Full Text: President Mahama’s Keynote Address at the 2016 African Leadership Magazine Person of the Year Awards

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Thank you and good evening.

It is an honour to be in the company of such distinguished fellow Africans gathered here tonight- Africans who have committed their lives to changing the negative narrative about our continent. A narrative about Africa being the richest continent, yet with the poorest people.

Let me also thank the organizers and management of the African Leadership Magazine for this important platform that recognises and encourages the contributions of our African brothers and sisters, who are in varied but significant ways contributing to re-position Africa to be recognised as the truly great continent that she is.

I wish therefore to congratulate all nominees for their well-earned nominations.

In the last decade the promise of Africa’s future has been captured in the concept of Africa rising.

As President, I have had the opportunity to participate in many events that have sought to celebrate Africa’s emergence as a continent of prosperity rather than the previous negative connotation of the “Dark Continent”.

During this period several African countries emerged among the top ten fastest growing economies in the world.

Recent developments in the world economy has spiked some of this growth and this is evident in the fact that the two largest economies on the continent South Africa and Nigeria are struggling to avoid sliding into recession.

Human progress has never been uniform. There have been periods of swift progress and there have been moments of reversal.

Unfortunately, as I have said before in the past, the rest of the world often holds a strictly binary view of Africa: we are either failing or we are succeeding, rising to great heights or falling to the lowest depths of destitution, disease and societal dysfunction.

Rarely are we afforded the full range of motion that nation building and national reconstruction requires.

We must not be discouraged by temporary setbacks. In such times we must diagnose the reasons for these reversals and institute the structural reforms necessary to put our nations back on the path of growth.

Africa has the potential to become the next emerging continent of world prosperity. Opportunities abound and African entrepreneurs must take advantage of these.

My belief in the promise of Africa is unshakeable. That is why I believe tonight’s event that brings together celebrated achievers from diverse backgrounds is a clear indication that Africa has got the right human resource to guarantee the realization of its fullest potential.

When the world looks at Africa, the focus is normally on the rich resources of the continent, the gold, oil, timber, rubber, manganese, cocoa, coffee, and all the other bountiful blessings of nature.

These resources are to be appreciated, but as I have always consistently maintained, the greatest resource of Africa is its people.

Throughout history, Africa and Africans have made indelible marks on the pages of world civilisation.

The evidence that Africa is still rising lies before us today in the shape of the many achievers dotted across the continent, some of whom are right here in this room.

But while appreciating our undeniable advantage, it is important to acknowledge the enormous challenges that continue to bedevil our great continent in its desire to shed off the unenviable tags of ‘poverty, famine and a disease ravaged continent’.

But what solution can we proffer to erase this blot on our conscience as African leaders?

Africa has been a great beneficiary of the global targeting that took place at the turn of the millennium.

Many African countries scored great success in achieving the MDGs. Ghana my own country was one of several African countries that achieved the targets of halving poverty and eliminating extreme hunger and malnutrition well in advance of the target date of 2015.

Significant success was also achieved in universal education with more than 97% of children of school going age being enrolled in school, with a gender parity of 1:1. Other successes include reduction in maternal and infant mortality, reduction in HIV infections, increased access to clean drinking water.

In 2015, the UN approved a new set of global targets known as the SDGs. With these new targets, as African leaders, we have our work cut out for us.

I recommend that attention must be focused on those SDGs that pertain to Africa particularly. I believe there are seven of these goals Africa must pay particular attention to. These are SDGs 1, 2, 3, 4, 7, 9 and 16.

SDG 1 aims at ending poverty in all its forms. This goal is actually a continuation of goal 1 of the MDGs. It is possible for Africa to build on the tremendous success achieved in halving poverty under the MDGs to achieve this SDG goal.

Social protection programmes aimed at wealth redistribution and poverty reduction drew large segments of our population out of poverty. We need to build on this achievement.

SDG 2 aims at ending hunger. Africa has a comparative advantage when it comes to agriculture. We have not sufficiently leveraged this advantage. The time for Africa’s green revolution is now.

Public and private investments in agriculture and agribusiness must be encouraged. It is said that Africa holds up to 15% reserves of the worlds arable lands.

These lands must be put to good use to end hunger and create jobs. Modernizing agriculture is a must. Scientific agricultural production using improved seeds, mechanization and irrigation is absolutely essential.

The mass of African agriculture is rain-fed and based on small holder production. Medium to large scale farmers must be encouraged utilizing modern agriculture technology.

Small holder productivity must also be enhanced by using modern methods of production. In Ghana a new concept of farmers’ service centres (FSC) introduced by my administration will help advance modernization of agriculture and increase food production to eliminate hunger.

SDG 3 aims at universal health care. Health it is said is wealth and a healthy nation makes a wealthy nation. Under the MDGs much progress was made in promoting healthcare across Africa.

Maternal mortality rates are on a downward trend. Women must not be a statistic. As African leaders we must work to ensure that no woman dies in the process of carrying out her natural role of procreation. All children must survive childbirth and under-5 mortalities must be brought to zero. In Ghana, our intervention in achieving universal healthcare has been on a three (3)-pronged approach.

