Accra, Jul 9 2009 — In our series of weekly viewpoints from African journalists, Elizabeth Ohene, a former government minister in Ghana and former BBC journalist, looks forward to US President Barack Obama’s visit to her country:

We in Ghana are going to have our “Obama Moment” later this week.

Forget that talk about Ghana being the second country in Africa President Obama is visiting. We know better.

Ghana is a truly admirable example of a place where governance is getting stronger, a thriving democracy
Barack Obama’s spokesperson

That Egypt stopover does not count as a trip to Africa. He did not go there with his wife; he is coming here with Michelle and daughters Malia and Sasha.

And he will be going to Cape Coast, which has been given a well-deserved makeover.

He did not sleep in Cairo and it was obvious he was using the city only as a backdrop to make a speech to the Arab world.

True, he is making a big speech here in our parliament aimed at Africa, but this is different.

He is coming to Ghana because, to borrow the words of his spokesperson: “Ghana is a truly admirable example of a place where governance is getting stronger, a thriving democracy.”

Their words, not mine.

Jealous pride

We are the envy of the whole continent and as for our cousins the Nigerians, this is the ultimate humiliation.

John Atta Mills
I suspect the president will be begging people this week to demonstrate against his government

They will never be able to live this one down.

Then there is Kenya and I ought to tread gently for there might be some raw emotions here, since there are blood claims.

So we sympathise with our Kenyan brothers and sisters, but as the White House sees it, Kenya, like Nigeria simply doesn’t make the good governance grade.

The trip to Ghana is intentional. It is worth quoting The White House on Ghana again:

“An extraordinarily close election, decided ultimately by about 40,000 votes, the country remained peaceful, power was transferred peacefully, and they continue to pursue a development agenda and bolster the rule of law.”

The Americans probably are aware many in Africa have wondered aloud that a sitting government could not find 40,000 votes to stay in power.

With such enthusiastic endorsement, it is not surprising that the government here is over the moon and is milking the Obama magic for all it is worth.

The promotions by the Ministry of Information and the Office of the President seek to portray the new Ghana government as being on the same wavelength as the new United States government, both led incidentally by law professors.

Big party

It is a bit tricky trying to liken the charismatic and erudite 47-year-old wordsmith world leader Mr Obama to the halting 64-year-old John Atta Mills, taunted as “dull” by his mentor, ex-President Jerry Rawlings.

The Clintons in Accra Ghana in 1998
The Clintons were given a huge welcome 11 years ago

We have consequently run into some very odd incidents.

This past week, there was the strange case of the president asking, or maybe, ordering the police to allow a street demonstration by a group that wanted to protest against a litany of things.

The police had gone to court and got an injunction to prevent the demonstration on the grounds, among others, that the police were so busy with the planned Obama visit they would not have the manpower to handle a demonstration.

Nobody here imagines that President Atta Mills intervened so dramatically to ask that a court order be put aside and the group be allowed to protest because he is dying for people to protest against him.

But imagine this: Here is Mr Obama, daily criticising the Iranian government for not allowing its citizens to demonstrate; and here is Ghana, the “admirable example of a thriving democracy” refusing to allow peaceful demonstrations… Obviously that would not do.

Fluffing lines

I suspect therefore that not only will the president be begging people this week to demonstrate against his government; there will be a lull in the frantic denunciations of the former government.


No former officials will be stopped at the airport and prevented from leaving the country and no former minister’s car will be seized by state security officers on the streets of Accra.

My bet is there will be no such drama any more until Mr Obama has been and gone.

I have been trying to dream up the most outrageous thing I could get away with in this thriving democracy during Obama week.

But the truth is all Ghanaians are really chuffed about the visit and if only the Americans would let us, we would put on such a welcome show, the world would be astounded.

After all, this is the country in 1998 that gave Bill Clinton the largest crowd in his life, but then that was in the pre-9/11 world and these days they do not allow American presidents to be exposed to such crowds.

All the same, we guarantee to make the trip memorable for the Obamas.

At the moment, if we have any anxieties it has to be a collective fear that our president will falter in pronouncing President Obama’s name.

He seems to fluff his lines on the big occasions, and there is a wicked rumour making the rounds that President Atta Mills has been practising the name of his host, “Bama Obarack, Marack Omaba, President Omarack”…

We are all willing him on to get it right on the day.

Source: BBC News