The Obamas in Africa: the people’s perspective

President Obama’s visit to Africa is the first time the first African American President steps on the continent. From African governments, there is a relief that Africa is not placed on the backburner and unlike other US Presidents; he has visited Africa fairly early in his Presidency.

However the choice of Ghana as President Obama’s first destination caused some uproar with other countries particularly Nigeria – the most powerful nation on the continent – and Kenya, the home of the president’s father.

In response to the question, “why Ghana?” in an interview with Obama responded by praising Ghana as having held successful elections in which power was transferred peacefully. He also noted Ghanian’s new President, Mr. Mills, had shown himself committed to the rule of law, and to the kinds of democratic commitments that ensure stability in a country.

Many Kenyans were dissappointed by their own government’s lack of commitmment to the Peace Accord signed after the post election violence in December 2007 and believe that Obama’s choice of Ghana is in support of the Kenyan people, sending a clear message to the Kenyan coalition government that it needs to increase the pace of implementation of the Peace Accord.

Aside from the choice of country, Africans and Africans in diaspora views on Obama’s visit to the continent are diverse. Some see the trip as a way to reinforce and seek America’s interest first than a trip beneficial to Africa. Nigerian Seye Ajagbe speaking to an online African magazine remarked, “Obama’s going to Ghana first in Africa is all about America’s interest. The latest African nation with the discovery of large commercial oil now is Ghana. It has nothing to do with which African nation is the greatest, and should be visited first.”

In a BBC interview about his expectations for Obama’s trip, Ghanaian Abednego Otchere hopes that African leaders will not squander the opportunity by merely asking for aid but will negotiate better trade relationships between the USA and Africa. Furthermore, he hopes Obama will use his considerable influence to urge African leaders to create these opportunities and provide social facilities for African people.

Dr Nasser Malit, a Kenyan residing in New York maintains that Obama’s visit to Ghana is still significant to African countries because as the President of the most powerful country in the world, Obama deals with issues at a global level and not at a national one. Dr. Malit supports the idea that African leaders should take the opportunity to lobby for stronger bilateral relationships with the USA that can translate into better trade opportunities and better market access.

Largely missing is a request for aid from the views of the majority of Africans interviewed. Many Africans are not comfortable with aid and are skeptical of its effectiveness; they look to their governments to provide an enabling environment for better trade and strengthened intuitions for rule of law, sound property rights and democracy to prevail.
Moreover, they think their governments are capable of providing good governance but are hindered by the corrupt elite who siphon state resources at the expense of development.

With Obama’s presidency, Africans feel they have an ally in the white house, who understands that democracy, rule of law and its underpinnings are a prerequisite to better trade relationship with the USA. They expect that Obama’s trip will reinforce this position and push other African governments to embrace democratic principles of governing as is happening in Ghana.

There is excitement throughout Africa, and an open line to field questions to the President’s White House page has been flooded with messages from all over the continent. The messages are both supportive and critical and Obama will take the opportunity to respond to some of the messages.

We wait with bated breath on the outcome of this historic visit.