Why did Obama choose Ghana?

obama-official-photoBy Mutumwa D. Mawere-WHY did President Obama choose Ghana as the first African country to host him as President of the USA? Why Ghana and not Kenya some will ask? Why not even Nigeria, South Africa, Egypt or Morocco?

President Obama is acutely aware that he is after all a product of a system that has endured for 233 years with back-to-back elections and no history of unconstitutional transfers of power or disputed elections that only get resolved with the opposing parties being transformed through convenient marriages into inclusive governments.

Without a sound and tested democratic culture, Obama’s dream of being a President of America would have remained just a dream if not a mirage.

Ghana’s post-colonial journey has not been an easy one like that of many other African states but what is remarkable is that Ghanaians have worked hard to invest in a new democratic culture that has been characterised by improved governance and an emerging plural civil society.

In this historic visit, President Obama, the first American President to have a direct umbilical cord with Africa, had this to say:

“No country is going to create wealth if its leaders exploit the economy to enrich themselves, or the head of the port authority is corrupt.
“No country is going to create wealth if its leaders exploit the economy to enrich themselves, or the head of the port authority is corrupt.

“You have the power to hold your leaders accountable and to build institutions that serve the people.

“You can serve in your communities and harness your energy and education to create new wealth and build new connections to the world.

“You can conquer disease, end conflicts and make change from the bottom up. You can do that. Yes you can. Because in this moment, history is on the move.”
Indeed, history is on the move and the future of Africa cannot and should never be the primary responsibility of non-Africans. Obama may have an African heritage but he is an American and he was primarily elected to promote and protect American interests.

Obama can never be divorced from America, and Africa simply has to produce its own Obamas. He will not solve African problems and as he rightly pointed out in Ghana, the future of Africa is and should always in the hands of builders.

Africa’s friends can only respond positively if Africans decide to unlock the continent’s future for our own benefit.

At the bright center of Africa’s future lies the individual African citizen whose face is as diverse as the continent’s citizens are. And radiating from the center is and must be the family. From the family comes the community that we all belong to. When all the communities of Africa are combined, we get the larger African family.

After 53 years of independence, we have no choice but to reflect on the beliefs that we share, the values that we honor, and the principles that we hold dear as an African family. What makes us African? What is our identity in this moment when history is moving on at rapid and confusing pace?

As Africans, we must and should be indivisible, underpinned by liberty and justice for all. The importance of the rule of law in building a functioning and progressive Africa can never be overstated.

I recognise that as an individual there is only so much I can accomplish in a 24-hour day but it is through my actions that I can impact on the world around me.

If Africa’s future has to be secure, the change must start at the individual level. What can I do to make Africa the kind of environment that can inspire hope? This ought to be the question that we should ask ourselves.

It is often easy to point a finger at our leaders while forgetting that no leader can ever defy the laws of nature, they are born to die like everyone and can only see and hear what their eyes and ears allow them. After all, leaders are nothing more than followers and followers always get the leaders they deserve.

Africa’s open arms attract friends to the cause but clinched fists undermine our collective future. There are many of us who believe that Africa’s future is only secure if sovereignty is vested exclusively in the hands of blacks while forgetting that citizenship without responsibility is meaningless.

Views on how Africa can best unlock its future are as varied and diverse as people who call themselves African. As I listened to Obama’s farewell speech to Ghanaians, I could not but reflect on what happened on August 10, 1969, in post-colonial Zambia.

On this day, former President Kaunda announced the nationalisation of copper mining companies that were key to Zambia’s economy in terms of revenue contribution on the belief that such a move will spur growth and development.

This decision was in line with the adopted post-colonial socialist policy framework premised on the belief that sovereignty over mineral development must be vested in the state on behalf of the people.

The view held then as it is held in many developing countries was that the state could be relied upon us the custodian of development and revenues collected from the nationalised mines could then be used to address poverty challenges.

The reality is that the socialist policies failed to improve the economy of Zambia and what was not understood is that the state can only do so much but the responsibility for making a country work must lie with the citizens on whom the state’s viability is contingent upon and not the other way around.

The nationalised mines predictably failed to perform as anticipated and more importantly the strategy to use the state as the driver of economic and social change under a one-party system also failed, resulting in President Kaunda being forced to hand over power to a democratically elected government.

There are many who believe that the state and not the market must be the instrument through which resources are allocated. To who do the resources of Africa belong? This is a contested issue so is the issue of how best this resource endowment can be exploited.

Some have argued that the resources that have enriched a few in Africa belong to the creator and not to the living. An argument that says that it is not sufficient for Africans to hold the view that the resources in the ground (in their native form) belong to the generation that happens to be alive when the resources are exploited; has been advanced by a few misunderstood Africans. To develop a nation requires more and must be anchored by an appropriate ideology.

What is required is a new conversation in Africa. What works and what does not should be obvious to all but what is obvious cannot be taken for granted.

Many of Africa’s bright stars have voted with their feet and in so doing have exposed the fact that they may after all be less concerned about the future of Africa than their own personal and family survival and growth.

I am acutely aware that America may not have all the answers that Africa seeks but it cannot be denied that there is something bigger that connects Americans than divide them.

The foundational principles, values and beliefs that inspired a few to declare independence are still intact and without these principles the idea of Obama as a President would just be another Martin Luther King dream.

Africa needs its own builders and we cannot abdicate in discharging this noble responsibility. Some of us have chosen to share our insights into complex issues that occupy our minds as we try to better understand Africa’s condition, challenges and opportunities.

One hand cannot clap but two hands can make a noise. Working together, I have no doubt that we can invest in the right beliefs, values and principles required to lift Africa up. And yes we can!!!

More importantly, we must change the tone and content of our conversations. We must look at ourselves as individuals to locate the kind of response that is required to change Africa.

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