Acknowledging "the tragic past that has sometimes haunted this part of the world," President Barack Obama told Africans that they needed to move beyond historical grievances about colonialism and exploitation by the West to move the continent into the 21st century.
"It is easy to point fingers and to pin the blame" for disease and conflict in Africa on others, the president told Ghanaian leaders at the Accra International Conference Center. "Yes, a colonial map that made little sense bred conflict, and the West has often approached Africa as a patron, rather than a partner. But the West is not responsible for the destruction of the Zimbabwean economy over the last decade, or wars in which children are enlisted as combatants."
The president made sure that his message of tough love was accompanied by an assertion of his credentials as a direct descendant of Africans.
"I have the blood of Africa within me, and my family's own story encompasses both the tragedies and triumphs of the larger African story," he said, detailing how his paternal grandfather, Hussein Onyongo Obama, a cook for the British in Kenya, was called "boy" for much of his life and was imprisoned briefly.
The president's father, Barack Obama Sr., illustrated a different lesson -- the promise and failure of Africa's renaissance in the 1950s and '60s. The former goat herder "came of age at an extraordinary moment of promise for Africa," and he traveled to the United States for an education.
But "tribalism and patronage" in Kenya "for a long stretch derailed his career," the president said. "And we know that this kind of corruption is a daily fact of life for far too many."
While Kenya had a "per capita economy larger than South Korea's when I was born," Obama added, that has changed for the worse.
The message was a more public version of the story that he shared privately with African leaders at the G8 summit in L'Aquila on Friday.
In a meeting on Friday with the leaders of Egypt, Algeria, Senegal, Nigeria, Libya and Ethiopia, Obama spoke about his personal connections to both Africa and poverty, and challenged the leaders to set priorities for combating poverty and hunger. According to a top White House aide, "You could have heard a pin drop."
Deputy National Security Adviser Michael Froman told reporters the president wanted to make it clear to the African leaders that problems "that Africans face weren't just a product of colonialism or past history. ... This wasn't a time to make excuses. And that it was important to join together in a clear-eyed way."
The president said today that he had come to Ghana, his final stop on a six-day trip, after international summits in Italy and Russia, "for a simple reason: The 21st century will be shaped by what happens not just in Rome or Moscow or Washington, but by what happens in Accra as well."
Aides said the goal of the trip was to send a message to Africans to follow Ghana's example of democracy and good governance, and to the larger world that Africa is not just a place of warfare, disease and famine.