Friday, February 25, 2011

Cote d’Ivoire Impasse Threatens African Unity

In the aftermath of the disputed elections in Cote d’Ivoire late last year, the African Union suspended Cote d’Ivoire from all AU activities until presidential challenger Alassane Ouattara was seated as the rightful winner. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) also took a forthright stand in support of the election results as certified by the country’s election commission, even going so far as to threaten military action to remove sitting President Laurent Gbagbo for refusing to accept the election results.

For awhile, it looked as though Africa was united in insisting that the long-delayed election in Cote d’Ivoire had finally come to a definitive end. African envoys visited Washington and other capitals to confirm their stand against what is generally believed to be the refusal of one of the continent’s leaders to accept defeat. Unfortunately, this united stance seems to be unraveling as time goes by.

First, the threat of using “legitimate force” to remove Gbagbo evaporated when Ghana refused to send troops to such an intervention. Then Nigeria, facing April elections, had to decline to participate. With two of the largest regional armed forces standing down, no effective fulfillment of the military threat was possible.

Next, the High-Level Panel asked by the AU to resolve the Cote d’Ivoire standoff began to splinter in its resolve to maintain a united AU stance on supporting Ouattara’s widely accepted victory. At the January AU Summit in Addis Ababa, Nigeria and Burkina Faso stood firm on the AU position, but they clashed with Angola and South Africa, who are urging a resolution of the electoral dispute in a less confrontational manner.

Then, South Africa sent a warship, the SAS Drakensberg, off the coast of Cote d’Ivoire, ostensibly on a training mission that didn’t require notification of its Parliament. ECOWAS strongly criticized the presence of the South African vessel, even as the South African government explained that it was there to possibly evacuate the South African embassy or be used as a negotiating venue. The presence of the ship only further highlighted the growing split among African leaders about the proper response to the deadlock in Cote d’Ivoire.

South Africa has never endorsed the election of Ouattara, and instead backs Gbagbo’s insistence that the votes be recounted. The presumed pro-Gbagbo camp also includes Angola, Uganda, Gambia and Zimbabwe. Nigeria and Burkina Faso are joined in their support for Ouattara’ victory by Senegal and Kenya. The majority of African nations appear to favor a negotiated settlement, including Congo Brazzaville, Gabon, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Cameroon and Tanzania.

Meanwhile, Gbagbo apparently is playing the waiting game, trying to hold out against robust international sanctions. About 90 prominent Ivoirians and 11 parastatals, including the electric company, the Abidjan port and the bodies that manage trade in coffee, cocoa and rubber, are under international sanctions. However, sanctions will take time to work effectively, and in the case of cocoa, they may have been instituted too late to make much difference. Approximately 40% of the world’s cocoa is grown in Cote d’Ivoire, and 895,000 tons of it had been shipped by the end of January. Moreover, significant cocoa smuggling into Ghana is being anticipated. Nevertheless, as cocoa represents 90% of the country’s export earning, it has to hurt at some point.

The question is: will African resolve be worn down by that point?

The West has been quick to call for governments of national unity in countries such as Kenya and Zimbabwe when an election is highly questionable with no easy resolution at hand. This is partly because of the cost and logistical problems inherent in re-running elections and also the intransigence of leaders such as Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe. The lesson learned by such leaders is that if you can wait out the international community, you can hold onto power with a fig leaf of a coalition government. Ask Kenya’s Raila Odinga or Zimbabwe’s Morgan Tsvangirai whether their coalition governments work well. They will surely recommend against following their experience.

There are reports that Gbagbo has made off with US$500 million worth of CFA francs from the Central Bank of West African States, so he has some ability to hold out. Meanwhile, violence and human rights abuses reportedly are increasing. In the face of suffering and lack of movement by either side, a coalition government could look like the best alternative at some point.

But when will we reach the tipping point at which the various African camps coalesce into agreement on an expedient solution that ends the crisis in Cote d’Ivoire? Few except the fanatics have the stomach for allowing Ivoirians to suffer long so we may reach that tipping point sometime this spring at the latest.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Lending Africa a Helping Hand

Do you care about Africa? If so, what have you done to help the continent?

The Leon H. Sullivan Foundation has developed concept of the “Afripolitan” to describe the swelling ranks of those who care about Africa and are engaged in efforts to advance the continent and its people in joining the global economy of the 21st century. The term is a melding of “Africa” and “metropolitan.” Africa, of course, centers this concept on those who see the continent’s importance to the world at large. The metropolitan aspect conveys the sense of worldliness that understands the interconnectedness of all societies and the need to ensure that no society is left to languish. But the Afripolitan does more than see Africa; he or she makes an effort to help in whatever way they can.

In short, Afripolitans act, while others merely watch.

Now that we have established what an Afripolitan is, who is an Afripolitan? Certainly members of the African Diaspora who realize the importance of their motherland and take the next step to help would be Afripolitans. However, the young person who volunteers for the Peace Corps or the Teachers for Africa Program of the International Foundation for Education and Self-Help (IFESH), no matter what their ethnic heritage, also is an Afripolitan. Current and former government officials whose work in Africa has led them to make an enduring tangible connection with the continent and its people would be Afripolitans. Those who have donated to and who continue to sustain humanitarian efforts and church missions would be Afripolitans. Students who learn about the world and want to make it better are Afripolitans.

