By Cooper Inveen
ACCRA (Reuters) -U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris delivered a speech to thousands of young Ghanaians on Tuesday in Accra on women’s empowerment, and toured a coastal building that was the last stop for Africans sold into the transatlantic slave trade.
Her visit to Ghana, the first stop on an African tour that will also take her to Tanzania and Zambia, is part of a charm offensive by Washington as it seeks to counter-balance the growing influence of China and Russia on the continent.
Harris used the stop to promise American partnership, exhort African nations to do more for women, and to speak about the importance of learning difficult history, in an apparent reference to recent Republican push to strike some lessons from U.S. classrooms.
In a speech in front of Black Star Gate, a monument built on the site where Ghana declared independence from Britain in 1957, Harris said that by the middle of the century, one in four people in the world will be African.
“That of course means what happens on this continent impacts the entire world,” she said.
Citing examples such as the pioneering of mobile phone payments in Kenya or healthcare deliveries by drone in Rwanda before such services existed in the United States, Harris said innovation would be key to Africa’s future success.
“We must invest in the African ingenuity and creativity, which will unlock incredible economic growth and opportunities, not only for the people of the 54 countries that make up this diverse continent, but for the American people and people around the world,” she said.
Harris underlined deep gender disparities in Africa, saying the United States would work alongside African partners to close those gaps.
“On the continent of Africa we know women grow a majority of the food, yet they are less likely to own the land they farm. They represent a majority of frontline healthcare workers, but face disparities in health outcomes,” she said.
“Women are entrepreneurs, yet have limited access to capital and markets. They are peacemakers and bridge builders, yet continue to be under-represented at the table where decisions are made.”
To cheers, she said that the economic empowerment of women would benefit not only themselves but also their children, families, communities and the entire economy.
The U.S. can also partner on digital inclusion and good governance and democracy, Harris said.
She described the latter as “a work in progress, including in my own country”, an apparent allusion to the turbulence seen in U.S. politics and elections in recent years.
TOUR OF SLAVE CASTLE
Later, Harris and her husband, Doug Emhoff, toured a 17th-century slave fortress in Cape Coast, one of many coastal buildings active during the transatlantic slave trade that forcibly removed 12.5 million people, mainly from Central and West Africa, and sent them to work across the Americas, Europe and the Caribbean.
She appeared moved during the tour, taking several deep breaths, according to a pool reporter traveling with her. She laid flowers in the female slave dungeon and went through the so-called “Door of no Return” where slaves were shipped out. Emhoff wiped his eyes, according to the pool reporter.
“Being here was — was immensely powerful and moving, when we think about how human beings were treated by the hundreds of thousands in this very place that we now stand, the crimes that happened here, the blood that was shed here,” Harris said from Cape Coast Castle.
“They came to this place of horror — some to die, many to starve and be tortured, women to be raped — before they were then forcibly taken on a journey thousands of miles from their home to be sold by so-called merchants and taken to the Americas, to the Caribbean to be an enslaved people.”
Harris said the horror of what had happened there must be remembered. “It cannot be denied. It must be taught. History must be learned,” she said.
Republican-led states, including Florida, Georgia and Texas, have enacted new laws to limit teaching about the role of racism in the United States.
(Writing by Estelle Shirbon and Jeff Mason, editing by Giles Elgood, Heather Timmons and Jonathan Oatis)