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Obama in Africa: Why he chose Ghana

The visit is seen as a reward for Ghana's commitment to good governance and democracy. There's also newfound oil and a photo-op at a former slave fort.

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Will Obama revitalize US involvment in Africa?

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For Obama, the trip offers a chance to revitalize America's plethora of aid programs with his own celebrity. Obama's smiling face adorns batik fabrics, posters, banners, the back windows of buses, and billboards.

Already, his visit has provoked soul-searching from Africans living in bigger, more powerful countries with a worse track record on democratic reform. In Kenya, the Ghana trip is widely viewed as a judgment on Kenya's troubled power-sharing agreement.

In Nigeria, complaints that Obama bypassed West Africa's powerhouse country encouraged a reaction from its famous playwright, Wole Soyinka.

"The message he is sending by going to Ghana is so obvious, is so brilliant, that he must not render it flawed by coming to Nigeria any time soon," the Nobel Laureate said, praising Ghana's democratic progress, and lamenting Nigeria's lack thereof.

Is Ghana really worthy of such praise?

Ghanaian analysts, however, wonder if their caricature as Africa's exception is entirely warranted – especially during a contentious exchange of government, marked by dismissals and investigations perceived as excessive.

"It's actually quite ironic that Obama is coming here because of our democracy, because in a way, our democracy is not doing well as advertised," says Victor Brobbey, a research fellow at Ghana's Center for Democratic Development, a think tank. "The president has far too much power. Capturing the presidency gives you the state, you have all these resources, you get all this patronage. As a result, it makes elections this winner-take-all game, which raises the stakes and the tension."

There's also oil, a potential military base ...

Quietly, some Ghanaians wonder whether Obama is after Ghana's newfound oil, or a place to park Africom, Bush's proposed anti-terrorism base – or maybe, trying to accommodate his wife, Michelle, who Ghanaians widely, if questionably, believe has Ghanaian ancestry.

"Personally, I think we very much underestimate the influence of Michelle Obama in all of this," says Amos Anyimadu, administrator for Africa Next!, a governance think tank.

... and a photo-op at a former slave fort

"Eighty percent of the explanation of this visit lies in America," says Anyimadu. "Obama will be standing on a slave fort, talking directly to African-Americans."

"The only reason we managed to get Clinton to come," says Anyimadu, describing most presidential visits as symbolic, "was to provide a platform for the Clintons to talk to African-Americans."