President Obama's visit to Ghana is widely seen as an opportunity to express the administration's broader policy for Africa, much as the president made his address to the Muslim world from Cairo.
Beyond the momentous imagery of the first African-American president and his family visiting sub-Saharan Africa on Friday night and Saturday, analysts are looking for substance, especially where the president will focus his attention in a planned address to the Ghanaian Parliament.
Obama has already stressed that one hallmark of his Africa policy will be to support good governance and economic development. In an interview with the news Web site allAfrica.com, the president said he chose the West African nation for this first trip partly "because Ghana has now undergone a couple of successful elections in which power was transferred peacefully, even a very close election."
"Countries that are governed well, that are stable, where the leadership recognizes that they are accountable to the people and that institutions are stronger than any one person have a track record of producing results for the people. And we want to highlight that," said the president.
Democracy, Poverty And Conflict
Richard Joseph, a professor of political science at Northwestern University, says Obama is likely to use his speech to encourage the democratic process across Africa, and encourage poverty reduction and development.
"Even in Ghana, which has done relatively well, around 40 percent of the people are considered poor. Africa needs more investment," Joseph said in a telephone interview from Accra, Ghana's capital. "There are tremendous opportunities on the continent, and the Chinese are demonstrating that. The U.S. and other Western nations are losing ground."
Jendayi Frazer, who was assistant secretary of state for African affairs in the George W. Bush administration, says Ghana is a good choice for the president's first official visit to Africa. "But if it becomes a centerpiece of a policy of only engaging countries that have records that we like, it won't be effective," she says.
Frazer says Obama will need to engage with countries such as Nigeria and Kenya, even though they have had problematic elections and deep-rooted problems with government corruption.
The president will also have to build on a strong legacy of programs left by the Bush administration, Frazer says. President Bush tripled U.S. aid to Africa, supporting programs that brought AIDS medication to more than 1 million people and cut malaria rates in many African countries.
Frazer, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University, says she believes Obama must also address the conflict areas in Africa. "The Horn of Africa is ablaze. There's instability in Sudan with the upcoming election. He's going to have to expend political capital to make a difference there."
Aid Is Good; Trade Is Better
Princeton Lyman, a former U.S. ambassador to Nigeria and South Africa, says he hopes Obama will outline a plan for improving commercial ties with the continent.
"What we haven't seen yet from this administration is a good trade policy with Africa," he says.
Lyman, now a senior fellow for Africa policy studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, says the U.S. needs a trade policy that deals with agricultural commodities, such as cotton, that affect West Africa. "Agriculture has been neglected," he says.
Lyman says it was good that Obama helped raise pledges of $20 billion for a "food security" initiative for developing countries at the just-concluded G-8 summit in Italy. But Lyman notes that "there's a certain humanitarian tinge to that name, as in 'these poor Africans can't feed themselves.' Making agriculture a part of trade and development would send a better signal."
Both Lyman and Frazer dismiss a common theme that has been turning up in Ghanaian commentaries on the president's visit: the speculation that Obama is visiting Ghana because it has newly discovered reserves of offshore oil.
"I don't think that oil is a reason for us going to Ghana," Frazer says. "If oil were the issue, Obama would go to the big producers, Angola or Nigeria. But how Ghana manages its new oil wealth is of importance to the U.S., so that the wealth is used for development and doesn't corrupt the political process."