A street vendor in Ghana’s capital sells small American flags with an image of President Obama on them, in front of a billboard that proclaims "Akwaaba" — or "Welcome" — next to a smiling image of the U.S. leader.
When Obama arrives in Accra on Friday night, he will be the third sitting American president to visit the West African nation of Ghana. But unlike Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, Obama is only visiting Ghana and no other country in the continent. Obama said he picked Ghana as the first African country he would visit as U.S. president partly because of the “democratic commitments” demonstrated by President John Atta Mills, who took office in January after a close election. “By traveling to Ghana, we hope to highlight the effective governance that they have in place,” Obama said Tuesday in an interview with AllAfrica.com. During his 24-hour visit to Ghana, Obama will meet with the president and address parliament before he and first lady Michelle Obama tour the Cape Coast Castle, which was used in the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Security has been tight all week in Accra, and Ghana plans to deploy some 10,000 security forces during Obama’s visit, according to Ghana News Agency (GNA). The White House has set up SMS codes to allow people across Africa to send “words of welcome” via text message to Obama during his visit. Obama has already received thousands of messages, and plans to answer several of the questions sent to him, the British Broadcasting Corporation reported on Thursday. Bill Clinton was the first U.S. president to visit Ghana, in 1998, as part of a six-nation Africa tour. Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush, stopped there during a four-nation Africa tour during his last year of office that largely focused on U.S. aid programs.
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Ghana’s government named a road after Bush to recognize his government’s contribution towards the country’s development. As the United States’ first African-American president, Obama’s trip has broader significance as well. Obama’s father is from Kenya and he expressed concern about the political situation in that East African nation. “The political parties [in Kenya] do not seem to be moving into a permanent reconciliation that would allow the country to move forward,” Obama told AllAfrica.com. “And Kenya is not alone in some of the problems that we’ve seen of late, post-election or pre-election.” Many in Kenya were critical of Obama’s decision to pick Ghana the first African nation he visited instead of his father’s birthplace. During his campaign for president, Obama was hailed by many as a “son of Kenya.” Shortly after the White House announced the Ghana trip in May, newspaper headlines in Nairobi asked, “Why Obama Snubbed Kenya.” A political cartoon in one Kenyan paper showed Air Force One dropping a note to Kenya’s leaders saying, “Get your act together,” as it flew over the country. Obama said he wanted his visit to Africa to mean more than just something to cross off his list as U.S. president. “I actually thought that it made sense for us to connect a trip to Ghana to a previous trip with the G8 … to show that Africa is directly connected to our entire foreign policy approach,” Obama told AllAfrica.com. “That it’s not some isolated thing where once every term you go visit Africa for a while to check that box, but rather it’s an ongoing part of a broader discussion about how we move many of these international challenges forward.” As Ghana gears up for the visit, a group of local singers and rap artists wrote a welcome song for Obama and produced a music video on YouTube. “President Obama, Welcome to Ghana,” they sing, with images of U.S. and Ghanaian flags interspersed between the musicians. “We welcome you to the Land of Gold.”