Saturday, July 11, 2009

Obama and African Hospitality

The American President Barack Obama today was in Ghana. The frenzy that often precedes such visits of US Presidents, did not spare Africa this time round. In Ghana, local singers and rap artists produced a video of a welcome song and uploaded it on YouTube, though I am yet to watch it.

While Kenya was disconcerted for having been omitted from the trip, in Uganda, I shudder to imagine the euphoria that would have preceded if stopping in Kampala was part of the itinerary. In the Subsahara African way of welcoming visitors, governments often start preparing six months in advance. Even if the guest will stay for only a day.

We as Africans should not be blamed. This is our traditional way of welcoming guests. A visiting Head of State to Subsahara Africa means that it is the only moment the city council will clean up the blocked drainage channels. Oh, how we yearn to make impressions on our guests even when the true picture maybe different. So, by choosing to visit Ghana, Obama made a wise choice because Ghanaians did exactly what Ugandans would have done. And for the next few weeks, the streets of Accra will be cleaner. Congratulations the Land of Gold!

In Uganda, it means special budgetary allocation to organise for the visit, followed by the re-filling of potholes and planting grass. Now, during this July sunshine, special sprinklers would be provided to water the grass. Even Cabinet ministers would be absent from office to inspect the progress of preparatory works.

Of course the long hours in the field often mean more allowances for the officials carrying out the clean up exercise. With such flurry of activities, one would think Uganda was a setting for Nikolay Gogol's The Government Inspector.

Such scenes would be more or less a replay of what happened before Uganda hosted the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in 2007. Police would get new uniform, beggars and idlers taken off the streets in midnight and daylight operations,

A special programme featuring Uganda ahead of the visit, would possibly have been aired on CNN, to highlight the government's achievements under the most enticing catchword, "Uganda: A Beauty in the Sun" all in the name of polishing Uganda's image.

Of course it was necessary and justified for the Ghana authorities to deploy some 10,000 security forces during the visit to deal with anyone who would have nursed plans to mar the visit. In Uganda, we would have deployed more officers and men, including vigilante groups wielding wooden clubs (kibokos).

Events like this often replay in my mind. I recall when former President Bill Clinton visited Uganda. The Monica Lewinsky case hang over his head, when the American went to a church in South Africa. He received Holy Communion and even the church's was hushed in questioning whether it was fitting.

In Uganda President Clinton was treated to the generosity of African women. He left a baby boy in Kisowera, Mukono district! It happened after the toddler's mother renamed her child 'Clinton.' Why? It was because the American had carried the baby in his arms. In the Entebbe hotel where Clinton spent the nights, the suite has since been renamed, "Clinton suite."

Then I am told that our Ghanaian brothers named a road after George Walker Bush to recognize his contribution towards the country's development.

I wondered if there was no nameless road in the vast US that could be named after any great African. After all, didn't Africa contribute to American development during the Trans Atlantic slave trade? Maybe one day the Americans will reciprocate and rename any of their hotels, or streets, after any of our great African leaders.

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