“Ghana-Obama.” These were the only words I could understand in the catchy rhythm coming over the radio in the taxi cab in Accra, the capital of Ghana.
The rest of the words were in Twi, one of the major languages of that country. The song was symptomatic of the Akwaba, or welcome, the population was preparing to give the American president.
The roadside already had signs greeting him on the way in from the airport. At least one restaurant and a hotel had added Obama to their names. (This phenomenon is not limited to Ghana: While I was in Benin, I also saw an “Obama Restaurant.” Also, on a sandy road of the Rue (street in French) du Pecheurs (fishermen) along the beach was a sign saying Rue du Obama).
Wax print cloth was being sold with President Barack Obama’s picture on it for sewing traditional style dresses. A TV news cast even showed bikini panties with the name “Obama” embroidered on them!
The people with whom I talked were happy that Obama had chosen Ghana to visit, and proud of their recent peaceful, but very close election that resulted in a transfer of power from one government to another.
There is genuine joy over the election of President Obama. Historically, many people in other countries disliked aspects of America’s actions, but still liked American people. That changed in the last term of President Bush. While traveling then, I often ran into condemnation not only of America but also of Americans.
President Obama’s election changed that. For not only is he admired and many of the policies he has initiated appreciated, but also Americans are once more in good favor. In Ghana, people are happy to see our president plan for a two-day visit that will include a trip to Cape Coast, home of one of the most famous and best preserved of the Slave Castles. Having been there more than once, I can say that standing in those dungeons, feeling the stench of that trade, is an experience one will have imbedded in him or her for a lifetime.
Intellectuals and policy wonks are speculating on the relationship of the trip and the efforts of the United States to gain support for the new U.S. military command “Africom,” which consolidates most of Africa under a new command instead of having it split between the European and Middle East command, as it has been in the past. This command can be good for the area, or it can be harmful, as the history of other U.S. area commands shows.
Ghana, I am sure, will try to leverage its role in the world during this meeting. I met President John Evans Atta-Mills of Ghana back when he was a vice president, and I know a number of his acquaintances from his time as a senior administrator and professor at the University of Ghana.
I am impressed by him personally and from my experience with his understanding and commitment to sustainable development of marine and coastal resources.
I am confident that the two men will have a significant exchange, and I hope and pray that the symbolism of President Obama’s visit to the continent of Africa this early in his term will translate into the U.S. finally developing a comprehensive and well-thought-out Africa policy, in contrast to the piecemeal efforts of the past.
Brad Brown is the first vice president of the Miami-Dade NAACP. He is also a contractor with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, where he works on African coastal and marine projects.