18 May 2009

Africa: Why Obama Chose Ghana


The question of why Barack Obama has chosen Ghana rather than Kenya, his father's homeland, or Nigeria, Africa's giant, for his first trip to Africa as President of the United States, is exercising newspapers from Nairobi to New York.

Nairobi's Daily Nation said Monday that "in skipping Kenya, the first African American president is signalling that he puts political values over ancestral allegiances."

Although the Nation quoted Kenyan foreign minister Moses Wetang'ula as denying that Obama had snubbed the country, it also referred to recent U.S. criticism of the country's struggling coalition government.

"Mr Johnnie Carson, President Obama's top Africa official, recently made a stop in Nairobi where he delivered a stern warning to President [Mwai] Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga to get the reform process on track or face unspecified sanctions," the Nation reported.

In Lagos, This Day carried a harshly-worded opinion piece from 'Jibola Asolo, a Nigerian lawyer based in Britain, saying that the failure of the first black U.S. president to stop over in the world's most populous black country "should really serve as a moment of reflection for us as a nation. It should shame us as a people."

But, wrote Asolo, Obama's decision should not be a surprise.

"The reality is: on the world stage Nigeria is not ready to play ball. We, as a nation, are still stuck on stupid while other countries are buckling down and taking the issue of good governance seriously. This considered, the President of America would be hard-pressed to grace our land with his presence in light of the joke that is Project Nigeria."

In the U.S., the New York Times reinforced the African commentary.

In a report based on unnamed White House sources, it said that "A year after Kenya exploded in political violence, it remains a tense and unsettled place. Ghana, by contrast, is an outpost of democracy and civil society in a volatile region."

The Times quoted a senior official as saying that ideally Obama would have preferred a longer trip to Africa. But time constraints meant that such a trip would have to wait until later in his tenure.

"So his advisers agreed to tack the quick Ghana stop onto the end of his Russia-G-8 trip to at least get a marker down before too much time passed," said the paper.

And, in a reflection of how difficult it is to get yourself onto the agenda of an American president, the Times quoted the official as saying Ghana offered an opportunity to promote important values even on a one-night visit: "We have limited time and we tried to figure out where we could get the most out of limited time," the official said.

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