Saturday, July 11, 2009

Obama in Ghana

Barrack Obama is currently in Ghana, this New York Times editorial argues that Obama's selection of Ghana was as a result of Ghana's exception status, noting:

"From one end of the continent to the other, the sort of peaceful, transparent election that Ghana held last December is still an exception rather than the norm, analysts said. The same is true for the country’s comparatively well-managed economy."

This strikes me as in some ways being a little Africa-phobic in that it paints a lot of the problems with the Western perception of Africa as a whole. There are plenty of perfectly stable African countries or countries, that like Ghana, have recovered from a history of dictatorship.

Liberia for example, would have made for a more obvious choice by the article author's logic in that it has successfully begun to recover from a horrible civil war, has elected Africa's first woman president in Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf (transcending barriers in a way similar to Obama) and Mrs. Johnson-Sirleaf has thus far done much to begin transforming her country.

It strikes me that Liberia's status for some time as an American pseudo-colony, which in principal would have made Liberia an obvious choice, has, as a result of many Americans not wanting to think about the idea of American colonialism and/or imperialism has in some way mitigated it as a choice. While Kenya, and thus East Africa was never a real option do to Obama’s Kenyan heritage, and thus simultaneously not wanting to demonstrate pro-Kenyan bias to the continent and simultaneously not wanting to snub Kenya by visiting one of its neighbors. Similarly the prosperous South and Northern parts of the continents are too dissimilar to what the Occidental world widely perceives as “Afirca” to be options.

All the same, there remain a huge number of stable, safe countries, including Togo, Burkina Faso and others within the region of West Africa that are comparable to Ghana in development and good governance.

I think Ghana was chosen for the visit because, yes it is stable, but equally importantly it is also Anglophone making it more accessible, semi-developed (though not too developed to be perceived as “un-African”) and has relatively minimal corruption (although as I left Ghana, a scandal appeared to be emerging involving President Atta-Mills, alleging that he may have illegally accepted some $3.5 million from Nigeria during the election campaign last year, channeled through the singular John Jerry Rawlings. These allegations have yet to be proven or disproven.) I think it is also Ghana’s widely being perceived as friendly (which in my experience it clearly is) that helped edge it towards selection.

All the same, pleasant trip to Mr. Obama. Ghana is a lovely country and I think decidedly a good candidate for the president's first Africa visit on its own terms, rather than simply because it has been somehow held up as a paean of virtue in a region seen, I would argue unfairly, as utterly dysfunctional by the American media.


Anonymous said...

I remember that Times article well – it left an impression – but I didn’t have the knowledge or experience to evaluate it critically. Your take on Obama’s avoidance of the South, whose relative prosperity mismatched the West’s perceptions of Africa, struck me with particular force. Thanks, Alex.

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed the comparison of Africa’s various regions…I’d love to hear more about that, the broad strokes that cut across that overwhelmingly complex continent

Take this as a request :)