Africans invited to text Obama before Ghana speech

Barack Obama's new media team at the White House is serious about reaching out to Africans in advance of Obama's July 11 speech in Accra, Ghana.

Obama will respond to questions submitted this week by text message (SMS) in a recording made sometime before his speech at the Ghanaian parliament. The tape will be released to African radio stations and other media after his speech, and the speech will also be broadcast simultaneously on African radio stations and on the internet.

The White House page with all the details is here, including the numbers Africans can use to submit their questions. Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa have dedicated local shortcodes with longcodes available for other Africans. According to Kenya's Daily Nation, local SMS rates will be charged, and mobile users can choose to receive excerpts from the speech via SMS in French or English. 

Erik Hersman, a new media guru who blogs at White African, worked with the White House on the platform and has a great post on logistics and some of the reasoning behind the various outreach platforms. Hersman says that U.S. citizens cannot participate in the SMS platform because of cold-war era legislation on public diplomacy, but other efforts including a live chat on Facebook and a dedicated Twitter tag (#obamaghana) will try and encourage global discussion. News site allAfrica is also collecting questions for Obama.

With no glitches, this demonstration of interest in the views of Africans will probably boost Obama's global approval ratings, which already are almost double those of the United States. At Accra's tourist market, Obama t-shirts and paintings are flying off the shelves and Ghanaians are hoping for a boost in tourism after the visit.

More on Obama's decision to visit Ghana can be found in a recent post by FP editor Elizabeth Dickinson. 



Russian opposition leader gives high marks to Obama

After today's meeting between Russian opposition leaders and visiting U.S. President Barack Obama, former deputy prime minister turned anti-Putin campaigner Boris Nemtsov -- who was also recently a candidate in Sochi's bizarre mayoral election -- held a conference call with journalists to give his take on the President's visit. Nemtsov had an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal this morning urging the United States not to forget Russia's democratic opposition in the midst of the "reset." Overall, he seemed pleased with the tone Obama had struck:

He believes not only the existing government but in the Russian people. He understands that not only Putin and Medvedev represent Russia, but also the opposition including the democratic opposition represent Russia and business community represents Russia. ...He understand that "reset" is very, very complicated and very difficult task with the existing government of Russia, on the other hand, he understand that America and Russia face huge problems, for examples the Taliban in Afghanistan or North Korean missiles, or Iran threat etc. and no matter who is in power he has to connect.

I was curious what Nemtsov thought of the discussion of democracy in his speech at the New Economic School today, in which he seemed to emphasize the rule of law and fighting corruption over political inclusion or human rights:

He said that in 21st century, the only chance to be successful it to be democracy and be a country or rule of law. This is against Putinism, this is against the authoritarian style of regime we have now....He also spoke about the recognition of borders and and sovereignty of countries. Of course this is about Georgia, and it potentially about Ukraine. I think he did it very openly and made it clear for everybody, for Putina and Medvedev too.

Nemtsov says he understands that Obama has to take concerns other than democracy into account:

"The problem of the democratization of Russia is my problem and the problem of my friends and political colleages. This is not -- fortunately or unfortunately -- Obama's responsibility. I don't think the U.S. can help us to establish democracy."

In light of Obama's cautious response to the Iranian election, and the subsequent criticism of this position, I asked Nemtsov is he belives it is useful for the democratic opposition to have Obama speak out forcefully on their behalf:

I think that Obama as president of the biggest democracy in the world has to speak about that and he did in his speech today. I think it was absolutely clear for everbody. I don't think that Putin will be very excited after his speech...[When he discussed] rule of law, free speech and free elections, it is absolutely clear to Putin and Medvedev and everyone in Moscow what he is talking about.

Yes, it was quite cautious, I agree. But I think this is the good way. If you come to another country like a boss, like a teacher: "Guys, you did terrible here, now I explain to you how to do, how to run the country, how to move forward because I am a great American president and I know how to proceed," I think that such a strategy is not good.

But if you say very frankly and friendly: "Guys, remember, the authoritarian style is the wrong way. Not just for the state but for you," it looks more promising.