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Ghanaians welcome Obama

US president's visit highlights success of country's democracy

For Ghana and West Africa's other struggling democracies, Obama's visit is a potent symbol.

“Obama shows us you cannot subvert the will of the people,” said Ben Ephson, Ghana’s top political pollster.

Of all the Ghanaians Obama is likely to meet during his visit, his biggest fan might just be Ghanaian President John Evans Atta Mills — an aging economics professor turned three-time presidential candidate who finally secured the presidency by cribbing Obama's campaign slogan urging “change.”

Days after Obama’s victory, Mills’ party unveiled a new campaign: billboards of Mills and Obama gazing out over the slogan “A Change We Need,” paired with home-printed signs that urged “Change, for a Better Ghana.”

“They just changed the Obama signs from blue to green,” said Samuel Bartel, who recently resigned his job as a political radio show host.

Where Obama had “Yes, we can,” Mills supporters seized the rallying cry “Yes-uh-sim,” — which in the local Twi language means “We are making a change.”

Mills' running mate scored further with a popular nickname: John Dramani “Obama, Obama” Mahama.

And in Accra's markets, the newest Mills biography appeared: “Odyssey of Hope,” sold alongside the occasional imported copy of Obama’s “Audacity of Hope.”

“The point is not just that Obama is black, although that's part of it,” wrote Jonathan Zimmerman, in the International Herald Tribune, explaining Ghana's election-time fascination with Obama. “Mostly, Obama symbolizes democracy itself. Elected to the White House on themes of optimism and change, he has become international shorthand for hope.”

So, too, in a way, has Ghana.

“Having the third U.S. president in a row coming to visit us shows that we’re doing something right, and even though most of what you see of Africa on the news is the negative, we are happy we can show ourselves to be a part of the positive,” said Hannah Tetteh, minister of trade and energy.