When I received the call to make a statement here today, I was initially stunned, then excited, and then really anxious. I asked myself, why me? But then I asked myself, why not me?

I am a veil-wearing Muslim woman from one of the smallest regions in Ghana; the Upper West, among one of the smallest ethnic groups in the country, the Wala. In many ways, I am a minority of a minority. In many spaces I’ve been in, I am often the exception and hardly the norm. 

But that has never held me back. The more down the ladder I appear to be, the higher up the ladder I have always aspired to reach. I became one of the first from my immediate family to attain a university education and one of the first, or perhaps, the only woman from my community to have had a primetime voice on radio and television. My exposure and impact helped inspire many young women, particularly, Muslim girls across the country to pursue a career in media and journalism.  

I have worked on many development projects to empower marginalised and underrepresented communities and am currently, a founding member of the Alliance for Women in Media Africa, inspired by a similar organisation in the US. Our young dynamic group of media women are working to advance the welfare and visibility of women in media and ensure that the voices, stories and images of African women and girls are equitably represented. 

These examples are not cited to wallow in whatever modest successes I may have achieved, but to demonstrate how far I have come, from how far back I am coming from. I may have walked a few steps up to this platform today, but my journey, like the journey of several others,  goes many steps back across multiple generations within many spaces, too numerous to mention. 

 But let me at least mention my maternal grandmother Alima, an enterprising generous woman who did not have any formal education but encouraged in her daughter an appetite for learning and put her in school. Let me talk about my mother, Hajia Rahmat, who after numerous domestic chores at home had to go out to sell food before she could go to school. She was often late, but she kept going. 

My mother says she often walked barefoot to school under the hot sun which will make the ground heat up and burn the soles of her feet. When it became too hot, she would find a patch of grass for a moment’s respite. But she kept going. She became the first woman within her immediate family to attain higher education by progressing to the training college and becoming a teacher and a headmistress. And dare I say she could have gone even further, but she sacrificed her dreams at some point to stay at home to raise her children.

It is because my mother walked for her dreams that today I can run for mine and tomorrow my two daughters will fly for their dreams. That is how progress is made; inch by inch, generation by generation. We keep hitting at it until we completely shatter our glass ceilings. Daughters are the dreams come true of their mothers, and mothers are the greatest hopes for their daughters. 

But this is not just a story about mothers and daughters and the power of education to transform, it is also a story about Ghana, about Africa. As a continent that ranks low in many development indices, as we make our way up the ladder for better representation of women, better healthcare, better education, better infrastructure, and better employment, amongst others, the journey up can be daunting with many reasons to despair. Some young Africans may feel that their economic salvation lies elsewhere across the Sahara, beyond the Mediterranean. But no matter how hot the ground gets beneath our feet, the solution is not across but within. We just have to keep going.  We have to keep putting in the work. And generation by generation, we will shatter the ceiling for Africa’s economic prosperity. 

To attain the Africa We Want, we must embrace our diversity. One important lesson I learnt early on is the value of community and inclusion. My dear father Mr Ismail Muslim was one of the earliest young men to leave his hometown up in the North to set up a base in the capital down south. He found success early, established a home here and opened up his doors to his community. I grew up not only with my siblings but with aunties, uncles, cousins and close and distant relatives. Our house was a gateway for a whole generation. I learnt the values of service, diversity and inclusion early. My father showed me that you indeed rise by lifting others. And that is a lesson my husband and I are teaching our two sons—and our daughters too. 

Africa as the most diverse continent in the world, more than anywhere else, must uphold the value of inclusion. We are so fragmented in nations, ethnicities, gender, class and others that unless we work honestly together for the common good, we cannot lift ourselves and our continent. And in lifting ourselves up, we cannot count our success by the very few who reach the top, but by the many who leave the bottom. 

To make progress in Africa, we acknowledge that we have to forge meaningful partnerships. In 2010, I had the rare privilege of being amongst the very first cohort of President Obama’s YALI programme. At the Whitehouse, I was lucky enough to be spotted by him to ask a question. I asked whether it was possible to have a true partnership between a superpower like America and a developing country like Ghana. Obama believed that such a partnership was possible because we have many aligning interests. 

Over the years, I have reflected on and refined my question even further. Would America, or the developed world, still be interested in Africa without its natural resources?

Much as this is an important question for our partners to reflect on, it is an even more important question for us in Africa to answer. How else can we maximize the benefits of our natural resources and what new value can we harness the energies and innovations of our young people to create to benefit our people and the world? We must begin to reflect on and act for An Africa Beyond Natural Resources.

And it is gratifying to note that there are many young Africans already working to create value across creative and digital spaces, and others. And in so doing, expanding opportunities as well as solving critical problems in their economies. 

 Examples abound like Miishe Addy, co-founder of startup logistics powerhouse Jetstream; Maya Famodou working in the venture capital space to inject resources into innovative African Startup; Ama Asantewaa of Black Girls Glow focusing on creating safe spaces for creatives go grow; Mahmoud Jajah of Zongo Innovation Hub training young people in predominantly underserved Muslim communities to become software developers and tech entrepreneurs. Young Africans are putting in the work.

 It will be important to acknowledge some support they are already receiving. For instance, the US government is investing USD 350 million in the Digital Transformation with Africa programme to create a transformative ecosystem for technology entrepreneurship. In my part of the country, the USAID Sustainable Shea Initiative is empowering over 400,000 women across Northern Ghana for economic and social impact through the shea industry. We look forward to the sustainable impact of such programmes. 

We call on African governments to commit to passing affirmative action policies to help bridge the gender and diversity divide. And to treat with the utmost urgency the need to open up major opportunities for Africa’s ballooning youth population.

In 2011, I had the privilege of meeting Michelle Obama at a forum for young African women leaders in South Africa. She spoke about the need for women to step up and own the spaces they occupy. My life’s journey has been about owning the spaces I occupy. And where those spaces do not exist, to create them. Today I call on all women and youth of Africa to step up and own your space because why not you?

I feel honoured today to share this stage, this space, with a phenomenal woman who has not only stepped up to own her space but is actually rocking it. The highest-ranking female official in the United States who has had her fair share of “firsts” and broken several glass ceilings on her way to the top.  It is a delight to welcome Vice President Kamala Harris to Ghana, the Center of the World, the black star rising. Martin Luther King Jnr, Malcolm X and Maya Angelou were here. Clinton, Bush and Obama were all here. And now it is her turn. I believe we can all affectionately say… Abena Kamala, you made it.

Thank You 


The writer presented this at the Black Star Square before US vice president Kamala Harris’ address to Ghanaians on Tuesday, March 28.

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DISCLAIMER: The Views, Comments, Opinions, Contributions and Statements made by Readers and Contributors on this platform do not necessarily represent the views or policy of Multimedia Group Limited.