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Ghana: Hope and candour float in Ghana following Obama's visit

In anticipation of the coming of US president Barack Obama to Ghana from 10-11th July, the ghanablogging.com community—established in 2008 to promote the work of Ghanaian bloggersand bloggers writing about Ghana—set a theme entitled “Obama’s visit: A View from Ghana”. Below are some of the highlights of the blog entries.

In reading entries about Obama, you could be forgiven for thinking that everyone was singing along the same hymn sheet, for the political and tourism implications of his visit had been re-hashed, re-heated and served as entries—and this was not without good reason: Obama, no matter what we would like to admit about the man, is a “super-star” president: anytime he speaks, people stop what they’re doing to listen.

Small wonder, then, that ghanablogger Esi Cleland would paste the entirety of his speech on her blog a day after he made the speech. However, this would not be without a post the day of his arrival questioning “the three things Obama really hopes for.”

In the post, she explained these three things to be:

1. Improved standards of living and security
2. Integration with global economy
3. That a young person growing up in Accra can say: I can stay here and succeed, and through my success, my country and my people will get stronger.

In a characteristically-insightful post, she uses her entry to answer the third questions, which she describes as “the most powerful; the most measurable; and the most important.”

She explains why the third has resonance for her, explaining that these were some of the questions that were going on in her mind when she moved back home form the US. She hopes that if Obama were ever to read her entry, he might smile because:

…there are already young people in Africa who think they can stay here and succeed and that their success will strengthen their people. Case in point myself! And at least I can count 2 more…great friends of mine: Nyoko Muvangua who was in South Africa the last time we spoke and who when I told her about moving to Ghana, told me to go home and lift up my people. At the time we spoke about how no matter how relevant work I did in the US was to Africa, we needed more people on the ground to execute…and that without execution, all money, all policies, all institutions are worthless. And finally, Kimmie Weeks of Liberia, who challenged me more than 5 years ago to do things that, affect my people. So there are believers out here in Africa.

She laments, however, that despite this sense of optimism, “we’re definitely sorely outnumbered by the unbelievers.”, but concludes that “So it is time to look inward. It is time to trust in ourselves. To believe in Ghana and its possibilities. Which is why, as inspirational as you are to many, this is a job we have to do ourselves.”

Esi’s sentiment is echoed by broadcast journalist Obed Sarpong in a title that is perhaps a reflection of hope. In his entry “Obama is an Energy for the Youth”, Obed, in what one might consider a mere narrative of his Saturday morning, goes on to explain how disruptive it was on account of the fact that he could barely move out of the suburb of Osu because of the security logistics:

There were few buses at the lorry station and none of them would move. So what happened? The roads that would get me out of Osu, a suburb of Accra holding almost everything that has to do with governance, has been blocked for Barack Obama. I was already fuming. I considered alternative route. None was available. Now i felt quarantined in my own town without a virus in town.

That he had to go to work made the irritation all that more real, but a quick call to his news editor transformed his frustration into a story:

None of them hated the idea that Barack was around. They just felt some of the road blocks were unnecessary. For instance the one from Osu R.E. leading to the airport area could be opened to traffic while the American president was away dining at the castle. The cars could be lightly screened too.
So I couldn't attend my classes neither was I able to get to work. I poured my frustration first on facebook. I kept posting on my status till i could do something else. I just hope all was worth it.

If his entry is anything to go by, perhaps it was! Obed makes no bones about the fact that he enjoyed Obama’s speech, adding that he enjoys the fact that “he speaks with less reference to a document on his hands.”

Though he was energized by Obama’s reference for the youth to “claim the future that so many in [Obama’s father’s] generation never found”, he writes that he is disappointed by the inability of past Ghanaian governments to step up to the plate to actually implement existing youth policies:

For me, we're all too good at saying that the youth are the future leaders of this country. Without doing much to help realise this great statement, it's almost useless to mention this. Barack has seen it and he's a great man. We the youth have on several occasions demonstrated that we can make things happen for us by any means necessary.

But Obama’s speech spoke to the Malcolm X-esque phrase “by any means necessary” that Obed was unwittingly writing about. At least, this is the impression that Emmanuel K Bensah, of Trials and Tribulations of a Freshly-Arrived Denizen might have been giving when he alluded that Obama “has come to represent the epitome of a post-modern African personality.” He describes this personality as one having been “advocated and promulgated” by the Osagyefo Dr.Kwame Nkrumah, who spearheaded independence for Ghana in 1957.

Emmanuel elaborates on what he calls the “post-modern African personality”: “To wit: be well-educated and have a good marriage, where the woman is supportive despite being herself a professional.” He goes even further suggesting that there are no longer excuses for the Black man:

With Obama, no longer will it be cool to skip school, to feign helplessness in the assistance of those less fortunate than you; to pretend that your communities do not matter. With this man, no longer will it be cool to display machismo, disrespect the concerns of the opposite sex, and be polygamous in a marriage. With the “yes, we can”-grandmaster, no longer will it be a uncool for the Black man to be happily married, with a supportive wife by his side, who might also be educated. Nor will it be an issue for his progeny to be “only” girls.

He returns to the issue of Obama energizing the youth against the backdrop of news that:

the AU declared 2009 to be the beginning of a decade that celebrates the youth of Africa.

Finally, former local news anchor Boakyewaa Glover , now a consultant in Atlanta and a novelist, guest-blogs on local news reporter Ato Kwamena Dadzie’s blog about Obama arguing that it’s alright having an Obama, but Ghana needs its own Obamas:

We cannot live, grow or develop based on this one speech alone. It just became very clear to me we need our own Obama. And it doesn’t necessarily have to be a President, it would be nice if it was, but doesn’t have to be. It can be, and should be, anyone. “We cannot live, grow or develop based on this one speech alone. It just became very clear to me we need our own Obama. And it doesn’t necessarily have to be a President, it would be nice if it was, but doesn’t have to be. It can be, and should be, anyone.

Obviously, it is better if political, religious and media personalities were this inspirational and motivating. Too often, personalities in the limelight bathe in negativity and discord. Obama made one thing painfully clear for me, I really can’t stand such negative and divisive talk anymore. Even throughout his campaign for Presidency, Obama never spoke negatively, because he knew he was coming from a disadvantaged corner.Obviously, it is better if political, religious and media personalities were this inspirational and motivating. Too often, personalities in the limelight bathe in negativity and discord. Obama made one thing painfully clear for me, I really can’t stand such negative and divisive talk anymore. Even throughout his campaign for Presidency, Obama never spoke negatively, because he knew he was coming from a disadvantaged corner.

Perhaps, if there is any enduring legacy that Obama’s speech evinces, it is what Glover refers to here:

From Gandhi, to Nkrumah, to Mandela, to Martin Luther King to Obama, they’ve changed history and lives through their words. Let’s think about it for a minute, would Ghana really have won independence if Nkrumah wasn’t such a powerful and inspirational orator? Maybe, maybe not. Whatever the case may be, Nkrumah inspired the people of Ghana to take control of their future. And as Obama said in his speech, we need to do that again.

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