For Which It Stands: Ghana

Updated on
The World

AFLAO, Ghana — Appiah Quarcoe is a realist. If he sells enough cups of coffee and tea each day at his roadside stand in this west African border town, he can feed his family.

So he's earnest when he says Barack Obama can end violent conflicts in Africa. With peace comes education, which is essential to rise from poverty, he sums up, oblivious to the commotion caused by fare-jumpers trying to board a bus bound for Accra.

 "Obama is a black person," the 34-year-old Ghanaian says of the soon-to-be first black U.S. president. "So when he comes here and says things, people will listen, as opposed to the white man. There are plenty of wars in Africa. If the place is free, you can go to school. They will listen to him."

On the verge of Obama's inauguration, Africans are expecting big things from this son of a Kenyan. Don't underestimate one person's ability to affect millions, they say.

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Africans are writing songs about Obama, naming newborns in his honor, and selling Obama T-shirts. When a military leader paraded through the streets of Guinea after a recent coup, supporters shouted Obama's name in celebration.

"Obama is the role model now for the world," Abdul Hammid said from behind the counter of his motor parts store in Denu, a coastal town 90 miles east of Accra, Ghana's capital.

Hammid, 30, said President Bush's military policies, especially the U.S.-led Iraq war, tainted the image of the United States.

"America has reached a point now where everybody hates America, the whole world," he said. "I for one was even was trying to hate America. But because of what Obama was saying, we are trying to come back again. How he speaks, how he unites, it's leadership by example. Even if you are not in America, we learn from him. Everybody wants to copy him."

Indeed, Ghana's new president, John Atta Mills echoed Obama's "change" message during his campaign. Obama's photo even popped up in campaign advertising in support of Atta Mills, who defeated ruling party candidate Nana Akufo Addo.

Ghana is one of the few stable democracies in Africa, where violent conflicts continue in Somalia, Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Violence marred recent elections in Kenya and Nigeria, and in the past six months there were military coups in Mauritania and Guinea. Meanwhile, Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe refuses to relinquish power, despite the economic collapse of his country, worsened still by a cholera outbreak that has killed more than 1,600 people.

 African leaders are hard stones to crack. Most of them come to office don't want to leave," said Belinda Franklin-Tetteh, programs officer at the W.E.B. Du Bois Memorial Center for Pan African Culture, located in Accra.

Du Bois, an black American civil rights activist who became a Ghanaian citizen shortly before his death in 1963, held conferences for emerging African leaders "on how they should treat their people," Franklin-Tetteh said.

"Obama should sit down with African leaders and talk to them about their problems," she said.

Obama provided a glimpse of his approach to African problems on a 2006 trip, during which he received a hero's welcome despite being a freshman senator. He publicly criticized tribal politics and corruption in Kenya, and took an HIV blood test to highlight AIDS awareness, uncommon candor in socially conservative Africa. U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar, an Indiana Republican who accompanied Obama on the official trip, praised Obama's "personal diplomacy" skills in defense of the Illinois Democrat after news reports of extensive travels.

Obama the candidate spoke about "re-engaging" with Africa, and his nominee for ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, has advocated for intervention to stop mass killings, the kind that took place in Rwanda for example — a tougher approach than the Clinton and Bush administrations.

 "He should preach democracy and the rule of law," said Fred Tsagli, a 43-year-old Denu businessman, who stopped by Hammid's auto parts store. "When the rule of law comes into power, corruption will disappear."

During the campaign, Obama called for tougher sanctions on Sudan's oil revenues to force its government to end a civil war that has killed 2 million people; advocated for electoral reforms in Nigeria, which provides the United States with 11 percent of its oil imports; and pledged "robust diplomacy" to stabilize Somalia, which has devolved into a lawless haven for terrorists, including al Qaeda.

Personal diplomacy made a difference here in Ghana, which is completing its second peaceful transition of power since gaining independence from Britain in 1957.

Former President Jerry Rawlings held power for 19 years  — first as military head of state followed by two elected presidential terms. He honored the constitution he helped write when he stepped down in 2000, paving the way for a peaceful transition. 

President Clinton chipped in by steering Rawlings to the United Nations, where Rawlings served as Eminent Person for the International Year of Volunteers in 2001. So he was the distinguished ex-president promoting UN causes abroad including the fight against AIDS, which reduced the likelihood of him stirring up trouble at home.

President Bush, despite his unpopularity in some parts of the world, made significant increases in total development assistance to sub-Saharan Africa. Total assistance in 2007 was $4.5 billion, a more than three-fold increase from 2001, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Whether Obama can increase aid during a global financial crises — forcing American taxpayers to bail out Wall Street and Detroit automakers — is an open question. The Obama transition team declined to comment on specific questions.

Hammid, the auto parts store owner, said money is not the answer.

"It's not that Obama should come and give us money, no. We are all looking for peace," he said. "What we are expecting from Obama is to unite the world — Africa, Europe and America as a whole. He can achieve it."