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Obama tells Africa: "Yes, you can"

Ghana encouraged by US president's message to drive their own destiny.


If Obama’s speech was partially an appeal to the young, it was also an appeal to the new, to an Africa increasingly wired around cell phones and the occasional internet connection.

The president asked for — and received — thousands of text messages from Africans across the world, wondering whether he’d intervene in Darfur or why he hadn’t stopped in Nigeria.

A week before his visit, he did his first major Africa interview with, one of Africa’s few but flourishing online-only news sources.

Ghana, the first sub-Saharan Africa to break free of the colonial yoke, has lately been a natural port of call for presidents hoping to highlight its impressive democratic gains since the country returned to constitutional rule in 1992.

In 1998, after the country’s second credible election, President Bill Clinton arrived in Accra, mounted a grandstand hand-in-hand with then-President Jerry Rawlings, and wowed an audience of 500,000.

During his own two terms, President George W. Bush visited Accra and hosted then-President John Agyekum Kufuor in Washington several times, holding press conferences and state dinners at Ghana’s presidential castle or the White House.

Obama’s speech, delivered symbolically before Ghana’s legislative body, offered a contrast in focus and in tone. He announced no aid commitments, and simply diagnosed in nuanced paragraphs the source of Africa’s woes.

“He was a more serious person,” Akordy Adingya, a businessman, said of Obama. “Initially people’s expectations were sort of like if Obama comes to Ghana, everything will change in one day. But I’m happy that Obama himself made it clear that it’s not going to be easy, and if Africa is going to move forward, no one can do it but us. And that his position in Ghana is to be a friend and partner to support Ghanaians.”

For weeks, Obama’s visit was the preoccupation not just of the media — but of the vendors who sold Obama paraphernalia, and the women who wore dresses in Obama cloth, and in the reggae artists and rappers who composed hit tunes to praise his name.

Now that Obama has left, some are assessing what lasting impact the trip will have.

“It has fired up people but what I want to know is how long is that fire going to be on,” Adingya said. “Now we know that the whole world is watching us. So we will be on our toes.”

More GlobalPost dispatches from Ghana:


The politics of Ghana's iconic kente cloth

Ghana's illicit trade in discarded electronics

Nigerians fight bad reps in Ghana

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