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VP Harris Visits Slave Trade Site in Ghana

Guide Kwesi Blankson leads U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris and second gentleman Doug Emhoff as they tour the Cape Coast slave castle during her week-long trip to Ghana, Tanzania and Zambia, in Cape Coast, Ghana, March 28, 2023.

ACCRA — Vice President Kamala Harris on Tuesday stepped through the black doors of a colonial-era seaside fort and down into the dungeons, touring a site where millions of enslaved Africans were held captive before they were loaded onto ships bound for the Americas.

With her visit to Cape Coast Castle, Harris was insisting on remembering the painful past even as she stood earlier Tuesday before a monument commemorating Ghana’s independence, envisioning a grand future between the U.S. and Africa propelled by innovation on the continent.

"The horror of what happened here must always be remembered," she said from the fort as the sun set over the water. “It cannot be denied. It must be taught. History must be learned."

Harris skipped her prepared remarks to talk bluntly about the anguish “that reeks from this place,” and the horrors endured by the people who passed through those walls; mass kidnapping, sickness, rape and death. Those who lived were sold into bondage in the Americas.

“And yet, they survived," she said, her voice cracking with emotion. She said the endurance and determination of the African diaspora in the world should be admired.

“All of us, regardless of our background, have benefitted from their fight for freedom and justice," she said.

U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris lays a wreath at Cape Coast Castle in Ghana, Tuesday, March 28, 2023.
U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris lays a wreath at Cape Coast Castle in Ghana, Tuesday, March 28, 2023.

During their tour, Harris and husband Doug Emhoff walked past a plaque commemorating a visit by Barack and Michelle Obama, the nation’s first Black president and first lady.

Speaking earlier Tuesday from "Black Star Gate," a monument commemorating Ghana’s independence from colonialism, Harris pledged a new era of partnership with Africa, envisioning "a future that is propelled by African innovation.”

Harris said the U.S. must be guided “not by what we can do for our African partners, but we can do with our African partners.”

“We must invest in the African ingenuity and creativity, which will unlock incredible economic growth and opportunities,” Harris said, highlighting the continent's innovations to deliver emergency healthcare supplies and provide vaccines, and in farming and mineral processing.

Harris stood ands spoke in front of Black Star Gate, the stone monument bearing the words: “Freedom and Justice" and 1957, the year the country became independent.

She spoke of the “intertwined” history of the U.S. and Africa, “some of which is painful, and some of which is prideful.”

“And all of which we must acknowledge, teach and never forget.”

Thousands of people gathered in Independence Square, many waiting hours for the vice president, waving U.S. Ghanaian flags.

Some of the audience were invited by the Young African Leaders Initiative, a U.S. State Department Initiative.

Tracy Sika Brobbey said “it's a special moment" to see the first woman vice president. Margaret Mintah, who waited alongside her, said Harris “gives us some kind of hope, that we can believe that anything is possible.”

“It's like a blessing,” she added.

Harris also focused on areas for work, including promoting democracies across the world, progress in the digital economy in Africa, and the empowerment of women.

“Women around the world must be able to fully participate in economic, political and social life, and they must be able to participate equally including in leadership roles,” she said. “The empowerment of women is rooted in the concept of freedom, not just freedom from violence or want, but freedom to create one's own future.”

“Together we can unleash growth and opportunity that far exceeds what either the public or private sector can achieve on its own," she said.

Harris spoke of the vast capabilities of the continent's youth, calling them “dreamers and innovators;" Africa’s population has a median age of 19. "It is your spark, your creativity and your determination that will drive the future.”

“Imagine a future where every person is connected to the digital economy, where every young person trusts that their voices are heard, a future that is propelled by African innovation,” she said.

On Monday evening, Harris and her husband, Doug Emhoff, attended a banquet dinner hosted by Akufo-Addo. In addition to officials from both countries, American celebrities, businesspeople and civil rights leaders also attended.

Guests included actors Idris Elba and Rosario Dawson and director Spike Lee.

U.S. outreach is part of the global competition over Africa's future, with China and Russia each defending their own interests in the continent as well. But Harris has been careful to play down the role of geopolitical rivalries during her travels here.