July 13th, 2009
01:48 PM ET

A beacon of hope in Sub Saharan Africa

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/WORLD/africa/07/11/obama.ghana/art.obamaghanacrowd.gi.jpg caption="Local dignitaries greet President Obama when he arrives in Ghana on Friday."]

Josh Ruxin
Founder and Director, The Access Project
Assistant Professor in Public Heath, Columbia University

There was a democratic buzz in the air the last time I traveled to Ghana. Presidential elections were under way, and I was lucky to be traveling with an aspiring candidate, Dr. Kwesi Botchwey, the country’s minister of finance in the eighties and early-nineties. Everywhere we traveled, Ghanaians were debating the challenges facing their nation and reveling in their increasingly vibrant and stable democracy.

That strong embrace of democratic ideals has not been lost on the Obama administration. The U.S. President’s visit to Ghana this past weekend was a symbolic move that now resonates across the continent. Rather than giving in to the temptation of having a homecoming in Kenya, Obama chose the West African nation as his first stop. It’s a sign of smart continental politics with a clear message: this administration values democratic values above all else.

During the time I spent in Ghana, I could see the national growth that was occurring each and every day. The country looks and feels as if it’s booming. Restaurants and hotels are springing up and economic growth is steady. Although it is unlikely that the President took it in, Ghana also has a thriving club scene complete with some of the continent’s best music.

The country’s major oil reserves will continue to help its economic growth substantially. Such findings in other nations have ironically often exacerbated corruption and poverty. You don’t need to look far to Nigeria to see that its oil riches have not translated into improved living conditions for the average Nigerian.

But Ghana has a chance to get the equation to work. I imagine President Mills spoke with President Obama about this issue. U.S. technicians could me invaluable to Ghana’s government by offering help to convert this newfound source of wealth into something more perennial. But these goals also depend on a healthy and well-educated population.

While we should certainly celebrate Ghana’s many successes, we must also keep in mind the areas where it falls short. While democracy continues to thrive, the nation’s poverty statistics are simply not in keeping with the nation’s relative wealth. It’s true that per capita income is roughly $600 per year; about twice as much of the income of the country I currently call home – Rwanda.

Nonetheless, Ghana’s health statistics and basic human development indicators have made relatively little progress over the last two decades, and this statistic is telling; 10 percent of all kids die before reaching the age of five.

Ghana’s history as a key post for slave trading was a symbolic backdrop for Obama’s visit – his visit with his family to the Cape Coast Castle underscored this point, but the real story to which we must pay attention is Ghana’s recent history. It was the first independent Sub Saharan African nation and it continues to shine as a beacon of hope. With the right partnerships and support, it could become even more.

Editor’s Note: Josh Ruxin, the founder and director of the Access Project, which develops public health programs in Africa. Ruxin is also a Columbia University assistant professor in public health.

Filed under: 360° Radar • Ghana • Pres. Obama African Journey
soundoff (13 Responses)
  1. Kofighana

    Dina i've been thinking the same OIL but i think with the recent coup in Guinea and Corruption, African Countries always begging for money, something tells me that is the reason because the speech summarized this. Besides he is half Kenyan so he feel it but he is hiding it well.

    July 14, 2009 at 1:33 am |
  2. Max

    Whats in it for the african people after the trip of President Obama really.

    July 14, 2009 at 12:11 am |
  3. Max

    What can President Obama do about all of the dirty politic that is being conducted by the French in all of their formers colonies, right under the eyes of the US. I thought the US was the gardian of world peace, and Democracy. Is President Obama going to be quiet, and pretend not to notice it, or is he going to do something about it. Does the US has to have interest in a country before to act in and protect the population of that country?

