ACCRA // Africa must solve its own problems, but America is standing by to help the continent out of poverty, end wars and fight disease, Barack Obama, the president of the United States, said in an address to the Ghanaian parliament yesterday. In his speech, Mr Obama articulated his policy for Africa, the homeland of his father and a continent his administration had focused little attention on since his inauguration in January.
"I do not see the countries and peoples of Africa as a world apart," Mr Obama said. "I see Africa as a fundamental part of our interconnected world, as partners with America on behalf of the future that we want for all our children. That partnership must be grounded in mutual responsibility. We must start from the simple premise that Africa's future is up to Africans." Mr Obama's 24-hour stopover in Ghana came on the heels of a G8 summit in Italy in which leaders of the world's largest economies pledged US$20 billion (Dh73.4bn) to help farmers in the developing world improve their agricultural output.
Before the speech, Mr Obama met with John Atta Mills, the recently elected Ghanaian president, and visited a local hospital. Mr Obama and his wife, Michelle, also toured a former British slave fort and held a poignant moment of silence on the spot where African slaves boarded ships bound for the Americas. Mr Obama, the first African-American president of the US, chose Ghana for his first Africa visit because of its recent history of democratic elections. But Mr Obama spoke to the whole continent in a speech that was meant to reach Africans just as his speech last month in Cairo targeted Muslims.
"I have the blood of Africa within me, and my family's own story encompasses both the tragedies and triumphs of the larger African story," he said inside a large conference centre draped with Ghanaian flags in Accra, the capital. "Here in Ghana, you show us a face of Africa that is too often overlooked by a world that sees only tragedy or the need for charity." A gospel choir welcomed Mr Obama with a rendition of the US national anthem. Mr Mills, dressed in a shiny white robe, told the US president that they share a common vision for Africa.
"Mr president, you and I stand here today because just over six months ago our respective compatriots voted for change," said Mr Mills, a former opposition leader who won a close election in December. Mr Obama said his administration would support democratic regimes. He praised opposition groups in Kenya and Zimbabwe, which held flawed elections and formed coalition governments. "Make no mistake, history is on the side of these brave Africans, and not with those who use coups or change constitutions to stay in power," he said. "Africa doesn't need strongmen, it needs strong institutions."
Jerry Rawlings and John Kufor, two of Ghana's former presidents listened to the speech along with members of Ghana's parliament, dressed in kente cloth, a traditional loin cloth of yellow, black and green worn over one shoulder. In a brief interview after the event, Mr Kufor said America's support is key to helping Africa overcome poverty. "Who should determine his own life but himself?" he said. "Africa must lift itself up by its bootstraps, but Obama added that he will give us support."
Kojo Appiah-Kubi, a member of parliament, said Africans are up to the challenge of tackling their own problems. "We believe we can make it," he said. "We are still developing and we need assistance, but we think we can come up with our own home-grown solutions." Mr Obama said regional African organisations such, as the African Union, need to play a strong role in ending conflicts in Somalia, Congo and Darfur, which he labelled a genocide.
"Africa is not the crude caricature of a continent at war," he said. "But for far too many Africans, conflict is a part of life, as constant as the sun. There are wars over land and wars over resources. And it is still far too easy for those without conscience to manipulate whole communities into fighting among faiths and tribes. These conflicts are a millstone around Africa's neck." Ghanaians welcomed the US president's arrival on Friday night with colourful dancers and drummers at the airport. Security was tight during the visit as hundreds of flag-waving Ghanaians and well-armed security forces lined the main streets.
After his speech, Mr and Mrs Obama and their two daughters, flew in a helicopter to Cape Coast Castle, a British fort built in 1653. The Obamas toured the United Nations World Heritage site and saw the dungeons, which housed up to 1,500 slaves at a time before they were shipped to the Americas. "It's a moving experience, a moving moment," Mr Obama said after touring the castle. "It helps teach all of us that we need to fight against the evils that sadly still exist in this world."