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Why Ghana doesn't love Obama anymore

Obama told Ghanaians in 2009: “Africa’s future is up to Africans.” So why is the US bombing Libya, they rightly ask. No lasting peace will take root in Libya without strong African support. Ditto for America’s ongoing struggle against terrorists there.

By / July 6, 2011

Accra, Ghana

Here’s a quick quiz culled from the opinion pages in Ghana, where I’m teaching this summer: Who is the imperialist race traitor waging war on Africa?

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The answer, of course, is Barack Obama. The reason is the bombing of Libya, which is immensely unpopular over here. And so is President Obama, who now stands accused of betraying his own African heritage.

That’s a big change from the last time I taught in Ghana, during Mr. Obama’s state visit in 2009. His smiling face was everywhere, from T-shirts and soccer balls to billboards and murals. Gripped by “Obama Fever,” as Ghanaians called it, massive crowds lined the streets to welcome the first African-American US president to Africa.

You can still see Obama’s likeness around town these days, especially in the tourist areas. But for many Ghanaians, the honeymoon with Obama is over. And it started to go sour when the first warplanes strafed Benghazi and Tripoli, in a NATO effort to protect civilians from strongman Muammar Qaddafi.

That was the Libya-intervention’s official purpose, anyway. But Ghanaians aren’t buying it. To many observers here, it looks like a grab for Libya’s oil riches; to others, it’s a nefarious Western plot to re-colonize Africa.

Ghana's soft-spot for Qaddafi

Astonishingly, some Ghanaians also have a soft spot in their hearts for Mr. Qaddafi. “Does Obama know what Muammar-al Qaddafi means to Africa?” one Ghanaian columnist asked last month, citing Qaddafi’s generous aid to poorer African countries.

Others have hailed the Libyan’s 2009 demand for a “United States of Africa:” a federation of countries with a single government, currency, and army.

To many Ghanaians, this vision conjures the pan-African philosophy of their own independence leader, Kwame Nkrumah, a key figure in the 20th-century struggle to liberate black peoples around the world.

Nkrumah traced many of his ideas to the decade he spent as a student in the United States, where he received two university degrees. He also encountered the harsh racism of mid-century America, which reminded him of colonial subjugation in his native Gold Coast.

So when Nkrumah declared independence for the colony in 1957, renaming it “Ghana” after an ancient African kingdom, he pointedly connected its fate to other black freedom struggles. “Our independence is meaningless unless it is linked up with the total liberation of Africa,” Nkrumah insisted.

But pan-Africanism was always easier to proclaim than to practice. Shuttling across Africa, Nkrumah could not persuade newly independent nations to unite with each other. At home, meanwhile, Nkrumah, the tribune of African freedom, denied freedom to his own people by declaring a one-party state and jailing his opponents. He was deposed in 1966, during one of his many trips abroad.


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