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


  1. I agree with all that you have said and I am glad that at least there are like-minded youthful Africans out there, to whom the unification of Africa is not just a wish but a vision to which all efforts are directed. I like your take on Obama's speech and the idea it isn't novel. It is only novel to those who do not listen. Kwame Nkrumah, Jomo Kenyatta, Patrice Lumumba, Marcus Garvey, and many a great African has talk about this. This is an issue we must face head on.

    I also agree that Africa's problems are not caused by African's alone and for Obama to excuse the West, especially from Zimbabwe, is a sign of untruthfulness, to say the least. He knows very well that that isn't the case. Then you went on to ask 'who then purchase the diamonds in Sierra Leone', bearing in mind that it is this same diamond that Taylor is standing trial in The Hague. We can't blame the West but they definitely cannot absolve themselves from the problems. They are the major causes. Why did the CIA overthrew Nkrumah...isn't it because of his unification ideology..something Europe couldn't even think of doing in Nkrumah's days. Yet we jump about at Obama's half-truth speech. To me I have a better speech, one that talks about the unification of Africa; one that has no permanent interest but the interest of Africans of the ordinary man on the street; one that is not hidden in agenda; one that exudes faithfulness. Africa will unite and one day this mirage would be realised.

    Your article is almost like the response I gave to a fellow blogger Pen Power. You can read it here and

  2. Great piece Ernesto! I really I admire your post

  3. Africans are in dream land about a united Africa,the question is who is an African you can not have a a group people in the north who do not consider themselves African and will never want to be called that and we talking about one Africa.And who are these people they Arabs born in Africa wish they were European at the same time Europeans see them as trash so their only outlet of control after been made to feel like dirt by the white Europeans is to take it on Black Africans on continent..
    The CIA had nottin to do with kwame Nkrumah not been able to get a united Africa ask the Arabs they undermine kwame through out his presidency.Africans give the CIA too much credit ..CIA is not stoppin us from cleaning our filth,power outage,mosquito ete ..ete..Take look at that little street they called oxford street it is a mess shit in all the gutters you name it..People are still crossin the La road to go shit in the sea what has the gotta to do with the CIA..
    And Mugabe he has failed his people period you do not pick fight with these white boys knowin you do have a solid foundation ,he picked a fight at the wrong time what he should have done was get a bunch of young men and women in the country and educate them in some MBA programs in the west so they can learn how to play the game.The Chinese have done a good job at it how many Chinese students are in higher education programs in the USA and rest of western world you talkin about 100's of thousands students and most have learn trick and look who is at the mercy of the Chinese now de America ,now the Americans can not do shit, all bcos the Chinese leadership understands what it takes to face these white boys..There only thing these white boys do better GUNS you do not pick fight with they will kill you ...Our leaders failed us.Bye the way i am no intellectual,just high school drop out hippie who believes in community and hard work.peace..

  4. Patrick I get what you are my blog on 'Facing our Demons'. No one has absolved ourselves from our problems. In fact in my blog I put it first but that does not also mean that the West are not to blame. I don't want to blame anybody for our underdevelopment but we have to face the fact. It is a lot of things that is preventing us form moving on. You must understand. We first have to get our acts together.

    Look no every European country is part of the EU, hence what you are talking about does not hold water. When we talk about uniting Africa we are not talking about every single country. We can first start with ECOWAS then the EAST then the West. Look it can be done. You are saying it is us yet you are also showing symptoms of 'it can't be done'. That is why we are as we are. Everybody thinks that this cannot be done, that cannot be done and we leave it and it is not done, a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    You pretend not to know why the war in DR Congo is still raging. I agree, Africans are fighting, but do you know the powerful forces (those that you talked about) behind it? Search and ye shall find.

  5. Nana,you will be surprise i have been to the DR Congo many times and i know and understand the history very well at the same time our brothers and sisters there are been used by some of the useless leaders trust me and it is not only the western white boys you have large group ,you have the so call soviet white boys are still using the old cold war line to take free minerals even the cuban mafia and the Arab mafia are there..b'cos the leader ship in these places have no vision period very simple minds..
    How can you talk about a united African with out every country included ..Again without the north there is no one Africa these people are very dangerous ..Fuck the European union..There only way to change every African country is to have leaders with VISIONS VISIONS....I am so tried of the so called smart Africans with bullshit books they write on pan African most of these guys are cowards instead of gettin their hands dirty they hide at their stupid fellowship programs in the west you name it just gettin paid...

  6. Ernesto, your post raises interesting points. My view on some of them are as follows:

    Zimbabwe: I agree with Patrick on this: blame it all on Mugabe and his administration. I do not understand why Africans & African rulers always jump to the defence of their own even when they don't have to. Zimbabwe had a flourishing economy, a healthcare system that was comparable to that of most developed countries and a peaceful political climate. I admit that there was deep social segregation - the blacks almost always had to work for white guys. Black people owned virtually none of the productive resources. However, it is obvious that this was due to centuries of colonisation. It was always going to take time and effort to wrestle economic power from the whites. Mugabe just couldn't wait and wouldn't train his people to take over. So he decided one day, purely out of a whim, to take over the lands and hand them over to blacks. To make matters worse, he didn't allocate the resources to the best qualified people, but to those connected to him (are we surprised?). So people with neither capital nor the right qualifications were put in charge of the economy. The rest is the unfolding history we're all witnessing. It is my fervent prayer that they get it right sooner than later though.

