On Friday night, Barack Obama is set to become the third consecutive U.S. president to visit Ghana. The two other visits remain quite memorable. Back in 1998, hundreds of thousands had gathered to hear President Bill Clinton. Things became so unruly–one woman had to be saved from being trampled by the president himself–that the White House doctor worried that Clinton could get an HIV infection from the crowd scratching at his hands. (For a good retelling of this tale, Politico’s Josh Gerstein, who was there, has this story.) Bush’s visit to Ghana, in 2008, in which he played tee ball with students, was marked by his pledge of millions to the country to battle HIV and malaria, the nation’s leading cause of death. (In recent years, Ghana’s infant mortality from Malaria has dropped 30 percent, and Bush’s efforts get a substantial amount of the credit from the nation’s health service.)
Now comes Obama, with a scheduled speech focused on the importance of governance.
There will be no large crowds, a result, say White House officials, of the limited amount of time in the country. Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said the logistics meant that meeting with the public was “not likely to be humanly possible, from our perspective or [the Ghanian government’s] perspective.” It is also not clear what new funding Obama will be able to announce, though ongoing discussions at the G8 meeting in L’Aquila focus on both international development and food assistance. But so far, this has not lessoned the nation’s enthusiasm for the visit of the first U.S. president of African American descent, who is scheduled to tour a hospital, visit a sea-side castle, and attend a ceremonial departure ceremony on Saturday. As TIME’s Vivienne Walt writes:
The market stalls in the capital Accra are brimming with souvenirs, including a button with the words “God’s Chosen Presidents,” showing a montage of Obama and the country’s new President John Atta Mills, who took office in January, just two weeks before Obama’s inauguration. “The radio stations continuously mention his visit and play excerpts from his speeches almost non-stop,” Ghanaian journalist Ebo Richardson wrote to me in an e-mail on Monday. “There are posters everywhere featuring Barack and Michelle, and everyone I know plans to join the procession to catch a glimpse of one of the most inspirational leaders Africa has ever spawned!”
All this suggests another memorable presidential visit is in the offining. Just how memorable will not be known until the weekend.