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Interviews

African Ancestry is the world leader in tracing maternal and paternal lineages of African descent
August 15, 2012 | 0 Comments

-Gina Paige On How African Ancestry transforms the way people view themselves and the way they view Africa!

By Ajong Mbapndah L

African Ancestry is the world leader in tracing maternal and paternal lineages of African descent.  With the industry’s largest and most comprehensive database of over 25,000 indigenous African samples, African Ancestry determines specific countries, and more often than not, specific ethnic groups of origin with the highest level of detail, accuracy and confidence. Founded in 2003 by Dr. Rick Kittles and Gina Paige, the Washington D.C. based company has today helped over an estimated 150,000 people re-connect with the roots of their family tree. Gina Paige, President & Co-founder, African Ancestry, Inc says Knowing where you’re from is a vital component of knowing who you are.

PAV: May we know how the idea of African Ancestry was conceived and how it works?

Gina Paige: AfricanAncestry.com was born out of a desire by Dr. Rick Kittles, our Scientific Director, to know where he was from. His work as a geneticist led him to explore how genetics can be used to answer the question of ‘where am I from?’ asked by so many people of African descent. Once the community learned that the technology existed, their demand for the service resulted in the establishment of AfricanAncestry.com.

African Ancestry uses DNA to determine the ancestry of maternal lineages and paternal lineages. If the ancestry is African, we place it in a present-day country in Africa and we identify the ethnic group(s).

PAV: So your results are able to place African Ancestry in a present day country and region, what technology does your company have and is there a margin of error in your findings?

Gina Paige: African Ancestry has the African Lineage Database, the largest database of indigenous African lineages in the industry. With over 33,000 lineages, we are able to pinpoint ancestry to within a 95% confidence level. The vast size of the African Lineage Database allows us to provide a likelihood measure as well.

PAV: How big is your clientele and how excited or motivated are African Americans to find out their Ancestry?

Gina Paige: More than 150,000 people know their roots through the service we provide.

PAV: What typically becomes of folks when they become connected to their Ancestral backgrounds?

Gina Paige: The journey only begins with tracing their roots using DNA.  Every person we test becomes a part of our African Ancestry Family Community, where they have instant access to country-of-origin enrichment materials, other people that share their ancestries and tools and resources for deepening their experience.  Additionally, many people travel to Africa, join extended networks/groups and support causes affiliated with their roots.

PAV: Where do you situate the importance of African Americans knowing their Ancestral origins and any chance that stronger bonds could be forged through the kind of services you offer?

Gina Paige: Knowing where you’re from is a vital component of knowing who you are. The ancestral paper trail can only go but so far for African Americans due to the breakdown of information during the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and records are unreliable at best.  So we believe it’s of the highest priority for people of African descent in the U.S. and across the world whose ancestries have been displaced. 

PAV: Back to your company, any ties that it has with the continent business, professional or political wise?

AfricanAncestry.com does not have any business, professional, or political ties to the continent. We do partner with some non-profits and embassies here in US to foster an exchange between African Americans and Africa.

PAV: To those who might be interested in using your services, what does it take cost wise and how long does it take to get results?

The current promotional price is $299 to trace a single lineage. There is an additional discount if a person traces more than one lineage at a time. Many people see this as a family investment and members of families go in together to purchase a kit and they all share the same results.

For more on African Ancestry visit www.africanancestry.com

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Rwanda has benefitted tremendously from the instability in the Congo
June 21, 2012 | 0 Comments
Carney-Obama Administration should call Rwanda Government to order

