrick Awuah, we think that's the only way to do it. I challenge that. I think u can create wealth in Ghana with Ghana money:)

We don't need abroad money.

So maybe Obama can read this with a smile because there are already young people in Africa who think they can stay here and succeed and that their success will strengthen their people. Case in point myself! And at least I can count 2 more...great friends of mine: Nyoko Muvangua who was in South Africa the last time we spoke and who when I told her about moving to Ghana, told me to go home and lift up my people. At the time we spoke about how no matter how relevant work I did in the US was to Africa, we needed more people on the ground to execute...and that without execution, all money, all policies, all institutions are worthless. And finally, Kimmie Weeks of Liberia, who challenged me more than 5 years ago to do things that, affect my people. So there are believers out here in Africa.

But we’re definitely sorely outnumbered by the unbelievers.

So if I ever get the chance to speak with Mr. Obama, I’d spend my 15 minutes of his time discussing how a whole generation who believe they can succeed in Africa can be raised. For now, I have my own ideas. Based on my own life and experience, I’ll say that the most important thing is a change in attitude, but how that happens is different for many people. Young Africans have bought into the dominant perception that you need education, or money, or experience, or know-how from the West (or anywhere abroad) to succeed. Thankfully, this perception is not truth. It is an erroneous notion, and as such, it can be changed. They’ll need to examples of people who have done it to show them that it’s possible. Unfortunately a lot of the smartest, and hardworking people like Amma who could be proving this to them are abroad. So people think that it is the fact that these people are abroad that have made them successful when the truth is that, regardless of where you go you take with you what you are.

Personally, I was heavily influenced by the writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson. His writings and writings of other great thinkers and a lot of self-discovery and introspection, led me to my present beliefs.

Here is what Emerson wrote about the American people at a time when they were idolizing Europe in the same way that young Africans now think of the West:

“It is for want of self-culture that the superstition of Travelling, whose idols are Italy, England, Egypt, retains its fascination for all educated Americans. They who made England, Italy, or Greece venerable in the imagination did so by sticking fast where they were, like an axis of the earth. In manly hours, we feel that duty is our place. The soul is no traveller; the wise man stays at home, and when his necessities, his duties, on any occasion call him from his house, or into foreign lands, he is at home still, and shall make men sensible by the expression of his countenance, that he goes the missionary of wisdom and virtue, and visits cities and men like a sovereign, and not like an interloper or a valet. I have no churlish objection to the circumnavigation of the globe, for the purposes of art, of study, and benevolence, so that the man is first domesticated, or does not go abroad with the hope of finding somewhat greater than he knows. He who travels to be amused, or to get somewhat which he does not carry, travels away from himself, and grows old even in youth among old things”

And I truly believe that the people who will make Ghana and Africa venerable in the imagination are those who will remain at home to build our countries into ones worth talking about.

So Mr. Obama, I think your most powerful hope for Ghana and all of Africa is one that can be achieved with leaders who inspire. But as I’m sure you know, before you can convince others, it would be good if you’ve walked the walk. Just as America believed in you because you had walked the walk as a consensus builder in America while you served as editor of the Harvard law review, and because you did not go chasing after money but chose a less paying job as a community organiser in America, this job of inspiring young Ghanaians is best done by African people who have shown by example that they don’t just talk the talk.

While in the past, we have accepted leaders who have lived all their lives solving problems in other countries, and have become great leaders of those systems but are ultimately less effective at solving African problems, we can no longer accept these kinds of leaders. Afterall, a Ghanaian who thinks one has to leave the country to be successful really has no inspiring message for the millions who will never get the chance to leave. So it is time to look inward. It is time to trust in ourselves. To believe in Ghana and its possibilities. Which is why, as inspirational as you are to many, this is a job we have to do ourselves. We’re emboldened by the knowledge that you support our efforts. And now will the true believers in Ghana please stand up?!

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Accra's so dope even Obama is visiting. So have you heard of Contagious Accra?

The December 10th blog post titled Abɔdam so ne ho mfaso nye dɛn? (tr: Is there any value in craziness?), ended with the following paragraphs:

Can one live a normal life their whole lives and then end up becoming extraordinary? Something's gotta get your juices flowing and I don't see that this [Ghana] life as we know it is it. Please correct me if I'm wrong and provide me examples of times when Ghanaians have really bought into a bigger idea or notion and lived it out in our lives. Are we just a boring people? I'm dying to be part of a generation that shakes things up and I see no outlet for all this energy. Was I born on the wrong continent and a wrong time? It looks like someone locked us in a room and put a sign on the door saying: No craziness here. hehe.

I know exactly what I need. A space. About six people who like to talk, about Ghana, and life. Six people completely unlike me. Something to learn, something to teach. Young people, maybe an old person or two. Confused about life, living on the edge, creating art, music, businesses, anything, where they're making something that didn't exist before they showed up, failures, why do i get the feeling this would be so easy to find in Paris or even Italy? People who challenge me. People who own books like "bu me bE" I need to find the people who aren't so put together. Who haven't already figured it all out. Not already on the "success track". I know i'm looking in the wrong places, but I just don't know where to look.

Then someone called Michael posted contributed the following comment :

I think there are loads of crazies around...they exist in randomness. These are spots of brilliance surrounded by a suffocating blanket of the picture called generalization, we miss these spots of brilliance; all we see is the darkness and the ignorance! There should be a rallying voice that cries out 'COLLABORATION! COLLABORATION!'...our collective brilliance is what will illuminate our continent. So when you seek six, know you have already found one!

Contagious Accra

7 months later, i'm convinced we have a blog that's seeking to be exactly the kind of space I was seeking and very similar to the solution Michael proposed. It's about Accra, and for once, this is an initiative for people in Accra, by people in Accra! Which means if you find that you have similar ideas to someone on the site, you can hook up with them and do interesting things! Yaaaaaaaahoooooooooooooo! The blog is called Contagious Accra and here's what Contagious Accra says about itself:

Contagious Accra is a space for people who have ideas that can change the conversations about Accra.

If it’s positive and inspiring, we’re talking about it.

If it’s fresh, bold and undiscovered, we’ll get there first.

If it’s misunderstood, we’ll set the record straight.

If it’s an idea that can change things for the better, we’re all over it.

If it’s dope... heck, Accra’s so dope, even Obama’s visiting.

Let your fingers do the travelling and find out why at

What can I say? It's refreshing to hear people in Ghana say this about Accra. Go ahead, enjoy, and see you on Contagious Accra, 'cos I'm going to be hanging out there plenty.

PS: look out for my 1st ever article about Obama tomorrow. It's titled: Obama's Real Hope for Ghana.

PPS: In other news, the first issue of Time Out Accra is on newstands. Go get your copy. And look out for Contagious Accra there too.