Nov. 22, 2023

Former Ghanaian president visits campus, praises UCalgary’s diversity

John Mahama promotes West Africa as a hub for innovation and economic growth
His Excellency John Mahama
His Excellency John Mahama addresses African student leaders, faculty, and staff during a welcome lunch hosted by the African Studies program. Photos by Sammy Golom

A historic campus visit by the once — and possibly future — leader of the Republic of Ghana saw former President John Dramani Mahama sharing his vision for the future of his nation and continent, before a packed room of scholars, dignitaries and Ghanaian community members.

Marking the first time in the university's history that an African president has visited the UCalgary campus, Mahama delivered the 2023 African Studies Lecture and spoke about economic development opportunities in West Africa, in a lively event that also featured a musical tribute to Ghanaian culture by the Royal Cultural Dancers of Calgary. 

“The University of Calgary provides an excellent platform for me to advocate for West Africa, because of the inherent diversity of the community you have here — the institution's wide range of programs and research opportunities attracts students from across the globe,” said Mahama, who served as president of Ghana from 2012 to 2017, and is running again in 2024.

 “At the same time the City of Calgary offers a rich blend of western culture, natural beauty, sports events and vibrant festivities. Engaging with the international business community and the African diaspora in Canada and inviting them to invest in West Africa is, to me, a reasonable call to make.”


Members of the community listen to His Excellency’s keynote lecture.

Historic visit

Organized by the African Studies Program as part of the African Studies Speakers Series, the historic event (captured on video) was attended by students, faculty, staff and Ghanaian-Canadian community members.

Among UCalgary’s dignitaries were the two most senior leaders of African descent, Dr. Malinda Smith, vice-provost and associate vice president research (equity, diversity and inclusion) and Jon Cornish, the university’s chancellor.

“In this international decade of people of African descent, it was a rare honour to host a former president of Ghana, which was the first African country to secure independence from colonial rule,” said Smith, who is also a scholar of Africa.

“I greatly appreciated his immense knowledge and experience evident in the ease with which he handled wide-ranging discussions about the political economy of primary products and resource extraction to his cogent answers to student questions about gender equity, sexual diversity, and disabilities. An unforgettable experience.”

Other notable personalities in attendance at the Oct. 24 event, sponsored by the Students' Union Quality Money Program, were Dr. Aiofe Mac Namara, dean of the Faculty of Arts; Dr. Kathryn Reese-Taylor, PhD, Department of Anthropology and Archaeology; Dr. Luanne Metz, MLA for Calgary Varsity; Dr. Charles Odame-Ankrah, president of the Ghanaian-Canadian Association of Calgary; Saaka Sulemana, former president of the Graduate Students' Association, and David Appiah from the Ghana-Calgary Chambers of Commerce.


His Excellency and his delegation pose for a photo alongside UCalgary student leaders, faculty and staff.

Special moment

Mahama was introduced by Dr. Rowland Caesar Apentiik, a Pan- Africanist and director of the African Studies Program at UCalgary, who described the visit as a special moment for students, faculty, staff and the Ghanaian, African and Black community.

"This historic moment symbolizes a unique opportunity for African students in our program to witness and learn from a former African head of state. President John Dramani Mahama's insightful talk today has not only inspired us but also provided a compelling example of what exemplary African leadership looks like. His vision, wisdom, and dedication to the betterment of our continent are a testament to the immense potential that both Ghana and Africa hold,” said Apentiik.

Cross-Canada tour

Earlier in the day, the African Studies program hosted an exclusive luncheon, affording students, faculty and staff the opportunity to engage in a wide-ranging discussion with Mahama and his delegation of prominent Ghanaian leaders.

Mahama described Ghana as “not just a land of opportunities, but a hub for innovation, technology, and economic growth," and the former president later spent time answering questions from UCalgary students and mingling with attendees, which also included faculty deans, politicians and civic leaders.

The visit to Calgary by the West African politician came as part of a cross-Canada speaking tour, with prior stops in Halifax and Toronto.

Ghanaian Royal Dancers.

The Ghanaian Royal Dancers formally welcomed His Excellency into the building.

Fosters understanding

Ebenezer Belayneh, research assistant with UCalgary’s African Studies Program, said a chance to meet and listen to such a prominent African leader was inspiring and unforgettable: “Such representation is more than symbolic; it reinforces the notion that regardless of our backgrounds, we too can dream of leading our nations, making a difference in our communities, and contributing to a better future for Africa and the world.”