Carney-Obama Administration should call Rwanda Government to order

Rwanda has benefitted tremendously from the instability in the Congo

-Maurice Carney, Executive Director Friends of Congo

By Ajong Mbapndah L

As the D.R.Congo grapples with yet another crisis with fighting in the Eastern part of the country, Rwanda stands accused of playing a leading role in fomenting the crisis. The Friends of Congo a body which gives itself the mission to raise the consciousness of the world community on the challenges of the Congo believes that Rwanda has benefitted and continues to profit from the instability in the Congo.The group recently initiated an online petition urging U.S Government Officials notable President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for action against Rwanda. Maurice Carney, co-founder and Executive Director of Friends of Congo tells PAV that the petition does not target the people of Rwanda but rather against the Rwandan government and its policies. An independent entrepreneur and human rights activist who has fought with Congolese for fifteen years in their struggle for human dignity and control of their country, Carney regrets that it is the USA and Britain that have been the biggest supporters of the Rwandan government on the international scene .The evidence against Rwanda is overwhelming says Carney who backs his assertion with a number of news sources. Interviewed by Ajong Mbapndah L, Carney sheds light on the activities of the friends of Congo, the case against Rwanda, expectations from Obama Administration, and more.

PAV: First, could you introduce Friends of Congo, its membership and mission?

Maurice Carney: First, thank you for providing us with this opportunity to engage you and your readers. We truly appreciate this opportunity. Friends of the Congo (FOTC) was established in 2004 to work in partnership with Congolese to bring about peaceful and lasting change in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), formerly Zaire.  FOTC has two basic aims:
1. Raise global consciousness about the challenges of the Congo
2. Provide support to local institutions striving to fulfill the enormous human and natural potential of the Congo.

PAV: In initiating a petition urging people to call on President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to take action against Rwanda, you accuse that current of playing an active role in the crisis in Eastern Congo, what is the evidence you have to impugn Rwanda?

Maurice Carney: Thank you for the question, the evidence is too many to respond fully to this question.  We have to make one correction however; we are not calling for action against Rwanda and her people but rather calling for action against the Rwandan government and its policies. Remember the Rwanda armed forces have invaded the Congo twice (1996 & 1998), occupied Congo (1996 – 2002) and supported proxy rebel groups inside Congo (1998 – present) and fought a battle against Uganda inside Congo (June 5 – 11, 2000) over diamonds in the home province of Patrice Lumumba. In the Rwandan regime’s second invasion of the Congo in 1998, backed by the United States and United Kingdom, it was the Southern African Development Community (SADC) led by Zimbabwe, Namibia and Angola that had to come to the rescue of the Congolese people and repel Rwanda and Uganda because Congo lacked an army to protect itself against Rwanda’s aggression. However, to respond to your question about the petition, our sources on the ground have confirmed the presence of Rwandan soldiers inside the Congo, Al Jazeera has interviewed some of these soldiers who deserted, The United Nations has produced the same facts in an article published by the BBC, Human Rights Watch has also corroborated the presence of Rwandan soldiers and just recently the Congolese government finally acknowledged what the whole world now knows. The evidence is compelling and overwhelming to the point that some of the staunchest supporters of Rwanda in the human rights community have now switched and are calling for accountability for Paul Kagame and the Rwandan regime.

PAV: On Eastern Congo, you must have more information than we do, what ignited the current crisis there and what does Paul Kagame and Rwanda gain or seek to achieve with his involvement in the crisis?

Maurice Carney: Rwanda has benefitted tremendously from the instability in the Congo.  The main benefit Rwanda gets from destabilizing Congo is financial. According to Dow Jones Newswires, Rwanda benefits to the tune of tens of millions of dollars from Congo’s tin, coltan and tungsten: http://conflictminerals.org/2010/05/ Bloomberg news reports that Rwanda is one of two (The other being Malaysia Smelting) top traders of Congo’s conflict minerals (Coltan, Tungsten, Tin) http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?sid=a1p3C4mCsY2o&pid=newsarchive  The Six-day war is a classic example of Rwanda’s intentions in the Congo. Rwanda fought its ally, Uganda in Kisangani, DRC for six days in 2000 over diamond concessions killing an estimated 1,000 Congolese civilians and wounding scores.


PAV: What is it you expect President Obama and the US Government to do and if the evidence on Rwandan involvement is that strong, why is the International Community not taking stronger action to call that country to order?

