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Obama, drugs and West Africa

Much is being made in the press here about U.S. President Barack Obama’s recent phone call to Ghanaian President John Atta Mills, to congratulate him and the Ghanaian people for a successful election. But more importantly, the two leaders “discussed the importance of combatting the growing narcotics trade which threatens stability throughout West Africa,” the White House statement said.

Some op-ed writers are using the occasion to beat up on Mills, saying the call was a “diplomatic warning.” It’s no secret that drug couriers have increasingly smuggled their products through Ghana en route to western Europe. Mills in last year’s campaign pledged to crack down on smugglers, and now he has a well-heeled partner in the fight. No downside there.

It will be interesting to see if Obama and Mills develop a relationship. Both are ideologically center-left and came to power after eight years of rule by their respective rival parties. Their predecessors, George W. Bush and John Kufuor, had a cozy relationship, both personally and diplomatically. Bush twice visited Ghana during his presidency and last September hosted a rare state dinner for Kufuor, who received a 21-gun salute on the White House lawn. Bush hosted just six state dinners. Chinese President Hu Jintao got a lunch during his visit in 2006.

At the dinner, Bush nearly flashed back to his ‘looked into his eyes and saw his soul’ moment when he told Kufuor “I have loved being in your presence.” That’s setting the bar pretty high for Obama-Mills. The closest the White House statement came to that warmth was this gem: “The president said that he is looking forward to further developing the strong U.S.-Ghana partnership."