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Home The Feuilleton of MilSan and MikWag Can I ask you one question, Mr. President?

Can I ask you one question, Mr. President?

With just a few days to go before the G-20 Summit, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has plenty of topics to discuss. One of its favorites: Why was Pittsburgh chosen to host the G-20? The plainest theory of them all – President Obama likes Pittsburgh. He cheered for the Steelers in the Super Bowl. He praised the loyalty of those blue Pennsylvanians who cast their democratic votes in November’s election. Giving Pittsburgh a chance to meet the world is a great way to pay back the state and the city. And the Obama administration pays its debts.

But, Mr. President, you made promises this summer, promises that incurred a debt that will be much harder to pay off. You assured the people of Africa, “America will be with you.” When you visited Ghana in July, you gave a speech in the city of Accra, a speech that ignited hopes in Africa, hopes for the future of a continent in peril. Standing before the Ghanaian Parliament, you pledged that “America will be more responsible in extending our hand.” You reaffirmed the commitment of the United States “to put more resources in the hands of those who need them.” “Our commitment,” you said, “must be measured by more than just the dollars we spend.”


You also said, in your soaring rhetoric, “Wealthy nations must open our doors to goods and services from Africa in a meaningful way.” You said that to fulfill this responsibility is a commitment of your administration. “And where there is good governance,” you assured, “we can broaden prosperity through public-private partnerships that invest in better roads and electricity; capacity-building that trains people to grow a business; financial services that reach not just the cities but also the poor and rural areas.” You made it clear that “this is also in our own interests ― for if people are lifted out of poverty and wealth is created in Africa, guess what? New markets will open up for our own goods. So it's good for both.”

But you know, Mr. President, the promise of ‘change’ has long been stalking Africa. In fact, it appears to be one of the oldest predators on the continent, one that kills its prey with unfulfilled promises. The World Bank has been promising change for decades, and the United Nations has endorsed it in the Millennium Development Goals, neither of which are even close to being achieved. The people of Africa would like to believe that you came to offer a new kind of change. Let’s hope this time that it will be a meaningful one, and that this meaning will become clear at the G-20 Summit.

Mr. President, you made yet another promise, to the Americans who lost their jobs, were evicted from their homes, and whose cherished dreams to see their children graduate from college will not come true. You promised a government that “serves responsible men and women who are working harder than ever, worrying about their jobs and struggling to raise their families.” Sweeping change was your oath, “change that will grow our economy, expand our middle-class, and keep the American dream alive.” Of course, it would be presumptuous to expect you alone to fix the current mess, but perhaps more frank talk and clearer targets for each of these problems would make solutions possible. What if we start with the vulnerable, who have been left unprotected amidst the crisis and in the aftermath of recession?

So, let me ask you this question, Mr. President: Why didn’t you offer Accra or Johannesburg the opportunity to host the Summit, or give a chance to the obliterated economy of Detroit to benefit from the international feast? Of all your creditors, why did you repay Pittsburgh first? What could be more meaningful than the wealthy nations of the G-20 opening their doors to goods and services from Africa by having the G-20 Summit there?

Admittedly, these cities do not offer the extravagance of a Warhol Museum or the glass bubble of the Phipps Botanical Gardens, but the Summit, and the money it brings, would surely help the people of Africa or Detroit more than the prosperous burghers of Pittsburgh, who will only celebrate more conspicuously their heretofore semi-conspicuous success.