Is it really true that it will not be giants like Nkrumah and Kenyatta who will determine Africa’s future but rather Obama’s chant for March on Washington?
No matter our news and views about President Barack Hussein Obama’s visit to Ghana and no matter how our judgements and expectations are going to be on his preference over sub-Saharan economic giants such as Nigeria, South Africa and his own “blood-related” home country Kenya- that became the centrepiece of his “message of hope” to Africans, it could be said that the Obamas’ pilgrimage to Cape Coast- an outreach post of Western colonization and slave trade, is an embodiment of emotions, history, tradition and indeed politics and modernisation, directed at Africa’s Lost Decades and Aspirations.
But was the first Africa-American President- Obama, right in down-playing the strengths, ideals and relevance of Kwame Nkrumah and Jomo Kenyatta who mean/meant so much to Africa and its liberation, continental unity, self-reliance and progress? No. So what could have been his motivation in arguing that Ghana and looking at the larger picture, Africa, doesn’t need strong men and/or women in its march to build United States of Africa and to borrow the words from Obama’s inaugural speech, where he had said that he will listen to his people, especially, when they disagree and above all, ask them to join in the work of remaking America the way it’s been done for 221 years- block by block, brick by brick, calloused hand by calloused hand and where US, still uses military might?
The history of the United States of America- one of the most powerful countries on earth- had been built at the backyard of “Freedom Statute” yet as Obama himself might have admitted in private, its very existence and that of its European allies (NATO), and indeed elsewhere on our planet- here, Israel, Japan and South Korea for example, has come a result of the efforts of strong post-war leaders such as Winston Churchill of the United Kingdom, not forgetting Harry S. Truman, who became President of the United States with the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt on April 12, 1945 and whose administration, according to historians, is said to have been confronted with enormous challenges in both foreign and domestic affairs as the Soviet Union and Cold War, dominated his presidency.
For this reason, it could be highly unfair if not impossible, if the media were to construe Obama’s assertion- that “Ghana/Africa does not need strong wo/man”, in its democratic journey, to mean “strong”, as explained in any reputable dictionary or academic literature. Yes, Obama painted a political picture that any poorly prepared student, might give erroneously interpretation to mean his unqualified scorn for all forms of autocracy- directed historically, at either the unrivalled likes Nkrumah, Kenyatta and in our modern times, leaders Ex-President Jerry John Rawlings and Robert Mugabe, when he reminded his audience of the aspirations of Gold Coast at independence, some fifty-two years ago.
Yes Obama- the first African-American president to visit a sub-Saharan African country, laid hands on the arch of history when he made reference to a young civil rights activist- Martin Luther King- whose conviction in the ultimate “triumph of justice”, as Obama reminded the Ghanaian, was renewed when he travelled here in Accra, to watch the Union Jack come down and the Ghanaian flag go up- and which, as Obama puts it, must be won once more, and by the Ghanaians, particularly, the young people, worth noting.
Yet it is the considered opinion of JusticeGhana that the argument goes far beyond finger-pointing. For example, when Obama met the Ghanaian lawmakers and leaders, he reminded them that no country is going to create wealth where its leaders exploit the economy to enrich themselves, or police can be bought off by drug traffickers. “No business wants to invest in a place where the government *skims 20 percent off the top, or the *head of the Port Authority is corrupt. No person wants to live in a society where *the rule of law gives way to the rule of brutality and bribery- that is not democracy that is tyranny, and now is the time for it to end.” We could give many interpretations to: ‘Now is the time for it to end- it is not democracy but tyranny’ but under which regime?
The answer to the current political reality could be found perhaps in a direct-linked quote from the 47-year-old US President: “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, 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.” This clarion call, adduced from the president’s reference to the historical March on Washington or what he terms as “the success of the civil rights movement in my country” that as he puts it, came before Ghana’s independence on 6 March 1957, in the view of JusticeGhana, imputes not only our democratic deficits but also greediness?
In what appears to be apparent reference to after-elections political struggles over state properties- here over cars and accommodation, Obama invoked the traditional Africa political dilemma by suggesting that “Africa is not the crude caricature of a continent at war. But for far too many Africans, conflict is a part of life, as constant as the sun. There are wars over land and wars over resources. And it is still far too easy for those without conscience to manipulate whole communities into fighting among faiths and tribes.”
