During his trip to Ghana, President Barack Obama will deliver a major address celebrating democracy. The speech comes at a time when the president’s efforts to improve America’s image in the world seem to be paying off. But if Obama is to succeed in turning around those negative perceptions of America—the consequences of which Americans living abroad must deal with all the time—Americans at home have to help.
And that simply means Americans have to be better informed about people beyond the nation’s orders. This is a tough task when the foreign news that reaches most Americans rarely goes beyond the four Ds—death, disease, disaster and despair. Living and working in Africa has affirmed that for us. The Africa portrayed in Western media is almost unrecognizable to those of us who live there.
It is important, for example, for Americans to know that Ghana is one of a growing number of countries that refutes the claim that poor countries cannot afford democracy. Last December, Ghanaian voters removed the incumbent party in a hard-fought, but peaceful election—with an impressive 70 percent turnout.
It was Ghana’s fifth successful national election since the return of civilian rule in 1992, affirming a national consensus that politicians should play by the rules established by a constitution and upheld by a strong independent electoral commission. Ghana is also a soon-to-be major oil producer surrounded by countries of conflict, so its democratic development is also internationally significant.
Yet few Americans were aware of Ghana’s election in the midst of our own historic campaign. But for Ghanaians, many of whom live in America, their intense interest in the U.S. election was rivaled by their interest in what was happening back in Ghana. Americans, for too long, have been comfortable in a world where others know more about our society and politics than we know of theirs.
President Obama would do well to challenge Americans to become more informed about the world—the opportunities as well as the dangers. And he should encourage Americans to look for ways to be better informed and more engaged citizens—of their own country and of the world.