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?!


  1. I like this piece!
    I think you're spot on with the 3rd reason especially. And because you have actually taken the step to return and help build Ghana for the next generation, I salute you.

    An additional point for those of us presently abroad and looking to return and "fix" the nation's ills with our newfangled "ways and means", is to have a sense of perspective: that improving Ghana is not as simple as it appears from outside.

    You're simply spot on! One could hardly have put it any better.

  2. Esi-

    I commend you on such as execllent piece. It's very mind boggling to me when I hear Ghanaians make statements like "I will never move back to Ghana because ___________[insert whatever silly reason such as there isn't enough money to be made.....LIKE REALLY?!]. I almost fell out my seat once when my own uncle made such a comment. I really thought he would know better.

    As much as I love being an American, I love being Ghanaian even more and I cannot wait to "Give to Ghana what I have taken from America"- as far as education and knowledge are concerned.

    I believe there was a time in Ghana when there was a dearth of people who actually had hope for a better Ghana, they were more concerned about their personal gain than anything else- hence our current situation. But now, I see a lot of potential, I see fresh young thinkers, people who are willing to bring whatever knowledge they have acquired to the table to help build Ghana for the better. There are so many resources that we can tap into to help move our nation forward and I am looking forward to being one the people who make this hope a reality!

    PS. I believe that illeteracy is one of Ghana's main stumbling blocks. A firmer stand should be taken on education. I think it should be made mandatory for every Ghanaian to complete at least JSS and we must ensure that the education cannot me mediocre either. They MUST be able to READ and WRITE and be taught to think for themselves. I think this is a basic right that needs to be granted each and every Ghanaian regardless of what school they attend- private or public or where they live- in Accra or some remote village. The truth is, this isnt going to happen over night. Its something that is going to entail a great deal of brainstorming, careful planning and implementation.

  3. Wow! Great piece. I totally agree. Tell 'em

  4. grrr... I hate when my stupid laptop acts up! I just typed a whole lot and poof, it disappeared! Now I'm not happy:(

    But anywho, here goes: I like this a lot! It is thoughts like this that got me blogging in the first place! "Omama" is simply echoing what most educated Africans desire. I think illiteracy is a huge problem. It has limited our scope, crearivity and innovative minds.

    So much money is pumped into Africa each year but we just seem to be getting poorer. I think we have had enough of the enabling you know. It is about time we had some companies helping to empower the people. We can't always expect to be given the fish, we need to learn how to fish too.

    I always wish I had just stayed in Ghana for all of my education then one day I can tell my kids that it is absolutely possible to make it in Africa without any outside influence. I have a few friends who are doing very well and they have stayed in Ghana all their lives! I do envy them a little for that:)

    Bad governance has also led to people just looking out for their own selfish interests. There are a lot of reasons why we could say that we are stuck in a rut but as long as we realize this and desire to do something about it, I think we will get there... eventually

  5. "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."

    Very well said Esi! Many of us have never lived outside Ghana for longer than a month at a time... and we haven't done badly either. It's really not such a big deal if you have the right attitude.

  6. Esi O, you just opened a can of worms. I have lived in Ghana all my life. The longest time I have spent abroad at any given time is not more than 3 weeks. In 1996, there was enormous pressure on me to go and settle in the UK but anytime I got to the British Embassy and saw the queue, I got depressed and went back home.

    I believe in this nation. I have strived to prove it with my very life, career and strength. I constantly have people ask me how I managed to break away and become me. I know I am on to something but my dear, it is not easy.

    Just today, I sat in a court of law and watched a judge raise his hind leg and piss on the wheel of justice like a stray dog. No ethos. No conscience. No brain. Injustice prevailed again.

    Now Bribery has grown from being a gesture into a RIGHT. I had an officer look me in the eye two days ago and tell me the money I have given her is not enough. She deserves more than that. But my sister, I was helpless and powerless. It is the system. I felt like pulp.

    I am still the optimist because it is all I have ever been but sometimes I bleed. If I can find a few more people like you who are willing to join me confront the wrongs in the system and applaud the rights, Ghana and Africa will stop sitting on gold and begging for brass.

  7. Oh Esi! I love love love this post. Very well sed


  8. well said but i don't think it matters where your location is in this world for one to make good impact!!!

    this is the 21st century and that must not be too much of a problem! it's not important! it's not a need!

    for all Obama's hope, that soon folks in Djibouti would say the could stay there and have a good life or whatever, had his (Obama's) Dad decided to remain and school in Kenya, would he (the father) have ended up meeting and making love to the mother to have Obama??????? so that today he is prez of US?????????

    so let Patrick Awuah return to Ghana! doesn't matter! letter Amma remain in the USA! doesn't matter! what's important is that wherever anyone chooses to stay, that person in question must impact society positively!

