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Azubuike Ishiekwene: A Letter from Nigeria to Barack Obama

Mr. President, long after you have returned to the White House and forgotten your visit to Ghana, we Nigerians will still be asking ourselves, why Ghana?

You attempted to answer the question before your trip in an interview, noting that Ghana had become the continent’s role model—committed to the rule of law, stability, and accountability. You repeated this point during your visit on Saturday and drew upon the historic role and heritage of Ghana during the era of slave trade and the colonial period.

There was indeed a time when most black migrants were thought to be from Ghana. Thanks to the abundant gold in what was then known as the Gold Coast and the formidable roles of Kwame Nkrumah, W. E. B. Du Bois, and other leading lights of the struggle against colonial rule and racism, Ghana was what your predecessor, George W. Bush, might have called the “nation of Africa.”

But Ghana had its dark periods too, of course. For many years, Ghana was a specter of the sort of tyranny that you described in your address to the country’s parliament. But it’s a different story today; no one can deny that.

Jonathan Power: Food Security That Works

At the summit meeting that opens in Italy on Wednesday, the leaders of the G8 are expected to announce a food security initiative—an effort to reverse “the tendency of decreasing official development aid to agriculture” and, instead, to increase investment in food production in the developing world. According to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, Washington spends 20 times more on short-term food aid in Africa than it does on long-term agricultural programs to develop local food production. A similar bias exists in the policies of the European Union, which uses the guise of food aid to dump production surpluses in developing nations. Nothing may come of the new promises, as nothing came of the big hoo-ha at the G8 summit four years ago when a massive increase in aid, especially to Africa, was agreed upon. But long-term investment in food production is just what poorer countries need. Most of the world’s poor live in the rural backwaters of Africa, Asia, and Latin America; most are small farmers or landless farm workers. Despite the cries in 2007-08 when world food prices suddenly shot up to historic highs, there was actual benefit, albeit long term, for the global poor. Last summer's price spike was a long-overdue correction in the terms of trade. For too long, the world's urban minority (whether they be shanty-town dwellers in Lagos or the inhabitants of middle-class suburb in Mumbai) has been subsidized by the cheap food produced by the poorest of the poor—those left behind in the remote reaches of the countryside. For the majority of the world's rural poor, there exist far too few schools, agricultural advisers, or health clinics; a lack of investment has not even fixed the rutted roads and battered trucks that bring their produce to market. I was in the Nigerian countryside in 2007, as prices were beginning to skyrocket. The peasants I talked to, who were largely growing the local staple crop, cassava, were happy about the turn in events. It meant they could sell their produce at a substantially higher price than before. They planned to expand their seeding the following year, and have done so, though prices have now fallen. Fortunately for the farmers, the prices have not yet hit bottom.

THE INDEX — June 29, 2009

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