That was an impressive speech President Obama just gave in Ghana. Most of it could have been — and indeed was — delivered by his predecessor. He told the audience:
Development depends on good governance. (Applause.) That is the ingredient which has been missing in far too many places, for far too long. That’s the change that can unlock Africa’s potential. And that is a responsibility that can only be met by Africans….
History offers a clear verdict: Governments that respect the will of their own people, that govern by consent and not coercion, are more prosperous, they are more stable, and more successful than governments that do not….
In the 21st century, capable, reliable, and transparent institutions are the key to success — strong parliaments; honest police forces; independent judges — (applause); an independent press; a vibrant private sector; a civil society. (Applause.) Those are the things that give life to democracy, because that is what matters in people’s everyday lives….
Africa doesn’t need strongmen, it needs strong institutions.
What gave this message special appeal — witness all those interruptions for applause — was of course its delivery by an African-American president of the United States, whose own father was born in and spent much of his life in Kenya. Thus Obama had special resonance when he dismissed African complaints that their troubles are the fault of Western oppressors:
Now, it’s easy to point fingers and to pin the blame of these problems on others. Yes, a colonial map that made little sense helped to breed conflict. The West has often approached Africa as a patron or a source of resources rather than a partner. But the West is not responsible for the destruction of the Zimbabwean economy over the last decade, or wars in which children are enlisted as combatants. In my father’s life, it was partly tribalism and patronage and nepotism in an independent Kenya that for a long stretch derailed his career, and we know that this kind of corruption is still a daily fact of life for far too many.
I would say this is an example of Obama putting his eloquence to good use — as was, I believe, his Cairo speech in which he explained to Muslims why America was not in conflict with them. Of course, as Obama is discovering, his eloquence alone is not enough to reshape the world. But it can’t hurt.