I watched President Obama deliver remarks prior to his departure from Ghana this afternoon. Obama's remarks were delivered from a podium on the tarmac in front of Air Force One at the airport in Accra. Traditional drummers and dancers graced the scene and in an odd way, seeing traditional African dancers and musicians performing in front of a 747 almost seems to encapsulate in a microcosm the virtual entirety of the human experience; the African dancers and musicians representing the very origins of humanity and the airplane representing the heights (literally) to which humanity and its imaginations can climb.
There's a degree, of course, to which events like this are managed and staged, but a lot of the footage that I've seen coming out of Ghana over the last few days clearly suggests that Obama's visit to the sub-Saharan nation has been a big deal for the people of Ghana.
Obama brought a message to the people of Ghana and, by extension, to all Africans, that their futures really are in their own hands and, further, that African nations must become responsible for their own futures. Obama isn't the first American President to visit Africa (Clinton and Bush 43 made successful visits), and he's not the first to promote the idea of self-sufficiency to people who have been very dependent on economic assistance from the West.
But it seems to me that Obama inspires people around the world in ways that no other President has been able to, at least in recent years. Perhaps this is because with the election of an African-American, the United States has proven itself to be a nation where literally anything is possible for anybody, thus living up to its promise. But perhaps the election of Obama has had another effect on how people abroad, especially those outside of the West, view America. Perhaps, especially in parts of the world that had formerly been under colonial rule by European powers, as much of Africa was at one time or another, the very image of President Obama (and let's not forget his very real African roots) represents a break from an image of American leadership as being by and in the service of a class of (white) men who closely resembled much of the world's former colonial rulers.
Perhaps many people around the world now look at America as truly a nation of peoples from around the world, as opposed to an outsized by-product of European colonialism. Maybe this is something that we Americans have grown to take for granted, but is now becoming realized in the eyes of millions of people beyond our borders.
This isn't something that Obama did consciously and this isn't any sort of a slight against any former President. Thus, Obama doesn't deserve the credit for this phenomenon, but the American people do. I think Obama is aware of this, and it is incumbent upon him to play this proverbial card to its maximum effect throughout his Presidency. If his visit to Ghana is any indication, he's off to a good start.