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Obama's Visit to Ghana: Indiana University Experts Comment

Written by Yvette Alex-Assensoh on 10 July 2009.

Yvette Alex-Assensoh After hard-nosed discussions in Russia and economic talks in Italy, President Barack Obama's visit to Ghana may seem largely a celebration -- the first trip to sub-Saharan Africa by a U.S. president of African descent. But it would be a mistake to think that strategic discussions won't be engaged in Ghana, say Indiana University Africa and African-American studies experts A.B. Assensoh and Yvette M. Alex-Assensoh.

The president, First Lady Michelle Obama and their daughters Sasha and Malia will be in Ghana Friday and Saturday (July 10 and 11). The Obamas will visit Accra, the capital, and a former British fort at Cape Coast that was used to keep slaves before they were transported to the New World.

Assensoh, a native of Ghana and Professor of African-American and African Diaspora Studies at IU Bloomington, and Alex-Assensoh, Dean for the Office of Women's Affairs (OWA) and an Associate Professor of Political Science at IU Bloomington, observe that:

-- President Obama's choice of Ghana for the visit suggests that his administration will tie increasing aid for Africa to improved governance for African nations. Ghana, which became an independent nation in 1957, has been a leader in Africa in achieving peaceful democracy, with the two major parties alternately winning the presidency. "Historians and experts on African politics feel that it makes a lot of sense for the young but very knowledgeable American president to visit Ghana," they say.
-- With nuclear proliferation in the news -- including Obama's weapons talks this week with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and North Korea's continued nuclear threats -- it's interesting to note that a nuclear reactor was built in Ghana in the 1960s. During the Cold War, socialist nations assisted Ghanaian leader Kwame Nkrumah in building the reactor at Kwabenya to produce electrical power. The project was halted after Nkrumah was ousted by a military coup in 1966. Recently, some Africans have talked about reviving the project.
-- A forceful presence by Obama sends a message that the U.S. won't take a back seat to China, which has been increasing its role in Africa through growing trade and aid arrangements. "Some experts on African affairs are of the opinion that President Obama's presence on the continent, first in Egypt and now in Ghana, will help in showing that the U.S. and other major Western nations are not ready to let China have a 'free ride' in friendship and economic