Obama n' Ghana
By heart he spoke and his people listened. However homecoming it was not, assesses Gamal Nkrumah
You are straight into it with United States President Barack Obama, no messing around. His words resonated in the hearts and minds of his Ghanaian listeners and all Africans. Those words conveyed as powerfully as they gave sheer pleasure.
In an age when celebrity and media profile are meant to be the oxygen of success, Obama's oratory is always eye opening and salubrious. Africa is not a continent for the squeamish, and that is something that Obama knows all too well. According to Obama, the continent has been drifting, but in the right direction. True, there are at least some hopeful signs.
However, until it is clear that the continent can drive through change, foreign investors are likely to remain wary. This was onus of Obama's speech. Foreign investment is not seen as the panacea for all of Africa's ills. The continent, after all, needs technocrats to drive a reform agenda.
And who says that the land that spawned Charles Taylor will easily adopt democracy. Africa must not take the road to The Hague, where Taylor stands trial. The former, and I hasten to add, democratically-elected president of Liberia was singled out for retribution. The Western media persistently plays that down. The entire question of the quest for good governance, accountability transparency ended up in mediocrity. And Taylor never caused the death of so many innocent civilians as did ex-president George W Bush in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The sentiments expressed by Obama are ones that resonate well with Africans. Yet, Africans as impressed as they are with the attentive US president whose own father is African, still cannot forget that he is the president of the United States of America.
There was something of the preacher in Obama's tone. Proselytising is not becoming, not even coming from Obama. "The West has often approached Africa as a patron or a source of resources 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 and nepotism in an independent Kenya that for a long stretch derailed his career, and we know that this kind of corruption is still a daily fact of life for far too many."
For many Africans, the West was indeed responsible for demonising Robert Mugabe, scaring off investors and ultimately ruining the Zimbabwean economy. The ensuing ordeal created another African tragedy, which was not entirely of Africa's making.
Africa's special relationship with and its cultural bonding with African Americans was emphasised during Obama's visit to Ghana. To the Ghanaian parliament Obama was complimentary. "The people of Ghana have worked hard to put democracy on a firmer footing, with repeated peaceful transfers of power even in the wake of closely contested elections." Yes, that much is true.
"Countries like Kenya had a per capita economy larger than South Korea's when I was born. They have badly been outpaced. Disease and conflict have ravaged parts of the African continent," Obama correctly pointed out. But the question is what is the solution to the continent's many ills?
"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, that govern by consent and not coercion, are more prosperous, they are more stable and more successful than governments that do not," the American president insisted.
One thing, however, that Obama said and that rang true was that democracy in Africa must be moulded in the African manner. "This is about more than just holding elections. It's also about what happens between elections. Repression can take many forms, and too many nations, even those that have elections, are plagued by problems that condemn their people to poverty." And herein lies the answer to Africa's crises. Poverty must be tackled first before democracy is instituted. Much has been promised in the way of humanitarian aid. However, a lack of a cohesive leadership has hampered the smooth transition from underdeveloped to developed status in much the same manner as South Korea did.
There is a certain irony in the fact that in the 1950s-60s African-American leaders such W E B DuBois, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King came to Africa in search of inspiration in the struggle against racism and imperialism, whereas Obama came to exhort Africans to follow a US- inspired political agenda. True, much has changed in the past half century, but for the better? This is what Obama would have us Africans believe.