Monday, June 8, 2009

Ghana Trip Continues to Chafe

President Barack Obama’s decision to make Ghana his first stop in sub-Saharan Africa continues to roil the political waters in Africa. Although the governments most likely to be unhappy with his decision have been low-key in their comments about not being included on the first Africa-American U.S. President’s initial Africa visit, their media and opposition figures have not been so quiet.

Technically, Egypt was the first Africa stop by President Obama this month, but that was seen as more of a Middle East stop for him to address Muslims, especially Arab Muslims. In competition for a single stop, there are only a few sub-Saharan African nations that could legitimately complain about not being the first stop: Kenya, his father’s homeland; Nigeria, the continent’s most populous nation and a major oil producer, and South Africa, the most advanced economy on the continent. Ghana could have complained about being left off, but probably wouldn’t if one of the other three had been selected.

As a nation that recently had its second peaceful handover to an elected civilian government and has been a successful free market economy in recent years, Ghana was ideal for a single-country African stop for President Obama. During his visit and one-night layover, the President will have the opportunity to speak with the leader of one of Africa’s successes about a variety of issues – none of which negatively impact Ghana.

Besides being a major African economy, Nigeria too has experienced multiple handovers of power to elected civilian governments. However, after two questionable elections, numerous internal investigations and corruption indictments of elected officials and continuing unrest that threatens oil supplies, Nigeria was seen as a risky visit. Nigerian Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka riled his country’s leaders by promising to “stone” President Obama if he visited Nigeria.

South Africa’s newly elected government is preoccupied with settling in and balancing the demands of the business community to assure investors of economic policy continuity, while labor calls for more social spending to ease the impact of the global recession. President Jacob Zuma undoubtedly realizes that the U.S. and the rest of the world are taking a wait-and-see stance on his government at the moment.

Kenyans appear to understand that the Obama Administration is sending a message for the unity government to deal with its political unrest so that social divisions don’t explode again as they did following the contentious December 2007 elections. President Obama has put the ball in their court on political reform. Still, security issues, such as the one that caused the cancellation of the inaugural Atlanta-Nairobi Delta Airlines flight last week, will have to be handled jointly. As Kenyans would point out, they are a target of terrorists because of their friendship with America.

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