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Harris confronts Africa's painful past and envisions a brighter future

Harris confronts Africa's painful past and envisions a brighter future
U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris speaks at Cape Coast Castle in Ghana, ...   -  
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Misper Apawu/Misper Apawu


Vice President Kamala Harris on Tuesday stepped through the black doors of a colonial-era seaside fort and down into the dungeons, touring a site where millions of enslaved Africans were held captive before they were loaded onto ships bound for the Americas.

With her visit to Cape Coast Castle, Harris was insisting on remembering the painful past even as she stood earlier Tuesday before a monument commemorating Ghana's independence, envisioning a grand future between the U.S. and Africa propelled by innovation on the continent.

"The horror of what happened here must always be remembered," she said from the fort as the sun set over the water. "It cannot be denied. It must be taught. History must be learned."

The nation's first Black and South Asian vice president is the most high-profile member of President Joe Biden's administration to visit Africa as the U.S. escalates its outreach to the continent. The events on her second day in Ghana are part of a weeklong trip that will include visits to Tanzania and Zambia.

Cape Coast Castle is one of dozens of fortresses in West Africa that held slaves, many of them in Ghana. The government here has viewed preserving them as part of its historical responsibility.

Harris skipped her prepared remarks to talk bluntly about the anguish "that reeks from this place," and the horrors endured by the people who passed through those walls; mass kidnapping, sickness, rape and death. Those who lived were sold into bondage in the Americas.

"And yet, they survived," she said, her voice cracking with emotion. She said the endurance and determination of the African diaspora in the world should be admired.

"All of us, regardless of our background, have benefitted from their fight for freedom and justice," she said.

During their tour, Harris and husband Doug Emhoff walked past a plaque commemorating a visit by Barack and Michelle Obama, the nation's first Black president and first lady. The couple walked along the stone ramparts flanked by cannons, pausing to gaze out over the sea as waves crashed on the rocky shore below.

She passed through white archways and down a darkened path leading through the infamous "door of no return," through which slaves left the coast and never came back. Harris choked back tears, her hand on her mouth, as she approached. She placed a white bouquet of flowers, given to her during the arrival ceremony, at the entrance to a women's dungeon nearby.

Harris has proved to be a potent messenger in Ghana, and thousands waited hours earlier Tuesday at Independence Square for a chance to see her speak at the Black Stone Gate monument.

"Because of this history, this continent of course has a special significance for me personally, as the first Black vice president of the United States," she said to huge cheers from the crowd. "And this is a history, like many of us, that I learned as a young child."

During her remarks at the monument, Harris pledged a new era of partnership with Africa, envisioning "a future that is propelled by African innovation."

Much of her remarks there focused on innovation and entrepreneurship, part of her effort to spotlight Africa as a place for American private-sector investment. It's something that Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo said he hopes to see after years of being overlooked.

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