President Obama’s Visit to Ghana: Starting the Conversation

July 10-11, 2009, President Obama visited Ghana, his first visit to sub-Saharan Africa as President. The trip, which comes on the heels of the G8, was an opportunity to not only highlight Ghana as a beacon of democracy and progress on the continent, but to amplify a broader discussion about how the U.S. can support African efforts to improve governance and lay the groundwork for effective development.

As many African countries have demonstrated in recent years, development flourishes in the context of democracy and good governance. In fact, many of Ghana’s recent development and economic successes would not have been as impressive-or even possible-without a stable, committed government, the effective allocation of resources, and leaders’ accountability to their communities. President Obama’s visit offered the chance to amplify the conversation about how the U.S. can partner with Africa to support these positive trends.

Ghana’s progress
Since 1991, Ghanaian citizens have participated in five consecutive peaceful transitions of power. A widely praised national election last December (which consisted of a closely contested initial election and a subsequent run-off vote) saw the peaceful election of President John Atta-Mills.

In the past decade, Ghana has also made tremendous strides in fighting AIDS and malaria, putting children in school, building infrastructure and attracting trade and investment. Ghana has experienced 20 years of 4-5% annual growth and has nearly halved its poverty rate since 1992. The country is on track to surpass the Millennium Development Goal of halving poverty by 2015.

In education, the Ghanaian government eliminated school fees for primary schools in 2004. This, along with a new school feeding program to provide free lunches, opened classroom doors for the poorest Ghanaian children. Ghana’s net enrollment rates for boys in primary school increased from 60% in 2004-2005 to 84% in 2007-2008, while enrollment of girls jumped from 58% to 82% during the same period.

In addition to its strong and consistent economic growth, Ghana’s favorable business climate has encouraged new sectors to develop and expand, with help from a combination of local and foreign investment and local innovation. In 2007, Ghana was the United States’ tenth largest trading partner in sub-Saharan Africa and the sixth largest exporter to the U.S. Regionally, the country plays a key role in promoting political and economic stability across West Africa, and has contributed significantly to the cocoa and cashew markets.

This success in Ghana has been spurred, in part, by donor assistance. In health, Ghana is making considerable progress and currently benefits from eight grants from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria (Global Fund), worth a total of $377 million over five years. The President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI), created under President George W. Bush, also has a number of initiatives underway. In addition to distributing more than one million bed nets across the country, the initiative plans to reach 100,000 households with indoor spraying for malaria, and to assist the Ghanaian government with the procurement and distribution of approximately 1.2 million doses of malaria medicine to treat children under five.

Ghana is currently implementing a 5-year, $547 million compact with the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC). The compact focuses on agricultural and rural development, and transportation sector improvements. Ghana has also passed each of the five ‘Ruling Justly’ indicators since its interactions began with the MCC in 2004. In fact, among its low-income country peers, Ghana ranks in the 93% percentile or higher on each of the indicators.

Successes across the continent

Ghana is not the only example of success in Africa. It is just one of many countries that have experienced a decade of diversified and sustained economic growth, coupled with dramatic advances in the fight against poverty and preventable disease.

Several African countries, including South Africa and Zambia, have seen recent, peaceful, democratic elections. Others, such as Liberia, Rwanda, and Mozambique, have seen impressive governance successes despite histories of civil war. Civil societies and independent media are also being strengthened in an effort to hold African leaders accountable.

And the progress applies to more than just governance. More than two million Africans are now receiving life saving AIDS treatment, up from just 50,000 in 2002. In just two years, massive distribution of bed nets and anti-malaria drugs have cut deaths from malaria in half in countries like Rwanda, Zambia and Ethiopia. A stunning 34 million additional African children are now in school compared to earlier in the decade. U.S. and other donor investments have played a critical role in these successes, along with transparent, committed, African leadership.

Continuing the conversation
It is time for the U.S. to discuss how it can enhance and expand its support for African efforts to improve governance, enhance accountability and transparency, and promote effective development. Initiatives are already underway that need help: African leaders and people in civil society are launching programs to hold their governments accountable and promote the efficient and effective use of scarce resources. Donor governments are beginning to leverage development assistance to promote good governance, as in the case of the MCC in the U.S. International efforts are being launched to help monitor corruption and return stolen assets.

These important mechanisms (and others such as the UN’s Economic Commission for Africa) should be built upon to enhance the critical services that they provide.

President Obama’s trip highlighted Ghana and the larger continent, showcasing how strong African leadership and entrepreneurship, supported by smart donor policies and investments, are creating a bright future for Africans. Now this momentum should be used to continue the conversation.

