Thursday, July 16, 2009

Dissecting Barack Obama's speeches in Ghana

On July 11, around 12:40pm GMT, I was rounding off a night of partying in Las Vegas. To me, life was good. What was I missing? Barack Obama's address to the Ghanaian Parliament in Accra. Obama is building a legacy of great speeches and this was also bound to be a historic one. Hussein did not disappoint. He was speaking the capacity as the 'leader of the free world' and president of the great US of A. As I read the speech more carefully today, I felt America's first Black president seemed to be speaking for Africans and Africa, even more than for America. He did show a lot of tough love to Africa in there but his tone was one of - this is what Africa needs and desires, this is the way 'we can do it', and this is the way the rest of the world (America, etc) should help. Obama has some Africa in him and for those of us Africans who wondered how much help he'll be to us, I believe we should sleep well at night because he does mean business.

I wish I could post the whole speech for y'all to read here but I'll have to redirect you here. I admired Obama and his speech writers doing their homework. Who told him about Anas Ameyaw, and Patience Quaye? What else does Obama know about Ghanaians making impact? Obama's speeches are just too good. Did Bush have speeches this good? If so, why didn't anyone talk about them? Great speeches are defined by telling stories, and this is an art that has been nurtured in Africa since time immemorial. The way he presented the stories about his father and grandfather was just 'lekker'.

I was able to catch Obama's departure ceremony from Accra live. While listening to President Atta Mills, a lot of Ghanaians will tell you they were just hoping for zero gaffes. He gave a short speech, showing remarkable adoration for Obama. Really? I haven't seen him that excited in a while. Whose fault was that? Ghanaians as a whole or Obama? There was nothing memorable about Asomdwoe hene speaking other than what I just discussed. It's a good idea he spoke before Barack, because his speech would have been a let-down. I don't know for how long Obama spoke then but his speech was much much better. Is public speaking something that African-Americans just excel at? Kwame Nkrumah was a good speaker and am looking for a few more Ghanaians cast in his mold. Obama mentioned that "Africa's future is up to Africans". I feel it's a little hard to speak this statement into the lives of people in the West, especially those who really have Africa's best interests at heart, imagine this statement being proclaimed by the 'leader of the West'.

I'd like to pick a few lines from his speeches.

"And I have come here, to Ghana, for a simple reason: the 21st century will be shaped by what happens not just in Rome or Moscow or Washington, but by what happens in Accra as well." - Pretty deep, I'll offer another meaning, this is to say, Africans don't need to be in foreign lands to shape the 21st century, but on the continent as well.

"Only this time, we have learned that it will not be giants like Nkrumah and Kenyatta who will determine Africa's future. Instead, it will be you — the men and women in Ghana's Parliament, and the people you represent. Above all, it will be the young people — brimming with talent and energy and hope — who can claim the future that so many in my father's generation never found." - It feels good to be a young African, I know Barack Obama has my back. He calls for Africa's youth to take charge of the future, I am not sure if we understand what this means. It's as simple as volunteering. America has peace corps in Ghana, what does Ghana have in Ghana?

"As I said in Cairo, each nation gives life to democracy in its own way, and in line with its own traditions. But history offers a clear verdict: governments that respect the will of their own people are more prosperous, more stable and more successful than governments that do not." - I feel talk about democracy is a little overrated, we must begin to move past celebrating good democracy and focus on laying the platforms for our citizens to create wealth and succeed. Having relatively better democracy than so so and so African country shouldn't be our goal, but creating the environment and infrastructure for the players in our development to play. Obama said some more in the few lines after this one that must be regarded highly.

"Africa doesn't need strongmen, it needs strong institutions." "From South Korea to Singapore, history shows that countries thrive when they invest in their people and infrastructure; when they promote multiple export industries, develop a skilled work force and create space for small and medium-sized businesses that create jobs." - Do we understand what investing in our people means? Are we as citizens, and not just the government prepared to do this?

"Across Africa, there is bountiful wind and solar power; geothermal energy and bio-fuels." - We must sit up and work on this. We must become self-sufficient energy producing countries. Africans need to take the lead on something and this can be it. Like Obama said, "Africa's boundless natural gifts can generate its own power, while exporting profitable, clean energy abroad."

"Yet because of incentives — often provided by donor nations — many African doctors and nurses understandably go overseas, or work for programs that focus on a single disease. This creates gaps in primary care and basic prevention. Meanwhile, individual Africans also have to make responsible choices that prevent the spread of disease, while promoting public health in their communities and countries." - I fear health professionals in Ghana may be getting enamored with sexier incentives and wage demands as well as more celebrity diseases while losing sight of the basic health problems we collectively face as a people. We must be leading the research on problems that primarily affect us and take steps to ensure healthier living and prevent these diseases. If health costs are huge, 'let's do prevention is better than cure'.

"Africa's diversity should be a source of strength, not a cause for division. We are all God's children." - Colonialism divided us but as our countries have grown, we've grown to appreciate our similarities and the differences. As we integrate our nations and differentiate our continent, it should unify us and make us the best consultants for each other and not people who are not as culturally similar to us. We are all God's children, when the dust settles, we are here to co-exist in love. While at the Cape Coast Castle, Obama said, "One of the most striking things that I heard was that right above the dungeons in which male captives were kept was a church, and that reminds us that sometimes we can tolerate and stand by great evil even as we think that we're doing good." Did he just make that latter part up on the fly?

"With strong institutions and a strong will, I know that Africans can live their dreams in Nairobi and Lagos; in Kigali and Kinshasa; in Harare and right here in Accra." - If you've read some of what I've written since I found spaces to share my thoughts, I've asked about an African dream over and over again. So I ask, What is the African dream? Either way, Obama knows his father went to America to seek greener pastures and did well but he believes that must not be the story that defines Africans. I am confident there are stories of success built on the continent, it's time to fish them out and broadcast them.

I'll end this blog post with the last few paragraphs of Obama's speech because he speaks the truths I would have spoken anyway. Kinda ;-)

"Now that triumph must be won once more, and it must be won by you. And I am particularly speaking to the young people all across Africa and right here in Ghana. In places like Ghana, young people make up over half of the population."
"And here is what you must know: The world will be what you make of it. You have the power to hold your leaders accountable, and to build institutions that serve the people. You can serve in your communities, and harness your energy and education to create new wealth and build new connections to the world. You can conquer disease, and end conflicts, and make change from the bottom up. You can do that. Yes you can, because in this moment, history is on the move."
"But these things can only be done if all of you take responsibility for your future. And it won't be easy. It will take time and effort. There will be suffering and setbacks. But I can promise you this: America will be with you every step of the way -- as a partner, as a friend. Opportunity won't come from any other place, though. It must come from the decisions that all of you make, the things that you do, the hope that you hold in your heart."
"Ghana, freedom is your inheritance. Now, it is your responsibility to build upon freedom's foundation. And if you do, we will look back years from now to places like Accra and say this was the time when the promise was realized; this was the moment when prosperity was forged, when pain was overcome, and a new era of progress began. This can be the time when we witness the triumph of justice once more. Yes we can. Thank you very much. God bless you. Thank you."
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