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How Will Obama's Message Resonate in Africa?

(AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
When President Obama announced today a new $20 billion commitment from the G8 countries for alleviating hunger in Africa, he emphasized that the money would help small farmers become more self-sufficient.

He emphasized this point with a personal story about his father's travels from Kenya to the United States.

"When my father traveled to the United States from Kenya to study, at that time the per capita income and Gross Domestic Product of Kenya was higher than South Korea's," Mr. Obama said. "Today obviously South Korea is a highly developed and relatively wealthy country, and Kenya is still struggling with deep poverty in much of the country. And the question I asked in the meeting was, why is that?"

South Korea, he said, has created transparent and accountable institutions that promote economic progress -- and, he said, there is no reason countries in Africa cannot do the same. Now that the G8 summit in Italy has concluded, he will travel to Ghana to underscore that point.

"Part of the reason that we're traveling to Ghana is because you've got there a functioning democracy, a president who's serious about reducing corruption, and you've seen significant economic growth," Mr. Obama said during a press conference in L'Aquila, Italy.

Mr. Obama's trip to Ghana is a source of pride for the nation, university students and leaders told the Hotsheet today, and should be a wake up call for the rest of Africa -- and the rest of the world -- about the changing nature of international relations and foreign aid.

A Helping Hand -- Not a Handout

Ghana's President John Atta Mills smoothly assumed power this year after winning a run-off election in January with just slightly over 50 percent of the vote. Ghana's strong democracy has facilitated the country's economic progress, Patrick Awuah, president of Ashesi University in Accra, Ghana, said in an phone interview.

"With the emergence of democratic government in Ghana, we have seen the opening of markets so that everyone can participate in the free market," Awuah said. "The politics of this country are such that leaders spend more time than they used to thinking about the public good."

If leaders in Africa are to continue improving their economic standing with the public interest in mind, he said, they should embrace Mr. Obama's message that foreign aid should be distributed in ways that will help countries become more self-sustainable.

(AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
"The idea of extending a helping hand rather than a hand out is a good one," he said. "It's not just a change that needs to happen in the United States, it's also a change that needs to happen in Africa -- for African governments not to be holding out their hand in a sort of demeaning posture from the perspective of their citizens."

"If we're able to achieve that -- and I think President Obama's leadership is very insipring -- than I think within in a generation we will see a very different Africa than is currently the case," Awuah added.

Awuah is helping mentor Africa's next generation at Ashesi University, which he founded in 2002 after returning to Ghana from the United States. After attending college in the U.S., Awuah became a millionaire as a Microsoft Windows engineer. The university has a focus on business, management and computer science.

Awuah said Mr. Obama's visit to Ghana is "going to make people stand a little taller."

For the rest of Africa, "it should be a wake up call... to make the best of our resources," said Derrick Crentsil, a student at Ashesi.

"In my opinion, I feel African countries have sort of become too comfortable with the fact we receive foreign aid," Crentsil said.

"Opportunities That Can Make Us Great"

A country like Ghana could become a world power if it combines aid with its own resources effectively, added student Albert Asiamah.

"I believe that it's not possible for any single nation to fend entirely for all its needs," Asiamah said. "America borrows, Africa borrows as well. It depends on what you do with the funds you get and how you manage your economy."

The students said Mr. Obama's election in the United States added to the sense of opportunity for their country to become a larger player on the world stage.

"For America to vote for a black president endorses (the idea that) there are blacks who are responsible and can achieve much," Asiamah said. "The white part of the world seems to be giving more endorsement to blacks, and that means a lot to Africa."

Mr. Obama represents hope for Africans as well as Americans, said student Walter Tamattey.

"When he won the election, it gave me the sense that now is the time to exploit opportunities that can make us great people," he said.

Tamattey said Mr. Obama's message of self-reliance resonates in the academic setting of Ashesi.

"It starts with a mindset that we are leaders of the future," he said. "We are trained to behave as such, to have integrity and to sacrifice for other people. I believe that's what self-reliance is all about."

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