Ghana is hoping that this week’s visit by U.S. President Barack Obama brings with it an increase in tourism revenue, especially from black Americans.
At Accra’s main tourist market, Ama Serwaa sells mugs and key rings in Ghana’s red, yellow, and green colors. She has jewelry made from shells and rolls of the country’s traditional Kente cloth.
But nothing is selling faster than Barack Obama T-shirts. Some have Mr. Obama’s face inside the presidential seal. Others include first lady Michelle Obama and their children Sasha and Malia above the title “America’s New First Family.”
Serwaa says this week’s visit by the Obama family will be good for business.
“It’s the best thing. Because he is coming here, a lot of tourists will be coming here. And the name of Ghana is also going higher,” she said. “So it brings more tourists to this place because people will find out why he came here.”
Tourism is Ghana’s fourth largest foreign currency earner behind gold, cocoa, and timber. Tourism earned the country $1.4 billion last year. The government is expecting as much as a 20 percent increase from the Obama visit.
“We want to make Ghana the next destination for most people. Because we see that Senegal currently is, but we want to overtake Senegal,” said Kwabena Akyeampong, Ghana’s deputy minister of tourism. “Senegal got the break when Clinton visited Goree Island. We believe that if Obama, the first black president and the most-admired man on earth, is coming to Ghana and going to Cape Coast Castle, that is our break and we need to take advantage of that.”
Sites central to the African slave trade including Senegal’s Goree Island and Ghana’s Cape Coast Castle are especially attractive to black American tourists.
On his tour of Cape Coast Castle, President Obama is expected to visit the slave dungeons and the so-called “gate of no return” through which slaves passed toward waiting ships that carried them across the Atlantic for nearly 300 years.
While any presidential visit is good for tourism, Akyeampong says nothing compares with America’s first black president making his first trip to sub-Saharan Africa.
“The fact that he is the first black American president visiting Ghana is a thing for us,” he said. “We think that it is going to sell to people in the diaspora which tends to be our biggest market when it comes to tourism promotion.”
At Accra’s tourist market, painter Sam Appiah sells a variety of Obama portraits. He is certain that artisans across the continent are jealous that Ghana is getting President Obama first.
“It’s fantastic. And I know that even those in Kenya, they are going to envy us because they are going to be saying why isn’t Obama coming to our country because he is from here. But it is all good,” he said. “We like it that Obama is coming here.”
After the president’s tour of Cape Coast Castle Saturday he was scheduled to address thousands of Ghanians at Independence Square. But that speech has now been moved indoors to parliament because of the start of Ghana’s rainy season.