Obama's One-Night Stand
I read of President Barack Obama's proposed overnight stopover in Ghana in July this year and did not particularly feel any enthusiasm about it. Then my good friend and adopted elder brother, Mr. Kwasi Ohene, phoned me this Sunday (5/17/09) to confirm the same news report.
As usual Opanyin Kwasi was poignantly analytical about the decidedly incidental significance of the Obama visit, as it were. Actually, it was the ubiquitous New York Times, the putative newspaper of global record, that cast the matter in a blisteringly plain manner. Almost with a sadistic thrust and tone. And, of course, for those of us intimately familiar with the dietary fare of The Times, as the Big Apple's landmark media institution is affectionately called, the blatantly raw attempt to characterize President Obama's stopover as a piddling and allowable consolation prize to Africans (actually, the African-American community here in the United States), was logically to be expected.
In fact, it could not have been more logical. In essence, what the New York Times' editorial sought to clarify, and in the process unmistakably confirm, is something that avid students of both American and African politics have always known, even if with a deep emotional hurt – something dangerously verging on outright remorse. And the latter fact is that Africa continues to be perceived in the hallowed corridors of mainstream American politics as the mythological “Timbucktu,” a forbidding outpost of history that is, at best, barely beyond the pale of contemporary global civic political discourse. In this sense, the Hegelian concept of Africa as mnemonically preexistent remains pretty much the norm. which is not, in any way, to gloss over the fact of the primeval continent needing to expeditiously resolve quite a slew of functional kinks and conundrums in order to respectably keep abreast with the rest of the Cybernetic World of the twenty-first century.
In its brutal, albeit honest-to-God essence, this is how the New York Times characterized both the symbolic significance of Ghana, within the marginal purview of global politics, and the Obama stopover in particular: “The White House passed over Kenya where Mr. Obama's late father was from [and is buried], in favor of the small nation of Ghana as the site of his first presidential visit to sub-Saharan Africa. A year after Kenya exploded in political violence, it remains a tense and unsettled place. Ghana, by contrast, is an outpost of democracy and civil society in a volatile region” (Ghanaweb.com 5/18/09).
Speaking of “volatility,” perhaps it would have been far more accurate for the editors of the New York Times to have described Ghana as “an oasis” amidst a region caught in a deathly struggle between the morbid and primitive after-effects of Western slavo-colonial imperialism and the purely visceral and human need to live in freedom and dignity. And on both counts, it goes without saying that the bulk of the Ghanaian electorate has a ways to go, as it were.
Indeed, for this writer, the official announcement of President Obama's stopover in Ghana vividly recalls another event several weeks ago, in which the first African-American premier, reportedly, phoned his opposite number in Accra in order to heartily congratulate President John Evans Atta-Mills on his new status, three whopping months after the fact! Back then, as yours truly recalls (4/13/09), I published an article titled “Obama's Call Was Not Congratulatory but a Diplomatic Warning.” As usual, ardent and fanatical supporters of Ghana's ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC) descended on me with grotesque claims to the effect of this author being pathologically jaundiced for frankly observing the pretty obvious.
Now, vindicatively, the New York Times, aside from candidly informing its global audience of the fact of nepotism, apparently, riding at the top of Mr. Obama's relationship to the African continent – for as the Akan-Ghanaian proverb says: “One does not point to the location of one's fatherland with one's left index-finger – also claims that Africa is apt to remain a political afterthought in the imagination and affairs of Washington, with or without President Obama, for quite a while. Consequently, we are told, in certain terms, that: “Mr. Obama will travel to Accra, the capital of Ghana, on July 10 for an overnight stop at the end of a trip that will first take him to Moscow to meet with Russian leaders and then Sardinia [Italy] for the annual summit of the Group of Eight powers. Not counting Egypt, where he will travel next month, it will be Mr. Obama's first trip to Africa as the first African-American president. And while a quick one-night, one-stop visit might not produce the spectacle of a longer journey across the continent, it will surely generate global attention.”
Further, the New York Times' editorial reports that “White House aides said they might have preferred a longer trip to Africa, along the lines of one Mr. Obama took in 2006 as a senator, but found themselves constrained by his schedule. A president has certain travel obligations each year because of summits and the like and his foreign policy advisers realized that if they waited for time for an Africa-only trip, it would be later in his tenure.”
In other words, according to the New York Times' editorial, President Obama's July Ghana stopover may be aptly described as a sort of “Don't Rock the Boat, Homeboy!” trip. Well, hasn't it been said time and again that “Half a loaf is better than none”?
For the bloody leaders of Ghana's so-called National Democratic Congress (NDC), however, even a whistle-stop by President Obama – whose image and name they shameless trucked during campaigns leading up to last December's general election – offers ample bragging rights and even tacit approval for their currently ongoing campaign of systematic harassment and persecution of their ideological opponents. Which is exactly why one wishes that Mr. Obama had rather selected Botswana, for example, as a veritable model of good governance in postcolonial Africa.
Still, whether an overnight stopover offers a significant and adequate opportunity for Mr. Obama to dissertate on the imperative need for Africa's political culture to be aligned with Western-type democracy and the stringent upholding of the salient tenets of human rights is, of course, moot. As for Mr. Obama's widely rumored intended visit to the Cape Coast Castle, a morally crippling monument of European enslavement of Africans, a far better one exists in the indubitably potent symbolic representation of the Osu Castle (a.k.a. Christiansborg Castle), Ghana's seat of governance since 1896.
Needless to say, the Osu Castle offers a more balanced view of the interracial and collaborative effort that was the peculiar and barbarous trade in African humanity; and in our own era, strikingly typified by the reprobate personalities of Messrs. Jeremiah John Rawlings and John Evans (Atta-) Mills.
*Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D., is Associate Professor of English, Journalism and Creative Writing at Nassau Community College of the State University of New York, Garden City. He is the author of “Ghanaian Politics Today” (Atumpan Publications/lulu.com, 2008). E-mail: [email protected]
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