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Obama's Ghana Speech Underwhelms

Congolese blogger Alex Engwete posts a French translation of Obama's address to the Ghanaian parliament, given this Saturday during his first-ever visit as President.  Two readers respond, each unimpressed by Obama's speech.

Wavre thinks Obama's failure to recognize America's past misdeeds in Africa or Africa's contribution to the West's success places his speech just a little above Sarkozy's infamous Dakar address.  Bony believes that many of Africa's challenges are cultural, and that the color of Obama's skin does not make him any more equipped to understand them; Obama, like other African-Americans, is more American than he is Black.

US President Barack Obama addresses the Ghanaian Parliament in Accra (Official Photo)

US President Barack Obama addresses the Ghanaian Parliament in Accra (Official Photo)

Wavre compares Obama and Sarkozy's speeches:

Non seulement que l'Afrique est le dernier continent qu'il visites malgre ses origines, mais il s'est excuse partout des erreurs de la politique internationale americaine, mais pour l'Afrique, aucune recognition des erreurs de la politique americaine de destabilisation systematique de tout les gouvernements progressistes et nationalistes qui ont emerges dans notre continent.(une des grande raisons, a mon avis de notre retard) Une longue liste d'interventions, certaines encore actueles, en faveur d'interets d'argent sous des pretextes de lutte contre le communisme (ou expansion chinoise).Et ne meme pas mentioner le fait que depuis cinq siecles l’ afrique a servi de marche pied a la revolution industriele occidentale, de l'esclavage a nos jours, quand il n'a pas hesite a remonter jusqu'au moyen-age pour rendre hommage a la contribution des arabes a la civilisation mondiale?! Il me semble avoir repris et modifier un discours d'un certain Sarkozy en supprimant un tant soit peu la condescendance suffisante du monarque francais.

Not only was Africa the last continent he visited, despite his origins, but everywhere he went he apologized for America's mistakes, while in Africa, he made no recognition of the mistakes of American policy, of the systematic destabilization of all progressive and nationalist governments that have emerged on our continent.  (One of the major reasons, in my opinion, of our delay).  A long list of interventions, some still ongoing, in favor of moneyed interests under the pretext of a fight against communism (or Chinese expansion).  Not to mention the fact that for five centuries, Africa has served as a stepping stone for the West's industrial revolution, with slavery that continues today, when he did not hesitate to go all the way back to the Middle Ages to pay homage to the contribution of Arabs to civilization?!  He seems to have taken and modified the discourse of a certain Mr. Sarkozy by cutting out just enough of the French monarch's condescension.

Bony debunks the idea of a pan-African identity:

Ce discours est beau mais la question africaine vis à vis du développement est avant tout d'ordre culturel. Partout où le poids de la tradition est importante il y est difficile d'impulser le progrès tel le conçoit le monde contemporain. Le Ghanéen Nkwama Nkrumah le dit dans ses écrits mais quand il est arrivé au pouvoir il n'a pas réusi à changer les choses et les coups d'Etat qui s'en sont suivis non plus. Même Rawllings n'a pas développé le Ghana. Le folklore représente encore la culture africaine.On a acceuilli Obama avec celà. Mais les noirs américains ou afro-américains ont une culture qui n'a rien à avoir avec l'Afrique. Pour être concret ce sont des noirs avec une culture occidentale. Je n'aimerais pas leur porter l'injure en disant que ce sont culturellement des blancs avec une peau noire. Bien sûre on nous bassine avec la culture des ghettos. Là aussi c'est une une sous-culture américaine qui n'a aucun parallèle avec l'Afrique.

This is a beautiful speech but the question of African development is above all a matter of culture.  Everywhere the weight of tradition matters and it is difficult to encourage progress as it is understood in the modern world.  The Ghanaian Nkwama Nkrumah says as much in his writings but when he came to power, he did not succed in changing things nor the coups that followed him either.  Even Rawlings did not develop Ghana.  Folklore still represents African culture.  Obama was welcomed with it.  But black Americans o African-Americans have a culture that has nothing to do with Africa.  To be concrete, these are blacks with Western culture.  I don't want to hurt anyone by saying that they are culturally white with black skin.  To be sure, they swamp us with the culture of the ghettos.  That is also an American subculture that has nothing to do with Africa.

Le chanteur Akon est-il africain? Oui. Fait-il de la musique africaine? Non.

Is the singer Akon African?  Yes.  Does he make African music?  No.

Bony has a somewhat different view of Obama's “post-racial” America:

…On est tous devenu des wasp même si la différenciation de la couleur de peau reste vivace. L'adage ne dit'il pas que la nuit tout les chats sont gris? Dans le monde tout les américains sont wasp. D'ailleurs le monde s'en est rendu compte rapidement.  Obama est plus Américain que noir.

…They have all become wasps, even if differentiation by skin color is alive and well.  Doesn't the saying go that at night all the cats are gray?  In the world, all Americans are wasps.  Moreover, the world is quickly realizing that.  Obama is more American than black.

wavre responds:

Alex, Bely et moi vivons en amerique depuis des decennies et ils ne me contradirons surement pas quand j'affirme qu'ici malgre les points communs que partagent tout les americains, il y a une distinctive culture noir-americaine ici aux states, culture due a leurs origines africaines. Nous qui avons l'avantage de connaitre les deux continents, sommes plus a meme de reconnaitre ses traits de caractere. Tu sembles n'avoir pas encore differencie technologie et culture.

Alex, Bely and me have lived in America for decades and they certainly would not disagree with me when I affirm that in spite of the what all Americans share in common, there is a distinctive African-American culture here in the States, a culture due to their African origins.  We who have the advantage of knowing both continents are more capable of recognizing these character traits.  You seem to have not yet differentiated technology [i.e., development] and culture.

Parles des choses que tu connais, mon cher ami, car l'election d'Obama ne marque EN RIEN loin s'en faut, la fin du racisme aux Etats-Unis.

Speak about things you know about, my dear friend, because the election of Obama DOES NOT mark the end of racism in America, far from it.

wavre says beyond these question of identity, beyond Obama, the most important thing to remember is that:

PERSONNE NE NOUS AIDERA, SI CE N”EST NOUS-MEME!LA NOMENCLATURE ECONOMIQUE MONDIALE ET SES LIGNES DE FORCE TEL QU”ELLES EXISTENT ACTUELEMENT N’ ONT AUCUN INTERET A NOTRE DEVELOPPEMENT!

Seul un patriotisme et un amour du continent et de ses populations par des gouvernants integres pourra sortir l'Afrique de la dependance et du sous-developpement.

NO ONE IS GOING TO HELP US, IF NOT OURSELVES!  THE GLOBAL ECONOMIC SYSTEM AND ITS FORCES AS THEY EXIST TODAY HAVE NO INTEREST IN OUR DEVELOPMENT!

Only a patriotism and a love for the continent and its people by honest governments can pull Africa out of the traps of dependence and underdevelopment.

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