President John Dramani Mahama Monday addressed students, faculty and staff at Kennesaw State University, the first such visit by a sitting head of state in the school’s 50-year history.
Before an audience of 600 at KSU’s Bailey and Family Performance Center, Mahama said economic and political conditions are improving in Africa.
“The Africa we all knew no longer exists,” Mahama said during a lecture that preceded a reading from his memoir, My First Coup d’Etat and Other
True Stories from the Lost Decades of Africa.
Mahama’s visit capped the university’s “Year of Ghana,” the latest in a long-running set of lectures and exchanges that underscore KSU’s international focus.
The Ghanaian president was in the United States to address the United Nations’ General Assembly and flew to Georgia at the invitation of KSU President Daniel Papp.
“It’s absolutely large for our university,” Papp said of Mahama’s visit.
Samuel Abaidoo, chairman of the Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice, began working to bring Mahama to KSU in 2011, traveling to
Washington, D.C., to meet with Ghanaian embassy officials in the hopes of securing a visit to the Georgia University of roughly 25,000 students.
Mahama, Abaidoo said, was the perfect guest to cap the school’s “Year of Ghana.”
Ghana paid for the trip of its president to the United States, and Abaidoo used funds from a $14 “global fee” each student pays to cover the cost of faculty, student and staff exchanges.
Papp said giving students more of a global perspective during their time at KSU has been a major point of emphasis for many years and is only intensifying as new technology makes the world seem more connected.
“We live in a globalized world,” Papp said. “You go down to your corner store to buy flowers, and you end up buying flowers from Brazil.”
Each year for the past 30, the school’s faculty and students select a country for intense focus. Information about that country is woven into a broad array of courses offered throughout the academic year. Students study abroad in the selected country, and students from that country are invited to study at KSU. There are also faculty exchanges.
Some 100 students and faculty from KSU have visited Ghana during the past year.
KSU has won national recognition for its international education efforts. And word is spreading about the school far beyond metro Atlanta.
At least 40 students from Ghana currently attend KSU, university officials said.
In a brief one-on-one interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Mahama said no college or university in the United States has more Ghanaian students than KSU.
Two of those students, Peniel Kojo Gyebi and Priscilla Owusu, were busy with classes or work and could not attend Mahama’s lecture. Both, however, planned to see him before his visit to the school ended Monday afternoon.
Osusu, a 22-year old human services major from the West African nation’s capital, Accra, said she plans to return to her homeland after her studies to set up a children’s home.
Gyebi, a 25-year old finance major from the south Ghanaian city of Kumasi, said he returned for a year to visit relatives but came back to complete his studies.
Mahama said he hopes his visit sparks in students a curiosity about Ghana and Africa, which for too long have been viewed with pessimism or pity.
“There are a lot of misperceptions about Africa,” he said.
Among those misperceptions, Mahama said, was that the continent’s poverty, dictatorships and HIV-AIDS rates remain its most distinctive traits.
The continent does still struggle in those areas, but several nations, including Ghana, are seeing economic growth, stabilization and an embrace of democracy, he said.
Mahama’s own presidency came about not because of a coup but because he was serving as vice president in July of 2012 when Ghana’s president, John Mills, died. Mahama then won election to the presidency in his own right in December.
After he discussed a wide range of issues in his lecture — economic growth, democracy, the fight against poverty — Mahama read an excerpt from his memoir. Students laughed as he recounted humorous aspects of how a student bullied him and his classmates when they were young schoolchildren.
Then Mahama answered questions from the audience. One nearly stumped him.
He was asked what aspect of being president was most surprising.
“What shocked me was when I became president,” he said, drawing laughs. “I woke up in the morning as vice president. I went to bed in the evening as president.”