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When A Visitor Comes Calling - Elizabeth Ohene Writes
 
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29-Jul-2015  
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The Kenyans have finally had their “Obama Moment” with the American President visiting the country of his father over the weekend. A bit late, some say with 18 months left of his second term, but probably better late than to have gone in those early heady days when Barack Obama was the Messiah.


Now both sides had no illusions about each other and the expectations were more realistic. He made the speeches he was expected to make and the Kenyan President, Uhuru Kenyatta, made the response that was considered appropriate and honour was served all around.

As I followed the media trying to find different angles to the story of the visit, I was struck by the never-ending argument that surrounds the preparations that are usually made to welcome important visitors.

The city of Nairobi, the Kenyan capital, was reportedly given a quick beautification makeover, potholes were filled, buildings were painted and overnight gardens appeared anywhere that the visiting President might cast his eyes during the visit.

I heard an angry Nairobi inhabitant complain that the government was trying to give a false image of the city to the American President.

He said fully grown trees had appeared along streets and shabby neighbourhoods had been tarted up and pavements had been repaired and painted over and Barack Obama would get the impression that Nairobi was a clean, gleaming city with tree-lined streets.

I wanted to shake the Nairobi man up and tell him to shut up and grow up. It is only polite to tidy up your surroundings when you are expecting a visitor and when someone arrives without warning and catches you in the midst of dirty plates you are extremely put out.

I recall that during my boarding school years, there used to be unscheduled house inspections once or twice a term when the dormitory was inspected for cleanliness and tidiness and the marks awarded then were twice as much as what you got during planned and announced inspections.

But beyond what might be considered normal courtesies of tidying up because of a visitor, or if you choose a Ghanaian terminology of calling it “eye service”, I think there is a lot to be gained from this instant garden syndrome.

Mr Obama probably spent less than ten minutes on the road that has been fixed and he more likely than not, did not even take note of the fresh paint on the pavements and buildings. But when the road closures that come with the visit are over, the billboards come down and the flags are removed, the newly planted trees and gardens will remain and the buildings will retain their coats of paint.

Of course, no one can predict when the buildings along the ceremonial roads would get the next coat of paint since there isn’t likely to be another Obama visit to Kenya for a long time. At least for the moment, the inhabitants of Nairobi have pleasant surroundings that they otherwise would never have.

There would be other lingering advantages that are not so obvious as the instant gardens; the Kenyan police would have had to polish up their ways for the visit and it will take a while before they slack back into their old habits.

There would be more predictable occurrences, like the attempt to interpret whatever Obama says as being in support of a particular political position.

Over this past weekend I had many reasons to wish that Obama had been visiting Ghana. Without doubt, my neighbourhood would not have gone without electricity for 40 hours non-stop. The DUMSOR nightmare would have been suspended for the week of the three-day visit.

I have no idea how it would have been done but the same way as fully grown trees adorned the streets of Nairobi overnight, there would have been electricity available 24/7.
Someone would have done something about the increase in the number of beggars at the main traffic lights at the junction of the Liberation Road and the airport.

They have become very aggressive and even more so are the boys who purport to want to clean your car windscreen.

If we had an Obama visiting, there is no way the vendors would have continued to be in such total control of the streets.

There would have been a mysterious improvement in the clearing of rubbish in the city.

I suspect that the discussion about the need for a new voters register would have taken a new turn and the new doctors would have found that they are listened to attentively and treated with a lot of courtesy.

I recall the time Obama visited us here in Ghana in 2009, our President overruled the Police order that people cannot demonstrate; please anyone who wants to demonstrate against me or call me names should feel free, was the word from the President. He did not want his democratic credentials to be questioned in any way when the American President was coming to be his guest.

We would know we are developed and have mature democracies when we are able to accept and entertain visitors without having to create overnight gardens and fill potholes to enable a visitor drive without endangering his life and property.

The day we can welcome an Obama in our midst and he can use the washroom without any drama, that day we can feel an equal part of the comity of nations. The day a visiting Obama would not consider it part of his duty to talk to us about corruption or human rights, African countries can hold their heads high.

For the moment, it appears we shall continue to create overnight gardens and paint over our dirt whenever a visitor comes calling.
 
 
 
Source: Daily Graphic
 
 

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