Maurice Carney: Our expectations of the Obama administration is simple – implement the very law that President Obama sponsored and passed into law as a senator in 2006. We are asking nothing more and nothing less.  The international community has taken several actions against the Rwandan government (See the UN Mapping Exercise Report of 2010 and the Spanish Court Rulings of 2008 against 40 top officials of the Rwandan government, also see the 2008 Sweden and Netherlands actions against Rwanda that led to Rwanda arresting its proxy inside Congo, Laurent Nkunda). It is mainly the United States and the United Kingdom that have protected Rwanda diplomatically and politically. In addition, like Israel, Rwanda has opted out of many of the international bodies that other governments have subscribed to. For example, Rwanda is not party to the International Court of Justice, which ruled in 2005 that Congo is entitled to $10 billion in reparations from Uganda because of its crimes against humanity and pilfering of the Congo. The court would have likely ruled the same against Rwanda but Rwanda is outside the jurisdiction of the court.
PAV: If we are correct there was a Congressional hearing in the USA not long ago where Friends of Congo talked about the crisis, did you secure any promises and if Congress did not act after the hearing what are the chances that the petition will push them to act now?

Maurice Carney: We are fighting a just cause and not leading a campaign. We are convinced if we continue to apply pressure we will prevail. Remember, the United States was in support of Apartheid South Africa but activists persevered and eventually got the United States Congress to change its policy and laws toward South Africa. Dr Martin Luther King put it best when he said the moral arc of history is long but it bends toward justice. We are in this for the long haul in the spirit of Dr King. There is growing pressure on the Rwandan government and we are confident that if we continue to apply pressure we will prevail.

PAV: Elections that took place a few months back in the DRC did not go so well, how efficient has President Kabila been as a leader and how well is he handling the current crisis?

Maurice Carney: President Kabila is an illegitimate leader of the Congo. He appropriated power through force and not by the will of the people. He is handling the situation better than expected considering his track record in dealing with Rwanda where Rwanda has had its way in the Congo at the behest of Kabila. Let’s make no mistake however, the fact that a weak illegitimate regime is in place in Kinshasa, renders the Congo less effective in dealing with this matter.

PAV: The DR.Congo has not known peace since the late 90s, what in your opinion needs to be done to provide lasting respite for Congolese?

Maurice Carney :Several things need to be done to advance lasting peace in the Congo and the region:
1. The West needs to cease its support (military, financial, training, intelligence) of the strongmen in the region (Museveni of Uganda, Kagame of Rwanda, and Kabila of Congo)
2. Rwanda needs to enter into a dialogue with the FDLR. An inter-Rwandan dialogue is needed.
3. Democratic institutions must be strengthened in the Congo
4. Multinational pillaging of the Congo must cease, the people cannot continue to live in abject poverty while foreign corporations continue to benefit at the expense of the people
5. A Congolese state and military accountable to democratic civilian leadership must exercise authority over the entire Congo

PAV: Do you agree with those who think D.R.Congo is just a victim of its resources, that its vast mineral wealth is the bane of all its problems?

Maurice Carney: No the Congo is not a victim of its resources. The idea of a resource curse is preposterous. Congo is a victim of greedy men (local elites, neighboring leaders, corporate predators the likes of Dan Gertler, George Forrest and the Blattners, etc) who seek to enrich themselves at the expense of the people. Congo is a victim of companies such as Banro, AngolGold Ashanti, Freeport McMoran, ENRC, The Forrest Group, Glencore, OM Group and the nearly hundred companies identified by the United Nations as systematically looting the Congo:  http://conflictminerals.org/us-canadian-companies-involved-in-congo/

PAV: What was the reaction of the public to the documentary “Crisis in Congo, Uncovering the truth” produced by Friends of Congo and any projects in the pipe line?

