NEW YORK, September 21 – In celebration of its 25th Annual Awards Gala, The Africa-America Institute (AAI) paid tribute on September 21 to the People of Ghana with the AAI African National Achievement Award for the country’s steadfast commitment to education as a vehicle to prosperity and building a sustainable, democratic nation since ending military rule. AAI is a leading New York-based international education and policy organization.
View the video presentation: AAI and Ghana: Building Human Capacity through Genuine Partnership here.
Nearly 400 distinguished U.S. and African business, philanthropic, academic, political and diplomatic leaders gathered to recognize African achievement under AAI’s theme of “Nurturing Democracy and Hope for Development in Africa.” The annual AAI Awards Gala is the most high profile Africa-focused event in New York City, attracting celebrity guests, including entrepreneur and philanthropist Russell Simmons and actress Julianne Moore.
This year’s major corporate sponsors included Constant Capital Partners, Chevron, The Coca-Cola Company, DeBeers, Fulbright and Jaworski, Hess Corporation, Shell International, Tiffany & Co., and Tullow Oil.
With two successive peaceful transfers of power after closely contested presidential elections, AAI honored Ghana as an exemplar for other countries on the African continent. The West African country was also recognized for achieving considerable progress in strengthening human capacity development by making smart investments in education to accelerate socio-economic development and compete in a global economy.
Mora McLean, AAI President and CEO, praised the people of Ghana for overcoming challenges against the odds. “The Ghanaian people have a reputation for displaying equanimity in the face of adversity,” said McLean. “And throughout the Africa region and beyond, they are also known for their thirst for education, and their inclination toward excellence. They understand, appreciate, and reflect the value of education as a proven means of producing enlightened citizens, without whom democracy is at risk.”
AAI opened its first Africa-based office in Ghana in 1957, the same year the country gained its independence. The organization has since provided academic scholarships and professional training to hundreds of Ghanaians in fields including law and business, arts and culture, public health, and politics and government.
His Excellency John Evans Atta Mills, President of the Republic of Ghana, was unable to accept the award in person due to his responsibilities in presiding over the first-ever African Union observance of a Kwame Nkrumah national holiday in Ghana. Nkrumah served as Ghana’s first president at independence and was a leading figure in the Pan-African movement.
“A nation’s most cherished resource is its human resource,” President Mills told gala guests in a video acceptance speech. “Any nation that aspires to greatness must make education its top priority. We are confident that together with forward-thinking institutes like the Africa-America Institute, Ghana will move her development agenda forward in the right direction.” Ghana’s Foreign Minister Alhaji Muhammad Mumuni accepted the award on President Mills’ behalf.
Ambassador Johnnie Carson, United States Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, extended congratulations to Ghana from the Obama Administration. Ambassador Carson said Ghana is a symbol of hope and inspiration for the African continent, and reiterated the United States’ commitment to Africa’s future, promise and partnership.
The AAI Distinguished Almuna Award was presented to Dinah Brandful, Assistant Commissioner and Head of Laboratory of the Customs, Excise and Preventive Service, for her pioneering work in establishing the first customs agency laboratory in Ghana and West Africa. Cecilia Bannerman, former AAI Ghana country representative, received the AAI Outsanding Service Award, for her distinguished tenure with AAI and groundbreaking work in educational counseling for higher education.
AAI also honored Nicky Oppenheimer, Chairman of De Beers, with the AAI Award for Championing Corporate Social Responsibility for his role in redefining corporate social responsibility as sound business strategies that “translate natural resources to shared national wealth.” Noting the DeBeers Company’s deep roots in Africa, Oppenheimer stressed that doing business in Africa must be done in a way that stands the test of time.
Vartan Gregorian, President of the Carnegie Corporation of New York, received the AAI Award for Leadership in Higher Education Philanthropy in recognition of his lifelong commitment to strengthening African higher education through philanthropy. Gregorian asserted that higher education is not a luxury. “Learning shouldn’t be denied to people who want to learn,” he said to a standing ovation from guests.
Femi Oke, senior editor and anchor of “The Takeaway,” a national public radio morning news program, served as the Masters of Ceremony. The Rev. Calvin O. Butts, III, pastor of Harlem’s Abyssinian Baptist Church, offered the invocation for the event. Additionally, the evening’s festivities featured music from Ghanaian highlife band Francis Akrofi and the Dynamic Band and a performance of the traditional Ghanaian “Adowa” dance by the Nana Amponsah Cultural Group. A silent auction of fine African art was hosted by AMARIDIAN Gallery.
ABOUT AAI: AAI is a New York-based international education and policy organization with offices in South Africa and Mozambique and an alumni presence throughout the African continent. Since 1953, AAI has worked to educate and train African leaders and professionals and foster understanding between Africa and the United States. Today, AAI counts more than 23,000 alumni, including Nobel Laureate Prof. Wangari Maathai, Namibian Prime Minister H.E. Nahas Angula, and the CEO of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) Dr. Firmino Mucavele.