ACCRA, Ghana - For weeks the ‘Welcome Home’ signs have been up.
Billboards with President Barack Obama’s smiling face and that of his Ghanaian counterpart, John Atta Mills now dot this seaside capital.
Underneath them is the slogan ‘Partnership for Change’.
While Obama ‘T Shirts have been commonplace since 2008, the local fabric with his photo is all the rage now. Within the past few days, hawkers and street vendors in the city center, a mainstay of here, have vanished.
When the president and his wife Michelle, step off Air Force One, Friday night they will encounter a spruced up Accra and heavy crowds expected to give them a rousing ‘Akwabaa’ throughout the weekend.
“The Kenyans are asking why is he not in Kenya?” said Isumaila Wortey, 50, as he supervised a cleaning crew planting flowers and removing unwanted structures at Kwame Nkrumah Circle, in the city center.
“It looks as if Ghana is more peaceful that ever before. We have had stability for over 20 years now,” he added, explaining his reasoning for Obama’s choice of Ghana for his maiden presidential visit to Africa.
Ghana’s president, assumed the presidency earlier this year after leading the opposition National Democratic Congress party to victory over the then ruling New Patriotic Party.
Before leaving the White House for the G-8 summit in Europe, Obama told all Africa.com that there is a direct correlation between governance and prosperity.
He said indeed he chose Ghana because part of the reason was its stability.
“Ghana has undergone a couple of successful elections in which power was transferred peacefully even in a very close election. I think the new president, President Mills has shown himself committed to the rule of law.”
Maxwell Ofotsu, 49, said that his new president “sees the suffering of the people the unemployment, the armed robbery and he assures Ghana that all these will stop.”
Obama’s visit “means that what Atta Mills has promised, he will be able to deliver with the help of the United States.
As state visits go, this is a short one. The First family arrives on Friday night from Rome and will spend only one night in Africa. One Saturday morning, there will be a breakfast with both presidents; Obama and the First Lady will then pay a visit to a health facility at La Polytechnic.
Following that he will make a major foreign policy speech to invited guests at the Accra International Conference center. The speech had been scheduled for the grandiose Independence Square but the heavy rains that have caused flooding in the capital forced officials to move it indoors.
Afterwards the President and his family are expected to head to Cape Coast, two hours west where he’ll meet with the traditional ruler there.
Billboards welcoming the Obamas line the road to Cape Coast although it is likely the president won’t seem them if he flies there.
Oguaa Omanhen Osabrimba Kwesi Atta 11 will sit in state with his sub-chiefs and then honor Michelle Obama with a title of queen.
Afterwards the two are expected to tour Cape Coast Castle, and its tiny ‘Door of No Return’ from where millions of shackled slaves passed through on their way to America.
Officials said this castle visit, which is often a very emotional one for visitors will leave a lasting impression. A whirlwind 24 hours. When former President Clinton came, he stayed eight hours. For President Bush, it was 36 hours.
Aisha Abudu-Whitman, a prominent Accra architect, points out that there are two distinct perspectives on the historic visit. “Regular people are really proud that he chose to come to Ghana first. Rightly or wrongly we always think of ourselves as the gateway to Africa so we are really proud.”
But the 28-year-old added: “then there is the intellectual perspective which is that we just discovered oil, so he must want that.”
With rampant rumors of gas prices skyrocketing, long queues at filing stations, and unemployment still climbing, everyone is hoping for something tangible.
“We hope he will bring the whole world to Ghana for investment so that unemployment can go down. If he brings us money, one day that money will run short, but if he brings us employment it will last longer,” Wortey, who spent 12 years in the Ghanaian military said.
Speculation is also rife that the establishment of United States Africa Command in Ghana will be on the agenda, but so far the Foreign Ministry here have denied that. African leaders oppose any such military base anywhere on the continent.
Photo Credit: PHILLIP MOLNAR