About the Author: Shanique Streete serves in the Public Affairs Section of the U.S. Embassy in Accra, Ghana.
I first heard the name Barack Obama five years ago as I prepared to come to Ghana as an exchange student at the University of Ghana-Legon. One evening, tired of packing for my semester long stay, I sat down to watch television. That night, I happened to see a Member of the Illinois Senate speak before the 2004 Democratic National Convention. I remember being moved to tears by his story of hope, his roots in Kenya and Kansas, and his noting “that in no other country on Earth is my story even possible.”
Five years later, as an intern for the U.S. Department of State in Ghana, I was excited to learn that President Barack Obama would travel to the country. Along with many others, I wondered what messages the President would share with Ghana, the country selected for his first visit as President of the United States to sub-Saharan Africa. As a graduate student in African Studies, I was personally interested in hearing what the President would say about development in Africa.
President Obama delivered his long awaited speech to the Ghanaian Parliament, former presidents John Agyekum Kufuor and Jerry John Rawlings, and members of the Ghanaian public at the Accra International Conference Center. In the days prior, workers at the International Conference Center had transformed the building to welcome the U.S. President. American and Ghanaian flags lined the entrance of the Center while the interior featured cloths with the green, red, yellow of the Ghanaian flag along with the black star that is the flag’s centerpiece. Kente patterns lined the backdrop of the stage where Ghana’s President John Evans Atta-Mills and the Speaker of Parliament Joyce Bamford-Addo introduced President Barack Obama.
Speaking from Ghana, the U.S. President held the attention of other countries across the continent. Through television, radio and SMS, we sought to make his message as widely available as possible. The President made his message clear: governments that respect the will of their own people are more prosperous, more stable, and more successful than governments that do not. President Obama said, “Here in Ghana, you show us a face of Africa that is too often overlooked by a world that sees only tragedy or a need for charity. The people of Ghana have worked hard to put democracy on a firmer footing, with repeated peaceful transfers of power even in the wake of closely contested elections….This progress may lack the drama of 20th century liberation struggles, but make not mistake: It will ultimately be more significant. For just as it is important to emerge from the control of other nations, it is even more important to build one’s own nation.”
The President added, “So I believe that this moment is just as promising for Ghana and for Africa as the moment when…new nations were being born. This is a new moment of great promise…. Now, to realize that promise, we must first recognize the fundamental truth that you have given life to in Ghana: Development depends on good governance…. That’s the change that can unlock Africa’s potential. And that is the responsibility that can only be met by Africans.”
The President emphasized the important of “mutual responsibility” and “mutual respect” and said that the United States stands ready to work with African nations as a partner and a friend.
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