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