Harris in Africa looks to painful past, innovative future

The events on her second full day in Ghana is part of a weeklong trip that will include visits to Tanzania and Zambia

ACCRA, Ghana (AP) — Vice President Kamala Harris on Tuesday stood before a monument commemorating Ghana’s independence from colonialism and envisioned a grand future between the U.S. and Africa, propelled by innovation on the continent. But she’s also insisting on exploring past wounds, heading to a seaside fort where enslaved Africans were loaded onto ships bound for the Americas.

“We have an intertwined history, some of which is painful and some of which is prideful,” she told a crowd of gathered at the Black Stone Gate, the monument bearing the words: “Freedom and Justice” and 1957, the year the country became independent. “And all of which we must acknowledge, teach and never forget.”

The events on her second full day in Ghana is part of a weeklong trip that will include visits to Tanzania and Zambia. Harris is the most high-profile member of President Joe Biden’s administration to visit Africa as the U.S. escalates its outreach to the continent.

As the nation’s first Black and South Asian vice president, Harris is a powerful symbol in Ghana, and thousands waited hours at the Independence Square for a chance to see her. After the speech, Harris was to tour the Cape Coast Castle and speak there, too.

“Because of this history, this continent of course has a special significance for me personally, as the first Black vice president of the United States,” she said to huge cheers from the crowd. “And this is a history, like many of us, that I learned as a young child.”

Tracy Sika Brobbey said “it’s a special moment” to see the first woman vice president. Margaret Mintah, who waited alongside her, said Harris “gives us some kind of hope, that we can believe that anything is possible.”

“It’s like a blessing,” she added.

U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris, centre, followed by actress Sheryl Lee Ralph, visits the Vibration studio at the freedom skate park in Accra, Ghana, Monday March 27, 2023. Vibration studios is a work station for young creative artists that includes a community recording studio and music business program. Harris is on a seven-day African visit that will also take her to Tanzania and Zambia. (AP Photo/Misper Apawu)

Harris pledged a new era of partnership with Africa, envisioning “a future that is propelled by African innovation.”

Much of her remarks focused on innovation and entrepreneurship, part of her effort to spotlight Africa as a place for American private-sector investment. It’s something that Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo said he hopes to see after years of being overlooked.

“We must invest in the African ingenuity and creativity, which will unlock incredible economic growth and opportunities,” Harris said, highlighting the continent’s innovations to deliver emergency healthcare supplies and provide vaccines, and in farming and mineral processing.

The U.S. must be guided “not by what we can do for our African partners, but we can do with our African partners.”

But Harris also homed in on areas for work, including promoting democracies across the world, progress in the digital economy in Africa, and the empowerment of women.

“Women around the world must be able to fully participate in economic, political and social life, and they must be able to participate equally including in leadership roles,” she said. “The empowerment of women is rooted in the concept of freedom, not just freedom from violence or want, but freedom to create one’s own future.”

U.S. outreach is part of the global competition over Africa’s future, with China and Russia each defending their own interests in the continent as well. But Harris has been careful to play down the role of geopolitical rivalries during her travels here.

“Together we can unleash growth and opportunity that far exceeds what either the public or private sector can achieve on its own,” she said.

Harris spoke of the vast capabilities of the continent’s youth, calling them “dreamers and innovators;” Africa’s population has a median age of 19. “It is your spark, your creativity and your determination that will drive the future.”

“Imagine a future where every person is connected to the digital economy, where every young person trusts that their voices are heard, a future that is propelled by African innovation,” she said.

On Monday evening, Harris and her husband, Doug Emhoff, attended a banquet dinner hosted by Akufo-Addo. In addition to officials from both countries, American celebrities, businesspeople and civil rights leaders also attended. Guests included actors Idris Elba and Rosario Dawson and director Spike Lee.

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