  9. @ Novisi - actually, it wouldn't matter if we had enough people on ground to help move our country forward, but we simply don't. Most of our people wit know-how and expertise leave for 'greener pastures - leaving behind many people without the expertise and m no one to TRAIN them to gain the expertise. It really matters.

  10. I just finished listening to Obama's speech and his words to young people totally spoke my heart! Now i need to sit down and organize my thoughts but please listen to his speech and let's talk! I'm pumped! Yes we can!

  11. Esi, now lets talk:

    Be mindful here because success is very relative. Sustainable development could be seen as progressive but is that success (on a personal level?).

    Is making money (the wall street kind that you briefly mention) an indicator of wealth , or is the overall changing of attitudes (which you aspire for ) in Ghana going to be your indicator.

    Look, you've done splendidly well thus far staying on point with your reasons for returning home, but bear in mind that wealth accumulation could be a narrow indicator. i like your attitude change all the better. We'll meet in Accra or on wall st soon

  12. Gurl am pumped too: picture this, an energy/climate project solely engineered by the youth will be awesome. The U.S. has pledged assistance, and we have abundant sunshine --is someone seeing the correlation here? the question is, will the Ghanaian gov't support our ideas with the required subsidies and tax incentives or is that going to be one of those "IMF , World Bank has to come show us how to harvest our own sun?"

  13. @Nana Kofi: you are def. right , to battle the traditional Gh way of giving bribe ,per say, will not work,team work with people like Esi and others i know might but not quite.

    Personally, it is our political system that can make policy changes--perhaps Dr. Ndom and other like-minded people might do it.

  14. @Anon,
    i think we should get it clear enough!
    what matters is for the right evironment to be created to promote creativity!

    we must kill institutions like chieftiancy (never mind, this is an aside really. can be debated further).

    and for the right environment, we must have the right kind of leadership. there are too many idiotic charactors parading themselves as leaders when they don't even understand what it means to lead.

    so then the individuals must feel free to locate wherever they wish or dream! doesn't matter Anon!

    Einstein moved from Germany to the US. it did not prevent him from contributing to impact humanity positively!

    Du Bois moved to Ghana from America and he did his job alright!

    Nuguchi came to Ghana from Japan and did his job to the admiration of the world. he even died in the course of duty!

    so it does not matter!

    it would only matter if you tie yourself so much to the artificial creations called countries so that you think that it means things like patriotism and such clouded attributes!

    in any case Obama did not say every African must necessarily stay in Africa! so let's not get blinded. The US has an immigration lottery system running that recruits people from all across the world. why do you think that is so???


  15. Great piece Esi, i really enjoyed reading this!

  16. @Esi. You force waa dɛnkyɛ!

    @Novisi. If Ghana was alright (in our own eyes and in the eyes of others), and our families and children were doing fine and were not living under 3 Ghana cedis a day, then no problem. Travel and impact the world. But you don't try to make the world a better place when your own family doesn't get enough food to eat. And mind you, if all humans were aspiring to become Einsteins and Nuguchis, we would not be having this conversation. The reality is that we need our own Einsteins and Nuguchis. They inspire. They motivate. Ɛno na yehia!

    And please Novisi, it is better to work with existing institutions (like chieftaincy) to cause change rather than to kill them. It is not the institutions that are wrong o. After all who makes the institutions? It is the people who make up the institutions that we need to influence. If every chief in Ghana made sure that their village was the best it could be (not merely selling all our lands, but using our most important resource in creative ways to benefit our people), Ghana would be a much better place. Trust me, our chieftaincy regime can be the very engine for the growth of our people!

    And oh. Just for the record. I live and have lived all my life in Ghana ;) Dɛɛdɛw!

  17. This story has really inspired me. I'm a person who loves my country and supports it no matter what. I dont currently live in Ghana not because i didnt want to its because my mum is in america, here and i have to be here. I talked to a friend not long ago telling her how i loved ghana and how i want to come back she told me im in abroad and should be happy cause Ghana is not doing any good. That really hurt me and i felt like if everybody in Ghana wants to travel they're not doing anything to help ghana's economy. just sitting on your asses and saying how bad it is.

    p.s. im a proud ghanaian from the ewe tribe. i lived the first 8 yrs of my life in tema.

  18. this is great just great but hei who can blame us. we are always talking and that includes you and i. let us act a little cos from the little i know of western history, i know pp acted to gey the results they need!any way great stuff u've got there. do check mine at