The World's Laura Lynch reports from Ghana as President Obama arrives on his first visit to sub-Saharan Africa as President.
JEB SHARP: I'm Jeb Sharp, this is The World. Today, President Obama in Ghana. It's his first visit to sub-Saharan Africa as president. Our correspondent Laura Lynch is in the capital, Accra. Laura, we're going to get to the nitty-gritty foreign policy stuff in a minute or two, but first, just tell me what's going on in Accra today. I'm assuming this Obama trip is a really big deal there.
LAURA LUNCH: It is a really big deal, practically every street that you drive down, you see posters welcoming President Obama, posters with Mr. Obama and his wife, Michelle, and the word Aquaba, which is in the Niganayan [PH] language means welcome. And some of them also say, welcome home, which gives the sentiment that the undercurrent of this visit, is the excitement of it is all about welcoming the United States first African American President to Africa as a sitting President. There's no doubt that people here feel a great sense of pride because of that, a great sense of connection to this President, even though they've had other President's come and visit here, President Bush was here in 2008, and President Clinton before him. So, no surprise that for the people here, this s a cause for great excitement.
JEB SHARP: And, presumably there will be an awful lot of people, many Ghanaians hoping to catch a glimpse of President Obama. How prepared is the Ghanaian security operation?
LAURA LUNCH: Well, there are a few wrinkles in all of this, Jeb. What's happened was that they were initially hoping that they were going to have an open door speech given by President Obama in Independent Square, which is where Bill Clinton gave a speech some years ago that was attended by a hundreds of thousands of Ghanaians, and others from Africa. Well, that's not gonna happen. Now they're saying part of the problem is the weather, and no doubt the weather here is terrible, Jeb. The rains have just been pouring down, there has been flooding, the streets have been damaged. So, that is a definite problem, but there may also be concerns about security, with a crowd that big. So, unfortunately for the Ghanaians, they've moved the speech indoors to a conference center that can accommodate only two thousand people. And this is supposed to be his major speech, people are wanting to see him. They're going to be disappointed when they don't get a chance to see him in person. The only chance that someone might get is a fleeting glimpse of a motor Kay going by, or perhaps those who might be gathered at Cape Coast, just up the coast from Accra, when he goes to see a [INDISCERNIBLE] in the afternoon. Other than that, really not much chance for any kind of personal glimpse of the President in Ghana.
JEB SHARP: Just to be clear, that much anticipated speech is scheduled for tomorrow?
LAURA LUNCH: Yes.
JEB SHARP: And for all the anticipated crowds and the buzz, give us a sense of how widespread the excitement is. I mean, do you find Obama-mania everywhere?
LAURA LUNCH: No, it's not everywhere. It is in large part here in the city in Accra, and other parts of the country. But, today I was at a market, a market that serves some of the poorest people who are living in Accra. And some of the people there, well, they weren't really paying any attention at all, you didn't see Obama banner. Or as you're about to hear in my report, there are some who have some very practical concerns that they would like President Obama to address. It's market day in one of Accra's poorest neighborhoods. The chicken's cooped up inside this wired cage will be on someone's dinner table tonight. There will be food for some, but for others here, probably not enough. 52-year-old Ebenezer Tetteh knows all about the President's visit, and he wants Mr. Obama to tell Ghana's leaders to cut out the corruption and the waste, including all the millions spent building a grand Presidential palace.
EBENEZER TETTEH: While we are hungry.
LAURA LUNCH: He's telling you he's building that brand new presidential palace, and you're going hungry.
EBENEZER TETTEH: And we are hungry, our children can't wait. Armed robbery is still going on.
LAURA LUNCH: Armed robbery is still going on. This is the view from the street, or given the torrential rains of the last week, the view from the muddy pathways that crisscross across slums. Corruption, mismanagement, poverty, and a host of other problems mar many people's lives. But political analyst, Kofi Bentil thinks those matters will be drowned out by the sounds of Mr. Obama praising Ghana's stable democracy.
KOFI BENTIL: In my mind, what President Obama is coming to do is give us a hug, and say way to go, that's it. What are they looking for? They are looking to showcase this small country in West Africa as a model to follow.
LAURA LUNCH: Still, the president has made it clear, America has strategic and economic interests in Ghana and across Africa. Gaby Asare Otchere-Darko knows what that really means.
GABY OTCHERE-DARKO: We have something they want, they have something we want. Lets sit down and talk.
LAURA LUNCH: Otchere-Darko is a lawyer and a political consultant for Ghana's main opposition party. The recent oil discovery in the seabed off the country's coast could provide the United States with an alternative to the middle east, but only if the region is stable. Otchere-Darko says that's where America's interest in Africa's energy potential dovetails with its desire to establish a military presence on the continent.
GABY OTCHERE-DARKO: America wants oil, we have oil. America has a strong military power, and I really can't see America invading any African country, but it can help us enhance our capacity to defend ourselves among ourselves, and against, you know, these sort of hard-line selfish militants who may be within our midst. So, I think really, this American interests don't necessarily have to contradict African interest.
LAURA LUNCH: The United States military created Africa Command, or Africom in 2007. Its stated mission is to help Africa succeed, but so far, Africom is African in name only. It's based in Germany, since there aren't any African nations willing to play host.
Ghana is an attractive candidate precisely because of its stability and it's newfound oil. But Kofi Bentil says, Ghanaians aren't interested.
KOFI BENTIL: We don't like Africom, we don't want a situation where the US has a huge foothold in Ghana. We think it has the potential of destabilizing us. Much as we would like to help the Americans, we know what happens when you have a huge American base in your country. The Americans simply attract trouble, so I think that if they put a huge base here, we'll have to up our security a hundred times and there'll be a collateral damage to us.
LAURA LUNCH: Gaby Otchere-Darko disagrees. He thinks Mr. Obama might try to sell Africom as a way to win the battle against the drug lords who are turning the region into a hub for smugglers.
GABY OTCHERE-DARKO: How Africom would work is if there is a strong partnership element. And if it goes beyond what may be seen as American interest. The drug war, for instance, is affecting African countries, but it's also of mutual concern for Africans, Europeans, and Americans. If there's one area that Africom can support us, I think that will help Africom.
LAURA LUNCH: It's unlikely there will be any big pronouncements about Africom or oil during the president's brief visit. Instead, Mr. Obama's public remarks are likely to focus more on the need for African nations to mend their ways, end dictatorship, clean up corruption and help people help themselves. Kofi Bentil knows Ghana will be held up as the shining example, and he'll welcome the attention, but that won't last forever.
KOFI BENTIL: Unfortunately for me, I know that after two, three days of the euphoria, we're going to go back to the same old Ghana, and we're going to have to solve our problems looking hard and thinking, you know, properly about how to deal with them.
LAURA LUNCH: American Presidents, Clinton, Bush and now Obama have all come calling on Ghana in recent years, using it as a platform for preaching the virtues of democracy and economic reform. Still, little has changed across the continent, many regimes are unstable, many elections flawed and even here in Ghana, many can't afford to feed themselves. For The World, I'm Laura Lynch in Accra.