ACCRA, Ghana (AP) — Speaking from a monument commemorating Ghana’s independence from colonialism, Vice President Kamala Harris on Tuesday pledged a new era of partnership with Africa, envisioning “a future that is propelled by African innovation.”
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
After the speech, Harris planned to tour the Cape Coast Castle, a seaside fort where enslaved Africans were loaded onto ships bound for the Americas. Harris also planned to deliver remarks there.
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.