Ghanaian President John Mahama visits Brandeis

Address celebrates Africa's rise and Ghana's ties to Brandeis

Photos/Mike Lovett

Ghanaian President John Dramani Mahama spoke about the future of Africa and his country’s contributions to the continent’s growth and prosperity to a capacity audience in the Shapiro Theater at Brandeis on Monday. His talk concluded his trip to the United States, which included a stop at the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

The Heller School for Social Policy and Management’s Sustainable International Development Program, which is celebrating the 20th anniversary of its founding, and the Office of the President sponsored Mahama’s visit to Brandeis. Joseph Kweku Assan, assistant professor of political economy of sustainable development at the Heller School and a native of Ghana, initiated the outreach to Mahama’s office and was part of the team that coordinated the visit’s logistics.

Prior to his speech, Mahama met with Brandeis President Frederick M. Lawrence, Lisa Lynch, dean of the Heller School and Eric Chasalow, dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. He also had a luncheon with students, including some from Ghana, faculty members and administrators from Heller, and the International Business School. The luncheon built on current collaboration between the university and Ghana, including a partnership with Ghana’s University of Development Studies.

A spirited performance by the Brandeis Ghanaian Drumming and Dance Ensemble, which Mahama said was “authentic and reminded him of home,” welcomed the Ghanaian president to the theater.

Lawrence spoke of Mahama’s contributions to Africa in his introductory remarks. “President Mahama is someone who has distinguished himself as a major figure in West Africa, internationally, and globally with the issues and challenges that face his country, his region, and our planet.”

Mahama began his talk by declaring that “the promise of Africa is its people.” Using anecdotes, he dismissed stereotypes that Ghana and its African neighbors are incapable of economic growth and are still decades behind the current age of technology and industry. He said while independence comes with its own challenges, Africans value their sovereignty and they have an abundance of will to overcome the obstacles they face in post-colonial Africa.

Mahama said Ghana’s continued growth will be tied to the expansion of energy production, education reform, continental trade, and telecommunications. He noted that various African kingdoms and empires were prosperous in centuries past thanks to rich agriculture, the invention and improvement of technology, and expanding trade, all of which Mahama hopes his and other nations adopt to further their growth.  

Mahama touched on the immediate challenges the current Ebola crisis is presenting to Africa during a question and answer period with the audience following his talk. Mahama said he was grateful for the support of nations around the world and that, because this was the virus’ first outbreak in West Africa (no cases of Ebola have been reported in Ghana), many citizens were unaware of what precautions to take.

“The panic has calmed down and people are being more level-headed about it. People didn’t know how to handle it. It’s a strange sickness,” Mahama explained. “We are people who are very close with each other. We enjoy close family bonds and friendship and we associate closely with each other. That kind of illness that creates a distance between you and people you love is not something we are comfortable with."

Mahama concluded his remarks in the manner in which he started them: by focusing on the promise of Africa. “Africa rising is meant to capture the idea of hope and promise on the continent, like the mythological phoenix that rises out of its own ashes and soars. What better way to tell the world that the continent will never be counted out; it will find a way to rise again.”

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