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Friday, 8 February, 2002, 19:52 GMT
Blair receives tribal welcome
Tony Blair and Paramount Chief Osagyefuo Amoatia Ofori Panin in the village of Kyebi, Akyem Abuakwa, Ghana
Blair's vision for Africa was praised by the tribe chief
Nick Assinder

For Tony Blair, his welcome by tribal chiefs in a Ghanaian village two sweltering and dusty hours from the capital Accra may well prove the highlight of his entire west Africa mission.

On the surface it was the sort of courtesy visit always laid on for visiting heads of state and other dignitaries.

There were traditional tribal drummers, a libation ceremony and the sort of vibrant colour and noise only experienced on this continent.

Paramount Chief Osagy Efuo sat in state at the centre of this explosion of culture on an elaborate throne surrounded by tribal elders and with his personal fan wielders, brow wipers - and was that really a hand waver? - at his beck and call.

Impressive chief

Around him under gaudy umbrellas and in full tribal dress were elders and other dignitaries - some of whom appeared to be feeling the heat almost as much as the visitors.

But, of course, this was no simple parading of the trappings of a bygone, colonial age or a piece of cultural tourism laid on only for the TV cameras and visitors - although, as far as that goes, these things don't come much better.

The chief of the Akan tribe has devolved powers over an area equivalent in population to Newcastle, numerous other lesser chiefs report to him - and he is a hugely impressive character.

His grandfather was knighted by King George VI in 1928 and developed a good relationship between Britain and what was then the Gold Coast.
Blair meets local children in the village of Kyebi, Akyem Abuakwa, Ghana
Ghana is a child-centred country

And the prime minister, accompanied by President J A Kufuor and international aid minister Clare Short, was clearly in his element.

He stood in the paint-stripping heat in a dark suit with hardly a sign of excessive sweat on his brow.

As members of his entourage and the travelling press visibly shrunk under the weight, he appeared to be revelling in it all.

This was not a prime minister under the sort of stresses that produced the infamous sweat-soaked shirt pictures at the 2000 party conference.

Passion

Instead of facing a hostile crowd of his own supporters, he was in front of an audience of leaders clearly hoping they have found a powerful new champion in the west.

The fact that he is the first British prime minister to visit the country since Harold Macmillan in January 1960 is good reason for such optimism.

Mr Blair repeated his pledge to work in partnership with Ghana to aid its development and tackle its economic and social problems.

And, in what was seen as a reference those at home criticising his global ambitions, he spoke of the "difficult decisions" leaders sometimes had to take, and the need for courage in seeing them through.
Tony Blair arrives at Kyebi, Akyem Abuakwa, Ghana
Blair wants less handouts and more investment

But the event was dominated by a powerful and passionate speech by the chief himself who summed up the problems facing Ghana and the continent as a whole and pointed the way forward.

This is a hugely child-centred country and, unsurprisingly, the chief time and again referred to the need to create a better world for his nation's children.

He referred to Tony Blair's party conference speech in which the prime minister spoke of his determination to forge that better world for future generations.

From other lips the words may have sounded fawning, coming from this man they sounded much more like a powerful reminder of a commitment given that must not be forgotten.

Other legs of this whirlwind tour may produce more concrete proposals but it is unlikely any will encompass so eloquently the essence of the prime minister's mission.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Andrew Marr
"Behind the smiles there is real suspicion"
See also:

08 Feb 02 | Africa
Blair targets African dictators
08 Jan 02 | UK Politics
Perils of a globetrotting PM
07 Feb 02 | UK Politics
In Africa with Blair
07 Feb 02 | Africa
Blair begins African tour
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