At IOP, Ghana’s President Akufo-Addo Advocates for Prioritizing Youth Development

Harvard Kennedy School
The Institute of Politics is located at the Harvard Kennedy School.

President of Ghana Nana Akufo-Addo spoke at the Harvard Kennedy School Institute of Politics Friday, arguing the African continent’s abundant natural resources should be capitalized upon to raise money for investment in Africa’s youth population.

Africa is demographically the youngest continent in the world; 60 percent of its population is under 25 years old. Akufo-Addo referred to the age structure of the African population as a “demographic dividend” that has the potential to translate into growth and prosperity.

“The world, particularly Africa, has the largest generation of young people in history,” Akufo-Addo said. “I place great hope in their capacity to shape the future of Africa, and make Africa the lion it was meant to be.”

During his tenure as president, Akufo-Addo implemented the Free High School Education policy in September 2017, making secondary high school free for students in Ghana. At the IOP, Akufo-Addo highlighted the importance of accessible education in developing human capital. He also urged for the inclusion of youth voices in policy-making.


“We cannot talk about sustainable development without the active involvement of youth,” Akufo-Addo said.

Akufo-Addo advocated for “maximum attention” to job creation across the African continent in a call to action for fellow heads of state. He linked youth unemployment to political unrest, citing the Arab Spring, a series of anti-government uprisings that spread across the Middle East in 2010.

“The so-called Arab Spring showed clearly that lack of employment opportunities can undermine social cohesion and political stability,” Akufo-Addo said.

Ghana was founded in 1957, when the Gold Coast gained independence from the United Kingdom. The country’s independence came with a wave of African decolonization in the 1950s and 1960s. Akufo-Addo said the formidable challenges that linger from colonialism should be remedied by democratic consolidation.

“Postcolonial authoritarian rule failed the African peoples,” Akufo-Addo said. “It continued the impoverishment of our people, which is the consequence of colonialism and imperialism.”

The crowd applauded as Akufo-Addo urged African leaders to reclaim the benefits of the continent’s vast natural resources.

“There are nations who have built their industrial complexes around the value chain of our raw commodities. It is time to change that setup,” he said.

In response to a question about growing Chinese investment in Africa, Akufo-Addo said Ghana’s evolving relationship with China has enabled the country to better profit from its natural resources with new trade relationships.

“We in Ghana have a very strong and constructive engagement with China,” he said. “Today, we are not accepting what ten years ago the arrangements for barter were, which hinged on the pledging of our natural resources.”

Akufo-Addo also shared his hope for “a Ghana without aid” and the independence of the African continent as a whole from foreign aid.

“There is an abundance of dynamic, entrepreneurial talent on our continent struggling to express itself,” Akufo-Addo said. “We have to encourage this expression with full force, and ensure that we can stand on our own feet, and make it impossible for the systematic looting and plundering of our human and material resources that have characterized much of our modern history to continue.”

— Staff writer Jania J. Tumey can be reached at