x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Obama holds up Ghana as model democracy

The US President Barack Obama, on his first visit to sub-Saharan Africa since taking office, chose Ghana as an exemplar of good governance where the people 'have worked hard to put democracy on a firmer footing'. In an address to the Ghanian parliament in Accra, Mr Obama focused on democracy and the unfulfilled hopes following the end of the colonial era.

The US President Barack Obama, on his first visit to sub-Saharan Africa since taking office, chose Ghana as an exemplar of good governance where the people 'have worked hard to put democracy on a firmer footing'. In an address to the Ghanaian parliament in Accra, Mr Obama focused on democracy and the unfulfilled hopes following the end of the colonial era. "This is a new moment of great promise. Only this time, we've learned that it will not be giants like Nkrumah and Kenyatta who will determine Africa's future. Instead, it will be you - the men and women in Ghana's parliament - the people you represent. It will be the young people brimming with talent and energy and hope who can claim the future that so many in previous generations never realised. "Now, to realise that promise, we must first recognise the fundamental truth that you have given life to in Ghana: Development depends on good governance. That is the ingredient which has been missing in far too many places, for far too long. That's the change that can unlock Africa's potential. And that is a responsibility that can only be met by Africans." Mr Obama noted: "As I said in Cairo, each nation gives life to democracy in its own way, and in line with its own traditions. But history offers a clear verdict: Governments that respect the will of their own people, that govern by consent and not coercion, are more prosperous, they are more stable and more successful than governments that do not. "This is about more than just holding elections. It's also about what happens between elections. Repression can take many forms, and too many nations, even those that have elections, are plagued by problems that condemn their people to poverty. No country is going to create wealth if its leaders exploit the economy to enrich themselves ... or if police - if police can be bought off by drug traffickers. No business wants to invest in a place where the government skims 20 per cent off the top ... or the head of the port authority is corrupt. 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, even if occasionally you sprinkle an election in there. And now is the time for that style of governance to end. "In the 21st century, capable, reliable and transparent institutions are the key to success - strong parliaments; honest police forces; independent judges ... an independent press; a vibrant private sector; a civil society. Those are the things that give life to democracy, because that is what matters in people's everyday lives." From across Africa, messages for Mr Obama, submitted to allAfrica.com, appealed for government by the people. "WE NEED DEMOCRACY IN AFRICA," insisted a 40-year-old businessman, in emphatic capital letters. "The vast majority of nearly a thousand people who sent questions and advice before the US leader landed in Ghana cited good governance and curbing corruption as necessities for African progress. And they were explicit that democracy is the means to those ends. "A Nigerian farmer writes of African states 'governed by leaders who are non-committal to democratic values, thereby hampering development and quality of lives of citizenry.' Another Nigerian urged President Obama not to 'sugarcoat or pretend' in his dealings with 'inept, corrupt and sit-tight despots.' "Once-respected leaders who re-write constitutions and laws to abolish term limits are subject to special scorn. 'Can you make it clear to African leaders,' asks a 36-year-old accountant, 'that you will only make friends with presidents that obey the rule of law, respect their constitutional ruling mandate?' " 'Mr Yoweri Museveni is a wise man by human standards,' said one among many who criticized him, 'but his overstay in power as the leader of Uganda has turned him into a "supreme" leader no longer sensitive to the problems of the country, as evidenced by the leaping growth in official corruption, no longer sensitive to the issues affecting we Ugandans who are not in political offices. Life is getting harder every other day. His avidity for prolonged stay in power is not only dangerous for Uganda and its people, but also for the region, and the global community as a whole.'" In an editorial, Nigeria's Daily Independent said: "For us as Africans, today represents a momentous day in history. The arrival in Accra, the Ghanaian capital, of an America president of African descent, in the person of Barack Obama, is a moment many could not have reasonably expected to see in their own lifetime. In many ways such an event would, only a decade ago, have appeared to fit more into the realm of fantasy. "In spite of its chequered and often unedifying history of race relations, much kudos should be given to the nature of the society and politics of the United States of America that merit can still triumph over all manner of social debilities. The continent of Africa where Obama's late father hailed from has a lot to learn from this. Unfortunately, even in the present century there are still hosts of countries on the continent where merit has taken a back seat. In its place we have a stultifying amalgam of dynasties, tin gods, cronyism and professional political jobbers. All of this has gone hand in glove with crippling underdevelopment. As a result, in the overwhelming majority of cases the great expectations aroused at independence have been dashed. "For us in Nigeria, Obama's visit to Ghana should be a cause for sober reflection. It is not out of place to ask, why Ghana? Why not its bigger much more endowed neigbour, the self-proclaimed 'giant of Africa'? Though some commentators have, no doubt out of a sense of patriotic pride, questioned the special importance of an American president's choice of a first country to visit in Africa south of the Sahara, there is no doubt as to its symbolic significance in global diplomacy." In The Christian Science Monitor, Drew Hinshaw explored the many ways in which US influence in Africa has in the last decade been eclipsed by that of China. "Mr Obama commands popular adoration in Africa that no world leader can match. But analysts say that he may have less leverage than his predecessors when it comes to advancing US interests - increasing US business involvement in Africa and promoting democracy - in large part due to China's booming Africa presence. " 'America needs to know that Africa has options,' says Adama Gaye, economist and editor for West Africa magazine. 'We are no longer in the unipolar moment [right after] the cold war. Today, America is a bankrupt country, and China appears as a rising power with financial muscle and a properly defined strategy.' "China is buying up Africa's resources, breaking into industries that the West has dominated, and others it hasn't, and is complicating Western aid efforts by undertaking development projects with some of Africa's most reviled regimes. "And they are defying some of the economic downturn's gravity: In Ghana, the Chinese are carrying on with commitments like roads, telecommunication lines, and a 400-megawatt hydrodam. "During George W Bush's presidency, trade between Africa and China jumped tenfold from $10 billion in 2001 to $107 billion in 2008. That commerce has provided a lifeline for internationally ostracised regimes like Sudan's or Zimbabwe's. "For many African governments, China's state-operated Exim Bank, now the world's third largest credit agency, has become a compelling alternative to the World Bank, one that doesn't dwell on humanitarian concerns."

pwoodward@thenational.ae