Ghana's New Leader Talks Africa's Future

We caught up with John Dramani Mahama just days before tragedy propelled him into the presidency.

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TR: You write about Ezra, a school bully from your childhood, and how your experience with him served as a microcosm of what was happening around Ghana. How have you resisted other Ezras and bullies in your career?

JDM: At the time, there were really horrible dictators ruling in Africa. I used Ezra's story to show that in our own little ways, by defying and resisting such bullies, we could create a better society for our people. And that is what began to happen in Africa. Ordinary people -- who were normally powerless, helpless and unarmed -- resisted. Uganda's Idi Amin died in exile. Democratic Republic of Congo's Mobutu Sese Seko had to run and died in exile. People rose up and found their voices again. And when people come together and speak up as a collective, there is nothing that can stop the power of the people. Everybody who has read that story has identified their own bullies in their lives. Everyone has an Ezra in their life, but one must be able to build up courage and say, enough is enough, I won't take this anymore.

TR: Resistance seems to be a major theme in your book. If we consider what has happened in North Africa over the last year, what do you think the role of resistance will be in sub-Saharan Africa in the coming years?

JDM: Sub-Saharan Africa has made that transition already. People look at the Arab Spring and ask when is it going to happen in sub-Saharan Africa, but it's happened already. Sub-Saharan Africa has transitioned to democracy, to elections and to good governance as a rule of law. So I think a more accurate question would be what influence has sub-Saharan Africa had on the Arab world?

TR: If it's not resistance from a political standpoint, are there any social issues that might stir up some resistance? Perhaps with gay, women's or children's rights?

TR: In your book, you touch on how passionate you are about class struggle, and you've long been touted as a champion of the underdog. How does Ghana's expanding relationship with China aid you in that cause?

JDM: Ghana has received phenomenal assistance from China. Currently, we are processing a loan of $3 billion for strategic investments in key sectors of the economy. For instance, we are expanding the ports in order to accommodate the traffic that is a result of the new oil and gas industry that is growing in the Western region. We are financing the construction of a power plant for power generation. We are building marine-landing sites all along the coast to improve conditions for fishermen.

All of this was made possible by Chinese investment. The money is being invested strategically in the way that not only accelerates the growth of the economy, but also creates jobs to accommodate the teeming of our young people that are just coming out of school at different levels of the educational chain. So especially in terms of creating jobs for people, especially for the youth, it's a good thing.

TR: What would you say to African Americans who might be concerned about Chinese investment in Africa?

JDM: [I would say Chinese investment] is necessary. Because of the global financial crisis, our traditional partners have been worse. Naturally, we have a relationship with Europe because of our colonial relationship. But because of the financial crisis in the developed countries, the kind of assistance that African countries need to accelerate their economies, they are finding it difficult to get it from the West. If anything at all, you'll get it in dribs and drabs, and that is not sufficient enough for the kind of investment we need.

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