Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Accra, Ghana - Local talent creates decadent dreams in sand


Another amazing thing seen on the streets, or rather in this case, the beach of Accra - sand sculpture at La Pleasure Beach, Labadi, Accra

Photo courtesy Ann Botchway (facebook)

Monday, July 13, 2009

Obamarama - the mania is over but the message persists.



With Obama’s visit come and gone – been there, bought the t-shirt (two actually) – Accra has returned to normal.

Definitely the Obama family had a profound effect on the country. Firstly, the cities of Accra and Cape Coast were literally brought to a halt on Saturday, and the circling helicopters made us feel their presence.

Apart from that, there was a buzz in the air, and all radio and TV stations were focused on the historic visit, following Obama on his few planned and strictly controlled visits. The streets were lined with supporters - with flags, scarves, t-shirts...

Everyone wanted some little part of Obama – of the fame, the hope, the power that has now come to signify his name. This was a visit that topped any of the other foriegn dignitaries or prior American presidents. Ghana and Africa felt a deeper sense of connection, they claimed to welcome Obama HOME. There was a wild pride in the air...

But Obama did more than shake hands and smile and feed the politicians of Ghana and Africa what they wanted to hear. He was firm in his speeches, asking the African leadership to take responsibility for the future of Africa. He focused on the US supporting Africa’s independent development and made some giant steps away from the typical western leader’s promise of never-ending aid. At his farewell address at the airport he pointed out the Peace Corps volunteers and asked that if these youngsters had come so far to work in the communities, there was no reason that the youth in Ghana and in Africa could not do the same. And he was right.

In a way, I believe that only Obama could have gotten this message across without any repercussions of being labelled racist. After all, he is considered ‘one of us’ among Africans.

This is a point that has annoyed me during the presidential campaign last year and the ramp up to his recent visit.

How is it that a man who had an absentee father (who happened to hail from Kenya), but was raised completely by his white mother and grandparents and Indonesian step-father, far from Africa, can be called an African man?



Surely we cannot forget the woman that raised him single-handedly, with the support of her own family, while his father lived out his life continents away with other wives, other children. Where is the acknowledgement for those that played the key role in his biological and cultural upbringing, when Africans proudly exclaim Obama’s blackness and African heritage?

It all seems a bit hypocritical, if not deceptive.To put it in perspective for Ghanaians - it would be like Scottish people taking credit for the accomplishments of J.J. Rawlings. It would be like other Europeans welcoming Jerry 'home' back in his heyday, for being the first 'European' leader in Africa. But we all know that despite Jerry having a Scottish father, he is culturally a Ghanaian and there is not much of a connection between him and Scotland. This is because his father did not play much of a role in his life, and he was raised in Africa as an African. The same is true in reverse for Obama...

I agree that Barack Obama has the X Factor, that he is extremely intelligent and an excellent motivational speaker. He is one of the only politicians that I honestly believe has positive motives for genuine change.

Whether Africa or Africans or black America can take the credit for a man with his history and upbringing is quite another story altogether.

I think it’s fair that we ALL take pride in such a leader, globally, and stop harping on a simple biological fact that did not entirely shape Obama’s character.

He is a global citizen, an American, and a figure for positive change. He is not technically a BLACK man nor culturally an African – and it doesn’t matter in the least!

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.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Barack like a Cadillac: Ghana Hiplife Collaboration celebrates the coming of Obama



You have to hand it to Ghanaians for enthusiasm. They have put together a music video showcasing about 10 of Ghana's well known pop/hip-life artists - all in honour of the Obama visit.

Alot of the song is in Twi, but I've captured some of the english verses here:

ASEM:
"Ever since I set eyes on you Barack
I felt good like I bought a new Cadillac.
I talk about you to my Granny, I have pictures of you and your Granny.
And I heard that you won a Grammy.
When I get mine it will make us family!
"

ECHO:
"Is the first time in Africa
To see a hero in America.
Is like seeing a Godfathah
Welcome home Obama.

You you you you
Fathah of the Nation
And we are proud to have you here
Obama Obama Obama
Welcome to Ghana...
"

Monday, July 6, 2009

Ghana to Welcome Obama 'Home?'



‘Friends For Obama Ghana - Welcome Home!’ Are the words that adorn hundreds of strategically placed posters around the Accra city sprawl.

Welcome Home? I know we are all getting excited for the imminent visit of the most famous American president (of all time?!) – certainly during my lifetime. But these posters are a testament to the completely unrealistic expectations that the world, and especially Africa has placed on this man. An American man with partial Kenyan heritage. How can he solve the problems of the world? Africa will not be his number one priority – how could it be? Obama is the American President - and no matter how much enthusiasm we generate in Ghana, he will never be a Ghanaian and this will never be his home!

We cannot be so naive as to believe Obama is visiting Ghana simply to reaffirm his African heritage, to acknowledge his roots – if this was the case he would be visiting Kenya!

Everything is political – especially for politicians! Ghana recently announced the discovery of oil. Within two years we have become visible on the American radar, to the extent that we will have seen the visit of two presidents! Coincidence? I am no conspiracy theorist, but hey...

There is also the less known issue of America’s determination to establish a military base in the region. Ghana seems the most stable, the most inviting environment. Again, no coincidence.

So as the world has been following Obama’s recent travels, the streets of Accra have been showing signs of the growing excitement around his visit – which still remains shrouded in mystery.

Which hotel will he stay in? When will he arrive? Will the streets be blocked? How tight will the security be?

As life has gone on seemingly as normal around here the last month, there have been numerous security exercises carried out quietly under our noses. Obama’s team has sent over 100 security personnel in advance, to take care of every little detail in preparation.

When Bush visited last year, his entourage took over the two largest 4 star hotels in the city/country. I know this because our company had a prebooked conference of 80 people that was unceremoniously bumped, without warning or compensation.

The visit of an American president is a big deal – especially in a developing country like Ghana where there are only a few hotels that could cater for the entourage, and there are basic things to ensure, like running water and continous electricity supply!

But Obama’s visit is even bigger. He is the world’s hero, the ‘blue-eyed boy’, to coin an ironic phrase... Obama chose Ghana and has angered Nigerians and Kenyans alike. The Internet abounds with theories on why he has forsaken the others. Ghanaians are full of the pride they do so well.

Obama fever is here! There is Obama wax print cloth being printed with fury – in time for the people to sew commemorative outfits in his honour. I have to get my hands on some of that – even if just for the kitsch value. Banners with Obama and Prez. Mills huge beaming faces line the streets. There is a palpable excitement in town.



I had the privilege of a VIP ticket to this year’s Ghana Fashion Weekend on Saturday at the Conference Centre in Accra (quite impressive!), and as I sat in the front row, I was not surprised to see the Obama themed collection of t-shirts by Jojo Costello, strutting down the catwalk, pinned tightly around the young female bodies. One of the t-shirts stated “My President is Black”. Obviously this did not in fact refer to President Mills of Ghana, who actually IS black. But Barack Obama, who is not Ghana’s president, and is not technically black.

At the finale of the show, the organiser, Mr. Ibrahim Sima of Exopa Model Agency, wore a shirt that read, “YES WE CAN, AND WE HAVE!” It was a great Obama-positive message – though I am confused as to exactly what Ghana has to do with the achievements of Obama in far away America. But we were of course all caught up in the enthusiasm, and when he made the statement aloud, the room was electrified with the energy of the cheers of the crowd.

Obama is coming! And to the people of Ghana, despite the reality, he is coming home!
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