Fresh from a G8 summit where leaders agreed to spend $20 billion to improve food security in poor countries, Obama stressed that Africans must also take a leading role in sorting out their many problems.
"Development depends upon good governance," Obama said in a speech to Ghana's parliament. "That is the ingredient which has been missing in far too many places, for far too long. That is the change that can unlock Africa's potential. And that is a responsibility that can only be met by Africans."
In an address that offered the most detailed view of Obama's Africa policy, he took aim at corruption and rights abuses on the continent, warning that growth and development would be retarded until such problems were tackled.
"No country is going to create wealth if its leaders exploit the economy to enrich themselves, or police can be bought off by drug traffickers. No business wants to invest in a place where the government skims 20 percent off the top," Obama said. in nytimes.com, Reuters, Filed at 9:53 a.m. ET
Obama’s Ghana Visit Highlights Scarce Stability in Africa
NIAMEY, Niger — Amid the fever of excitement over President Obama’s first visit to sub-Saharan Africa since taking office, the debate over why he chose Ghana has been almost as prevalent as the many bars, stores and barbershops bearing his name across the region.
Was it a not-so-subtle snub of Kenya, his father’s homeland? Even more broadly, was he giving short shrift to other African governments and citizens by visiting a single country on such a diverse continent?
Mr. Obama says he chose Ghana to “highlight” its adherence to democratic principles and institutions, ensuring the kind of stability that brings prosperity. “This isn’t just some abstract notion that we’re trying to impose on Africa,” he told AllAfrica.com. He added: “The African continent is a place of extraordinary promise as well as challenges. We’re not going to be able to fulfill those promises unless we see better governance.”
With that as his objective, a harsh reality emerged: Mr. Obama did not have too many options. From one end of the continent to the other, the sort of peaceful, transparent election that Ghana held last December is still an exception rather than the norm, analysts said. The same is true for the country’s comparatively well-managed economy.
“The choice was, in fact, quite limited,” said Philippe Hugon, an Africa expert at the Institut de Relations Internationales et Stratégiques in Paris. “It wasn’t huge.”
Countries like Botswana, Namibia and South Africa have consistently received better-than-average global scores for their governance in recent years, according to rankings based on World Bank research.
But a cartoon in this week’s Jeune Afrique, the French magazine widely followed on the continent, seemed to sum up Mr. Obama’s dilemma: John Atta-Mills, Ghana’s president, is depicted holding back the door of a hut labeled “West Africa” from which blood, a grenade and explosions with the names of various countries in the region are bursting.
The list of exploding countries, unstable countries, corrupt countries, is long. Military coups still break out with regularity, as in Guinea and Mauritania within the last year. Journalists in a number of countries continue to be killed, jailed, tortured, forced into exile or otherwise muzzled. A day after Mr. Obama’s visit to Ghana, the Congo Republic will hold elections that have already been attacked as flawed, after the country’s constitutional court recently rejected the candidacies of opponents to incumbent Denis Sassou-Nguesso, leaving the president as a heavy favorite.
Mr. Obama seemed to acknowledge as much in his interview, saying that the democratic progress in recent years had been accompanied by “some backsliding.” He even singled out Kenya as a worrisome example, noting the political paralysis that had plagued the country since its bout of postelection violence last year.
Despite the obvious wincing such criticism may cause, many Kenyans not only seem to understand Mr. Obama’s choice to visit Ghana, but endorse it. Kenyans often follow politics like a sport, so it was not uncommon to hear them in recent weeks describing Mr. Obama’s choice as a savvy one, insulating him from any accusations that he was favoring his father’s country.
That said, the gulf separating the West and many African leaders on fundamental issues like human rights was on display just last week. The African Union announced that it would refuse to cooperate with the International Criminal Court in its attempt to prosecute the Sudanese president, Omar Hassan Al-Bashir, for crimes against humanity, over the mass killings in Darfur. Even Mr. Atta-Mills was reported to back the refusal as “best for Africa.”
Human rights groups denounced the decision, as did some African leaders on Friday, when a smaller African Union panel headed by South Africa’s former president, Thabo Mbeki, backed the court’s indictment and called on the accused to appear in court, news agencies reported.
Despite the various rejections of the court, Mr. Obama’s top adviser for Africa, Michelle Gavin, praised for the African Union, telling reporters that it “has really been sort of forging ahead, commenting much more strongly than in the past on unconstitutional transfers of power.”
Yet some of the recent evidence from the continent only partly supports Ms. Gavin’s point. African leaders, for instance, flocked to the funeral of the recently deceased president of Gabon, Omar Bongo, lavishing praise and benedictions on a long-ruling autocrat widely seen in the West as having stolen his country’s oil wealth on the way to becoming immensely rich himself, while his country remained impoverished.
This region’s recent history underscores the extent to which Ghana is now an odd man out on the continent, after its own long history of dictatorship and coups: The election in December was extremely close, there was no violence, and the loser, the candidate of the party that had been in power, Nana Akufo-Addo, accepted his defeat without fuss.