Saturday, July 11, 2009

Obama in Africa: Enthusiasic Response or Meh?

Drudge has two seemingly compatible headlines which, when read, tell the same story two different ways. According to the AP headline, "Only small crowds greet Obama during Ghana visit." However, AP assures us this was due to mediocre planning rather than lack of enthusiasm:

Despite the huge excitement and anticipation surrounding Obama's first trip to sub-Saharan Africa as president, only relatively small crowds came out to meet him in Ghana's capital. The absence of any big public event outdoors, heavy security that blocked roads, and uncertainty over which routes Obama might take combined to keep large crowds away.

It also left many disappointed they never got a chance to see him.

"I came all the way here to see Obama, but I can't see him," said 35-year-old Kodjo Seddoh, a native of Togo who traveled by bus to Ghana especially for the event.

"It's been a disappointment," he said, as he and a few hundred other people watched Obama pass in a black limousine en route to Ghana's presidential palace. "Nobody has seen him except on TV."

Many had hoped Obama would speak at an outdoor arena called Independence Square. But his main speech was delivered indoors at a nearby conference center because of fears over rain as well as fears it could cause a celebratory stampede, as a 1998 stop by President Bill Clinton nearly did. Then, a surging crowd toppled barricades at Independence Square after Clinton's speech, prompting him to shout, "Back up! Back up!", his Secret Service detail clearly frantic.

However, Bush gave a speech at the same Independence Square, so why the worry? Perhaps the threat of celebratory stampedes only applies to first black presidents. However, Drudge has another story which would seem to puncture the rosy picture painted by the P. The Ghanaian Chronicle reports "Bolgatanga Not Enthused About Obama's Visit." Apparently the enthusiasm on the ground was cooked up by overeager government officials.

DESPITE THE much-talked about historic visit of US President Barack Hussein Obama to Ghana today, Friday, July, 10, most people in Bolgatanga are not enthused about this visit.

Their main reason is that Obama will come and go, and Ghanaians will still remain where they are with economic hardships.

Views sampled by the Upper East File in the Bolgatanga Municipality showed people had different opinions about the first African-American US President. For somebody like A. Emmanuel, it is only the politicians that the visit would benefit.

Though he believes the spotlight is on Ghana, as the whole, the world is talking about the visit, and he thinks Ghanaians should not put their hopes on the visit with the intention that the visit would end their woes.

Others are not happy that people are spending a lot of money decorating and renaming their buildings, restaurants and hotels, when they know that Mr. Obama would only be in the country for less than 24 hours.

When we contacted the regional manager of the Ghana Tourist Board, Madam Mary Aganmikry, she believed otherwise.

She believed the visit would promote Ghana's culture and boost tourism, as the same foreigners would be coming to grace the occasion.

She also said US President's visit had led to massive clean-ups in Accra, and Cape Coast, thus, improving sanitation situations of these cities.

So people--i.e. the government most likely--are renaming streets and buildings after President Obama. This brings into question how many people actually give a shit about Obama coming. It's clear that he's just sticking another feather in his cap, making the requisite speech in Africa. He goes up to the podium, reads of the teleprompter that

"Africa is not separate from world affairs."

Obama said events in Africa do not lose their effects at the continent's borders and said Africa is a fully integrated part of the global economy.

"What happens here has an impact everywhere," Obama said during a meeting with Ghanaian President John Atta Mills.

Really? This seems more like Obama going overseas so he can check off the "cares about Africa" box on his accomplishments. Much like his various workshops wherein he gathers a group of "experts," forms breakout groups, and two days later he claims he's dealt with whatever problem the forum was convened to deal with.

Maybe I'm being cynical. Who knows. Tell me in the comments.

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