Obama hands Africas responsibilities back to Africans

Translated by Claire Scammell (l’Humanite) Before parliament in Accra, Ghana’s capital, the American president disposed of the role played in Africa by the major powers and called for the continent to take charge of itself in fighting against corruption.

“The 21st century will be shaped by what happens not just in Rome or Moscow or Washington, but by what happens in Accra as well,” read one of the SMS messages received by thousands of Africans on their mobile phones. This is an excerpt of the speech made by the U.S. President Barack Obama before the Ghanean parliament on his first presidential visit to Sub-Saharan Africa.

During his twenty-four hour visit, the President also visited Cape Coast, an historic departure point for millions of slaves bound for America. This trip “reminds us of the capacity of human beings to commit great evil,” were the moving words of the President, using the same terms as those heard during his visit to the Buchenwald Nazi extermination camp last month.

Barack Obama’s speech leaves African responsibilities lying at the feet of Africans. “Yes, a colonial map that made little sense bred conflict, and the West has often approached Africa as a patron, rather than a partner. But the West is not responsible for the destruction of the Zimbabwean economy over the last decade”, explained the President. Obama called for a a fight against corruption: “No business wants to invest in a place where the government skims 20 percent off the top”.

Turning his campaign slogan around to ‘Yes, you can’, he delivered the message “Africa’s future is up to Africans.” The U.S. will be there as a partner, to support the change. Arriving from the G8 in Rome where the decision was made by the major powers to pledge 20 billion dollars to a new “food safety” initiative, he announced in Accra an increase in development aid and investment in “public health systems”.

For his first presidential trip to sub-Sarahan Africa, Obama chose Ghana — a country which has experienced numerous political successions — to call for the development of democracy. The progress of good governance “may lack the drama of the 20th century’s liberation struggles, but…it will ultimately be more significant,” he said. In the same way that Nicolas Sarkozy did in his speech to students at a University in Dakar on July 26th, 2007, Obama made the continent’s troubles out to be above all an internal problem. Although Tim Murithi, from the South African Institute for Security Studies, attributed value to Barack Obama’s speech which called for a ‘hand in hand’ approach, he regretted that the “commendable” speech was “short and (included) a certain number of omissions, such as the role of the US in the Cold War”.

It is not the first time a leader of the North has brought the challenge of developing democracy or the fight against corruption to the centre of discussion. As far back as 1990 François Mitterrand pin-pointed these objectives in his speech at the Franco-African summit in La Baule. But Mitterrand took the weight of the “debt” and the “colonialisme des affaires” (1) into account, issues dismissed by current leaders of France and the U.S. as belonging to the past.

Patrick Morris, head of Gold Star Resources, a company which explores oil fields in Western Africa, shared his delight over Obama’s forthcoming trip to Ghana in a company communication: “President Barack Obama’s trip to Ghana on July 10th-11th is a subtle White House oil strategy to secure another source of energy on the continent of Africa”. 15% of American oil imports come from this region, a share which could soar between now and 2020.

(1) In his speech at the Franco-African summit in La Baule, the former President of France & Socialist Party leader, François Mitterrand, argued that colonialism was not dead but that there was instead another form the ’colonialism of business’.