Keynote Speakers

Dr. Johnnetta Betsch Cole

Director of the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art

Opening Keynote, April 8, 9:30 a.m.-10:30 a.m.

Photograph by Franko Khoury National Museum of African Art Smithsonian Institution

Photograph by Franko Khoury
National Museum of African Art
Smithsonian Institution

“Thoughts on West African History and Herstory through the Lenses of West African Art”



Dr. Johnnetta Betsch Cole was appointed the Director of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African Art (NMAfA) in 2009. As an author, advocate, and public intellectual, Dr. Cole consistently addresses racial, gender, and all other forms of inequality. Dr. Cole made history in 1987 when she became the first African American woman to serve as president of Spelman College. During her presidency, Spelman was named the premier liberal arts college of the South. Dr. Cole is the current President of the board of the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD). Dr. Cole has been awarded 68 honorary degrees and she is the recipient of numerous awards, including the TransAfrica Forum Global Public Service Awards; the Radcliffe Medal; the Eleanor Roosevelt Val-Kill Medal; the Alexis de Tocqueville Award for Community Service from United Way of America; and the Joseph Prize for Human Rights presented by the Anti-Defamation League.



Akwasi Opong-Fosu MP

Minister of State at the Presidency, Republic of Ghana

 Mid-Conference Keynote, April 8, 12:30 p.m.-1:30 p.m.

“Beyond Ebola: Leadership Matters in Shaping the Future”


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Honourable Akwasi Opong-Fosu is a Minister of State at the Presidency of the Republic of Ghana and represents the Amenfi East Constituency in Ghana’s Parliament. Opong-Fosu has served as a Mayor and also held ministerial portfolios in the Ministries of Local Government and Rural Development; Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation. During his tenure as Mayor, he held a number of leadership positions including:  President of the National Association of Local Authorities of Ghana as well as President and Vice-President of the Africa Union of Local Authorities and the International Union of Local Authorities respectively. He has also served as the Chair of the Africa-Caribbean-Pacific Local Government Platform and as a member of the United Nations Advisory Committee of Local Authorities.





Dr. Obiageli (Oby) Ezekwesili

Dr. Oby Ezekwesili's profile pic

Former Nigerian Minister of Solid Minerals, former Nigerian Federal Minister of Education, former Vice President of World Bank’s Africa Division, and founder of the “Bring Back Our Girls” Campaign

Closing Keynote, April 9, 10:00 a.m.-11:00 a.m.

“Our Girls, Our Future”


Dr. Obiageli Ezekwesili is one of the leading figures in African economic and social policy today. As a Senior Economic Advisor for the Africa Economic Development Policy Initiative, she has advised the governments of African heads of state ranging from Paul Kagame of Rwanda to Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia on an array of policy initiatives. Between 2012 and 2014, Ezekwesili served as a Senior Economic Advisor for the Open Society Foundation. She has also served as the Vice President of the World Bank for its Africa Division. From 2002 to 2007, she served as the Nigerian Government’s Minister of Education, Minister of Solid Minerals, head of Budget Monitoring and Price Intelligence, and the chairperson of the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative. Dr. Ezekwesili is also a co-founder of the #BringBackOurGirls citizens’ movement, which advocates for the rescue of 219 girls held captive in the Chibok community of Northern Nigeria. Ezekwesili has received numerous commendations for her efforts and has been named by Time as one of the world’s most influential people.

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