DAVIE — President Barack Obama’s upcoming visit to sub-Saharan Africa has created much interest in the political and economic circles, and no little excitement within the black community.
The first American president to claim Africa as his ancestral homeland, Obama will also be the nation’s first leader to pay a visit to the African continent at the outset of his presidential tenure.
But some in the community are questioning why the White House has passed over a journey across Africa or a trip to Kenya, where Obama’s late father lived, in favor of the small nation of Ghana.
The question came up last Thursday, June 25 during a discussion panel at Nova Southeastern University in Davie, where a team of experts explored topics surrounding Obama’s itinerary in Ghana.
The West African Republic of Ghana will be Barack and First Lady Michelle Obama’s final destination on the president’s third major foreign trip since taking office. The visit – scheduled for July 10 and 11 – will come after a stop in Moscow for a meeting with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, and in Italy for the annual summit of the Group of Eight powers – comprising the United States, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and England.
Moderated by Sun-Sentinel senior editorial writer Doug Lyons, the discussion panel got out to its start with a short movie on the West African republic. The audience, consisting of scholars and students – many of whom were Ghanaians sporting their country’s Kente cloth – voiced great excitement at the expansion of the U.S.-Africa relations.
“One of my own is traveling back home,” said Queen Mother Nana Boatenmaa, an African American who serves in leadership capacity in a village in Ghana. “Our nation has a lot to offer and this visit is a tribute – people around the world will recognize us as a beacon of freedom.”
Members of the NSU panel brought up the recent political and civil turmoil in Kenya as reasons for the White House to opt instead for a stop in Ghana. A legitimate member of the World Trade Organization, Ghana was the first African nation to gain independence from British rule and stands as a peacekeeping nation in the region.
In Accra, the Ghanaian capital since 1877, Obama will address various bilateral and regional issues with President John Atta Mills.
“The President and Mrs. Obama look forward to strengthening the U.S. relationship with one of our most trusted partners in sub-Saharan Africa, and to highlighting the critical role that sound governance and civil society play in promoting lasting development,” the White House said in a statement announcing the trip.
Collaborative partnerships between America and Africa were an essential topic of the NSU debate. Mark Davidheiser, an NSU assistant professor of conflict resolution, suggested in his talk that by rethinking elements such as the current state of financial aid to Africa, the two nations can speed development in the region.
“Money is constantly given, but where does it actually go?” he said. “The top-down nature of aid needs to be reconsidered.”
Conflict was also a theme of discussion in view of the concurrent American and Chinese economic interests in the region. China has recently replaced France as sub-Saharan Africa’s top trading partner, establishing a supply of affordable goods to the region.
“By recognizing Ghana’s accomplishments, our president will reinforce their ideals and avoid China to completely take over their economic system,” said Tim Dixon, a professor of history and legal studies. “Obama’s heritage can create an advantage over the Chinese if Obama is more multilateral and listen, not lecture.”
Florence Shu-Acquaye, an NSU professor of law who has co-authored a book on women and AIDS in Africa, also argued that foreign presence in Africa needs to be based on respect, not paternalism.
“People come to Africa and fail to understand local culture, and while they work with a foreign mentality, the messages will continue getting lost,” she noted. “Obama’s heritage will empower him to create a more authentic communication channel with our people.”
Cyril Blavo, a Ghanaian professor of public health and pediatrics at NSU, said that Obama could play a leading role in what could be a fresh start for Africa.
“We need proper training to do things better and develop better infrastructure,” he said. “As a lost son and brother who’s coming home, Obama can more legitimately stretch his arms to Africa and say that he can work with us.”
Photo by Mychal McDonald. Queen Mother Nana Boatenmaa