During a joint press conference held in November 2017 with French President Emmanuel Macron, Ghanaian President Nana Akuffo-Addo controversially declared that Africans have to move away from the “mindset of dependency” on Western aid and look for equal trade opportunities.
While many applauded his strong statement, others thought it unfairly absolved European countries like France of responsibility for their past and present exploitation of African countries. And some were skeptical that a politician like Akuffo-Addo would put his words into action.
President Macron was visiting Ghana, which is a former British colony, as a sign that he has a “continental approach to Africa” instead of focusing on Francophone countries over Anglophone ones, according to his advisers. This was the first time ever in the history of Ghana to have a French president visit:
I am proud to be the first french president to visit Ghana. Long live the friendship between France and Ghana. pic.twitter.com/dzEpP1c645
— Emmanuel Macron (@EmmanuelMacron) November 30, 2017
During their press conference, the president of Ghana's response about Africa's dependency on aid came about when a journalist from JoyNews asked President Macron:
We know that France's support to Africa, over the years, is geared towards the Francophone region. In this new partnership, are you looking at the position where Africa will be looked as one continent regardless of where their colonial masters came from?
President Akuffo-Addo, who won a historic and peaceful election in 2017 after two previously unsuccessful attempts, campaigned on a promise to break the cycle of dependency on foreign aid. During Macron's visit, the president of Ghana stressed that “we want our relations with France to be characterised by an increase in trade and investment co-operation, not aid.” According to statistics, French investments in Ghana totalled 1.5 billion euros in 2015, making Ghana the seventh-biggest destination of French investments in Sub-Saharan Africa. And in 2014, France's official development assistance to Ghana was 67.56 million US dollars, according to country data portal IndexMundi.
No surprise, then, that Akuffo-Addo vehemently attempted to address the question asked by the journalist. The president's response has been circulating on YouTube:
We have to get away from this mindset of dependency. This mindset about ‘what can France do for us?’ France will do whatever it wants to do for its own sake, and when those coincide with ours, ‘tant mieux’ [so much better] as the French people say…Our concern should be what do we need to do in this 21st century to move Africa away from being cap in hand and begging for aid, for charity, for handouts. The African continent when you look at its resources, should be giving monies to other places…We need to have a mindset that says we can do it…and once we have that mindset we’ll see there’s a liberating factor for ourselves.
For his part, media characterized Macron's own response to the question as “fairly standard”.
A video of the moment shared by French-language culture site NOFI has been viewed more than 2.6 million times on Facebook, with over 40,000 shares.
Many cheered the president's words as taking an important stand against former colonizers, such as John Muhammad, who wrote in a Facebook comment:
I salute my brother we must become totally independant of the colonist who want to rule and determine our future, we have what they all need, our rich minerals and resourses throughout the continent. There wealth comes from we the kings and queens of AFRICA
‘Akufo-Addo was simply excusing the responsibility of Macron and France’
However, the president's statement drew mixed reactions. In one article for the blog Africa Is a Country, Dennis Laumann, a professor of African history at the University of Memphis, argued:
No one disputes that Africans must determine their own destiny but Akufo-Addo was simply excusing the responsibility of Macron and France and the West for Africa’s predicament. It would have been more controversial and shocking if Akufo-Addo had taken the opportunity to confront Macron about France’s debt to Africa for the slave trade and colonization; its history of arming and defending dictators like Mobutu Sese Seko and Blaise Compaoré; and the complicity of French companies in everyday corruption.
Journalist Ama Lorenz, writing for policy site Euractiv, put forth that President Akufo-Addo needs to follow his words with “concrete actions” because the situation is complex, and dependency doesn't always come from European sources:
The words of the Ghanaian president now addressed to Macron are therefore more likely to be understood as a call to African heads of state than to international donors.
Reforms called for by Akufo-Addo need a strong domestic African market if the country wants to become independent from European aid. But just in this case, there are no optimistic signs. Instead of having equal trade deals with African neighbours, there are rather unloved dependencies, especially with Nigeria.
Ghana is still dependent on gas supplies from Nigeria despite having a significant amount of its own still unsubsidised natural gas reserves. It was not until the end of June 2016 that the Nigerian gas supplier ceased deliveries for non-payments and Ghana had to be supported by an IMF rescue package of $917 million.
‘It…erases the tireless work of entrepreneurs, activists, and artists across the continent’
Assistant professor of French and Francophone studies at the University of Michigan Annette Joseph-Gabriel said the Ghanaian president's speech, like others before his, “oversimplif[ied] the causes of poverty in Africa as the result of a mindset, a failure of African minds to imagine anything beyond dependency on foreign aid”. In an article published on Black Perspective, she wrote:
Reversing Africa’s economic misfortunes then becomes but a question of changing a mindset: “We need to have a mindset that says we can do it…and once we have that mindset we’ll see there’s a liberating factor for ourselves.” This reductive narrative, in which economic hardship is cast as a moral failing, echoes the United States’ “bootstraps” ideal that continues to be wielded as an excuse for the American State to avoid providing crucial services and protections for its citizens.
It has several dangers in Africa as well. First, it offers very little by way of innovative solutions because it flattens the complex causes of Africa’s economic problems. It also erases the tireless work of entrepreneurs, activists, and artists across the continent who continue to imagine and work towards actual liberation and economic autonomy. Finally, it reinforces the unequal terms on which Franco-Ghanaian relations are structured because it absolves France, and by extension Europe, of the enduring legacy of foreign policies that have largely contributed to the existing situation. In short, Akufo-Addo did not “school” Macron. […] Akufo-Addo’s narrative is one that facilitates France’s gleeful forgetting of a past for which it does not want to be held accountable.
‘Talk is cheap. He should walk his talk.’
Zialey in Accra was also unimpressed:
Talk is cheap
He should walk his talk.
He is the leader after all and in the position to show us.
— ziarly (@ziarley) December 5, 2017
And Sura Amabaya agreed that African leaders generally like to talk more than act:
African leaders have become great speech makers but little is to be seen in action. Let's see Ghana move towards self-sufficiency then we will applaud his brave words.
— Sura Mbaya (@surambaya) December 5, 2017