On Saturday, Sept. 21, President Nana Akufo-Addo of Ghana came to Rutgers to discuss the systemic social issues in Africa and the positive stories of Africans who have overcome adversity at the Chinua Achebe Leadership Forum, which was hosted by the Center for African Studies, School of Arts and Sciences, Rutgers Global and the Christie and Chinua Achebe Foundation.
Although there is work to be done to address systemic social issues, it is time to focus on positive stories and celebrate Africans who have overcome great adversity, Akufo-Addo said at the forum.
“We still need to build roads, lower unemployment, educate the population and provide clean water, but I also want people to see the beauty Africa has to offer,” Akufo-Addo said during the event.
He also called 2019 the "year of the return," inviting people from various parts of Africa to come and experience his continent firsthand. When most people discuss Africa, they seem to turn back to the West's perception of the continent as a singular place with the same problems and characteristics everywhere.
“Africa has long (been subjected to) the narrative that all countries within it are masked together, and not as a whole continent filled with many separate countries, each with a different identity,” Akufo-Addo said. “Throughout history in all cultures, the poor tended to be seen as a mass of people but rich are seen as individuals. Now is not a time to get angry at the images and videos of children in need in Africa. Now is a time to celebrate Africans who overcame great adversity.”
Chidi Achebe, who is the founder of the Chinua Achebe Leadership Forum, as well as the son of Chinua Achebe, an author and scholar who is most known for his novel "Things Fall Apart," selected the University to host this year's forum, whose purpose is to honor Chinua Achebe's life and mission.
The other speakers at the event were Abena Busia, a professor in the Department of Women's and Gender Studies and the English Department who is on leave working as Ghana's ambassador to Brazil, Kofi Appenteng, the president and CEO of the Africa-America Institute, Hassana Alidou, who is ambassador of the Republic of Niger and professor of International Education and Development and Nana Marfo, a traditional chief from Ghana.
The prime minister who served in the 1960s and 70s was Busia's father, Kofi Abresa Busia, who was exiled three years after starting his role after a military overthrow but helped to restore a civilian government after being ruled by militia.
After the exile of her father, Busia and her mother went to a hospital in Paris for safety. She then met Akufo-Addo, who at the time was a human rights lawyer.
“I did not know where my father was or if I would ever see him again, and all this sophisticated man did was invite me to lunch and it became a magical afternoon. He had the quality of a great leader then, and he knew how to restore hope and to do so one funny story at a time,” Busia said.
Before becoming president, Akufo-Addo was an attorney general and minister of foreign affairs. “Akufo-Addo was an advocate of democratic rule when there was no such thing," she said.