Thursday, July 9, 2009

Obama's Ghana - ghost streets and a palpable police presence...

The pre-Obama frenzy is in full swing in Accra. But instead of the excitement felt by the rest of the world, locally we are reeling at the extreme measures being taken by the Obama-planning-and-security-committees, that will render the city of Accra and Cape Coast completely at a standstill for most of Friday and Saturday.

As we walked down to our local luncheon spot in Airport residential area today, the skies above us were alive with the drone of military helicopters – circling, circling.

Rumours are growing and spreading and mutating about where Obama will stay, what time he will arrive, what time he will leave and everything in between. It is generally agreed now that all roads around the airport will be closed from 7pm Friday evening until most likely Saturday night or Sunday morning. All office buildings in the area will be completely evacuated and even the regularly scheduled commercial flights will be cancelled or rescheduled. The airport is to be emptied completely from 7pm Friday night. This is serious!

The latest I’ve heard is that the Holiday Inn will be evacuated, including staff, and completely sterilised by American security personnel. This gives me the impression that Obama and his family will sleep there.

The roads will also be closed – but no one knows which ones, from what time etc. So we’re guaranteed to have mass chaos... I also just read that Ghana has vowed to dedicate 10,000 police officers to the Obama visit – both in Accra and Cape Coast. I find this amazing, if not completely impossible – given that the entire Ghana police force is less than double this number. Imagine the logistics in a feat like that?!
It all makes the mind boggle, that the 24 hour visit of one man and his massive entourage, could cause the complete immobilization of a city!

The usual last minute city clean-up is also underway – the teams in overalls can be seen, weathering the seasonal rain, white wash painting all the curbs on the roads the Obama delegation will drive down, as well as American and Ghanaian flags posted at regular intervals along the main boulevards. This is standard practice whenever a foreign dignitary visits. But this time it is on a much higher scale. There is a drive by authorities, who are not afraid to use physical force, to remove all of the hawkers and beggars that line the streets of Accra daily.

Today’s Graphic newspaper, dedicated to Obama’s visit, describes the clean-up: “The recent exercise to clear the central business district and other parts of Accra of street hawkers and traders gives a vivid posture of official intolerance to general indiscipline before and during the visit of Mr. Obama”.

I read with interest and melancholy, a letter to Obama, posted online, with such care and detail - by an average Ghanaian, who, like others, has so many high hopes from Obama's visit. She mentions how many thousands of poor rural Ghanaians will be making the long journey to the capital with the remote hopes of 'catching a glimpse' of the President. But this is post 911, and this is OBAMA. What chance will the average Ghanaian have to get within 10 city blocks of the world's most highly protected and revered man?

Well we hope that the visit goes well – Obama’s speech (to be delivered to a select, private, invited audience), will no doubt be inspiring – they always are! – and no doubt the international media who follow him here will be abuzz with feedback. There are numerous online forums set up for live discussions during his visit... and at the end of the day, when he goes, Ghana will definitely be on the world map. But by Sunday the roads will open and the average Ghanaian will emerge (now allowed back on their streets), jumping puddles on their way to church - and apart from their new commemorative t-shirts, life in Accra will be back to normal.
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Miss Footloose said...

I wish I were there to see all this! I've lived in Accra and I'm trying to visualize the scene and the traffic and the general atmosphere. The Ghanaians are a very enthusiastic lot, so it should be, well, fun, a little??

Miss Footloose

The pale observer said...

Well I know I need to get myself a t-shirt and some Obama cloth! :)

ogyakromian said...

I'm waiting to compare the reception to what we saw when Clinton visited Ghana. But thank God it is a weekend.

The pale observer said...

I got a ticket to his farewell speech at the airport!

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