When the President-elect of Ghana, Nana Akufo-Addo addressed the 11th edition of Africa Futures Award at the Federal Palace Hotel, Lagos, he sounded as if he was in for a peer review of African leadership. But midway into his written speech, the President-in-waiting, who would be sworn into office on January 7, 2017, left no one in doubt that he was interrogating the ‘Change’ that has become a winning mantra in recent presidential elections across three countries in the West African sub-region.
Akufo-Addo said: “Most of Africa is entitled to chart a fresh and new path. The change mantra continues to resonate across the continent. In Nigeria, you voted for change, in The Gambia, they voted for change, in Ghana we have just voted for change.”
While warning “that this change mantra would not become a mere political slogan,” the President-elect expressed the hope that it should rather “serve as impetus to reshaping our country and charting a new part of growth and development built in freedom, which would lift the long suffering African masters out of poverty into the realms of prosperity and dignified existence.”
Most of Akufo-Addo’s Nigerian audience, including upcoming national politicians like Minister of Solid Minerals, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, Hon. Rotimi Amaechi, former Anambra governor, Peter Obi, former minister of Education, Dr. Oby Ezekwesili, former minister of Information, Frank Nweke Jnr and Chief Jimi Agbaje must have joined in the mental contrast of Ghana’s change, expected to take off in January 2017 and Nigeria’s change that started on May 29, 2015.
He said, “This conversation here will therefore afford me the chance to listen to other ideas of how we can work and reshape the future of our respective countries in the West African region and the wider African continent.”
If the incoming Ghanaian President follows the path he outlined in his remarks and delivers on the targets he set out in his manifesto, there is no shadow of doubt that Ghana will be competing with Nigeria as its citizens would live to exult in the outcome of their presidential election.
In outlining the broad frameworks of what would drive his administration, the Ghanaian President-elect spoke knowledgeably and out of his personal convictions. It was obvious that Ghanaians voted for his vision, because he communicated measurable, clear and relevant programmes that could put Ghana on the path to political stability and economic prosperity.
A mile away from Nigeria’s predicament, where the country’s President predicated his action plans to effect change on fight against corruption, fight against insecurity and job creation, Akufo-Addo laid emphasis on creating jobs, stressing that youth and gender-inclusion would be the central focus of his administration.
Perhaps against the backdrop of his firm belief that empowering the youth holds the key to unlocking Ghana’s prosperity and achieving political stability, Akufo-Addo churned out statistics, which also proved his erudition and knowledge-based vision.
He said: “We have to be versed in the empowerment, education and employment of our young people. With over 40 percent of its working population, between the ages of 15 to 24, our continent is considered the youngest in the world. This represents a staggering amount of human potential. The current African Economic Outlook says this number is set to double by 2020.
“There are too many inequalities and few opportunities to learn or earn a visible wage. According to the World Bank, youth account for 60 percent of all African unemployed. Those that manage to find work, they do so, but not in a place that pays a good wage or develops their skill or provides a measure of job security.
“Brookings Institute says that more than 70 percent of the youth in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Ghana, Malawi, Mali Rwanda, Senegal and Uganda are self-employed or contributing to family business. It is clear that the unemployment problem in Africa is a ticking time bomb.
“The Arab spring showed it clearly that the lack of job opportunity could undermine social cohesion and political stability. With between 10 to 12 million youth joining the labour market every year, we have to pay a maximum attention to the issue of job creation.
“Ahmed Salkida, a Nigerian journalist, who had rare access to Boko Haram, said that although the sect was propped by ideology, the unemployment problem in northern Nigeria makes for easy recruitment of jobless young people. World Bank survey in 2011 show that 40 percent of those who joined rebel movements said they were motivated by lack of jobs.”
The Ghanaian President-elect supports his decision to drive change in his country on the fulcrum of youth empowerment and job creation by his conviction that “demographic dividends do not come automatically.” He added that demographic advantages are only windows of opportunities, stressing that certain steps must be taken to realize the dividends.
“There are,” he went on, “some clear steps that can help our countries achieve the demographic dividends: Increasing investment in young people through skills developing quality education that prepares them for a future of opportunities. A diversity of training would begin from quality primary and secondary schools, to technical training, to teacher training colleges, to research-intensive universities.”
Nana Akufo-Addo believes that for young people to be able to exploit the economic opportunities that abound in Africa, “they must have the skills and training, necessary to take advantage of such opportunities.”
“Doing this, we have to fashion (out) an education policy that is also gender-sensitive. Young women feel the sting of unemployment even more sharply. The human development complex in Africa is easier for men to get jobs than it is for women, only if they have accompanying skills and experience,” he stated.
He explained that the situation is similar in Ghana, in terms of male and female enrollment in universities, pointing out that including women is crucial, especially “by guaranteeing their sexual, reproductive and human rights. This would enable them to determine when they would marry and the number of children they want to have.”
The President-elect contended that women have to choose and determine the direction of their destiny, arguing that when women and girls are able to make these decisions, they are better able to complete their education and pursue jobs.
Drawing attention to the great premium he places on quality education, Akufo-Addo noted, “If we are indeed to survive this competitive technological environment, Africa cannot be left out in science and education.”
