Obama To Make Historic Visit To Ghana

Motorists in Accra, Ghana, drive past a billboard welcoming U.S. President Barack Obama. i i

Motorists in Accra, the capital of the West African nation of Ghana, drive past a billboard welcoming U.S. President Obama on Thursday. Obama's visit will be his first trip to sub-Saharan Africa as president of the United States. Jane Hahn/Corbis hide caption

itoggle caption Jane Hahn/Corbis
Motorists in Accra, Ghana, drive past a billboard welcoming U.S. President Barack Obama.

Motorists in Accra, the capital of the West African nation of Ghana, drive past a billboard welcoming U.S. President Obama on Thursday. Obama's visit will be his first trip to sub-Saharan Africa as president of the United States.

Jane Hahn/Corbis
Ghanaian men in Accra anticipate Obama's arrival. i i

Ghanaian men in Accra anticipate Obama's arrival. The country enjoys close ties with Washington. Ofeibea Quist-Arcton/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Ofeibea Quist-Arcton/NPR
Ghanaian men in Accra anticipate Obama's arrival.

Ghanaian men in Accra anticipate Obama's arrival. The country enjoys close ties with Washington.

Ofeibea Quist-Arcton/NPR

President Obama's trip to Ghana, which begins Friday, is being heralded as a landmark for the West African nation and trusted ally of Washington.

In 1957, Ghana was the first African country to gain independence from European colonial rule. It is now poised to become the first sub-Saharan African country to host the first African-American U.S. president.

The 24-hour visit by the Obamas is their only stop on the continent.

Why Ghana?

In an interview with allAfrica.com, Obama explained why he picked Ghana.

"Part of it is lifting up successful models. And so, by traveling to Ghana, we hope to highlight the effective governance that they have in place," he said. "I think that there is a direct correlation between governance and prosperity."

After hosting President Clinton and President Bush in recent years, Ghanaians are excitedly awaiting the arrival of Barack and Michelle Obama.

Obama will deliver a much-anticipated policy speech Saturday. Roadside newspaper stands and radio and television talk shows are flooded with Ghanaians eager to add their opinions and advice to the U.S.-Africa debate.

A Model For Africa

After a checkered early history of coups and military rule, Ghana now is often held up as an African example of solid economic reform and democratic government, after two peaceful transfers of power through the ballot box. That includes multiparty elections last December, after deeply flawed elections elsewhere on the continent and military takeovers in some countries.

Obama also indicated that there were other factors in choosing Ghana.

"There are both strategic, national security, economic and environmental reasons why we think this region is important," he said.

A Focus On Oil

America's growing dependence on African crude oil supplies is no secret. Ghana is set to begin pumping oil soon in a part of the world that is becoming increasingly strategic for the U.S., as it looks for alternative energy sources to Middle East imports.

Emmanuel Akwetey is a political scientist and executive director of the Institute for Democratic Governance in Ghana.

"Although you would not see Obama as President [George W.] Bush, whose agenda anywhere had to be tied to the search of oil, America in the current situation and given its experiences in the Middle East ... certainly would have strategic interests that are also economic. And oil is always a big thing," he says.

Security Concerns

A growing concern for the U.S. is safeguarding a reliable flow of oil from Africa in a turbulent region that one observer says has become a playground for terrorists. Washington is concerned about security along the oil-exporting Gulf of Guinea coastline.

The hope is that when Ghana begins producing, it will avoid the same fate as other African countries, where oil has been more a curse than a blessing. That is where AFRICOM, the U.S. military command that maintains relations with 53 African countries, could play a leading role.

Niyi Alabi, an analyst and commentator, says Ghana is going to become the headquarters of this command to fight terrorism.

He is convinced AFRICOM is going to Ghana, despite Washington's repeated statements that it has no plans to establish the command's headquarters on the continent.

"Let them deny, but that is perfectly in line with the fact that America would always want to ensure the sources of oil," he says.

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