 

Maurice Carney: Thank you for asking. The response has been remarkable, especially where it counts most, inside the Congo. The film is being screened throughout the Congo. People in China, Japan, Australia, India, Korea, Brazil, Argentina, Kenya, South Africa and many more countries are screening the film. We have translated the film in French, Portuguese, Spanish, Chinese, Italian, Japanese and more language translations are underway. We were not expecting such a strong response to the film. The film is merely an excerpt of a feature length work that we are in the process of completing. We developed the short to put on President Obama’s desk to remind him of the law he got passed as Senator.  Yet, film festivals, libraries, high schools, colleges, universities, conflict resolution organizations and ordinary individuals are screening the film and using it as a teaching tool.

Our main focus right now is the fifth anniversary of Congo Week, which will take place from October 14 – 20, 2012 throughout the globe. Communities across the world organize events (screenings, teach-ins, fundraisers, rallies, etc) in solidarity with the people of the Congo. Since 2008, over 60 countries and 300 communities have participated. We encourage people to join us in transforming the heart of Africa by signing up for Congo Week at congoweek.org

 

 

 

 

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“Parlement” did more than Selfish Politicians in the fight for Change
May 24, 2012 | 0 Comments

-Corantin Talla re-visits the students’ movement in Cameroon

By Ajong Mbapndah L

Created in 1991, the Students Union body at the University of Yaoundé dubbed “Parlement” was a fundamental actor in the early stages of the struggle for democracy in Cameroon. Many believe that the threat posed by the activities of Parlement at the lone State University of the time precipitated the creation of other Universities by the government across the country. Led by Corantin Talla, the Association was a thorn in the flesh of government. Talla says multiple frustrations on the living and studying conditions led to the creation of the Association. Though the government accused the Association of been a fabrication of the opposition, Talla says Parlement was created by Students to cater for their interests. The strategic alliance it formed with the opposition was to sanction a government which had failed to respond to the grievances of the students in particular and Cameroonians in general, he explains. Talla, who graduated in 1992 with a Degree in Biology, says he was perplexed when the former Minister of Higher Education Titus Edzoa expelled him from the University when he was already on exile in Nigeria.

Now in the USA for some 17 years, Talla who says self serving and opportunistic opposition leaders derailed the struggle for change is proud of the contribution that Parlement made to the struggle. The students of Parlement selflessly gave their all to bring about positive political change in Cameroon Talla contends but regrets that the change that Cameroonians yearn for remains elusive. A graduate of Public Administration from the University of Florida, Talla who currently works for a Global Information Technology says it is time for patriotic forces to synergize resources and strategies towards the common objective of building a truly free and democratic country. Talla still believes that the Youth hold the key to the change Cameroon needs and for this to happen, they must break free from the faux mentorship and leadership of politicians who continue to use them in furtherance of selfish designs.

.PAV: Corantin Talla, you were the leader of the students’ movement in Cameroon known as “Parlement” may we know how it was created?

 Corantin Talla: The “parlement” was created as a result of the multiple frustrations of university students about their living and studying conditions.  Moreover, the students were vehemently opposed to the cancelation of the election of their representatives by the then minister of high education, Joseph Owona.  In fact, the university was overcrowded; there was no adequate library and other amenities for students were so lacking.  More importantly, the university administrators as well as the Minister Owona Joseph were trying to impose their handpicked student representatives after unilaterally canceling an ongoing student election.   The above-mentioned reasons led to the creation of ‘Cameroon Students’ Parliament’, dubbed ‘Parlement’, on April 2nd, 1991.  The main leaders at the inception of parlement were Talla Corantin alias General Schwarzkopft, Yimga Yotchou Blaise alias ‘Abu NIDAL’, Waffo Wanto Robert alias General Collin Powell, Chebe Elsie alias Margaret Thatcher and many other less known members of the initial leadership.  As far as the name Parlement is concerned, I personally chose that name for our student movement on April 2nd, 1991 and publicly announced the creation of the Parlement in front of thousands of students that day, in front of the restaurant U.  I chose that name because it was a forum where all the students could utter their grievances so that we could deliberate on the appropriate demands and actions against a government that had failed to resolve our problems.

