ACCRA, GHANA — Four hundred years after the first ship of enslaved Africans sailed to America, U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi condemned the "grave evil" of slavery in a speech Wednesday to Ghana's parliament.
The California Democrat, who was the first U.S. House speaker to address Ghana’s lawmakers, said her and her colleagues' visit was about acknowledging the past while also looking to the future.
Pelosi and her delegation, which included members of the U.S. Congressional Black Caucus — including Representatives Ilhan Omar and John Lewis — arrived Sunday in Ghana. They have since met with Ghana's President Nana Akufo-Addo and have visited Elmina Castle and the "Door of No Return" at Cape Coast Castle. Both were slave forts where people were shipped in chains to the New World.
Ghana has marked 2019 as "The Year of Return" to encourage people of African descent to visit the nation.
Sitting next to Mike Oquaye, Ghana's parliament speaker, on Wednesday, Pelosi told the chamber that visiting the two sites was overwhelming, saying they marked the beginning of the journey of the African-American experience.
"Our delegation has been humbled by what we have seen this week,” she said. “At Elmina Castle, we saw the dungeons where thousands were grotesquely tortured. At Cape Coast Castle, we stood before the Door of No Return, where countless millions caught their last glimpse of Africa before they were shipped to a life of enslavement. Being here has been a transformative experience for all of us."
Pelosi also spoke about the relationship between the two nations, thanking Ghana for its work in global security, especially its contribution to U.N. peacekeeping missions.
She also acknowledged the fight against discrimination in both nations. Ghana gained its independence in 1957, and it also supported the U.S. civil rights movement.
The visit has had a strong emphasis on economic and trade ties between the two nations, which Pelosi also addressed in her speech, acknowledging the efforts of the Congressional Black Caucus.
"America is strongly committed to economic progress in Ghana — a commitment enshrined and advanced over the course of many years from the Millennium Challenge partnership and the Africa Growth and Opportunities Act,” she said. “Together, our governments must continue to support smart development strategies that spur sustainable economic growth that lifts up all families in Ghana and throughout Africa."
For Adwoa Safo, deputy majority leader of Ghana's parliament and the chair of the female caucus, Pelosi's visit was pivotal. As one of the few women in parliament, Safo said the speech was "right on point."
"I believe that with her enormous experience in politics, and having risen from the local level up to speaker of the United States, her visit is very historical and inspiring for most of us, as women," she said.
Safo said the two nations had a good relationship that should be strengthened.
"Ghana has a lot to offer when you look at stability in terms of our politics — us being the pacesetters in Africa gaining independence and how we are progressing as a country — and the support we always get from the U.S. government,” she said. “There is a lot for us to offer and a lot they can give in terms of bringing in investment ... tapping in on our natural resources and building capacity as well. They have been very, very supportive."
It was this sense of partnership Pelosi was emphasizing during the visit, along with promoting additional economic and trade ties between the two nations, while underscoring the need to combat climate change, push for female empowerment and provide health care equality.