Monday, February 8, 2010

Warrior for Africa Laid to Rest

It is with great sadness that I write this particular blog because it is about a dear friend and colleague who was buried the other day. Ray Almeida was known to many in Washington as an irascible proponent of U.S.-Africa trade who would not back down on his core belief – that Africans must play an effective role in decisions affecting their economic livelihood and survival.

Throughout the struggle to promote the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), Ray was a strong supporter of the notion that Africans were not being given voice in their own destiny. The whole concept of AGOA was based on the United States providing trade preferences to Africans as opposed to a negotiated arrangement in which both sides would decide what was best for mutual benefit. It isn’t that the author of AGOA didn’t consult with Africans on the bill, but it was not a treaty. Therefore, it represents what we decide to extend to Africans on our terms and not a mutually determined trade arrangement.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, unless our side continues to pursue refinements without due consultation. Ray was not so certain the U.S. government was really consulting with our African trading partners. From the very beginning, he attempted to ensure that Africans were a vital part of any civil society events, and he was instrumental from the earliest civil society forums in bringing to the table representatives of African smallholder farmers and other small producers.

From his work with Bread for the World to the supporting role he played with the Partnership to Cut Hunger and Poverty in Africa to his term at the African Development Foundation, Ray worked tirelessly to secure funding for African representatives to attend the various AGOA forums. He kept even those of us who agreed with him on the ball in terms of making the presence of Africans in our policy councils an unbreakable commitment.

In addition to his work on trade policy, Ray was a staunch supporter of his homeland Cape Verde. He was instrumental in the formation of the American Committee for Cape Verde in the 1970s, which worked to galvanize Cape Verdean-American support for the then-newly independent African nation. He was a senior adviser for the Cape Verdean Connection, the centerpiece of the Smithsonian Institution’s 1995 Festival of American Folklife. He was awarded his homeland’s highest award – the Order Amilcar Cabral – for his diligent work in helping Cape Verde secure a US$110 million compact. Most of what he has done for his country has been conducted quietly but effectively, without a lot of fanfare and no discernable self-promotion. He just loved his homeland and wanted it to have every opportunity that larger African countries were presented.

I am happy anytime to extol the accomplishments of Ray Almeida. He was my friend and partner in several efforts on behalf of Africa. I’m just sorry it is being done now to memorialize him. We often don’t appreciate people until they are gone, but in this case, Ray had a support group that knew what he had done and what he could yet do. We regret the loss of such a strong advocate for Africa, but more than that we will miss our friend.

A person’s deeds live on, and we remember what they have achieved. However, I believe the true measure of a person is that they are missed by the people they knew and worked with. Even those with whom Ray clashed were devastated by the news of his passing, and we all will carry a wound in our hearts for the loss of our brother, but we must take up his work and carry on.

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