Obama to Africa: Text Me!

ABC's Dana Hughes reports from Nairobi:

Ahead of his trip to Ghana tomorrow, President Obama has invited Africans across the continent to send him a text message with their questions and thoughts. The invitation is extended on the State Department’s America.gov Website, telling Africans “Those who respond early will receive SMS highlights from his speech in Accra, Ghana, on Saturday, July 11. “

The service is being offered in both English and in French and some Africa’s most populous countries have their own short codes.

Kenya, his father’s homeland is one of those countries. There are reports that the President has received thousands of text messages. So I decided to try to text the President myself, to see what would happen.

I asked him what his take is on former U.N. chief Kofi Annan handing over a list of names, likely containing some of Kenya’s most prominent politicians, to be prosecuted by the International Criminal Court for their roles in last year’s post-election violence. “Thank you for your text message to President Obama,” the reply stated. “You are registered to receive speech updates. “ But it’s not only about having access to the speech; the White House has promised that President Obama will directly answer some of the texts and questions on local radio broadcasts throughout the continent.

I’ve talked to a few young Kenyans who’ve texted President Obama. Some asked questions, and other wanted to send well wishes. “We don’t expect him to have all the answers to Kenya’s problems,” says John, a college student. “ But we like that he’s trying to talk to us.”

To many Africans a text message is the cheapest and easiest way to communicate when not in person. Even in some of the most remote villages, someone has a cell phone. Politicians and businessmen often use text messaging for official business. The Obama administration choosing to use cell phone technology as a way to reach out to the African people, for many, is just more confirmation that he is “ one of their own.”

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