Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Barrack Obama in Ghana

When it was announced that Barrack Obama was going to be in here in Ghana for an overnight visit the first reaction from journalists was to confirm the news from the US State Department website. Alas! the confirmation was given by the US president’s itinery that showed clearly that from the G8 meeting in Europe, he would make the journey to Ghana.

So the preparations began, as usual the effort to make things look better than they actually are for the visitor’s sake, at least for 2 days, 10th and 11th July 2009.

The US embassy staff were not particularly amused as this kind of visit means a lot of work for them, they had not completely rested from the 3 day long visit of President Bush jr, just 7 months earlier. That was closely followed by an election that they had to monitor until that last ballot was counted, so they were tired, very tired and now Obama was coming in, the gigantic plane had to find landing space and on top of that the famous President and his gorgeous wife wanted a visit to the slave castle, at least a two hour drive from the capital. The embassy staff had to worry about the “monster” (his car) traveling for two hours, passing through 17 Ghanaian villages, 4 major towns, and 2 major roundabouts, all the time along the ocean.

When the advance team arrived, they decided that the torture of preparation maybe too much to bear and so the helicopter might be useful, that way, the president gets to the slave castle in 15 minutes instead of 2 hours, and can stay for as long as he likes.

After the advance team departed to the US, the information about where and what the president would be doing was still very scanty, no one knew, several calls to the embassy received the same answer, “we don’t know yet, can you call in a couple of days please”.

The local information ministry did not know either until a week before the arrival when the schedule gradually began to form like a baby in the mothers’ womb.

Then the tussle over where to make that policy statement began. Ghanaians were feeling the nostalgia of the Clinton visit in 1998, he had spoken to 10,000 enthusiastic hosts at Independence Square in the company of his wife Hilary, and president JJ Rawlings the former “strongman” president of Ghana. That event was a performance to behold and many Ghanaians relished a repetition of such pomp, pageantry and ecstasy with a dose of Obamamania and the grace of Michelle to complete the menu. Well, it appeared the Americans were not similarly enthused nor so inclined, they wanted the address to be delivered before the legislative assembly, the body of lawmakers where the Harvard graduate come super-star President could intellectualize about stuff, audacity, dreams… and anything else.

As the discussion came down to the wire, compromise was the winner, yes the address would happen, yes it would happen before parliament, no it would not happened at the Independence Square but it would also not happen in parliament!

What then was the compromise, the address happened at the international conference centre, built in 1991 for the hosting of the summit of the non-aligned movement in Accra? It is a very modern building standing directly opposite the parliament house in Accra.

I got in late that morning but was treated very nicely by security, of course, I could not drive within 300 meters of the venue, security was all over, in this event you had the US president, the Ghanaian president, his vice president, 2 former presidents, one former vice president, (of course the political musical chairs would have it that the other former vice president was now president ) 230 members of parliament,78 ministers of state and representatives from important organization such as africapractice.

And, the speech was intellectual indeed, he called for strong institutions instead of strong men, the parliament cheered, then he called for new structures for aid delivery and the cheers continued, he said Africans owe their destiny to themselves, not many cheered, then he talked about Zimbabwe and nobody cheered.

He praised Ghana for sound constitutional practice and said the minority must be allowed to take as much credit as the majority and the now opposition NPP shouted hear hear, (after the Westminster tradition of cheering the PM whether he is making sense or not). He said minority voices must be heard in a democracy.

Earlier, he had had breakfast with the president and some invited guest at the castle. The invite list for both events was about the same.

One significant bystander’s observation about this visit is that the photographs never ceased to be taken and this time the photographs were the state officials themselves. That was discussed on radio, time and again. People felt that it was embarrassing; some people felt that it was ok to photograph the famous President even when he was standing in front of the photographer and waiting for the welcoming or goodbye handshake.

Any way, the visitor then left to Cape Coast where he spent a bit of time going through the slave castle and through the door of no return (after going through slaves were shipped off to the new world)

After the Cape Coast trip the president prepared and departed the shores of Ghana.

So, he came, he spoke well, he stayed at the Holiday Inn, he saw the hospital at Labadie and he went to Cape Coast castle.

That was a big stuff, now Ghana is on the map once again, what we do with it, is our challenge, let’s start the conversation.

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