    African Union: Almost everybody is debating whether it will work or not. Few people are asking the question that needs to be asked: is it necessary? Personally, the united Africa as envisioned by Nkrumah is neither necessary nor feasible. Strike that one out. What we need is a confederation of consenting African countries for the purposes of free trade, free movement of persons, common currency, common democratic practices etc. I agree with Nana Fredua on this, membership need not be compulsory. A member should be pulled by the benefits it will enjoy and not by the geographic location of the country or the skin colour of its citizens. At the end of the day, mutual interest is a more powerful proposition than race or geography.

    Resist the West: I sensed a bit of this sentiment in your post somewhere. Instead of "resisting" the West, I'll say stand up to the West. Face them, negotiate and beat them. Do they want to put a base somewhere on our shores? Let's see the proposal and evaluate what's in it for us. If it's not much, show them the door. This is might be a better approach than resisting every move the west wants to make in Africa. We might turn ourselves into something like Cuba or North Korea and honestly, we wouldn't like that. Of course, EVERYTHING the white man wants to do here is out of his self interest and it is up to us to ensure that everything he does here promotes our interests as well.

    Obama: Just one more politician who's more concerned about the next election than about the continent of Africa. Ronald Reagan put it nearly perfectly: "The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: 'I'm from the government and I'm here to help.'" I'll polish it up for him: "The ten most terrifying words in the English language are: I'm from the American government and I'm here to help.'"

  7. yeah yeah!
    Africa unity is the way to go! not neccessarily for any sentimental reasons but for the mere fact that it seems the more logical way of marshaling our energies to counter the forces that stand to benefit from our remaining divided while we gain nothing really! it's all about profit and loss. that is the kind of world we live in. sad but that is it and you either put up or shut up.

    at the end of the day, monkeys play by sizes. Ghana cannot resist or stand up to (whichever way you look at it) American alone! but Africa as a bigger and united body can dictate to the world at what prices it's natural resources like gold, diamond, uranium etc are available for.

    meanwhile, let's stop saying it can't be done. and truly like Nana puts it, we don't need every single African soul or country willing before we start! i'm yet to see any such manifestation in this world.

    Patrick and the CIA:
    interesting take there, but i wonder who and who blame the CIA directly for folks shitting at the beach.

    one thing we must understand is that there's hardly an isolated occurence in this world. everything is linked to everything and that's the kind of thing Obama admits by saying in this 21st century whatever happens in Accra too is important. and really this has always been the case. it's not only the 21st century!

    Patrick, cannot say the CIA is not to blame for Nkrumah not being able to unite Africa! there were even Ghanaians who were against the idea. there were so many other blacks who were against the idea. so it's not only Arabs. and in fact were a good number of Arabs too who were for the idea. maybe Patrick needs to find out about the declassified docs about Nkrumah by the CIA.

    Zimbabwe: here again there are denials just to promote whatever interest. Zimbabwe is equally blamable on the West just as it is on Mugabe and Co. as well. everyman and woman, no matter the collour or location who contributed to Zimbabwe must be blamed. let no one come pretending like Obama chose to do. it's stupid for Obama to try to twist the facts about Zimbabwe just because Kenya economy was once better than Korea.

    nobody can twist the facts of all the contributions that led to the mess of Zimbabwe! not Obama and not Patrick and not Thomas.

    what we must do is to be humble to acknowledge these facts and deal with them. denials only make a re-writing of the history that would serve no good.

    and do note that it's a different thing blaming who must be blamed for the records from sitting down unconcerned or not making conscious efforts to move forward from where we may be at at any point in time.

    it is not the blame game that is preventing us from moving on. what is preventing us from moving on is bad leadership and bad citizenship that does not hold leaders to account.

    we must not shirk our responsibility to bring ourselves up and in same or like measure we must not shirk our responsibility to blame whoever must be blamed.

  8. Comment from Ernesto

    I must confess I am very impressed with all the comments on my piece on Obama’s visit to Ghana and its implications for Africa and the reason is not because I agreed entirely with what you said but because your comments were generally thought provoking. I am however particularly frightened by your respected brains, considering the thorough and hot nature of the scanning and analysis. The debate is getting very interesting. Thus, it is in this light that I submit my summarized responses to some of the comments raised so far.


    African Unification:

    Patrick says “Africans are in dream land about a united Africa…” I cringe anytime I read or hear comments as these. Nevertheless, I think people like Patrick have just not a right but every right to hold such opinions; why, because it is theirs. But what they forget is that whether they like it or not the unification process has already begun.

