Ghana prepared a rapturous welcome for the arrival of America's first black president.
"Akwaaba [welcome home] Barack and Michelle Obama," proclaimed banners strung across the street of the spruced-up capital of Accra. Traditional dancers and drummers performed songs for Obama's visit, which is his first to any country in sub-Saharan Africa as the U.S. president.
Thousands of jubilant Ghanaians waving U.S. and Ghanaian flags braved torrential rain to line the road from the airport into the centre of town in the hope of catching a glimpse of the first family.
To most Ghanaians and other Africans the president's tour is seen as a homecoming rather than an official trip by a head of state to a foreign country. That unique position was set to be acknowledged today in a manner that few other Western visitors have experienced. Michelle Obama will be honoured by tribal chiefs as a "Queen" in a ceremony.
"Ghana is the birthplace of Africa — he is the first black president, we are part of him," said Jonathan Prah, 29. Prah, a caterer, was waiting in a crowd outside Cape Castle, a former Dutch slaving port, which the Obamas will visit this afternoon.
Ghana, which was the first African country to gain independence in 1957, was at the centre of one of Africa's darkest chapters — slavery. President Obama may owe more to scholarships than slave ships — his father left Kenya with a bursary to study at Harvard — but his wife has a more traditional African-American heritage.
Jim Robinson, Michelle Obama's great-great-grandfather, was born into slavery in about 1850 and until the Civil War lived as a slave on a rice plantation in Friendfield, South Carolina. Records show that he remained on the estate after the Civil War, living in old slave quarters with his wife and children — just like thousands of others who were taken to the U.S. from the slave forts in West Africa.
To many Ghanaians the Obamas, who are accompanied by their children, are family.