OBAMA ISSUES CHALLENGE IN GHANA…. President Obama challenged practically all of Africa today in a blunt and powerful speech to Ghana’s parliament today.
“This is about more than just holding elections — it’s also about what happens between elections,” Obama said. “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 can be bought off by drug traffickers. No business wants to invest in a place where the government skims 20 percent 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.”
“Now, make no mistake: History is on the side of these brave Africans, not with those who use coups or change constitutions to stay in power,” the U.S. president added. “Africa doesn’t need strongmen, it needs strong institutions.”
And lest there be any doubts about the audience’s familiarity with Obama’s rhetoric, the response was especially strong towards the end of the speech: “[H]ere is what you must know: The world will be what you make of it. You have the power to hold your leaders accountable, and to build institutions that serve the people. You can serve in your communities, and harness your energy and education to create new wealth and build new connections to the world. You can conquer disease, and end conflicts, and make change from the bottom up. You can do that. Yes, we can, because in this moment, history is on the move.”
The “tough love” aspect of the speech was Obama urging his audience to take responsibility for the continent’s future. He conceded the serious consequences of colonialism, “unnatural” borders written by outsiders that have bred division, and unbalanced trade practices.
“Now, it’s easy to point fingers and to pin the blame of these problems on others,” the president said, adding, “The West has often approached Africa as a patron or a source of resources rather than a partner. But the West is not responsible for the destruction of the Zimbabwean economy over the last decade, or wars in which children are enlisted as combatants. In my father’s life, it was partly tribalism and patronage and nepotism in an independent Kenya that for a long stretch derailed his career, and we know that this kind of corruption is still a daily fact of life for far too many.”
As with Cairo in June, Obama wasn’t rebuking the continent or issuing condemnations, he was issuing a challenge and pointing towards the basis for new growth and new relationships.
It was also a reminder that this president, no matter where he is, doesn’t talk down to his audiences, or shy away from nuanced or difficult ideas.