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PRESIDENT OBAMA'S FIRST VISIT TO AFRICA

BY LEONARD MADU
 Published  July 11th, 2009

On July 10-11, President Obama will visit the west African state of Ghana. This will be president Obama's first visit to Africa since assuming office. On assuming office, Obama's administration articulated a three point African policy. One is to accelerate Africa's integration into the global economy. Second is to enhance the peace and security of African states. Third is to strengthen the relationships with those govts, institutions, and civil society organizations committed to deepening democracy, accountability and reducing poverty in Africa.

My diplomatic sources tell me that several African countries lobbied the White House for the presidential visit. However, in addition to other reasons, Ghana was chosen for meeting the the third and most important prong of the administration's Africa policy-commitment to democracy and accountability. Among west African states, Ghana is the only one to hold a transparent election in which the opposition party defeated the ruling party and assumed power. Rarely does an opposition party defeat a ruling party in Africa. This in itself is an accomplishment. Moreover, Ghana's economy is on the upswing and it's leaders have not looted the treasury as those in Nigeria have done. It is also important to note that Ghana was the first state in sub-Saharan Africa to achieve its independence in 1957 under that great visionary, Kwame Nkrumah. What is significant about Ghana's turn around is that prior to 1979, it was an economic and political basket case almost run into the ground by years of misrule, by incompetent and ruthlessly corrupt military leaders. However the assumption of power by Jerry Rawlings in 1979 and again in 1981 rescued Ghana from an impending disaster. Rawlings not only gave the Ghanaian economy a strong dose of IMF prescribed economic medicine, but also dealt very ferociously with corrupt officials. Rawlings crusade against corruption worked because, he was disinterested in looting the treasury like the leaders of the much larger and richer Nigeria. When his party was defeated by the opposition party led by John Kuffuor, he handed over power peacefully, gracefully, and bowed out. That would never have happened in Nigeria where the ruling party does everything to suffocate any opposition. Unlike in most African states, Kuffuor did not discard Rawlings successes, but built upon them. Ghana is where it is today, because of the actions of two leaders(Rawlings and Kuffuor) who were not interested in stealing the people blind. Quite the opposite in Nigeria where from 1999-2007, the President, the Vice president and their cronies were fighting over who stole the most amount of money while millions of Nigerians do not have electricity, water and adequate health care. While in power, the President and Vice President of Nigeria were competing to see who builds the biggest private university with stolen state funds, while the country's educational institutions were in shambles. The first and only free election ever held in Nigeria was in 1993 and it was canceled by the military, because they could not rig it and the wrong man won. The current President and 90% of the governors were imposed on the the people after a charade called elections in 2007, and the looting of the treasury goes on unabated. The government in Nigeria cannot tell how many people live in the country, because every census ever conducted since 1963 has been manipulated to benefit a section of the country. As we speak, a fledgling insurgency sparked by injustice over the distribution of the oil wealth is going on in Nigeria. The current ruling party, the Poverty Development Party of Nigeria (PDP) is the most corrupt political party on the continent.

The comparison of Ghana and Nigeria is very relevant here, because Nigerian officials have been very upset ans uncomfortable that President Obama chose to go to Ghana first instead of Nigeria. They view it as an insult to the country. A diplomatic source who spoke to me on condition of anonymity, states that Nigerian officials will even be satisfied if President Obama's plane makes a brief stop over at the Abuja airport(the capital) on its way to or from Ghana.

When African countries are been encouraged to hold transparent elections and genuinely clamp down on corruption, it would be sending the wrong message for Obama to travel to Nigeria first. It won't be wise to reward a kleptocracy with a presidential visit, just because it calls itself the giant of Africa where nothing works. Nigeria should emulate Ghana by putting its house in order first.

Today, Ghana is again the beacon of West Africa and Nkrumah's dream of Ghana's pre-eminent role in the politics of Black Africa is been realized. The White House made the right decision for the President to visit Ghana first. The next stop should be Botswana, Africa's most enduring democracy.

*DR. LEONARD MADU IS A DIPLOMATIC TROUBLESHOOTER AND PRESIDENT OF THE AFRICAN CHAMBER OF COMMERCE.



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