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Ghana VP Uses Global Trade, Social Media to Lift Africa from Poverty

The vice president of Ghana reached out to the U.S. during a visit to Washington last week, inviting Americans to join countries such as China and Brazil in making energy investments in the African nation. But it is his commitment to communication and social media that has set John Dramani Mahama apart from other leaders in his continent.

While many African countries impose severe freedom of speech limitations, Mahama welcomes an open dialogue between himself and his constituents, sometimes going so far as to enact policy changes due to their conversations. He answers emails personally, is an avid Twitter user, and writes regularly for the Root, an online daily magazine owned by The Washington Post. A recent Facebook post requesting Mahama to allow each West African city to run its water system individually led him to hold news conferences, announcing that decentralization of Ghana’s water system would improve Ghana’s economy as well as the health of its citizens.

“Sometimes, wonderful contributions come on your Facebook,” Mahama told The Post. “Somebody makes a post and it clicks some idea in your mind and you think, bingo, you can resolve some important issues for your people.”

Mahama has been an active proponent of using international business to lift Africa from its glaring poverty, helping bilateral trade between the U.S. and Ghana reach nearly $1.3 billion in 2010. While in Washington, he helped finish a zero-interest loan of $100 million to Ghana, which will begin in July. That money will be used to bring more commercial agriculture and youth employment to Ghana’s historically downtrodden northern region.

In the meantime, he will keep putting his thoughts to paper, preparing for the release of his forthcoming collection of short stories, titled, “My First Coup d’Etat. And Other True Stories from the Lost Decades of Africa,” and communicating with the world to enact the change Ghana so desperately needs.

“It’s not normal for leaders to find time to write,” Mahama said. “But at night, thoughts come brimming into my head and I just put them down.”

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