President Akufo-Addo won the hearts of many world leaders, including Emmanuel Macron of France and Macky Sall of Senegal following his strong argument for public funding of education on the continent.
At an international conference in the Senegalese capital, Dakar, last Friday under the theme, “Replenishment of the Funds of the Global Partnership for Education,” President Akufo-Addo, who got a standing ovation for implementing the free Senior High School (SHS) policy, emphasised the need for African countries to not just prioritise, but invest in education since it’s the only means to develop the continent.
“We cannot depend on other people to finance the education on our continent. I am saying that not to turn my back or to be ungrateful to all these important or noble people who have committed themselves to helping, no,” he insisted.
Instead, he noted, “If we make our policy dependent on other people, when their policy changes, we will suffer. But, if we make the policy for ourselves, then it means that at all times, we will be in control of our own destiny,” drawing spontaneous applause from the gathering.
He therefore reiterated his belief that there are more than enough resources on the African continent to finance its development.
For President Akufo-Addo, what is left is to eliminate corruption in public life, having more intelligent arrangements for those who want to exploit the resources on the continent and prevent capital flight.
“Thabo Mbeki’s Commission that looked at the illicit flows of capital out of Africa has estimated that for every year, in the last ten years, $50 billion goes out of Africa through illicit means. Can you imagine what those monies, if we had our eyes open, and we were not complicit in that illicit outflow, would mean for the capacity of our nations?” he wondered.
Having successfully implemented the Free Senior High School policy in Ghana, he thought it wise to share his experience with his colleagues.
“In the last five years before my government came, every year, over 100,000 young Ghanaian students were unable to transition from junior high school to senior high school, largely because of money. Many of them fully qualified, but their parents were unable to support their higher education. We felt that at this stage in the history of our country, the Ghanaian State should take on that responsibility. So, as from September past, senior high school education in the public school system has been made free,” he told his colleague heads of state.
He continued, “What it has done is that the figures have revered. 90,000 more students entered senior high school this year than the year before. It is the first step in ensuring that the educational system in our country, from kindergarten through primary to secondary, and ultimately through university, is open for everybody.”
Touching on the question of the quality of education that would prepare the young population of Africa for the life of the 21st century, he indicated that it is only a greater focus on Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics that will guarantee the future of the continent.
“We have seen that in the development of the economies of Asia – in China, India, Japan, and Korea. That is the way forward to be able to make the transition from poverty to prosperity,” President Akufo-Addo stressed.
He continued, “So that I am not misunderstood, all those who have been making the pledges, it is all good. But I think it is extremely important for us to get our whole mindset right. We have within us the capacity to develop and promote the interest of our continent ourselves. Let’s do it.”
On the importance of education to the advancement of the continent, President Akufo-Addo stated that the paradox of Africa having the youngest population, and being the richest continent on the planet, but with the worst living conditions, can only be broken by education.
He indicated, “We are going to have to make sure that every young child – boy and girl – has access to education. Not only do they have access to education, but they have access to an education that will allow them to be able to address the challenges of the 21st Century.”
According to him, the challenge confronting African leaders is “how we can organise ourselves to make sure that the wealth, the huge wealth of this great continent, at least, in the first time in modern history, is used on behalf of the peoples of the continent, and not those outside.”
The president expressed confidence, “if we are able to close that gap, we will come here to Dakar to talk about education, and not the funding of education by others. We will be talking about the quality of our education, the changes we need to make to our curricula and the emphasis we have to place on our history and sociology.”
He was accompanied by the Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Shirley Ayorkor Botchway; Education, Dr. Matthew Opoku Prempeh and officials of the Presidency, Foreign Affairs and Education Ministries.
A standing ovation crowned his speech and Barbadian celebrity Rihanna, who was also at the conference, reportedly said in admiration after listening to the speech, “President Akufo-Addo was so outspoken and inspiring! He shook the room! You should be proud.”