His words: “The Costa Rican example should serve as a motivation for us. Costa Rica moved from being a banana exporting country to a net exporter of micro sensor chips that earns them billions of dollars, rather than the few million dollars they earned when they exported banana. Technology is what has made the world truly a global village. For businesses to thrive and be competitive, they must also be technologically competitive.
“On our part we have a manifest plan to provide free Wi-Fi services in all secondary schools and universities in Ghana. This is one of the ways by which we can make our students and graduates globally competitive, since they would have access to the best library resources around the world.”
He remarked: “there is also a critical need of involving the young in decisions making. We cannot talk about sustainable development without the active involvement of the youth.” Quoting Ban Ki-Moon, the outgoing Secretary General of the United Nations, the victorious presidential candidate of National Progressive Party (NPP) in Ghana, argued that young people’s political weight and creative muscle could produce “real excellence in our world to create a brighter future. Hence, we cannot talk about reshaping the future without talking about the welfare and well being of the youth.
While maintaining that only by providing opportunities that can open the future to our continent do we create opportunities vital for the youth, Nana noted that making these ideas work can only come by “harnessing the demographic dividends, upholding human rights and gender equality, development of human capital and dignity.”
It is not as though that the Ghanaian President-elect came to Nigeria to compare notes or pick holes with Nigeria’s version of change, but it was clear as crystal to the Nigerian audience that there were a lot of missing links in the 2015 presidential election that produce Nigeria’s version of Change.
The next President of the Republic of Ghana stated from the outset “having just been declared winner in a grueling presidential election contest in my country of Ghana, I have been handed the big task of leading the camp and shaking down the street.” “This conversation here,” he added, “will therefore afford me the chance to listen to other ideas of how we can work and reshape the future of our respective countries in the West African region and the wider African continent.”
But the man who stated, “This will serve as perhaps my first learning experience as I prepare to take office as the President of the Republic of Ghana on 7th of January 2017,” left the venue after rounding off his speech. It was evident that by not waiting to hear what his Nigerian political class might have to say, Nana Akufo-Addo knew that it was better to look to the future than spend time looking back at an empty past, which Nigeria’s edition of change seems to present.
Declaring that he was much “elated at what our young people did for us (during the election),” he said: “I am honoured by the invitation to address this event. To talk about the future is to talk about the unknown. At the same time, to talk about the future is to talk about the hopes and aspirations of a people.
“I am unable to accept the saying that has it that the golden age is always in the past. It is obvious that Africa’s golden age is yet to come. How can we not hope of a golden future when we are blessed with such enormous wealth and human potentials? The world, and for that matter Africa; has the largest generation of young people in history now placing great hope in their potential to shape the future of Africa.”
He further stressed that Africa has to have the stamina to reap the demographic dividends of its youthful and vibrant population, noting that “the Asian Tigers, who have become Africa’s envy list of nations and I mean by that South Korea, Japan, Singapore and Malaysia; are where they are today, because of the demographic dividends that they harnessed and they experienced in their population dynamics.”
“Their period of growth and boom,” Akufo-Addo remarked, “happened when their population shifted from many dependents to one dominated by the working people.” He added: “And this is why we in Africa are where we are today. We all failed to realize that we are at the brink of a break. Having said that, I have to reflect; the population opportunity would not automatically guarantee us a future of growth and prosperity. This is the reason why in the just concluded presidential election in Ghana I made job creation my number one campaign solution to Ghana’s problem.”
“Our manifesto is titled, Change: An agenda for job,” the President-elect reiterated, saying that while on the campaign trail he constantly asked young people, who risk their lives while trying to earn a living and having the tool of wrecking havoc also to decide.
He said: “Fortunately the youth are willing to risk everything to earn a decent meal. We see in recent times millions of young people taking harrowing risks along the Mediterranean trying to reach a better land. All what these youth need is that we provide them a better environment right here in Africa and they would make our continent great. If these youth are allowed to realise their full potentials, Africa would see huge economic gains.”
Consequently, Nana Akufo-Addo explained that his address “represents a dream grounded in reality; I do not believe that African has a DNA that does not excel. We can, like all the other peoples that have or can succeed, make life meaningful and worth living to our own people.”
He cautioned that leaders must cultivate an irreplaceable desire to do things by the citizens and noting that “resources in our nations belong to the people; they do not belong to the political class. To appropriate the wealth of our nation to the benefit of only political classes, but families and friends are both morally wrong and criminally cursed.”
So, how does the incoming Ghana President plan to confront the spectre of corruption? He believes in the institutional framework for confronting graft, stressing that the fight should begin from officials of government and ramify to the wider society. His words: “On my part, I am already serving a note of warning to those who would serve in my government that doing so shall not be an avenue to amass wealth. I said that those who want to make money; they should find their place in the private sector, which we should support to be the vehicle for job creation, growth and development. Public service must be exactly that: Public service.”
Although he said change could happen in Africa, the President-elect noted that “we have to do it ourselves; we cannot expect others to do it for us. Many of us felt a sense of guilt and shame when the former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair said, Africa is a scar on the conscience of the world … We can and must build Africa on a strong moral foundation of the ability and industry of its citizens.”
What type of Africa does the next President of Ghana envisage? It is “an Africa that exemplifies the true spirit of its people, leaning towards a common goal and better citizens.” He added, “There is an abundance of entrepreneurial spirit on our continent struggling to express itself. We have to encourage this with full force.”