WASHINGTON – Archbishop Gabriel Palmer-Buckle of Accra, Ghana, praised U.S. President Barack Obama’s July 10-11 visit to his country, telling Catholic News Service “it was glorious” and the president’s visit “took Ghana by storm.”
“Seeing President Barack Obama added to our euphoria, and he was greeted in the traditional Ghanaian way, with song and dance,” the archbishop told CNS in a telephone interview July 13, two days after the president left Ghana.
The archbishop said though he and many Ghanaians celebrated Obama’s election as president seeing him in person and hearing him speak was an incomparable experience.
“His motto ‘Yes we can’ encourages our country very much, convincing us that we can take our destiny into our own hands,” the archbishop told CNS.
“He praised Ghana for its democratic path, and he praised our country for its maturity. We have held elections five times since 1992,” the archbishop said.
During his visit, Obama applauded Ghana’s path toward democracy and addressed issues of human rights and health care. He lauded the growing strength of the Ghanaian economy and the relatively peaceful transfers of power, despite contested elections. He said the country is “a face of Africa that is too often overlooked by a world that sees only tragedy or a need for charity” and that there are no shortcuts on the road to democracy.
Obama told Parliament the timing for his visit to Ghana, after the Group of Eight summit in Italy and his visits to Moscow and the Vatican, was to show that Africa would not be treated as a separate entity from the Western powers.
“The 21st century will be shaped by what happens not just in Rome or Moscow or Washington, but by what happens in Accra, as well,” Obama said during his address.
The reception following his speech “involved people from all social strata,” including those who do physical labor, Archbishop Palmer-Buckle said. Among those in attendance were Ghanaian Vice President John Mahama, former Presidents Jerry Rawlings and John Agyekum Kufuor, and members of the New Patriotic Party, Ghana’s opposition party.
During his visit, Obama and his wife, Michelle, visited La General Hospital in Accra, where they met with women and children and discussed the importance of prenatal health care. The hospital focuses on maternity care and HIV testing. Last year, Ghana declared infant mortality an emergency.
After the government, the Ghanaian Catholic Church is the second-largest provider of health care.
“We run 27 percent of health institutions, ranging from simple mobile clinics to hospitals with 200-300 beds,” the archbishop told CNS. “There are about 110 hospitals in the country, and there is a Department of Health in our National Catholic Secretariat,” the administrative branch of the country’s bishops’ conference.
The church-run health department also provides pharmaceutical services.
The church also is involved in human development programs and operates 30 percent of the nation’s schools.
Archbishop Palmer-Buckle said he was impressed with the president’s knowledge of Africa’s political and social history and acknowledged the natural connection Obama has with the continent, since his father was Kenyan.
At the departure ceremony, Ghanaian President John Atta Mills told Obama: “A lot of Ghanaians began praying for you the moment they heard that you were coming to visit us. The good Lord has heard our prayers, and you have come.”