- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 11, 2009

ACCRA, Ghana | To adoring crowds, and with a nod to his own success as an African-American, President Obama on Saturday used this relatively stable democracy to challenge the rest of Africa to rise above conflict and corruption as they seek to gain the world stage.

With a message that was part lecture, part attaboy, the president told Africans he has “the blood of Africa within me,” and said they are at “a new moment of great promise.” But he said to seize it, they must stop using colonialism and history as an excuse for conflict or bad government.

“Africa’s future is up to Africans,” he said in an address to Ghana’s parliament, meeting in a special session at the convention center in the capital city.

The president tucked this one-day stop — he’s on the ground for less than 24 hours — at the end of a trip that began in Russia and included Italy. Mr. Obama said he wanted to make clear that the future “will be shaped by what happens not just in Rome or Moscow or Washington, but by what happens in Accra as well.”

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The choice of host was carefully made. Ghana also earned visits from former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, and Mr. Obama repeatedly praised the stable democracy here that saw a peaceful transition of power after a close, hard-fought election six months ago.

He repeatedly talked about the promise of better times for Africa, but always tied it to blunt truths about the problems the continent must first overcome.

“Development depends on good governance. That is the ingredient which has been missing in far too many places, for far too long,” he said. “That is the change that can unlock Africa’s potential. And that is a responsibility that can only be met by Africans.”

The members of parliament and their invited guests were dressed in a mix of business attire and traditional, colorful outfits. Some women and men even wore outfits made from cloth with Mr. Obama’s face in a repeating pattern. Mr. Obama’s departure from the speech was serenaded by a choir singing his name repeatedly.

At times during the session, it seemed like the U.S. Congress during a State of the Union speech, with lawmakers from both parties cheering or jeering with abandon.

Mr. Obama also seemed to hit upon some touchy issues in Ghana. When he called for independent judges or criticized the descent from rule of law to “brutality and bribery,” the opposition party, on Mr. Obama’s left, cheered. Other times the party in power, sitting on Mr. Obama’s right, erupted into applause.

“For Ghana in particular, it’s as if he knows what’s going on,” said George Gyan-Baffour, a member of parliament from the opposition New Patriotic Party, who said his party was cheering when Mr. Obama appeared to be encouraging rule of law.

“Even though there was a free election and transfer of power, there is an underlying conflict,” said the former deputy finance minister.

Hitting a recent theme, Mr. Obama, whose father was a Kenyan, again made a comparison between Kenya and South Korea. He said at the time his father came to the U.S. a half-century ago to study, Kenya’s per capita gross domestic product was bigger than South Korea’s. Kenya today has a per capita GDP of less than $1,000, while South Korea’s is nearly $20,000.

Earlier Saturday Mr. Obama and his wife visited a women’s clinic where they met about 20 pregnant women. The hospital receives money from the U.S. Agency for International Development for its focus on HIV testing for pregnant women, malaria prevention, and other pregnancy-related services.

“Hey! This is the highlight of the trip,” Mr. Obama said as he walked into one area to find a dozen mothers and their children. “Look at these cuties!”

Later in the day Mr. Obama visited Cape Coast Castle, a marketplace started in the 16th century which later became a departure point for slaves about to be shipped off to the New World. Dressed in casual clothes, the president and his family peered into compartments and listened as the history was explained to them.

It’s clear that Obamamania has infused at least the capital city here. “Yes we can,” Mr. Obama’s campaign rally cry, has been adopted as a slogan for development and advancement, and street vendors shouted “Obama” at potential American customers.