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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Community gathers to listen to Ghanaian President speak about the ‘Promise of Africa’

Published: October 2, 2014
Section: Featured, News

On Monday afternoon, the Carl J. Shapiro Theater was fully packed as the Brandeis community gathered to listen to John D. Mahama, President of the Republic of Ghana, deliver a speech titled “The Promise of Africa.” In his speech, Mahama not only spoke about past and current growth for the country, but also about the development of Africa as a continent and the increasing need for international support to help sustain these new development achievements.

Mahama has been involved in Ghanaian politics for more than 15 years, serving as President of Ghana since July 2012. He made history when he became the first Ghanaian leader to have been born after his nation gained its independence from the British in 1957. He is widely acclaimed on both a national and an international level for not only his “natural charisma” but also for serving in all levels of Ghanaian political office.

University President Fred Lawrence offered opening remarks about Mahama’s important presence in Ghana and on the global stage.

“We are honored to have with us here today the President of Ghana but someone beyond that,” Lawrence said. “President Mahama is someone who has already distinguished himself as a major figure in West Africa and really, globally, with the issues and challenges that face his country and region and in many ways face our planet.”

Lawrence also spoke about the importance of having Mahama on the Brandeis campus.

“He is particularly welcome on this campus because besides being a great public figure and political leader, he is a scholar and an academic,” Lawrence said. “He has already played an instrumental role in helping this country and the region face challenges of public health, challenges of sustainability and challenges of environmental development and has played a major role in building bridges for Ghana in the region and throughout the world.”

Mahama was welcomed by the Brandeis Ghanaian Drumming and Dance Ensemble, which he said made him feel “just like he was in Ghana.” He began his speech by defining the “Promise of Africa” and noted that its history of having rich, natural resources has proved the continent’s dedication to the expansion of trade, improvement in technology, energy production, education reform and telecommunications.

“When we speak of promise, Africa’s promise to itself and Africa’s promise to the world, we speak then about Africa’s greatest resource, and that’s its people,” Mahama said. “The continent has been counted as a place of tremendous potential, a place with limitless untapped possibilities.”

Mahama used three anecdotes to dispel the stereotypes that Ghana, and its neighboring countries, are not up to date with technological innovations and that the continent is not capable of being an international leader in economic development. He remarked that many African countries hold the world’s fastest growing economies, and that the world’s mental image of Africa is one of the many challenges the continent has had to face since the colonial era.

“It is important that we not only acknowledge this problem of misconception that has plagued Africa but that we also examine the distortion of our past,” Mahama said. “In no place is this distortion more evident than in the erroneous belief that only in recent times has Africa spoken collectively from a position of strength in the global economic dialogue. Nothing could be further from the truth.”

Mahama spoke of long distance trade as being an important development in West Africa since the time of kingdoms and empires on the continent in the 5th century through to the 16th century.

“The study of those kingdoms refused that their strength, as with all other kingdoms and empires in the world was reliant on three crucial pillars of development: the expansion of agricultural production, the invention or improvement of technology and the expansion of trade,” he said.

Mahama also touched on the current crisis of the Ebola epidemic.

“Once again, with Africa being actively engaged with and by the world, we will not be alone in our attempts to overcome these challenges,” he said. “We cannot be left alone.”

Lastly, he spoke of “Africa Rising,” a phenomenon of economic and developmental growth, political stability and social progress and the ways it captures the hope and promise of Africa. “Africa Rising” is also the name of a non-profit organization started by Kweku Mandela-Amuah and Ndaba Mandela, grandsons of the late Nelson Mandela, who spoke to the Brandeis community in February as the keynote address of ’DEIS Impact week.

The talk was sponsored by the Heller School for Social Policy and Management’s Sustainable International Development (SID) program as part of SID’s 20th Anniversary Celebration. Joseph Kweku Assan, an assistant professor of political economy of sustainable development at the Heller School and a native of Ghana, was the point of contact that initiated the reaching out to Mahama’s office.

Prior to the talk, Mahama joined Lawrence, Lisa Lynch, dean of the Heller School, and Eric Chasalow, dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. The luncheon also included Ghanaian students, as well as faculty members and administrators from Heller and the International Business School.

In addition to his visit to the Brandeis campus, Mahama has just recently addressed the United Nations General Assembly, delivered a lecture at Harvard University, met with the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce and addressed the Ghanaian Community in Worcester.