Obama in Ghana: War a ‘millstone around Africa’s neck’
(CNN) — President Obama reached out to Africa in a speech in Ghana on Saturday, praising the continent’s achievements but condemning persistent wars, calling them the “millstone around Africa’s neck.
“Despite the progress that has been made — and there has been considerable progress in parts of Africa — we also know that much of that promise has yet to be fulfilled,” Obama said in a speech to the parliament of Ghana, a West African nation seen as a model of democracy and growth for the rest of the continent.
Obama’s visit, the third by a sitting American president, highlighted the stability, political strides and painstaking economic progress that Ghana made in being the first sub-Saharan nation to gain independence, in 1957.
This is in sharp contrast to conditions in other continent hot spots cited by Obama — Zimbabwe, where the society is in economic and political turmoil; Sudan, where fighting rages in the Darfur region, and Somalia, site of civil warfare. Congo and Liberia have also been in the throes of war.
“Here in Ghana, you show us a face of Africa that is too often overlooked by a world that sees only tragedy or the need for charity,” Obama said.
“The people of Ghana have worked hard to put democracy on a firmer footing, with peaceful transfers of power even in the wake of closely contested elections. And with improved governance and an emerging civil society, Ghana’s economy has shown impressive rates of growth.”
After his speech, Obama toured Cape Coast Castle, the notorious fort used in the transatlantic slave trade.
After viewing the castle, a visibly moved Obama, who was accompanied by his wife and two daughters, said that the site held special significance for him.
“As Americans, as African-Americans obviously, there’s a special sense that on the one hand this place was a place of profound sadness, on the other hand,” he said, “it is here where the journey of much of the African-American experience began,” he said.
Earlier in the day, Obama in his speech to the country’s lawmakers said the kind of nation-building exemplified by Ghana doesn’t have the “drama of the 20th century’s liberation struggles,” but he believes “it will ultimately be more significant.”
“We must first recognize 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,” he said. “That is the change that can unlock Africa’s potential. And that is a responsibility that can only be met by Africans.”
Obama pointed to Kenya — where his father was born — as an example of unmet potential.
“Countries like Kenya, which had a per-capita economy larger than South Korea’s when I was born, have been badly outpaced. Disease and conflict have ravaged parts of the African continent. In many places, the hope of my father’s generation gave way to cynicism, even despair,” he said.
“History shows that countries thrive when they invest in their people and infrastructure, when they promote multiple export industries, develop a skilled workforce, and create space for small and medium-sized businesses that create jobs.”
Obama said the United States has committed $63 billion to a global, comprehensive health strategy.
“Building on the strong efforts of President [George W.] Bush, we will carry forward the fight against HIV/AIDS. We will pursue the goal of ending deaths from malaria and tuberculosis, and we will work to eradicate polio.
“We will fight neglected tropical disease. And we won’t confront illnesses in isolation — we will invest in public health systems that promote wellness, and focus on the health of mothers and children,” Obama said.
The visit by the first African-American president in the United States sparked a frenzy in the country as street vendors sold miniature U.S. flags, and massive billboards with pictures of a smiling Obama and “akwaaba, ” the local word for welcome, were set up in the capital city.
“People in Ghana are printing clothes for this occasion,” said Adrian Landry, general manager of a beach hotel in Accra.
“The fact that his father is African and he picked us makes us special,” he said. “He is endorsing our strong democracy in Ghana. This is historic.”
Bill Clinton was the first U.S. president to visit Ghana in 1998 as part of a six-nation Africa tour. Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush, stopped there as part of a four-nation Africa tour during his last year of office.
Obama, who recently attended the G-8 summit in Italy, will not visit any other country in the continent during the trip.