July 10-11, 2009, President Obama will visit Ghana, his first visit to sub-Saharan Africa as President. The trip, which comes on the heels of the G8, is an opportunity to not only highlight Ghana as a beacon of democracy and progress on the continent, but to amplify a broader discussion about how the U.S. can support African efforts to improve governance and lay the groundwork for effective development.

As many African countries have demonstrated in recent years, development flourishes in the context of democracy and good governance. In fact, many of Ghana’s recent successes in development, the economy and poverty reduction would not have been as impressive-or even possible-without a stable, committed government, the effective allocation of resources, and leaders’ accountability to their communities. President Obama’s visit offers the chance to amplify the conversation about how the U.S. can partner with Africa to support these positive trends.

Ghana’s progress:
Since 1991, Ghanaian citizens have participated in five consecutive peaceful transitions of power. A widely praised national election last December (which consisted of a closely contested initial election and a subsequent run-off vote) saw the peaceful election of President John Atta-Mills.

In the past decade, Ghana has also made tremendous strides in fighting AIDS and malaria, putting children in school, building infrastructure and attracting trade and investment. Ghana has experienced 20 years of 4-5% annual growth and has nearly halved its poverty rate since 1992. The country is on track to surpass the Millennium Development Goal of halving poverty by 2015.

In education, the Ghanaian government eliminated school fees for primary schools in 2004. This, along with a new school feeding program to provide free lunches, opened classroom doors for the poorest Ghanaian children. Ghana’s net enrollment rates for boys in primary school increased from 60% in 2004-2005 to 84% in 2007-2008, while enrollment of girls jumped from 58% to 82% during the same period.

In addition to its strong and consistent economic growth, Ghana’s favorable business climate has encouraged new sectors to develop and expand, with help from a combination of local and foreign investment and local innovation. In 2007, Ghana was the United States’ tenth largest trading partner in sub-Saharan Africa and the sixth largest exporter to the U.S. Regionally, the country plays a key role in promoting political and economic stability across West Africa, and contributed significantly to the cocoa and cashew markets.

This success in Ghana has been spurred, in part, by donor assistance. In health, Ghana is making considerable progress and currently benefits from eight grants from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria (Global Fund), worth a total of $377 million over five years. The President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI), created under President George W. Bush, also has a number of initiatives underway. In addition to distributing more than one million bed nets across the country, the initiative plans to reach 100,000 households with indoor spraying for malaria, and to assist the Ghanaian government with the procurement and distribution of approximately 1.2 million doses of malaria medicine to treat children under five.

Ghana is currently implementing a 5-year, $547 million compact with the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC). The compact focuses on agricultural and rural development, and transportation sector improvements. Ghana has also passed each of the five ‘Ruling Justly’ indicators since its interactions began with the MCC in 2004. In fact, among its low-income country peers, Ghana ranks in the 93% percentile or higher on each of the indicators.

Successes across the continent
Ghana is not the only example of success in Africa. It is just one of many countries that have experienced a decade of diversified and sustained economic growth, coupled with dramatic advances in the fight against poverty and preventable disease.

Several African countries, including South Africa and Zambia, have seen recent, peaceful, democratic elections. Others, such as Liberia, Rwanda, and Mozambique, have seen impressive governance successes despite histories of civil war. Civil societies and independent media are also being strengthened in an effort to hold African leaders accountable.

And the progress applies to more than just governance. More than two million Africans are now receiving life saving AIDS treatment, up from just 50,000 in 2002. In just two years, massive distribution of bed nets and anti-malaria drugs have cut deaths from malaria in half in countries like Rwanda, Zambia and Ethiopia. A stunning 34 million additional African children are now in school compared to earlier in the decade. U.S. and other donor investments have played a critical role in these successes, along with transparent, committed, African leadership.

Continuing the conversation
It is time for the U.S. to discuss how it can enhance and expand its support for African efforts to improve governance, enhance accountability and transparency, and promote effective development. Initiatives are already underway that need help: African leaders and people in civil society are launching initiatives to hold their governments accountable and promote the efficient and effective use of scarce resources. Donor governments are beginning to leverage development assistance to promote good governance, as in the case of the MCC in the U.S. International efforts are being launched to help monitor corruption and return stolen assets.

These important mechanisms (and others such as the UN’s Economic Commission for Africa) can be built upon if President Obama places a spotlight on the critical services they provide.

President Obama’s trip will highlight Ghana and the larger continent, showcasing how strong African leadership and entrepreneurship, supported by smart donor policies and investments, are creating a bright future for Africans. This momentum should be used to continue to conversation.