Ghana’s President John Mahama inaugurates Chinua Achebe Leadership Forum – From Alhassan Y. Babalwaiz, ANA North America Editor and UN Correspondent

—hinting about Achebe’s touch on his life; pitching women’s rights issues as key to progress

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Ghana’s President John Dramani Mahama speaks at the Chinua Achebe Leadership Forum in New York/Photo: Ghana Mission NY

With pomp and ceremony, Ghana’s president John Dramani Mahama, has lifted the curtain on the Chinua Achebe Leadership Forum–urging African policy makers to step up efforts at addressing the existing inequalities that affect women in order to achieve accelerated development.

“Unless issues like rape, female genital mutilation, high maternal mortality, negative widowhood practices and other gender based violations against women, who constitute more than 50 per cent of the population are addressed, not much can be achieved,” he said.

Speaking on the topic: “Women in Africa: How the Other Half Lives”, President Mahama commended African women for their huge contributions to the continent’s development and promised to use every means to ensure that gross inequalities are corrected–so that “girls are able to live their lives without any sexual abuse.”

President Mahama also stressed the need for men to effectively compliment women’s contribution in the society to ensure accelerated progress.

The inaugural forum was planned by the Bard College as an annual event to commemorate and celebrate the life and work of the late Professor Chinua Achebe, who was a lecturer at the University for nearly 20 years, until his death earlier this year.

The event brought together international leaders, students, academics, and thinkers to discuss Africa’s challenge in keeping with Chinua Achebe’s life and work. Originally scheduled for Tuesday, December 10, the lecture had to be rescheduled to Monday, December 9, to enable president Mahama to join other world leaders for the funeral of President Mandela in South Africa.

While paying glowing tributes to the well-acclaimed writer, Chinua Achebe, and Africa’s exemplary political leader, Nelson Mandela, for their contribution to Africa, President Mahama, himself a writer whose memoir,  My First Coup’ d’état”, was reviewed and highly recommended by the late Chinua Achebe, somberly recalled the deep inspiration he personally derived from reading Chinua Achebe’s books, particularly Things Fall Apart more than 40 years ago, and disclosed that it was a rite of passage for him and the world around him.

Professor Christie Achebe, widow of Chinua Achebe was on hand to give the forum a first hand, close-up perspective of her late husband’s life and work.

Speaking on “Professor Achebe’s Life in Perspective: The Writer and the Quest for Exemplary Leadership and Good Governance in Africa”, she referred to some of the books written by her late husband—which touched on true leadership in Africa, and asserted that the late President Nelson Mandela truly fitted the example of a true leader, which Chinua Achebe wrote about in his books because unlike some African leaders who wanted to be “presidents-for-life”, Mandela served only one term.

She also gave plaudits to Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, first President of Ghana, for being a nationalist who showed the way for African leaders to follow.

Mrs. Achebe then charged President Mahama and other African leaders to take to heart Mandela’s example, and emphasized that “the world looks up to you for this to be done.”

The Sankofa Group, led by Kofi Donkor, spiced up the event with a splendid Ghanaian cultural music and dance — and paved the way for Prof. Abena Busia, Chair of the Department of Women and Gender Studies at Rutgers University to recite a heart-piercing poetry — which laid the carpet for President Mahama to speak.

The event also featured a round table conference on the Role of Women in the Development and Democratization of Africa, where Nana Oye Lithur, Ghana’s Minister of Gender, Children and Social Protection, gave an account of measures that had been adopted by her ministry, to support women and ensure that girls stayed in school.

Apart from generally improving the education of girls, the Minister observed that the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) had played an important role in women’s upliftment.

She also stressed the need to cut the huge maternal mortality figures and improve the representation of African women in leadership positions while commending her boss, President Mahama, for supporting women and giving them the chance to contribute their quota in governance.

Amini Kajunju, President of the African-American Institute, touched on the need to enforce education of people, especially women, and to tell the success story of African women working very hard to uphold their dignity, apart from taking care of themselves and their families.

Ms. Kajunju also spoke on the need to educate boys too, in order not to shift the problem of the imbalance in education, adding that “Every African child should be given the necessary education and be allowed to become whatever he or she wants to be in future”.

She condemned negative stories about Africa based on false facts, being carried by a section of western media to create a negative mind-set about the continent.

Peter Rosenblum, Professor of International Law and Human Rights at Bard College, touted Ghana for its democratic credentials, free press, and strengthened institutions, adding that Ghana “was lucky not to have found oil earlier.” He therefore, advised the Ghanaian government to use the oil revenue to support the development of her citizens, especially farmers.

In his contribution, Mr. Chidi Achebe, quoting his father, Chinua Achebe, described President Mahama as one of the greatest hopes of Africa.

Coming only a day prior to the memorial of the late Nelson Mandela, the forum explored “Africa’s future, Mandela, Achebe—and the challenges in keeping the links of Achebe and Mandela alive. It was held on December 9, 2013 at the Sosnoff Theater at The Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts at The Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts, Bard College, at the Annandale-on-Hudson town of New York.