Obama in Ghana

It is summer in England and winter in Ghana. Having just got back to Accra, my last social event being what turned out to be a swine-flu party, I find the skies grey and the daily temperature around 28 degrees centigrade. Now this might, for you who manage to be numerate with a weather eye to boot, seem rather warm but here in Ghana it means that workers can don their woolly socks and anoraks. At night, blankets appear. Being conditioned by English grey skies I often emerge in the morning, only to find, without fail, that it is blissfully warm. My morning swim of forty or so lengths is in delightfully cool water but the locals treat it as though ice floes might impede my path or I will be dragged unconscious with hypothermia from the 24 degree waters. In the warmer seasons when the air temperature is 34 to 40 degrees, the water is as warm as a cup of tea left standing for ten minutes.

I was warmed in a more emotional way by a new sign on the back of a taxi (you may have discovered a dozen or more cryptic, aphoristic or beautifully ungrammatical signs in this blog over the months), which said Don’t Underrate. I can sit, as I am being driven to work and meditate on the various levels of meaning in these taxi-proclamations to passers by. It is an injunction. But who am I not to underrate? The taxi? Myself? Life in general? God? In Ghana it is the last, most probably. Anyway, such signs are manna when the traffic is grinding along, the daily paper has been read, the street sellers and beggers need to be pointedly ignored and there is a final quarter of an hour to kill.

As you may know, Obama was here when I wasn’t. I saw his speech on Sky Television in England. It contained many a hardly veiled reference to corruption, dictatorships, coups, poverty and general mismanagement of peoples and countries in Africa. The assembled throng cheered and clapped his every criticism. A white American president would have limped home with a chant of ‘racist’ drumming into his ears. But being black and speaking the truth has a certain dynamic consonance here. A good thing too. One hopes that the speech laid down a few pointers to despots and dictators about what might be coming to them, at the same time as wakening a concerted Africa-wide movement for democracy and even-handed, sensible governance. Obama was kind to Ghana but it, too, suffers, even if less than most, from tribal in-fighting, bribery and sloping playing fields. Coming through customs a female official asked us for a ‘present for Auntie’ after demanding to see inside our bags, which brought a curt response from my Ghanaian partner who naturally feels deeply let down by such blatant behaviour. I like Ghana very much. The people are generous and not inclined to aggression, yet, like everywhere, those that enter politics can be the exceptions that prove this rule. Even here in the oldest democracy in Africa.

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