Not everyone is viewing the visit of the first African-American president to Ghana on July 11-12 in emotional terms. This Africa Today article by a respected Ghanian think tank leader suggests that Ghana and the Gulf of Guinea are becoming increasingly important to American energy calculations.
He raises the possibility that the trip presages a possible American base in the country, perhaps a home for the Africom military command, now based in Germany. The creation of Africom has been viewed skeptically on the continent. American military power on the continent has sparingly been used to resolve humanitarian crises, but the growing importance of West African oil appears to trigger more aggressive involvement. That is seen as a new form of colonialism.
So behind the photos and celebration lies the recognition that President Obama will look out for U.S. interests first.
To get America to undertake the kind of investment in Africa which has been lately coming from China, it will be other officials such as U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk and veteran Africa diplomat Johnnie Carson, the new assistant secretary of state for African Affairs who will have to address African concerns. It will stoke conspiracy theorists that Carson’s most recent post was national intelligence officer for Africa.
However, he’s been an ambassador to Kenya, Uganda and Zimbabwe and staff director of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa during more than 37 years in the Foreign Service and Peace Corps.
With African heads of state meeting in Addis Ababa through July 3, one can be certain that Ghana’s leaders will be equipped with a checklist of African wants from the Obama administration. From nutrition to health to agriculture, the list is long.
In an opinion piece reacting to the announcement of Obama’s trip to Ghana and published in Joy Online – Hayford Siaw, executive director of the Volunteer Partnership for West Africa – writes that Ghana should use the visit as an opportunity to highlight the “most challenging issues confronting the nation and the African continent.”
Siaw writes that Ghana should make “clear cut statements with our needs with specific time frame and budget.” The country should propose that the President’s Malaria Initiative fund a new malaria strategy “geared towards eradication of the disease,” according to Siaw. “Ghana should take the lead… to move policies of controlling the disease to policies of eradicating the disease,” and it should call for investment in malaria treatments, insecticide-spraying and malaria education, Siaw writes, concluding that a strategy like this could help Ghana to eradicate malaria with three years (Siaw, Joy Online, 5/17).
- Joy Online also published an article that examines Ghana’s progress towards achieving the targets set out by the U.N. Millennium Development Goals (Cudjoe/Simons/Bentil, Joy Online, 5/18).
- In other health news in Ghana, the country’s Food and Drugs Board has created five mini laboratories in five regional capitals to test the safety and efficacy of malaria drugs, GNA/Ghana Home Page reports. The laboratories, which were created with the U.S. Pharmacopoeia’s Drug Quality Information Program, cost a total of $30,000 (GNA/Ghana Home Page, 5/15).
With speeches in Ghana and for the NAACP’s 100th anniversary in the same week, this will be a test of how much political capital the President is willing to spend on delivering for Africans on both sides of the Atlantic. As the Africa Today article demonstrates, he’ll have to do more than just show up.
Hopefuly, as National Black Business Month approaches, Obama will inspire African-Americans to take a greater interest in bilateral ties with the African continent. One group of Obama supporters is already planning a get together in Ghana.
That may be the most non-controversial strategy which the administration can employ as a way to revive fading urban areas like Detroit, D.C. and New Orleans with import/export businesses and to speed up the pace of sustainable development in Africa. In Blackmoney: Advanced Strategies for Maximizing the $1 Trillion Blacks Receive Worldwide Yearly, we point out that Africa has a lot more to offer African-Americans than they believe, especially the thousands of publicly-traded firms on its 14 stock exchanges and the divestment of formerly-state-owned enterprises.
Even if Obama’s hands are tied by the weight of his domestic agenda, there is no reason why African-Americans can not follow his lead by engaging directly with the motherland substantively and sustainably.