    At least, the social unification is on. Africans are getting to know themselves better; talk about the upsurge of local movies and the passionate interest it has generated amongst the African people, especially those by our brothers and sisters from South Africa, Uganda, Tanzania, Ghana and Nigeria. What about the interregional and intraregional collaborations thereof. Now, that is just in relation to the movie industry; what about the business community, have we wondered why most companies in recent times are trying to attract the name Africa somewhere in their company’s mission statement, slogan or name itself? Take UBA for instance and there are many other companies like that and counting. The wind blowing in favor of the unification is certainly stronger and this is where Patrick’s skepticism is blown away.


    Military Bases:

    On the issue of military bases in Africa Thomas begins on an innocent note, “Do they want to put a base somewhere on our shores? Let's see the proposal and evaluate what's in it for us. If it's not much, show them the door.” I couldn’t help but burst into uncontrollable laughter because like slavery and colonialism, I guess he might have been asking, “Do they want to enslave and colonize us? Let’s see the proposal and evaluate what’s in it for us. If it’s not much, show them the door.” There is nothing to consider Thomas; absolutely nothing. There are certainly many areas of mutual interest between Africa and the world. For instance, I have not said that in the area of trade, we should resist the west; all that I have advocated for is the protection of our territorial interests.

  9. continuation of Ernesto's comments:
    Thomas and Nana Fredua

    African Unification:

    I very much agree with Nana Fredua and Thomas just like Nkrumah, that membership of the African Union need not be compulsory. And as Thomas adds, “A member should be pulled by the benefits it will enjoy and not by the geographic location of the country or the skin colour of its citizens. At the end of the day, mutual interest is a more powerful proposition than race or geography…” Somewhere along the line Thomas comes to hold that “the united Africa as envisioned by Nkrumah is neither necessary nor feasible…” and jumps into the vehicle of confederation as if that would take him away. But it did not. This is why we have the opportunity to ask Thomas how come he reached a disagreement with the Osaagyefo on the unification question. If Nkrumah differed in opinion, he wouldn’t have gone along with the Ghana-Guinea-Mali Union. And like Thomas pointed, it was influenced by the benefits these countries would enjoy and not by the geographic location of the country or the skin color of its citizens. Locate the three countries on any available map and you will soon understand that you were with the Osaagyefo in spirit.

    Agreeably, Nkrumah’s conviction and passion for a united Africa gassed the whole earth alive. Thus, it is possible that, that must have lead to the impression that he was saying something different. He was much more liberal about the form it would take than all his peers who agreed with him. Indeed, in his book AFRICA MUST UNITE, he felt that the examples abound, he made mention of America, China, Russia and even India. To Nkrumah, the idea of individual African state working towards the achievement of collective growth was much more supreme. He felt that although poverty is a social problem, its base is economic but requires a political response.

    Thomas and Patrick


    Patrick says, “Mugabe he has failed his people period you do not pick fight with these white boys knowing you don’t have a solid foundation, he picked a fight at the wrong time….” Now listen to Patrick again and what he prescribes as the solution, “What he should have done was get a bunch of young men and women in the country and educate them in some MBA programs in the west so they can learn how to play the game.”

    How many people will join me to disagree with Patrick that you don’t need to acquire an MBA in other claim what is rightfully yours and again what time is right or wrong other than the time Mugabe chose to reclaim their sovereignty. Unlike others who absolve Mugabe of any wrong doing, I don’t, rather, I seek to expose the hypocrisy of the west. I don’t think anybody is saying is that the West has no hand in the Zimbabwean episode, or elsewhere in Africa?

  10. continuation of comments from Ernesto

    On the other hand, I agree with Thomas that the Zimbabwean government should have made conscious efforts to allocate the resources to the best qualified people and not the best connected to Mugabe provided that allegation is true. However, I am forced to question the fairness of Thomas’ suggestion especially when those lands in the first place had local occupants and traditional caretakers before the white settlers encroached it. Is Thomas saying that where the land is traditionally the belonging of the poor and unqualified, such individuals should lose their rights of ownership to it?

    Again, it is important to remember that aside the fact the Africa left Zimbabwe to fight alone, Zimbabwe was virtually ostracized with the help of western Media and miseducated journalists in Africa who adopted and swallowed the poisonous pill without caution, singing western propaganda into innocent minds that sung along. Let’s ask, how many Ghanaian journalist visited Zimbabwe to access the situation themselves? If our memory serves us right, we might recall that even telecommunication companies like Tigo employed it in one of their adverts, all to cause a subtle settlement in our minds that Zimbabwe is a failed state.

    Perhaps, we must be careful of what we think is our own thoughts because just as Carter Woodson puts it, “If you control a man’s thinking, you worry less about his actions…” we may be thinking and acting by their dictates unknown to us. As if that was not enough, various sanctions came upon lonely Zimbabwe’s roof while gleeful Africa ridiculously watched. One of these sanctions spelled out clearly that Zimbabwe cannot import any modernized farm machines (are we surprised?) Even China had to depend on imports from the west in order to learn how to produce what they imported but quite aside these facts, Zimbabwe still stands tall and proud. Mr. Tsvangirai’s is now in leadership, why is he not talking about returning the lands to the whites or to the rich and competent as some suggest? Mugabe’s story is simply a case of “who will do the dirty job” and he did it.

    (My piece on Zimbabwe and Mugabe and what Africa should have done might get republished here on this site if our site manager agrees)