- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 12, 2009

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

With a message that was part congratulatory and part warning, Mr. Obama told Ghanaians he has “the blood of Africa within me,” and said the continent is at “a new moment of great promise.” But he condemned despots who cheat their citizens and said colonialism can no longer be used as an excuse for bad decisions.

“Africa’s future is up to Africans,” he said in a speech to Ghana’s Parliament, meeting in a special session at the conference center in the capital.

Newspapers proclaimed “Welcome home” to Mr. Obama and his family. Throngs greeted the president when he made an afternoon excursion to Cape Coast Castle, a marketplace started in the 16th century that later became a departure point for slaves about to be shipped off to the New World.

At one point during his drive through shantytowns and shops on the way to the coast, several hundred people chased the motorcade down the road until they were stopped by security.

The president, his wife and his two daughters peered into compartments and listened to an explanation about the history of the castle.

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“As African-Americans, there is a special sense that on one hand this place was a place of profound sadness, on the other hand it is where the journey of much of African-American experience began,” he said afterward.

Mr. Obama tucked this one-day stop - he was on the ground for less than 24 hours - at the end of a trip that began in Russia and included Italy. The president 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.”

The stop in Ghana was Mr. Obama’s first trip as president to sub-Saharan Africa, a choice that was carefully made. Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush also visited Ghana, and Mr. Obama has praised the nation’s political stability with a peaceful transition of power six months ago after a close, hard-fought election.

Obamamania appears to have infused Ghana.

“Yes we can,” Mr. Obama’s campaign rally cry, has been adopted as a slogan in Ghana for development and advancement, and street vendors in Accra shout “Obama” to try to get the attention of potential American customers.

Mr. Obama is following the policy of Mr. Bush, who won universal acclaim for his President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and for his approach to development aid, which attached strict accountability requirements to aid money.

While meeting with world leaders in Italy last week, Mr. Obama pressed for an agriculture assistance program with a goal to create conditions where it will no longer be needed.

Mr. Obama used his address to parliament to talk bluntly about the problems Africa must overcome to achieve the promise of better times.

“Development depends upon 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 clothing. Some wore outfits made from cloth with a pattern of Mr. Obama’s face. As the president departed, he was serenaded by a choir singing his name.

At times during the session, lawmakers from both parties cheered or jeered with abandon, much like a presidential State of the Union address to the U.S. Congress.

When Mr. Obama called for independent judges or criticized the descent from rule of law to “brutality and bribery,” the opposition party, sitting in the auditorium on Mr. Obama’s left, cheered. At 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 cheered when Mr. Obama appeared to be encouraging the 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.

Mr. Obama reiterated a comparison between Kenya and South Korea. When his father came to the U.S. a half-century ago to study, he said, 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 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.”

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