Two notable Afripolitans are the late Reverend Leon H. Sullivan, who established the African-African American Summits (now the Leon H. Sullivan Summits) to build a bridge between Africa and America, and organizations such as Opportunities Industrializations Centers International and IFESH, which have helped tens of thousands of Africans to achieve self-sufficiency. Ambassador Andrew Young, the former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations and U.S. Congressman, is another Afripolitan whose interventions on America’s Africa policy are still felt in countries such as Angola.

There are many other notable Afripolitans – from Ron Dellums, the former U.S. Congressman who fought apartheid and then waged a campaign to help victims of HIV-AIDS on the continent that led to programs such as the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), to Oprah Winfrey, who built a model school for exceptional girls in South Africa, to Bono, the U2 lead singer who has had such a significant impact on developed world policies on African debt and development to Angelina Jolie, whose work as Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations High Commission for Refugees has brought much-needed attention and assistance to people worldwide, including victims of genocide in Darfur.

Afripolitans are not just people of African descent. They are not just the rich and famous who make public contributions to Africa’s wellbeing. They comprise millions worldwide who care about the present and future of Africa and are willing to give of their time, talent and treasure to help Africans in their ongoing effort to reach their great potential.

The Peace Corps, an independent federal agency established in 1961, is an example of a mechanism by which Americans can provide tangible help for African people. Tens of thousands of Peace Corps volunteers have participated in programs to help African governments, schools, civil society organizations and entrepreneurs in areas ranging from education to health to business to agriculture. The Peace Corps currently operates in 25 African countries – from Benin to Zambia.

Church missions and individual evangelical organizations have sent thousands of people to African countries to provide food and medical supplies to those in need. From Pentecostals to Lutherans to Presbyterians to Catholics, men and women of all races in America have contributed to giving from their resources to make life better for African people – be it establishing feeding programs to building schools.

Dozens of people contributed to the US$50,000 the Sullivan Foundation sent last year to Manyatta School outside Arusha, Tanzania. Many more have contributed to the millions of dollars worth of books and school supplies the Sullivan Summits provided to various African nations through Books for Africa and the millions in medical supplies sent through MedShare. Future projects are being planned through these organizations and others.

The ranks of the Afripolitan grow each day. Are you ready to join them?

Friday, February 11, 2011

Does Black History Month Serve the Diaspora?

Historian Carter G. Woodson initiated Negro History Week in 1926 in order to integrate the history of African-Americans into American history as a whole. From the beginning, Woodson intended for this week to raise the status of the contributions made in the creation of America by the descendants of Africa and gain full acceptance as part of the fabric of history as taught to all students. Instead, it has become a specialized celebration of events in the history of the African Diaspora that remains outside the general history all students learn.

During what is now Black History Month, African American history is taught to students across the country in elementary, middle school and high school classes. College students can study about the African Diaspora in elective courses. But what do black and white students think about this history in other months? Do they take seriously the history of the descendants of Africa otherwise?

Critics of Black History Month point out that February is the shortest month of the year and that this month also is American Heart Month, International Boost Self-Esteem Month, International Embroidery Month, Library Lovers Month, National Cherry Month, National Children’s Dental Health Month, National Snack Food Month and even Return Shopping Carts to Supermarkets Month.

If you watch cable television, you already know that black American films (and sometimes African films) are segregated into this month. To be sure, some black films make it out of this celluloid ghetto, but your best chance of seeing films, documentaries and other programming featuring Diaspora people is during February. This is also the best time to find Diaspora products in places they don’t normally appear or where don’t appear with prominence or regularity.

I would submit to you that this specialized treatment sets aside the history of the African Diaspora as something apart from “real” history. If human beings originated in Africa, how can history be taught properly while ignoring this vital fact? Every so often, some scientist or researcher tries to show that human beings originated in parallel places, only to be subsequently refuted. Perhaps the reason it’s so hard for some people to accept the common African origin of mankind is that it still has not fully become part of everyone’s history curriculum.

I recall going to a forum at which scholar Mary Lefkowitz denied the Egyptian influence on the Greeks, even though the Greeks themselves acknowledged where they gained some of their learning. She said Cleopatra was not Egyptian, but what she failed to acknowledge was that the Cleopatra with whom are familiar, while part Greek indeed, was not completely so. Despite all the African features on statues of Pharaoh Akhenaton and even the Sphinx, many people still want to deny the African presence in Egypt. This seemed foolish to me standing in Giza looking at the pyramids built so long ago by Pharaoh Menes and other early Egyptian rulers, who were from the south of Egypt.