But why Obama’s constant use of “tribe, religion, justice, and the young people? Yes, Obama accepts that colonial map that made little sense bred conflict, and the West has often approached Africa as a patron, rather than a partner, he appears frustrated as to why besides victims of politics, ethnic and religious conflicts, too many still die from preventable diseases. “When children are being killed because of a mosquito bite, and mothers are dying in childbirth, then we know that more progress must be made. Focus on four areas that are critical to the future of Africa and the entire developing world: democracy; opportunity; health; and the peaceful resolution of conflict,” he advises.
Although US administration officials acknowledge that one visit alone won’t accomplish the legacy Obama is setting for Africa. Yet in his answer to the question of what he intends to achieve at the end of his term, the president told Allafrica.com that he’d like to see a future where the U.S. was considered an active partner in helping African countries to build up political and governing institutions that lead to prosperity and growth. “I don’t expect that we’re going to get there in four years or eight years, but I think we can get on that path. That a young person growing up in Johannesburg or Lagos or Nairobi or Djibouti can say to themselves, I can stay here in Africa, I can stay in my country and succeed, and through my success, my country and my people will get stronger,” he said.
So what could be the expectations of Obama who says Africa’s future is up to Africans themselves when he said: “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 that this was the time when the promise was realized – this was the moment when prosperity was forged; pain was overcome; and a new era of progress began. This can be the time when we witness the triumph of justice once more?” Does Obama want to suggest that there had been no “true justice” ever since Ghana (Africa) took its destiny in her own hands when he referred to the ‘triumph of justice’ once more?
This is the crux of Obama’s message to the Ghanaian and for that matter the African. Some of the relevant links are his reference to colonial map, easy to point fingers, conflicts; Freedom is your Inheritance, responsibility to build on freedom foundations, strong institutions, autocracy, coups, and constitution. Indeed, to the Pan-African, the statement, “we have learned that it will not be giants like Nkrumah and Kenyatta who will determine Africa’s future”, could be worrying. But to the young Ghanaian, perhaps the juxtaposition of 6 March 1957, to the March on Washington, as Samaritan Research Group sees it, is the clarion call against political impropriety that as Obama carefully draws, rests yes, not on Nkrumah, Kenyatta or the colonialist but on today’s leadership.
What then, is the said march on Washington and how could it be relevant here in Ghana? The March on Washington, as America’s own history reveals, was a mass march that took place in Washington, D.C., on 28, August 1963. The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, according to information available to JusticeGhana, represented a coalition of several civil rights groups, all of which generally had different approaches, tactics and agendas and with personalities such as Martin Luther King, Jr., of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC); A. Philip Randolph, of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters; James Farmer, of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE); John Lewis, of the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC); Roy Wilkins, of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP); and Whitney Young, Jr., of the National Urban League. These individuals became known as the “Big Six” organizers.
Historians have it that this crucial demonstration came against the backdrop of ill-fated legislations, police brutalities, racial segregation in public schools and starving minimum wages and unemployment, attracted some 250,000 people, mostly teenagers and, where in Birmingham and Alabama, attack dogs and fire hoses were turned against the protestors. In what appears similar to the 1948 riot against the British Colonial Administration where some leaders of the UGCC such as the Ghana’s “Big Six” of fame, got arrested, in the US, the referred Martin Luther King, was also arrested and jailed.
The aftermath of this demonstration and Martin Luther’s incarceration in Birmingham City Jail and his subsequent letter to his fellow sympathizers and activists, advocated for civil disobedience against unjust laws. This ignited further demonstrations across the US- from California to New York. The fruits of the March on Washington referred to by Obama, in the opinion of JusticeGhana, is perhaps, the roots of all Civil Rights Acts and racial equality that United States- the champion of modern democracy prides itself today.
What then, could the inference be when Obama said: “Now, that triumph must be won once more, and it must be won by you. And I am particularly speaking to the young people. In places like Ghana, you make up over half of the population. Here is what you must know: the world will be what you make of it?” The triumph of colonization and slavery, it seems to JusticeGhana, is what Obama is suggesting, at least if one thinks of his belief that Africans are ready to claim that future and that in US, African-Americans- including recent immigrants – have thrived in every sector of society despite a difficult past, and have done so because of the strength they draw from their African heritage?
Yes, Obama had said that he had come to Ghana, for a simple reason that the 21st century will be shaped not only by what happens in Washington or elsewhere around the world, but also by what happens in Accra as well, JusticeGhana believes that the realisation of this prophecy, might hinge not only on political ability to provide the said strong democratic institutions, but also the acceptance that Ghana’s diversity, as Obama argues, is not a cause for division but rather a source of combined strength to challenge the political settings that seem to subvert our collective justice, security and progress.