Ghanaians pride themselves on being “The first sub-Saharan African country to do this or that.” One can’t really blame them for the tendency to be seen as Africa’s shining star. As the first country south of that famous desert to break away from colonial rule, the former British colony has always been touted as a pacesetter in the continent in many aspects of African affairs. Ghana even earned the nickname “The Black Star of Africa.” The name highlights the leadership role that it has played in the continent’s history. (Ghana’s national team, the Black Stars, obviously is eponymous with respect to that stellar moniker).
In the weeks leading to United States President Barack Obama’s historic trip to Ghana last week, the media in Ghana never failed to mention with billowing pride that this was his first trip to sub-Saharan Africa. Of course that meant that Mr. Obama’s trip to Egypt a few weeks ago does not really count as an African trip since it fails that famous Saharan geographical test. Like any Ghanaian, I was quite happy that Obama came to Ghana, and I spent a good deal of my weekend watching the coverage of the trip on local television. In fact, my eyes never left my television screen until Air Force One taxied off on that Accra tarmac into that dark and balmy Accra night sky.
Clearly, in this blog I am choosing to focus on some of the ‘other’ activities surrounding the President Obama’s visit to Ghana. Maybe I will devote another blog entry to social and political content along with the impact of his visit. I found myself at the Kotoka International Airport on the night that President Obama was scheduled to arrive in Accra. Before I am accused of being an Obama groupie (not that I am too good to be a rabid Obamanaic), let me point out that I was only there bid farewell to someone who was traveling that night. Due to security reasons, many major roads were blocked or diverted, and this resulted in a worse-than-usual notorious Friday after-work traffic jam. Sadly I didn’t stay long enough at the airport to catch a glimpse of the most powerful man in the world, who I hear opted to sleep on his plane after he touched down on Ghanaian soil.
Some of the biggest winners at the end of Obama’s visit were street vendors in Ghana, who sold Obama merchandise ranging from framed portraits of America’s first family to Obama T-shirts and miniature American flags. Several Ghanaian companies introduced an Obama twist into their advertising pitches. Billboards (that otherwise have nothing to do with Mr. Obama) displayed an Obama picture, which was deftly fused with an advertising message about that company service or products. Then there were those small business, restaurants, and hotels that actually renamed themselves to names such as: “Obama Hotel” or “Obama Fast Foods” or “Obama Telecommunication Center.” I only hope that these companies pursued the proper legal channels in effecting these renaming.
Of course the biggest winners were the people of Ghana themselves, who have secured another set of bragging rights over the rest of their peers. Once again, Ghanaians have ‘earned’ another sub-Saharan first: “The first sub-Saharan country that the first Black President of the United States of America visited.”