    July 14, 2009 at 12:09 am |
  4. Max

    I am really happy to see that President finally made the trip back to Africa to visit the Slaves' route. I am a bit disappointed that Anderson Cooper did not ask him what he is going to do about all the dictatorship that is taking place in some of the countries. Anderson Cooper, you have the opportunity to travel to Africa so many times, and for that matter I always wonder why you never stop in Central African Republic because this country is in the heart of Africa, and is touched by all of on going fighting in Soudan, Chad and Democratic Republic of Congo. I might also add that there is a dictatorship in this country run by a General, soldier who arrived in a coup d etat in 2003, with the help of the French. I am a french native speaker and to be honest I believe to wonder why the situation in all the former french colonies are not under scrutny like those of the British. I know there is a up coming presidential election in 2010 and the current president who is a soldier is once again preparing to steal the these elections, why's that the US or CNN can not bring that situation under light for the world to see it. It might not be enough but it will be a start. Thanks for the opportunity and hope that I will not be the only one listening to echo of my voice, thanks Anderson, and do not worry I will not confuse you with Larry King.

    July 14, 2009 at 12:00 am |
  5. de-sekyere

    Its heart pleasing to be hearing good stuff about GHana.we have given much in reaching this democratic heights.we love peace and truth but many other african countries overlook our strides in being where we are now.God believes in democracy and through the gospel and the Lords guidance we are what we are as ghanaians.

    De sekyere

    July 13, 2009 at 11:25 pm |
  6. Peter Armoo

    Anderson did a good job interviewing the President. I would have loved to see him also highlight the progress the country is making by showing some beautiful pictures. The problem of Africa is not lack of resources but corrupt leadership. If the West especially can presuure African leaders and seize all the ill gotten wealth they stash in foreign banks, it will dissuade others from siphoning their country's money.
    If the leaders steal the money and they don't have anywhere to stash it, they will think twice.
    Thanks for your coverage but next time try to also show the good side.

    July 13, 2009 at 10:25 pm |
  7. Luke

    Its remarkable that the President's visit to Africa shunned his ancestral Kenya for Democratically advancing Ghana. The message is clear to all African nations, developing nations, and others across the globe; America will not wholeheartedly and blindly embrace for the sake of appearance. We value the valiant efforts of those who strive for democracy and more so, for those who strive to share the wealth of their respective nation. We abhor the exploitations of those who seize the riches of their nation for personal gain, while the majority continue to suffer lack in health care, education, employment and other basic resources. Wake up Africa oo! Waiti, Waiti oo!

    July 13, 2009 at 10:18 pm |
  8. Michael Awuah

    Why did you choose to feature those pictures from Ghana, I believe there were a lot of nice place better than this.

    July 13, 2009 at 10:11 pm |
  9. Annie Kate

    Hope the current government of Ghana continues to progress and benefit its citizens and that the USA will prove an ally to them as they to us. Oil may be a factor but hopefully in the drive to becoming energy independent it will not factor very highly in the equation of who to ally ourselves with in the future.

    July 13, 2009 at 10:03 pm |
  10. Dina

    OIL...sums it up!

    July 13, 2009 at 6:56 pm |
  11. mame

    i must say that ac 360 is impressive. i see that AC is genuinely interested in africa. nice blog posts.

    July 13, 2009 at 2:30 pm |
  12. mame

    Cindy as always teaching the rest of us her infinite wisdom.

    USA is advanced too but it has a long way to go: just go to Appalachia. John King just did a piece that shows extreme poverty is not unique to Africa. some parts of Appalachia will cause u to think you're in the Congo.


    No country, not even America is perfect. President Obama didn't tell Ghana that they had "arrived". He praised them for smooth democratic transfer of power in an election in which the winner won by 40 000 votes. Trust me if Ghana matures politically it will give it room for socio-economic momentum

    He was pointedly critical of real corruption that holds back the potential of their people. So be proportional in your reasoning, Ms. Cindy of Georgia.

    July 13, 2009 at 2:28 pm |
  13. Cindy

    Thanks for the article and info Josh. It's great to finally see the truth here. While others want to say how great Ghana is they still are allowing extreme poverty to go on and allowing children to die at an alarming rate. They still have a long way to go.


    July 13, 2009 at 9:52 am |