Harris set to reframe U.S. perspective on Africa and foster partnership
If Vice President Kamala Harris has a favorite number on her trip to Africa, it’s undoubtedly 19. This is the median age in Africa, and she repeats it at every opportunity.
For Harris, this is not child’s play but the driving force behind the United States’ heightened outreach to African countries. Washington is racing to forge partnerships on the oldest inhabited continent with the youngest population, a test that could reshape the economy in Africa and, by extension, the rest of the world.
In the near future, “1 in 4 people on this Earth will be on this continent,” Harris said in a conversation with reporters. , if we want to be forward-looking in terms of national policies and priorities, we have to look at this continent.
As part of that effort, Harris on Wednesday announced more than $1 billion in public and private money for women’s economic empowerment. The money is expected to come from a mix of nonprofit foundations, private companies and the US government, and is intended to expand access to digital services, provide skills training and support entrepreneurs.
Harris made the announcement during a meeting with six Ghanaian women entrepreneurs. It was his last event in Ghana before he leaves for Tanzania for a week-long tour of Africa which will also take him to Zambia.
She called the women at the table “a role model of everyone’s potential” and said “the well-being of women will reflect the well-being of all of society”.
Harris is the most high-profile member of President Joe Biden’s administration to visit Africa this year. While in Ghana, she paid particular attention to economic development and youth.
She visited a skate park and recording studio, released a Spotify playlist of African musicians, spoke to thousands of young people and invited celebrities, civil rights leaders and business people to join her at a banquet in her honour.
It’s a carefully calibrated campaign to reframe how Americans view opportunities in Africa, which senior officials in Harris’ office have described as central to his goals for the trip. New investments could not only benefit American businesses, but also alleviate one of the most pressing challenges here.
“If we don’t find jobs – because that’s what it is – for this growing young population, it will be dangerous for political stability on the continent,” said Rama Yade, senior director of the Atlantic Council Africa Center. “Because they will attack institutions if they cannot afford to live.
Her vision, officials said, was a journey centered on youth, women and innovation, rather than the humanitarian aid that often characterizes the American perception of Africa.
It’s a vision that requires money, and the desire for investment was evident at a state banquet Monday at Ghana’s presidential palace where Hollywood stars Spike Lee, Idris Elba and Rosario Dawson were among the participants.
Although the atmosphere was festive, the message was commercial. A large screen at the end of the banquet tent showed a computer-generated animation of Accra’s future development, a vision of a modern African metropolis.
“We are encouraged that more American companies than ever are looking to invest in Ghana,” President Nana Akufo-Addo said. “And we will continue to create and maintain the investment-friendly atmosphere that will ensure not only the safety of their investments, but also good returns on those investments.
By diversifying the country’s economy beyond the export of natural resources, Akufo-Addo said, he envisioned “a Ghana beyond aid”.
Ghana is struggling with soaring inflation and a swelling debt burden. Akufo-Addo noted the impact of “pernicious developments” such as the war in Ukraine and the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We want to work together to change the African narrative, which has largely been characterized by a focus on disease, hunger, poverty and mass illegal migration,” he said. “Together, we must help make Africa the place of investment, progress and prosperity.”
It’s a change Harris is eager to help foster.
“As we face real challenges, I look around tonight and I’m truly more optimistic than ever,” Harris said during his banquet toast. “And I know that by working together, the United States and Ghana, alongside the diaspora and the people of this beautiful continent, will share and share our future for the better.”
Harris’ husband, Doug Emhoff, joined in the effort. He visited a girls’ basketball clinic and spoke to female students in a town hall with the cast of the local TV series ‘You Only Live Once’, which tackles public health issues and other challenges facing young Ghanaians.
Emhoff said the message was about “having the confidence to know that you can do whatever you want in this world.”
But this hope for the future is not necessarily generalized.
Adwoa Brentuo, who graduated with a degree in information science four years ago, is among those who fear their education has been of no help.
“I have now given up on finding jobs because they don’t exist,” she said. “I also realized that writing apps had become a waste of time.”
Ghana’s Minister of Youth and Sports, Mustapha Yussif, has estimated that only 1 in 10 university graduates get a job.
“Others won’t be able to find jobs for a long time,” Yussif said.
This is a problem across the continent. The African Development Bank estimates that there are on average about 11 million people entering the labor market, while at the same time only about 3 million jobs are created.