Kenyans who wish to welcome President Obama to Africa can today send him a text message from their mobile phones.
The SMS will be received on his behalf by members of the State Department in President Obama’s entourage to Ghana.
In his daily briefing, President Obama will be informed of the out-pouring of goodwill from Africans and he may just ask that a few SMS be read out to him.
- 1 DCI recovers 294 stolen phones
- 2 Ghana: Former President Jerry Rawlings buried with military honours
- 3 Expect an SMS if you registered for Huduma Namba — Ministry of Interior
- 4 Ghana votes as candidates pitch route out of economic crisis
Mtech, a company with branches in several African capitals, hosts the SMS service.
According to an Mtech official, Naomi Mutua, who spoke on phone, the company is administering the service on behalf of the State Department, to which it will forward all the messages.
Those who send an SMS also qualify to receive updates of Obama’s itinerary in Ghana and speeches summary. The text is charged at Sh10 via Safaricom and Sh30 on Zain. Other networks were to be confirmed.
It had earlier been announced that one could send questions to Obama through SMS but Mutua said: "We are administering the service for the State Department and we will confirm later if people can send questions".
To send Obama a message from local mobile phone networks, one needs to write a short message like "Welcome to Africa" and send to a short code number 5683.
It draws a response: "Thank you for your text message to President Obama. You are registered to receive speech updates."
Over 5,000 messages were said to have been sent by Kenyans on Thursday.
Other countries where the short code service was open were Ghana, Nigeria and South Africa.
People from other parts of Africa and the world were given ordinary mobile numbers to use for the SMS. But Mtech said the service was not available in the US, leaving out Kenyans in that country.
And goodwill for President Obama could give the United States a little extra leverage to push good governance in Africa as well as in its priorities of securing energy supplies and fighting terrorism.
As the first black US President, Obama is assured of an African hero’s welcome in Ghana at the weekend.
But the United States still faces growing competition for influence from China and other emerging economic powers seeking resources and markets and putting less emphasis on matters such as governance that Obama is likely to stress in Ghana.
"Obama is not going to have it easy meeting these expectations because democracy in Africa is not the best," said Vladimir Antwi-Danso at the University of Ghana’s Legon Centre for International Affairs.
"He could succeed if he continues to be creative to ensure that assistance projects and initiatives are followed to their intended goals because there is enormous goodwill from the continent."
Ghana is held up as an example of economic reform and good governance after two successful transfers of power through elections, including a vote in December. It is also set to become the newest oil producer in a region that is increasingly important for the United States as it seeks to diversify energy supplies away from the Middle East.
"The priority of the United States in Africa is oil," said independent political analyst Babacar Justin Ndiaye in Dakar, capital of nearby Senegal.
"Ghana is neither Nigeria nor Angola, and Obama is going to Accra to recognise the country’s political health and good governance," he said.
"Strong bilateral support with the recognition that Ghana has had a long battle and a hard fought battle against corruption will help," said Tara O’Connor of Africa Risk Consulting.