US Vice President Kamala Harris address youth gathered on Black Star square in Accra, Ghana, on March 28, 2023. AFP
The speech 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.
“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.”
Thousands of people gathered in Independence Square, many waiting hours for the vice president, waving U.S. Ghanaian flags. Harris stood in front of Black Stone Gate, the stone monument bearing the words: “Freedom and Justice" and 1957, the year the country became independent.
Some of the audience were invited by the Young African Leaders Initiative, a U.S. State Department Initiative.
Much of the vice president's 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 want to be able to change that dynamic,” Akufo-Addo said when he met with Harris on Monday.
Harris will announce $139 million in U.S. assistance for Ghana, according to her office. Some of that money will require congressional approval, which could prove difficult amid sharp partisan differences over the federal budget. The Treasury Department also plans to dispatch an adviser to Accra to help manage the country's burdensome debt.
Other programs are intended to reduce child labor, improve weather forecasting, support local musicians and defend against disease outbreaks.
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.”
She spoke of the “intertwined” history of the U.S. and Africa, “some of which is painful, and some of which is prideful.”
“And all of which we must acknowledge, teach and never forget.”
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.