- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 3, 2003

CAPE COAST, Ghana. — They are all in the there, ancestors of the Ashanti and Europeans. Protestants and Catholics. Male and female. Enslavers and slaves of the Old World and the New World. Their ghosts move about Elmina Castle not for the dead, but for the living. We are free, not bonded by their legal and social encumbrances on this, America’s Independence Day.

Ghana is endowed with great expectations as a gateway to Africa, the continent torn apart by kingdoms past and civil strife of the present. Independent since 1957, it’s a developing melting pot of ethnic groups and, free from the stagnant rule of Jerry Rawlings, former president of Ghana, is re-emerging as a democratic model for all of Africa.

President Bush is expected next week to visit a handful of African nations. His visit and U.S. foreign policy in Africa have less to do with U.S. economics than geopolitics. Just look at the bloodletting in Liberia, for example. The violence and political upheaval there have the potential to strain such democratic neighbors as Ghana, where tribal hierarchies still hold considerable sway.

The Kufuor government, like the people it governs, are not yet ready to relinquish control of utilities and other stakes that should be turned over to private investors. Because of global do-gooders (there are 350 non-governmental organizations working on reproductive-health issues), privatization and fiscal health were pushed to back burners. Moreover, during the Rawlings years, Ghana grew overly dependent on the IMF and World Bank, with bank’s country director reportedly referred to as “the governor-general of Ghana.”

Such throwbacks to colonialism and paternalism helped to stifle practically every aspect of life for a Ghanaian, leaving the Kufuor administration, which ended 19 years of Rawlings rule, to fix a lot of things that would improve not only the quality of life for Ghanaians but boost investor confidence.

Increased tourism is a quick fix — easy money, so to speak — especially when compared to the other problems that must be addressed, chief among them rural poverty, health and sanitation, transportation and telecommunications.

Right now, tourists shouldn’t expect to see the Marriotts or Hiltons situated on the white sands here, or in the capital, for that matter. But the potential is there.

Tourism Minister Jake Obetsebi-Lamptey — a descendant of one of independent Ghana’s Founding Fathers, Obetsebi Lamptey, who stood determined alongside Kwame Nkrumah — is bent on luring Americans to the Gold Coast. He has launched an ambitious effort that focuses on such obvious draws as Elmina and other forts, rain forests and national parks, and similar attractions. Still, he wants to do so much more, with plaques honoring black Americans (think Frederick Douglass, Rosa Parks, Stevie Wonder and the like) at heritage sites, cruises from the Americas to coastal Ghana, as well as better-coordinated tours to other historic but less popular sites in the interior.

Negotiations with hotels and other investors are ongoing, and some public-private partnerships to support those plans are in place. While ignorant (black and white) Americans would surely profit from visiting Ghana, who better to benefit than Ghanaians themselves?

Unfortunately, Ghana has a lot of preparation for American visitors — despite the questionable intentions financed by the World Bank. The main roads to and from Accra and coastal towns make for gruesome travel, alternating between blacktop and long stretches of potholed unpaved roadways. Visitors can readily avail themselves of creature comforts at current hotels and trusted merchants, but don’t bring your Visa card — establishments that accept it are few and far between. For those of us who must stay connected to the Web for personal or business purposes, know that, while there are scores of Internet cafes in and around Accra, getting and staying connected will prove frustrating because of archaic and insufficient landline phone service.

That Ghana is looking, and quite earnestly so, to America to aid in its rebuilding is promising. Still, that doesn’t preclude Ghanaians from pressing ahead to fix things for themselves on the way to catering to American and European tourists’ needs and tastes. They could learn a few things from their brothers and sisters in the Caribbean about health and sanitation, tourism and transportation, and telecommunications.

The ancestors — African, Portuguese, Dutch, French and British — are moving right alongside Mr. Obetsebi-Lamptey and his plans to bolster tourism, using places like Elmina as an obvious draw. Elmina, however, is not an Ellis Island, a welcoming point for tired masses yearning for freedom in America. The pounding of the waves along Cape Coast carry a distinct message: Elmina Castle is precisely the opposite — a stark, ugly reminder of what was and must never again be.

Happy Independence Day.

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