The People In Darkness
The general mood in Accra on the Monday after the historic trip of US President Barack Obama to Ghana from July 10 to 11, 2009, as reflected in the gait and demeanour of many people, seemed to be one of pride and self-assurance.
The feeling one had was of a sense of empowerment exuding from everyone, as though saying: “Now we can!” without as much as uttering a word.
And the whole atmosphere has since been lightened by a bright sun that had not been constant in the Ghanaian skies for days before the epoch-making visit.
The absence of the sun and the constancy of rain that caused planners to inadvertently deny tens of thousands of Ghanaians from seeing the sexy dignitary in public have since been reversed.
It hasn’t rained in Accra for days since the visit, and in many striking senses, it can be said that Barack Obama has brought great light into a larger realm that in many ways is still called the Dark Continent.
In his spirited effort to help the process to dissipate that cloudy image of Africa, Obama did not mince words when he addressed Africa’s constant concerns before Ghana’s Parliament on Saturday, July 11, 2009. And all agree he just as well did not.
The banner headline of one leading Ghanaian daily on Monday read, “Obama Schools Ghanaians”, while This Day of Nigeria reported that “America’s first black president spoke with a bluntness that perhaps could only come from a member of Africa’s extended family.”
In what was clearly the theme of his well-acclaimed speech, Obama warned that forces of tyranny and corruption must yield if Africa is to achieve its promise.
“Let me be clear: If we are honest, for far too many Africans, conflict is a part of life, as constant as the sun…And it is still far too easy for those without conscience,” he said, “to manipulate whole communities into fighting among faiths and tribes.”
For many observers, addressing the dimension of conscience in the context of African problems is hitting the nail right on the head as probably never as effectively identified and isolated as before.
This position is in harmony with the Preamble of the Charter of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), which says: “Since it is in the minds of men that conflicts originate, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed.”
But the mind is inspired by the heart. And many a socio-religious pundit has validated the popular pun that, “The heart of the matter is the matter of the heart.”
So, if the heart of the matter of human survival and progress is proffered to be the matter or quality of the human heart, why would it seem that the role the inner nature of people and leaders play in the governance of nations is routinely relegated from public discourse and development strategies?
Relegated or compartmentalised into a department of a Ministry of State that deals with matters of religion and culture?
Or still, left to the nurturing care of every saint or the shady dealings of any criminal who dons the garb of God? Yet the Bible decrees that “By their fruits ye shall know [the cruel].”
And this verdict is the ruling by which society also finally judges the swirling inner constructs of the hearts of men.
But, with the untold moral and social ills that perennially plague it, how well is society itself positioned to judge its own?
After a guided tour of Ghana’s Cape Coast Castle — the 17th century Trans-Atlantic Slave trading outpost — with his wife, children Malia and Sasha, and in-law, on Saturday, July 11, 2009, President Obama made a profound remark about a fundamental moral aberration within human society:
“One of the most striking things that I heard was that right above the dungeons in which male captives were kept was a church. And that reminds us that sometimes we can tolerate and stand by great evil even as we think we are doing good.”
President Obama described the tour of the Cape Coast Castle as a moving experience. “As painful as it is, I think that it helps teach all of us that we have to do what we can to fight against the kinds of evils that, sadly, still exist in our world, not just on this continent but in every corner of the globe,” he said.
The age-old aberration that dawned on Obama in the Cape Coast Castle also reminds us that for those who may be quick to point accusing fingers at others, no matter their infractions, three more of the fingers point at themselves; and the greatest finger, the thumb, points upward — to God, the greatest judge.
And still, for the ruthless, and those who would deny the sovereignty of a God, “an illimitable Superior Spirit”, in the affairs of men, conscience — “that still, small voice” — will remain the highest moral authority that condemns the unrepentant transgressors. For, as is held universally, truth stands – and stands the test of time.
Of such importance is President Obama’s message to all and sundry. It spells out the self-instigated isolation from the orderly progress of human society, “those without conscience” who “manipulate [people: relatives, church members, co-workers and] whole communities into fighting among faith and tribe.”
Such people are those who destroy society and social institutions — the so-called “strongmen” opposed to the fostering of “strong institutions” whom Obama points out Africa does not need.
For the continent’s progress and stability, he indicated that the era of “macho men” — the selfish and wicked — must end.
The American President said, “History offers a clear verdict: Governments that respect the will of their own people, that govern by consent and not by coercion, are more prosperous, they are more stable, and more successful than governments that do not. This is about more than just holding elections…
“Repression can take many forms…No country is going to create wealth if its leaders exploit the economy to enrich themselves…No person wants to live in a society where the rule of law gives way to the rule of brutality and bribery.
That is not democracy, that is tyranny.” These pronouncements echo the edict of Black civil rights forerunner, Frederick Douglas (1818 -1895): “The life of the nation is secure only while the nation is honest, truthful and virtuous.
” And Obama probably knows this more than any other product of a successful system he or she heads.
Indeed, for what America is today, much is owed to the virtuous sacrifices of their founding fathers — be they Pilgrim Fathers, early migrants or African Slaves who bore the brunt of nation-building.
For those devoted pioneers, survival meant thriving with grit and determination to secure a better future for their children and their children’s children.
They held nothing back turning wildernesses, swamps and tall forest trees into the luxuriant parks, fast expressways and the glass and steel skyscrapers whose functions sustain the melting-pot of diverse cultures their enlightened son proudly presides over today.
Similarly, Obama affirms that Africa’s diversity should be a source of strength, not a cause for division. “We are all God’s children. We all share common aspirations — to live in peace and security; to access education and opportunity; to love our families and communities and our faith — this is our common humanity.
That is why we must stand up to inhumanity in our midst. It is never justified — never justifiable to target innocents in the name of ideology.” This intimation represents the integrity and moral of Obama’s message to the teeming masses of Africans striving to build better lives for themselves and their families: That, it pays to do the right things.
For, doing the right things — as Martin Luther King, Jr. was convinced, at the Independence of Ghana, — leads to “the ultimate triumph of justice”.
“Now, that triumph must be won once more, and it must be won by the…young people all across Africa and right here in Ghana,” Obama said at the International Conference Centre to resounding applause.
How will that triumph be won once more? President Obama said the young people, who make up over half of the populations in many parts of Africa, must hold their leaders accountable and help build institutions that serve the people. They can serve in their various localities and harness their energies and education to create new wealth.
President Obama was certain the leaders of tomorrow could conquer disease, end conflict and bring about change from the grass roots to the higher levels of governance. “You can do that. Yes, you can,” he declared to a rousing acclamation.
“[But] it won’t be easy. It will take time and effort. There will be suffering and setbacks. But,” the United States President promised, “America will be with you every step of the way - as a partner, as a friend.”
This assurance of the partnership and companionship of the most powerful man on earth, with the vast resources of his realm in tow, must gladden the heart of every Ghanaian; and that certainly includes the President, His Excellency John Evans Atta Mills.
In his brief welcoming address delivered just before President Obama’s illuminating heart-to-heart talk to his African brothers and sisters, President Mills expressed the audacious hope that the historic visit of the first African-American President to the first African country south of the Sahara to attain independence, and also to host him after his inauguration, would “mark the beginning of a more lasting relationship between Ghana and the United States of America.” And Obama replied, “Ghana, freedom is your inheritance!”
By Raymond Tuvi
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