31.05.2009 Feature Article

Why Obama's visit to Ghana is not that significant

Why Obama's visit to Ghana is not that significant
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There will be intense excitement when US president Barack Obama and his wife Michelle touchdown in Ghana in July for a two day official visit to the country.

Much will be made about the significance of Obama's first official visit to Afrika as US president, especially the fact that he chose to make Ghana his first destination.

Let us critically analyze this and why in my opinion Obama's visit to Ghana is really about looking after US interests in Ghana particularly the oil.

Let us be quite candid about this, Obama's first visit as US president to Afrika was always going to attract intense media attention not least for the fact that he has an Afrikan father, and for that matter many thought that Kenya would have been his first destination to visit as US president.

The White House's decision to pick Ghana as Obama's first trip to Afrika was deliberate as it was strategic. These folks at the white house do not do things for nothing - they are very meticulous in their preparation and strategic thinking.

It was no accident that Ghana was chosen as Obama's first official trip to Afrika. Why? Well Ghana rightly or wrongly is seen as a beacon of Afrikan democracy; Secondly Ghana was the first 'sub-Saharan' Afrikan country to gain political independence and was at the forefront of the Pan-Afrikan struggle against Western imperialism and domination.

Thirdly Ghana was at the centre of the infamous Trans-Atlantic enslavement of Afrikans and since Obama's visit co-incides with the annual PANAFEST celebrations it is appropriate that Obama come to Ghana.

It has been widely acknowledged and accepted by historians that the majority of Afrikan-Americans are of Ghanaian heritage and specifically belong to the Akan people.

During the 15-16 centuries Ghana was the nerve centre of the Trans-Atlantic enslavement of Afrikan people and this is emphasized by the numerous slave forts that dot the Ghanaian coastline - in which many millions of Ghanaians and Africans were taken to the Americas and the Caribbean.

So this reflects the socio-cultural aspect of Obama's visit where he is expected to visit a fort or two to symbolize this important chapter of Ghanaian and American history.

However the main reason why Obama is in Ghana is to promote and protect US interests in the country.

As I said in an earlier article Obama's victory will mean nothing to Afrika unless US foreign policy towards Afrika changes drastically.

This is the main contention of Obama's visit. Is he coming to enforce US policy in Afrika by securing US interests first or he is going to open a new chapter in US/Afrika policy by being sympathetic to Afrika's cause.

I have serious doubts because Obama was selected, nominated and elected by the US corporate elite who are counting on Obama to safeguard their interests not least oil.

Before we get onto the issue of oil, let us concentrate for a moment on AFRICOM. AFRICOM is an initiative or policy that was conceived by the neo-cons in the Bush administration that knew as far back as 2002 that Afrika particularly West Afrika would become strategically important for the US government.

Why? - This is because the West Afrika sub-region has about 10 countries that produce oil. Some of these countries include Nigeria, Sao Tome, Mauritania, Ghana and Equatorial Guinea.

Since the US is the world's biggest user of oil and with demand for oil in it's normally 'safe haven' of the 'middle-east' (North-East Afrika), becoming very precarious, the Bush administration decided that West Afrika provided a safe and reliable source of oil.

However given what has happened in the Niger Delta it thought that precautions had to be taken so the US conceived of AFRICOM which is a military initiative to safeguard American corporate interests in the region.

AFRICOM is already a reality operating from its base in Germany after its original plan to have its headquarters in Afrika was met with unease.

Despite this AFRICOM is a reality and there are already US military basis in Afrika and US military engaging in military exercises with many Afrikan countries including Ghana.

KOSMOS Energy that has been at the forefront of oil exploration in Ghana has huge commercial interests in Ghana and the wider Afrikan continent.

So oil is a main component of the AFRICOM initiative and Obama is in Ghana to safeguard America's corporate interests and NOT the interests of Ghana.

Another point to consider on Obama's visit to Ghana is US-Ghana trade. An example of this imbalance in US-Ghana trade relations is that Ghana once a thriving producer of rice is now through trade polices an importer of rice, most of which comes from the US. By the way the rice lobby in the United States is a huge lobby with enormous clout.

Ghana's once thriving rice industry used to employ thousands of Ghanaians but now due to the importation of rice, many Ghanaians have lost their jobs and in the process giving those jobs to foreigners.

Another aspect of the trade relationship between Ghana and the United States that needs attention is the AGOA accord. AGOA is the African Growth and Opportunities Act. AGOA is an initiative by the US government to give Afrikan countries and their producers the opportunity to have access to the lucrative US market pending certain conditionalities.

Despite many Afrikan countries meeting these conditionalities many have not reaped any benefit of the AGOA act. On the other hand many American companies like Kosmos Energy have enjoyed huge benefits in Afrikan markets.

So while Obama may be viewed in some quarters as a breath of fresh air and even a saviour to Afrika, time will tell if Obama will engage Afrika in a fair and equitable manner.

Author: Dr. Kwame Osei
Source: Public Agenda

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