By  Lawani Mikairu
United States President Barack Obama is expected to start a two-day visit to Ghana Friday July 10.  Obama, who arrives Accra tonight will be the third sitting American president to visit the West African nation.

But, unlike Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, Obama is only visiting Ghana and no other country on the continent.

Obama said he picked Ghana as the first African country he would visit as U.S. president partly because of the “democratic commitments” demonstrated by President John Atta Mills, who took office in January after a close election.

In an interview with on Tuesday,  Obama said: “By traveling to Ghana, we hope to highlight the effective governance that they have in place.”

During his visit to Ghana, Obama will meet with the president and address the parliament before he and First Lady Michelle Obama tour the Cape Coast Castle, which was used in the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

Security has been tight all week in Accra, and Ghana plans to deploy some 10,000 security forces during Obama’s visit, according to Ghana News Agency (GNA).

The White House has set up SMS codes to allow people across Africa to send “words of welcome” via text message to Obama during his visit.

Obama has already received thousands of messages, and plans to answer several of the questions sent to him, the British Broadcasting Corporation reported yesterday.

Clinton was the first U.S. president to visit Ghana, in 1998, as part of a six-nation African tour.

Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush, stopped there during a four-nation African tour during his last year of office that largely focused on U.S. aid programme.

Ghana’s government named a road after Bush to recognise his government’s contribution towards the country’s development.

As the United States’ first African-American president, Obama’s trip has broader significance as well. Obama’s father is from Kenya and he expressed concern about the political situation in that East African nation.

“The political parties (in Kenya) do not seem to be moving into a permanent reconciliation that would allow the country to move forward,” Obama had told “And Kenya is not alone in some of the problems that we’ve seen of late, post-election or pre-election.”

Many in Kenya were critical of Obama’s decision to pick Ghana the first African nation he visited instead of his father’s birthplace. During his campaign for president, Obama was hailed by many as a “son of Kenya.” Shortly after the White House announced the Ghana trip in May, newspaper headlines in Nairobi asked, “Why Obama Snubbed Kenya.” A political cartoon in one Kenyan paper showed Air Force One dropping a note to Kenya’s leaders saying, “Get your act together,” as it flew over the country.

Obama said he wanted his visit to Africa to mean more than just something to cross off his list as U.S. president and he..” actually thought that it made sense for us to connect a trip to Ghana to a previous trip with the G8 … to show that Africa is directly connected to our entire foreign policy approach,”.”That it’s not some isolated thing where once every term you go visit Africa for a while to check that box, but rather it’s an ongoing part of a broader discussion about how we move many of these international challenges forward.”

Local singers and rap artists have written a welcome song for Obama and produced a music video on YouTube. “President Obama, Welcome to Ghana,” they sing, with images of U.S. and Ghanaian flags interspersed between the musicians. “We welcome you to the Land of Gold.”

President Obama will use his visit to Ghana on July 10 and 11, 2009 to encourage its new president, John Atta Mills, to take a leadership position in Africa on issues of democracy and justice.

Atta Mills of the National Democratic Congress took office in January 2009 in a peaceful transition after defeating Nana Akufo-Addo, the candidate of the then-ruling New Patriotic Party in a presidential election. According to the US administration, Obama chose Ghana for his first official visit as president to a sub-Saharan African country to show the US government’s support for countries that respect the basic rights of citizens to freely choose their representatives and hold them accountable.

In contrast with recent elections in Nigeria, Ethiopia, Rwanda, and Angola, Ghana’s were relatively free and fair, and benefitted from independent monitoring and management. Unlike recent elections in Kenya and Zimbabwe, the ruling New Patriotic Party accepted the verdict of the people and conceded defeat.

President Obama will also use the visit to stress the importance of criminal prosecutions of those responsible for genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. Serious crimes in violation of international law continue to be committed on the African continent – including in Sudan, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

At the recent African Union summit that took place in Sirte, Libya, the AU decided that its members should withhold cooperation with the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the arrest and surrender of Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir because the UN Security Council has not deferred his case before the ICC. The UN Security Council referred the situation in Darfur to the ICC in 2005 and the ICC issued an arrest warrant for al-Bashir for crimes against humanity and war crimes in March 2009. Obama should encourage Ghana’s new president to reaffirm his country’s clear commitment to justice for the most serious crimes, including through cooperation with the ICC, to which Ghana is a state party.

In the wider context, Ghana should be using its seat on the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva to strengthen global human rights mechanisms, Human Rights Watch said. Atta Mills should explain why his government voted in May 2009 to prevent an international investigation of war crimes by all parties to the conflict in Sri Lanka.

Obama’s visit also allows the new Ghanaian government to make clear its commitment to genuinely free, fair, and transparent elections in West Africa.


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