Improving and extending health facilities, major referral hospitals, Health Centres and CHPS compounds.

Training adequate Professional personnel to provide service in the health facilities.

Improving and expanding the Health Insurance scheme in order to ensure coverage for all.

SDG 4 aims at creating opportunity for all to achieve equitable quality education. For Africa the focus should be to aim for universal secondary school completion, and also prioritize acquisition of skills through TVET.

With this in view, during my term in office, I began the single largest programme for expansion of secondary education in Ghana. We began the construction of 200 new secondary schools across the country mostly in underserved rural communities.

SDG 7 aims at access to affordable, reliable and sustainable energy for all. This is perhaps the most binding constraint to African growth and development.

All across the continent from Cape Town to Cairo, African economic growth is stunted by a lack of access to adequate power. Part of the reason for the slow down of Ghana’s growth was a lack of adequate power. In recent years we have had to go through a crippling load management programme popularly referred to in Ghana as ‘dumsor’.

Aggressive emergency expansion of generation which saw a fast track deployment of 850MW of power, and the commencement of utilization of significant offshore gas wells has given Ghana, once gain, the prospect of becoming a major exporter of power in the sub region.

Happily, this is the story across the continent. As I travel around I see new transmission lines and generating plants coming up. With the support of the AfDB and other financial institutions, additional megawatts of conventional and renewable energy are being pumped into Africa.

SDG 9 aims at building resilient infrastructure, industrialization and innovation. Building domestic and regional infrastructure stimulates economic activity and in turn spurs growth.

Investment in infrastructure spending is rising. From Rwanda, through Ethiopia, Kenya, Senegal, Ghana, Cote D’Ivoire to Morocco, one can see significant investments being made in roads, ports, railways, bridges, airports, ICT and telecommunications and other critical economic infrastructure.

SDG 16 aims at promoting inclusive societies for sustainable development and effective accountable institutions. This goal encourages us to build societies that create opportunity for all. In which no segment of the society is left behind.

This relates to governance and democratic consolidation. Africa has turned the corner when it comes to the issue of democracy and good governance.

All sovereignty must be built on the will of the people. Democracy, transparency, free expression and participation of the people in their governance unleashes the creative potential of the citizens.

It is a force for good and helps to ensure sustainable progress. Progress achieved under transparent democratic systems are more sustainable than compliance exacted under unconstitutional governments or dictatorships.

Democracy is not a one size fits all exercise. Democracy evolves and is not imposed. Countries must progress on the path of democracy according to their own cultural and demographic peculiarities.

A free, objective, impartial and accurate media is a desirable component of democratic consolidation. Civil society organizations, active traditional authorities and religious leaders all constitute a positive addition to democratic consolidation.

ECOWAS has earned plaudits for its recent intervention in the Gambia to uphold the will of the Gambian people in the December 01 elections. While this represents a positive out-turn of a regional determination to uphold our charter on democracy and good governance, such intervention may not represent a blue print applicable in all circumstances.

Under this goal we must strengthen our governance institutions and make them accountable. Systems and legislation to deepen the fight against corruption must be established.

How can Africa win the progress race, I believe that in addition to the above, Africa must form beneficial partnerships with all regions of the world. But above all Africa must form a partnership with itself. We must go beyond playing lip service to regional integration.

Barriers to free trade and investment across the continent continues to be a major constraint to Africa’s progress and growth. Traditional trade flows established by the colonization of the continent have been maintained after many decades of independence.

Continental trade estimated at an average of 12-15% is abysmal. Comparative figures for North America is 40%, and EU 60%. We must guarantee the free movement of people, goods and services across the continent.

This can only result in a win win situation for all. Taking down barriers to trade will create a larger playing field for African Entrepreneurs and will dramatically expand cross border investments.

Africa as a market has a population of over one billion people. A fast growing middle class with increasing disposable income is a most attractive prospect for investment.

The full benefits of this positive aspect of Africa’s demography can only be realised in a situation of borders open to trade. The African Union has been fiddling with the idea of visa free travel in Africa.

This is already operational in West Africa where all ECOWAS citizens enjoy 90-day visa free travel to each others countries. Last year by executive order I relaxed travel restrictions for African passport holders.

From July 1st last year, holders of African passports have been allowed to apply for entry visas at the point of entry into Ghana. The sky has not fallen. We have not realised any dramatic influx of migrants into our country. Indeed, it has been applauded especially by business people who travel regularly to Ghana as a novelty that has facilitated their investments.

The next two decades are the most critical for Africa’s breakthrough. I believe that with persistent work and diligence Africa can truly claim this century as ours.

We need to push for growth in our economies. It is said that Africa must grow at an average of 6-8% to keep up with the rate of growth of our population. We are a continent in transition.

While population is slowing, it is not slowing fast enough. Education and empowerment of women is critical in this period of demographic transition.

Educated and empowered women means fewer children on whom greater investment in education and training can be made.

On this note, I once again thank you for this opportunity and your attention.

This may not be an exhaustive blue-print, but I remain positive that with the unflinching commitment to work together and die a little for the cause of our dear continent, Africa’s forward march towards sustainable progress can be achieved over the next 20 years.

Thank you very much and God Bless Africa.