The great Carthaginian general Hannibal has been played by white men in the movies, so his African origin is often bypassed. So many other famous Africans from history are not well-known to be African, such as St. Augustine of Hippo in what is now Algeria. But what is truly sad is that the great African kings and queens of antiquity have faded into anonymity because they are only taught to those who look for them. They are a part of our common history. We know of the European explorers of Africa, but not so much of the rulers they encountered, such as Queen Nzinga of what is now Angola.

Closer to home, we have developed a celebrity orientation to black American history. We are so fixated on the most popular figures such as Martin Luther King, Jr., that comedian Chris Rock once quipped that when asked for the name of an equally notable black woman, a child might likely suggest “Martina Luther King.”

As silly as that sounds, without a solid basis for understanding the roles played by Africa’s descendants throughout history, non-Diasporans will always be inclined to believe we have contributed little of value to the world. An ancient Roman reportedly once asked: “What good can come from Africa?” If you know little of African history such an opinion is to be expected.

So many of the inventors who are of the Diaspora are not identified as being black. Therefore, the mass of Diaspora contribution to science is not well known. Perhaps more Diaspora children would consider science as a career if they knew more about their ancestors’ role in the development of science throughout the ages.

Some progress has been made in developing curricula to teach Diaspora history, but so long as it is considered apart from “real” history, it will always be seen by some as a gimmick to enhance the self-esteem of black people and not knowledge that completes the picture of our common history. For this, we all suffer a deficiency in our education.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Giving Credit Where Credit is Due

African leadership is often challenged, but few measures accurately examine how well Africa’s leaders perform. There is the African Leadership Prize from the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, established in 2007, but even the world’s richest prize (US$5 million) does not adequately reflect the progress that has been made on the continent among the presidents and prime ministers of Africa.

The Nation Media Group, publisher of the EastAfrican magazine, has created the African President’s Index, which rates the continent’s leaders using several measurements: the Nation Media Group’s own political Index (35%), the Mo Ibrahim Index (15%), the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index (15%), the Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index (15%), Transparency International’s Corruption Index (15%) and the United Nations Development Programme’s Human Development Index (5%). What they arrived at is five Africa presidents who were given an “A” rating for their governance.

Prime Minister Navinchandra Ramgoolam of Mauritius received an A+. Son of Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam, known as the “Father of the Nation,” the Prime Minister presides over one of Africa’s most highly-developed countries. Mauritius has been named the best governed African country by Mo Ibrahim’s index since it was initiated.

President Pedro Verona Rodriques Pires of Cape Verde is a hugely respected figure in his country, having been so since independence from Portugal was achieved in 1975. He was the country’s first Prime Minister from 1975 to 1990, and after remaining active in politics, he returned to power in 2001. Pires’ country is one of the few African countries that is on track to meet the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals.

President Seretse Ian Khama of Botswana is the son of the country’s revered first President Sir Seretse Khama. The current President worked his way through the political system before assuming the presidency in 2008. Botswana, already a democratic model to the international community, President Khama has worked to expand his country’s circle of admirers. The country has been beset by HIV-AIDS, but under Khama’s rule 92.5% of those needing anti-retroviral drugs are receiving them.

President John Atta Mills of Ghana, known throughout the country as “The Prof,” is one of Africa’s best educated leaders. The former Vice President under President Jerry Rawlings, Mills won the office vacated by President John Kufour when he stepped down after two terms. President Mills is now responsible for developing the country’s oil sector and will have royalty revenues with which to extend the development of an already advanced nation.

President Hifikepunye Luca Pohamba of Namibia is the former Lands Minister who successfully sped up the transfer of land from white farmers to black citizens. One of the founding members of the South West Africa People’s Organization (SWAPO), he won office in a landslide in 2004. He received the 2010 Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network Food Security Policy Leadership Award for creating responsible fisheries policies in Namibia.

Just missing this group with a B+ was President Jacob Zuma of South Africa. Zuma is a longtime leader of the ruling African National Congress who served time in jail with other party leaders such as former President Nelson Mandela. Zuma received much kudos for his successful conduct of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. He missed an A by a fraction of a point despite leading a major nation struggling to overcome the lingering aftermath of apartheid.

Five other African Presidents received a B grade: President James Alix Michel of Seychelles, President Amadou Toumani Touré of Mali, President Ernest Bai Koroma of Sierra Leone, President Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania and President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia. All have significant accomplishments that may have been somewhat dimmed by unresolved issues or laws seen as not fully upholding full civil rights.

Even those rated with a C have laudable accomplishments. For example, President Rupiah Banda of Zambia has provided treatment for 90% of HIV-AIDS victims and allowed Angolan refugees to remain in his country after residing there for many years. Kin Mohammed VI of Morocco has hic country on track to exceed targets for water and sanitation services under the Millennium Development goals thanks to greater government spending on water supply and sanitation infrastructure.

Several leaders, such as President Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria, were considered to have been in office for too short a time to be rated.

So leadership is alive and well in Africa. Kudos goes to the Nation Media Group for its index, which allows a fuller view of African leadership than even the Mo Ibrahim Index. Attention is too often focused on those African leaders who violate human rights and fail to meet the needs of their people. It can make us forget that there are many others who do serve their citizens and earn the respect of their nation and the international community.