When the sun went down Saturday July 11, 2009, it was the historic day that Barrack Obama, the 44th President of the United States of America left Ghana after a two day visit that lasted less than 24 hours.
It was a highly symbolic visit that brought the focus of the international community on Ghana, and it shall be a day to be remembered for a very long time.
The euphoria among Ghanaians in the days leading to Obama’s arrival was typically Ghanaian. But there was a twist in the case of Obama’s visit. Never before have so many paraphernalia of a visiting U.S president ‘crowded out’ other items on the shelves of traders in stores, or on the heads of street hawkers.
However, it was to be expected. This is a man whose ascendance to the White House became a triumphant song in the hearts of most people in Africa, and the world over; a man whose eloquence, knowledge and story is an inspiration to many Ghanaians both young and old.
Preparation for the two day visit was essentially adequate as it was constraining, but it was without the usual bureaucratic bottlenecks observed in most government institutions at these times.
Lt Col Larry Gbevlo-Lartey (retd), National Security Coordinator, explained in a Daily Graphic report that closure of business within the Airport City was part of security measures put in place to ensure a successful and uneventful visit. To a large extent that made sense.
But the bureaucratic inconsistencies that have plagued most of our official establishments reared its unsightly face at the Ministry of Information, where the Ministry was responsible for the provision of accreditation to journalists. The disappointment of the hundreds of both local and foreign journalists who were denied accreditation to cover the Obama event will stay with them for a long time to come.
Understandably, not every journalist would have had accreditation to cover the visit due to the sheer number of applicants. But a lot of wasted time and money would have been saved if the number of journalists to be accredited was made known before hand and how those who would want to send live feeds to their networks abroad could get to do that.
But worse still, some reporters who got accredited had other members of their team assigned to different events all thanks to a pool system which was anything but properly and sincerely structured.
For many of the disappointed journalists, it was not the inability to get the official recognition to cover the event that they found unfortunate. It was the contradictory and confusing statements of officials in charge of the accreditation; it was the snail pace operation of the ministry.
Obama’s visit is undoubtedly a plus for Ghana’s image on the international stage, but it is also a plus for President Mills’ government.
In an interview with allAfrica.com, Mr. Obama explained that he chose Ghana for his first visit to Sub-Saharan Africa because Ghana has undergone successful elections in which power has changed hands peacefully ‘even in very close election’. He went on to state that he was of the conviction that President Mills ‘has shown himself committed to the rule of law; to the kind of democratic commitment that ensure stability in a country’.
The significance of Obama’s visit is quite straight-forward. He is sending a message to other African countries that democracy, the type that truly protects human rights and property; the type that seeks to kick out corruption and is accountable to citizens is possible in Africa. And he will support and partner with any such African country that chose the path as taken by Ghana for the realization of development and progress of that country.
On the economic side, it may encourage more American investors to look at Ghana for business. Currently, American investments rank fifth among ten countries investing in Ghana. Factors which, according to the U.S Chamber of Commerce discourage American companies from doing business in Ghana include corruption, lawlessness, unstable governments and inadequate infrastructure. But with the endorsement of Ghana by President Obama, things should change for the better.
Ghana has once again taken the lead in a new era that is full of the promise to make Africa a better place to leave in; an era that will ultimately make Africa a more peaceful society that can turn its rich and abundant resources into wealth and opportunity for its people. But were we not in the lead some sixty years ago?
Obama’s visit should serve both as an encouragement to do even better as Ghanaians, but it must also humble us not to feel invincible. What ever exists in Nigeria, Kenya or even Zimbabwe that has earned them the displeasure of well meaning people in Africa and indeed the international community is very much existent in Ghana too and so we must not rest on our oars.
Ghana has come of age as a country trying to achieve the best for itself. Corruption among government officials; lack of dedication and timeliness, politicization of every government contract and policy, to mention only a few will only get us trying to reach the ultimate goal of meaningful development, but may not actually get us there.
By George Nyavor