Ghana president visits USC

In an effort to promote his “Made in Ghana” campaign, Ghanaian President John Dramani Mahama visited Wallis Annenberg Hall on Thursday in an event hosted by the Center on Public Diplomacy to discuss his country’s local products.

In his introduction, Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism Dean Ernest J. Wilson III spoke briefly about the Ghanaian president’s distinguished career in governance and emphasized his previously held position of minister of communication and his master’s degree in communication studies.

“We welcome you back home in the field of communication,” Wilson said.

The “Made in Ghana” campaign, which  launched in 2014, stemmed from Mahama’s goal to better inform the international community about Ghana and its products. In his remarks, Mahama discussed Ghana’s production of gold and timber, which drives export income and its national economy. He also highlighted Ghana’s more cultural exports which “gave the world” products such as the Dashiki, a brightly colored tunic native to West Africa.

“Our culture, our people and our products are widespread and received with enthusiasm and appreciation,” Mahama said. “Yet I noticed there was often no immediate association in people’s minds of those things to our country.”

Mahama also noted how Ghana has become the second-largest exporter of cacao only two decades after the end of colonial rule.

Mahama decided to come to Los Angeles after a friend told him about the Pasadena-based ice cream company Choctál, which sells chocolate ice cream made from the cacao harvested in small family-owned farms in Ghana.

Mahama said that the “Made in Ghana” campaign aims to not only a boost the local economy, but also to reinforce national identity and distinguish Ghana from other African countries.

“We’re planning a major launch of the campaign,” Mahama said, “We are branding Ghana and putting a seal on our products. We encourage Ghanaians to patronize our products [and] at the same time sell our products to the world.”

Mahama also spoke about democracy in Ghana and the role of the media in Ghanaian society.

“It’s not the easiest job to have — to be Ghana’s president,” he said. “Ghana has one of the most free landscapes of media in the world … It unleashes the creativity of our people, and people are able to say what they want to say. We value free expression, freedom of speech. We have made significant progress with more than two decades of positive growth.”

Students said they were excited to hear Mahama speak.

“As a Ghanaian myself, it is very awesome to [be able to] ask him a question and just be in the same room with him,” said Stephanie Kuwornu, a sophomore majoring in economics. “It’s a rare opportunity for university students to be able to meet world leaders … It makes me think about what I can do for my country and my own personal vision as it reinforces my personal values.”

This appreciation was shared by first-year master’s in public diplomacy student Yesenia Vargas, who focuses her research on West Africa.

“We’ve seen a lot of attention on Ghana in terms of how [Mahama] can implement the ‘Made in Ghana’ without trying to seem like he’s being [a protectionist],” Vargas said. “There’s minor criticism when furniture from the office of the government just [comes] from Italy and China ,but seeing how he’s trying to promote the individuality of Ghana and differentiate it from the assumption of the western world that Africa is this one whole uniform thing, is a positive movement. I think he can find a lot of support for that here.”

This post has been updated to reflect that the event was hosted by the Center on Public Diplomacy.