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Monday, July 27, 2009

Obama, do something before you go

Cameron Duodu, an Obama fan extraordinaire, flew to his native Ghana in time to welcome home Africa’s only son to sit in the Oval Office in Washington DC. But what he heard from President Barack Obama, on his first official visit to Sub-Saharan Africa since coming into office, was not music to Duodu’s ears. This is a penetrating report by a hugely disappointed fan of Obama’s. Can the president redeem himself? Perhaps it is too early. But as an African proverb says: “The signs of a good market day are spotted early in the morning.” Africa will be watching Obama’s every move with eagle eyes, writes Cameron Duodu.

The president wept. Like many black people who have taken their courage in their hands and dared to visit the slave castles on the West African coast, such as Cape Coast Castle and Elmina Castle (both in Ghana) and Goree Island off Dakar in Senegal. President Barack Obama could not hold back the tears when he saw with his own eyes the dungeons in which millions of black Africans were chained and degraded before being shipped, if they survived the ordeal, to the USA and the Caribbean as chattel slaves. I was told by one of the Ghanaians who organised the trip to Cape Coast for the Obamas that “in the dungeon, the tears of the president of the United States were flowing freely. Michelle Obama broke down too. I figured the experience had taken her to the lowest point a human being can reach. The kids were asking many questions and registering the answers with shock. It was a terribly distressing emotional moment for all of them.”

Indeed, as Air Force One carried President Obama and his family out of Ghana back to Washington DC, after the whirlwind visit to their first sub-Saharan African country since coming into office, I suspected that in the private apartment he and Michelle shared on the presidential plane, the mood was ultra-sombre. The president would have noticed that despite their bravery, something traumatic had happened to his wife and two daughters. Indeed, their distress, not too difficult to decipher, was captured in the photograph (above right) which shows a grim-faced Obama with his arms around his eldest daughter, comforting her, as they emerged from the Cape Coast Castle. A picture, they say, speaks better than a thousand words.

Why did he take them inside that castle? I have lived in Ghana almost all my life and I have never had the courage to go in there. For it is a personification of everything that is evil in human beings. It is also a whitened sepulchre that does more than justice to Christ’s depiction of the hypocrisy that men construct around themselves to hide the evil they do. Hypocrisy? Yes – there is a Christian chapel in the castle, just above the dungeons. After they had carried out their inhuman acts against their chained African captives, the Swedish, Dutch, Portuguese, and British slave traders who operated from the castle at one time or another in its history, went into the chapel on Sundays and at other appointed times of worship, and sang praises to their God “of mercy”. A God of mercy who had appointed them to make profits out of human misery; a God of mercy who created some people white and others black, endowed them with both consciousness and a conscience, and yet allowed the whites to turn the blacks into beasts to be beaten and chained and enslaved.

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