Obama tells Africa to end tyranny and corruption

Author: AP

“Yes you can,” Barack Obama declared, dusting off his campaign
slogan and adapting it for his foreign audience. Speaking to Parliament in
Accra, Ghana, he called upon African societies to seize opportunities for
peace, democracy and prosperity.

“This is a new moment of great promise,” he said. “To realise
that promise, we must first recognise a fundamental truth that you have
given life to in Ghana: Development depends upon good governance. That is
the ingredient which has been missing in far too many places, for far too
long.”

The son of a white woman from Kansas and a black goat herder-turned-academic
from Kenya, Mr Obama delivered an unsentimental account of squandered
opportunities in post-colonial Africa.

And he reached back to an older legacy, that of slavery, as he toured the
cannon-lined redoubt where people were kept in squalid dungeons then shipped
in chains to America, through a “Door of No Return” that opens to
the sea.

“It reminds us of the capacity of human beings to commit great evil,”
he said from the stark white stone fortifications of Cape Coast Castle,
converted to the slave trade by the British in the 17th century.

He spoke with the ramparts and the sea behind him and in the company of his
family. Mr Obama said his girls, in their privileged upbringing, needed to
see that history can take such cruel turns.

In his speech to Parliament, the first US black president spoke with a
bluntness that perhaps could only come from a member of Africa’s extended
family.

“No country is going to create wealth if its leaders exploit the economy
to enrich themselves, or if police can be bought off by drug traffickers,”
he said.

“No business wants to invest in a place where the government skims 20%
off the top, or the head of the Port Authority is corrupt. No person wants
to live in a society where the rule of law gives way to the rule of
brutality and bribery.

“That is not democracy, that is tyranny, even if occasionally you
sprinkle an election in there,” he said, “and now is the time for
that style of governance to end.”

He added: “Africa doesn’t need strongmen, it needs strong institutions.”

Mr Obama was on a 21-hour visit to the West African nation to highlight that
country’s democratic tradition and engagement with the West. His visit, his
first to sub-Saharan Africa as president, was greeted as a “spiritual
reunion” by Ghanaian legislators.

He, his wife Michelle, their daughters and the first lady’s mother toured Cape
Coast Castle as a festive crowd of thousands milled outside, pounding drums
and dancing in the streets. Mr Obama smiled and waved, pausing after he
exited the motorcade, before disappearing with his family and entourage into
the courtyard. Michelle Obama is the great-great granddaughter of a slave
who lived in South Carolina but whose African origins are unknown.

Earlier, people lined the streets, many waving at every vehicle of Obama’s
motorcade as it headed toward a meeting at Osu Castle, the storied coastline
presidential state house, before his speech to Parliament. “Ghana loves
you,” said a billboard.

The Obama administration sought a wide African audience for the president’s
speech, inviting people to watch it at embassies and cultural centres across
the continent.

The 33-minute address was in part a splash of cold water for Africans who
blame colonialism for their problems.

Mr Obama spoke of the indignities visited upon Africans from the era of
European rule. He said his grandfather, a cook for the British in Kenya, was
called “boy” by his employers for much of his life despite his
being a respected village elder. He said it was a time of artificial borders
and unfair trade.

But he said the West is not to blame “for the destruction of the
Zimbabwean economy over the last decade, or wars in which children are
enlisted as combatants”. Nor for the corruption that is a daily fact of
life for many, he said.

“Africa is not the crude caricature of a continent at perpetual war,”
he said. Yet for “far too many Africans, conflict is a part of life, as
constant as the sun. There are wars over land and wars over resources. And
it is still far too easy for those without conscience to manipulate whole
communities into fighting among faiths and tribes.

“These conflicts are a millstone around Africa’s neck.”

Mr Obama started his day with typical calm. Wearing a grey T-shirt and gym
pants, he walked through the lobby of his hotel almost unnoticed at 7:30am
local time on his way to the downstairs gym for a workout.

A short time later, his motorcade left the hotel, passed under hovering
military helicopters and arrived for a delayed welcome ceremony with
President John Atta Mills.

“I can say without any fear of contradiction that all Ghanaians want to
see you,” Mr Mills said. “I wish it were possible for me to send
you to every home in Ghana.”

Mr Obama avoided scheduling large public events, wishing to keep emotions in
check in a singular moment in African-American diplomacy.

Mr Obama flew to Ghana after the G-8 summit in L’Aquila, Italy, approved a new
20 billion dollar food security plan. It aims to help poor nations in Africa
and elsewhere to avert mass starvation during the global recession.

He also had a cordial first meeting with Pope Benedict XVI. In their half-hour
private audience at the Vatican, the two reviewed Mideast peace and
anti-poverty efforts, aides reported. They also discussed abortion and stem
cell research at length, subjects of disagreement between them.

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