class=”MuiTypography-root-134 MuiTypography-h1-139″>Young Africans seek to leverage Vice President Harris’ trip to Africa
US Vice President Kamala Harris began her weeklong visit to the African continent this week in Ghana. She plans to focus on youth entrepreneurship, and to make a claim for supporting some African countries, as China and Russia have made diplomatic and financial inroads.
The WorldMarch 28, 2023 · 4:00 PM EDT
US Vice President Kamala Harris waves as she arrives at Black Star square to address youths in Accra, Ghana, March 28, 2023. Harris is on a seven-day African visit that will also take her to Tanzania and Zambia.
US Vice President Kamala Harris began her weeklong visit to the African continent this week in Ghana where youth advocates are hoping to leverage the message that young people are powerful players in Africa’s future.
Caleb Fugah, co-founder of Dext Technology Limited, a start-up that develops science kits for schoolchildren, has set his focus on the next generation.
“The whole idea is to inspire the next generation of young Africans to succeed in science,” Fugah said.
Harris’ weeklong trip to the African continent — which also includes stops in Tanzania and Zambia — will emphasize the power of youth engagement among other issues such as empowerment for women and girls, climate adaptation and food security.
Young people form the largest group within Africa’s nearly 1 billion people. This group represents expansive possibilities for growth and development on the continent. But African youth face a profound lack of economic opportunities.
Ghana is one of the continent’s most stable, vibrant democracies, but the West African nation also faces high debt distress, inflation and a weakening currency.
Mensah Bonsu, a trader at the Kwame Nkrumah Circle in Accra, said the situation has rendered a lot of young Ghanaians hopeless, hence the desire of many like him to travel to the US to seek opportunities.
“I am very happy the US vice president is here. All that we young people want is access to the US to go and work and also school there. Because right now, Ghana is just stagnating with no clear direction,” he said.
Across Ghana, youth joblessness is stubbornly high. And many of those getting jobs receive such low wages that they continue to live in poverty.
But Harris said that she sees a lot of opportunities with young people in Africa — “the fact that the median age is 19 years old, and what that tells us about the growth of opportunity, of innovation, of possibilities, I see in all of that great opportunity.”
Support for global health
In addition to jobs and economic growth, young Ghanaians point to other issues facing them and the broader community, which they hope that Harris and the US will pay attention to.
Richard Mawutor Dzikunu, a sustainable development advocate, said that the continent needs more investment to help tackle maternal and child health care issues, which were affected negatively by the US Supreme Court’s ruling on Roe v. Wade, he said.
“I can tell you that sexual and reproductive rights issues are still thorny and elusive for many young people,” he said.
He said that Africa’s development challenges are directly tied to its health sector. Africa carries 25% of the world’s disease burden but its share of global health expenditures is less than 1%. Worse still, it manufactures less than 2% of the medicines consumed on the continent.
A majority of Africans, mostly the poor and those in the middle-income bracket, rely on underfunded public health facilities while a small minority has access to well-funded, quality private health care.
“Again, the spotlight on Ghana offers an opportunity that Ghana could leverage to also negotiate more or to also seek more assistance when it comes to support for global health,” he said.
Repairing ties damaged under Trump
Youth empowerment is central to Harris’ public message. But analysts contend that the US has its own interests and plans for this trip.
International policy analyst Adib Saani said Harris has been sent to the continent to counter the fast-growing competition from global economic superpowers like China, Russia and the European Union.
“China has really asserted their influence in Africa in trade and commerce and even in the construction industry,” Saani said.
“The Russians are also providing security assistance to many countries in Africa, especially in the Sahel region. So, what we are seeing is the US trying to fend off competition.”
He said the Biden administration is fighting hard to repair US-Africa ties damaged under Trump.
The US launched an African strategy in August last year, with a focus on bolstering democracy on the continent. In December, President Joe Biden hosted a summit with African leaders in Washington and announced support for the African Union becoming a permanent member of the Group of 20 nations.
To help address the threats of violent extremism and instability, Harris announced $100 million in support of Benin, Ghana, Guinea, Ivory Coast and Togo to fight violent extremism.
The US also intends to provide $139 million in bilateral assistance to Ghana in the 2024 fiscal year, according to Harris’ office, and has pledged billions of dollars to expand internet access in Africa.
Fugah and other young Ghanaians hope that with more US engagement in Africa — and investment — life on the continent will improve.
With more emphasis on youth in technology and innovation, he said, “we can catch up with advanced economies. We can't rely on our gold, neither can we rely on our petrol.”
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