By The Hill Staff - 07/11/09 09:36 AM EDT
President Obama told Ghana’s parliament Saturday his family history encompasses the continent’s tragedies and triumphs in an historic and very personal speech.
Obama touched on the colonial history in Africa by mentioning his grandfather.
“My grandfather was a cook for the British in Kenya, and though he was a respected elder in his village, his employers called him ‘boy’ for much of his life,” he said.
Members of Ghana’s parliament repeatedly broke into applause during the speech, which had been widely anticipated in the country. Horns were trumpeted at the beginning and end of the address.
Obama arrived in Ghana Saturday morning and met with the country’s president before the speech. He and his family are scheduled to visit the Capt Coast Castle later today, a place many Africans passed through to board ships that took them to a life of slavery in the Americas.
Obama said his background means he does not see Africa as a world apart. “I see Africa as a fundamental part of our interconnected world – as partners with American on behalf of the future that we want for all our children.” He said that future must be grounded in mutual responsibility.
Africa’s problems are not simply because of colonialism, Obama said. “It’s easy to point fingers,” said Obama, who mentioned a colonial map that made little sense and bred conflict, and an approach by the West to treat Africa as a patron, not a partner.
But he also blamed African leaders, including Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabai, who he did not name, for the problems of African countries. He said the West is not responsible for the destruction of Zimbabwe’s economy, or wars across the continent that have enlisted children as combatants. He noted that Kenya, where his father grew up, has lagged behind South Korea in its development, though its economy was larger on a per capita basis when the president was born.
Obama touched briefly on trade, stating that America could do more to promote trade and investment with Africa. At the G8 summit Obama attended before heading to Africa, leaders promised to recommit to concluding a round of world trade negotiations that has repeatedly sputtered because of differences between rich and poor countries.
“Wealthy nations much open our doors to goods and services from Africa in a meaningful way,” Obama said.
He also promised to build on the “strong efforts of President Bush” to carry forward the fight against HIV/AIDS. Obama noted his administration has committed $63 billion to meet those challenges.
Obama closed the speech with words to the young people of Ghana, who he said were the key to the country’s future. Using the rhetoric of his own campaign, he said “yes we can” in stating that progress can be achieved in Africa.