Author: By Matt Spetalnick and Kwasi Kpodo in Berlin
President Obama delivered the message on his first visit to sub-Saharan Africa since taking office in January as the first black US president. He chose stable, democratic Ghana because he believes it can serve as a model for the rest of Africa.
Fresh from a G8 summit where leaders agreed to spend $20bn to improve food security in poor countries, Mr Obama spoke of a “new moment of promise” but stressed that Africans must also take a leading role in sorting out their many problems.
“Development depends upon good governance,” President Obama said in a speech to Ghana’s parliament. “That is the change that can unlock Africa’s potential… a responsibility that can only be met by Africans.”
Mr Obama criticised corruption and rights abuses on the continent, warning that growth and development would be held back until such problems were tackled. He said America would not impose any system of government, but would increase help for those behaving responsibly.
The visit by the son of a Kenyan immigrant has enormous resonance for Africa. MPs chanted “Yes, we can” before he spoke, and the President closed with this, his old campaign slogan. The crowd’s response was in contrast to the cordial but mostly chilly reception in Moscow earlier in the week.
“We like the positive signals that this visit is sending and will continue to send,” said Ghana’s President John Atta Mills, elected in a transparent election that contrasted with stereotypes of chaos, coups and corruption in Africa. “This encourages us also to sustain the gains that we have made in our democratic process.” Reforms in the cocoa- and gold-producing country, which is to begin pumping oil next year, helped to bring unprecedented growth before the impact of the global financial crisis.
Ghanaians, many dressed in Obama T-shirts, took to the streets of Accra in hope of glimpsing the President and clustered around television sets in homes, bars and backyards. “The message he gave was covering the ways in we should change our lifestyles. When we do that we will prosper,” said Joseph Aboagye, an engineer.
Yet despite the huge excitement and anticipation surrounding Mr 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 he might take combined to keep large crowds away.
His main speech was delivered indoors, at a conference centre because of concerns over rain as well as fears it could cause a celebratory stampede, as a 1998 visit by President Bill Clinton nearly did. Then, a surging crowd toppled barricades at Independence Square after Mr Clinton’s speech, prompting him to shout, “Back up! Back up!”
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