President Obama Visits Ghana

8:13 PM, Jul 11, 2009   |    comments
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ACCRA, Ghana (AP) -- President Barack Obama said his visit to Ghana on Saturday was designed to illustrate that "Africa is not separate from world affairs."

Obama said events in Africa do not lose their effects at the continent's borders and said Africa is a fully integrated part of the global economy.

"What happens here has an impact everywhere," Obama said during a meeting with Ghanaian President John Atta Mills.
Obama scheduled a 21-hour visit to the West African nation to highlight that country's democratic tradition and engagement with the West.

During his first visit to sub-Saharan Africa since taking office, Obama sought to lift up the continent of his ancestors -- while keeping its emotions in check.

Greeted by a rush of excitement on his arrival here, the United States' first black president planned a speech to Ghana's Parliament on Saturday outlining his hope for a future Africa prospering in democracy. He was also visiting a hospital and a one-time slave trading post, joined by his wife, Michelle, a great-great granddaughter of slaves.

But his speech was also pitched as a sobering account of Africa's enduring afflictions: hunger, disease, corruption, ethnic strife and strongman rule.

No big public event was planned -- in part for fear it could cause a celebratory stampede, as a 1998 stop by President Bill Clinton almost did.

"I can say without any fear of contradiction that all Ghanaians want to see you. I wish it were possible for me to send you to every home in Ghana," Mills said, underscoring the U.S. first family's popularity that gave them Page One billing in many of the nation's newspapers.

People lined the streets Saturday morning, many waving at every vehicle of Obama's motorcade as it headed toward a meeting at Osu Castle, the storied coastline presidential state house.

One woman emerged from a coffee shop to wave a tiny U.S. flag while others sold posters and T-shirts with Obama's picture. Many billboards lined the roads, including one that showed the president and his wife with the greeting, "Ghana loves you."

While the people of Ghana may be in a frenzy over Obama's visit, the president started his day with typical calm. Wearing a gray T-shirt and gym pants, he walked through the lobby of his hotel virtually unnoticed at 7:30 a.m. local time on his way to the downstairs gym for a morning workout.

A short time later, his motorcade left the hotel, passed under hovering military helicopters and arrived for a delayed welcome ceremony. Mills greeted his counterpart and then the pair went inside for one-on-one meetings.

Selecting Ghana as the starting point of his black Africa travels, the president sought to highlight a continental success story.
"We think that Ghana can be an extraordinary model for success throughout the continent," Obama told Mills before joining about 350 people for an outdoor breakfast at the castle.

Obama planned to highlight those successes during a midday speech, urging Africans to embrace a future of accountable leaders and open markets. To ensure a wide audience, the administration organized events for the public to watch video of Obama's speech at embassies and cultural centers across Africa.
But the speech was also a splash of cold water for Africans still nursing grievances over colonial rule.

"For many years we've made excuses about corruption or poor governance, (insisting) this was somehow the consequence of neocolonialism, or the West has been oppressive, or racism," he told last week. "I'm not a believer in excuses."

Those sentiments led Obama to avoid his father's native Kenya for this stop. Tensions in Kenya remain high after a disputed 2007 election and subsequent ethnic bloodshed.

Later in the day, Obama planned to tour Cape Coast Castle, a seaside fortress converted to the slave trade by the British in the 17th century. In its dungeons, thousands of shackled Africans huddled in squalor before being herded onto ships bound for America. While Michelle Obama's great-great grandfather was a slave in South Carolina, his African origins are not known.

The castle visit mirrored ones paid by Clinton and George W. Bush to the slave-trading post of Goree Island, Senegal -- with the added impact of Obama's mixed-race background and history-making election.

In Ghana, too, Obama followed in Clinton's footsteps. In 1998, a surging crowd cheered Clinton in Accra's Independence Square and toppled barricades after his speech. Clinton shouted, "Back up! Back up!", his Secret Service detail clearly frantic.

Bush's reception last year was less tumultuous, but equally warm. At a welcoming banquet, then-President John Kufuor noted huge increases in U.S. development aid and AIDS relief -- and named a highway after Bush. Earlier, Bush hosted Kufuor at one of his few White House state dinners.

Obama on Saturday, however, tried for a lower profile.
"The president wanted to use this visit to shine a light on Ghana and on what it is doing so successfully rather than on him," Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters.

Even so, Obama said previous U.S. leaders' trips to the continent were weeklong tours but seldom integrated into their global travel. Obama said he wants to take an approach that shows Africa's ties to international policies.

Obama -- son of a Kenyan father and white mother from Kansas -- first toured Africa in 1992. The newly minted Harvard law school grad savored its sights, sounds and tastes. In "Dreams from My Father," he recalled running his hand over his father's burial plot. "I had sat at my father's grave and spoken to him through Africa's red soil," he wrote.

Obama flew to Ghana after the G-8 summit in L'Aquila, Italy, approved a new $20 billion food security plan. It aims to help poor nations in Africa and elsewhere avert mass starvation during the global recession.

He also had a cordial first meeting with Pope Benedict XVI. In their half-hour private audience at the Vatican, the two reviewed Mideast peace and anti-poverty efforts, aides reported.

They also discussed abortion and stem cell research at length, Benedict giving him a treatise on bioethics to read while flying here, the White House said.

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