PAV: Who were some of the people you were associated with in the leadership of the movement and there is this confusion as to who actually was the students leader, was it you or was it Senfo Tokam?

Corantin Talla: The real leaders of parlement included the names I gave you earlier and other students like Chah Orlando, Eyock, Njock, Chebe Pius, Bakeson Rick, and Christopher Atene Acha.  Senfo Tonkam was not a member of the leadership at the inception of that popular students’ movement.  I was the President of Parlement and Senfo Tonkam was the President of ‘la coordination des Etudiants Camerounais -CEC (National Coordination of Cameroon Students).  The CEC was a legalized organization, whereas the ‘Parlement’ was a clandestine but legitimate movement of pro-democratic students.  Senfo Tonkam even granted an interview in Cameroun Tribune in which he denounced the activities of the Parlement.  It is amazing how the CEC later claimed to be the Parlement.  That is the true history of the creation of Parlement.

PAV: We will like you to clarify a few things that were said here and there about the parlement, one it was a tool used by the opposition to fight Biya and the CPDM and secondly its membership was full of Anglophones and Bamileke students.

Corantin Talla: The Parlement was a movement created by the students in the interest of students.  The parlement was never a tool in the hands of opposition. But at one time we formed a strategic alliance with the opposition under the banner of the ‘coordination des parties politiques et associations’, (Coordination of Opposition parties) and later on under the banner of ‘Union for Change’ and ARC-CNS.  We participated in those opposition gatherings because we wanted a change of the regime that failed to solve students’ problems in particular and Cameroonian problems in general.  In short, the parlement was an independent association of grown up students who knew how to think and organize themselves.

PAV: It may have started as a student movement but it aligned itself so strongly with the opposition, why so considering that as students at the time, the CPDM government had you guys on a reasonable monthly allowance, and took care of feeding with a restaurant at your disposal?

Corantin Talla: The monthly allowance and restaurant were just tools used by the government to distract the attention of students from their critical problems, such as the lack of academic infrastructures and the lack of elected student representatives, who could serve the interests of the students instead of promoting the interests of the government on the Campus.  It was okay for students to sing ‘Paul Biya toujours chaud gars” during the national day. But it was not okay for them to have dissenting ideas or to freely choose their leaders.  That is one reason why my comrades and I decided to fight the system from the nation’s capital and later expanded our battle fields in the provinces.

PAV: So what became of your comrades, it appears you guys all faded into obscurity as there is no visible face playing a leadership role in Cameroon politics

Corantin Talla:It is true that many comrades have abandoned the struggle for several reasons.  But there are still many of us who continue to fight for the course of genuine democracy in Cameroon.  I personally continue to fight from my exile in the USA as you can see from the multiple protests we have organized in front the Cameroon embassies on several occasions when there are critical issues that occur in the life of our nation.  For instances, the NGO called Conscience du Cameroun that I head, in conjunction with other associations of the Cameroon Diaspora organized a huge protest against the change of constitution in 2008, campaigned for a  boycott the 2011 election mascarade  in Cameroon.

The change in Cameroon will come from Cameroonian themselves says Talla

The change in Cameroon will come from Cameroonian themselves says Talla

We also engaged in many lobbying actions in the USA and Europe under the Banner of the United Front of the Cameroon Diaspora.  We will continue to fight for the change of the current regime that lacks the political will to facilitate the implementation of political reforms that could bring about genuine democracy and a state of law in Cameroon.

As the president of Conscience du Cameroun, I am tirelessly working to sensitize and mobilize young Cameroonians in particular and Cameroonians in general for the final assault on the system that has pauperized the vast majority of Cameroonians; given up our land and all our natural resources to foreigners; that has perverted the moral values of Cameroonians and transformed our country into an ocean of corruption.

PAV: Parlement was indeed a strong force for change, in retrospect, do you have any regrets or do you think things would have been done differently by your group to help the struggle for change in Cameroon?

Corantin Talla: The students of Parlement selflessly gave their all to bring about positive political change in Cameroon.  They were not, like many opportunistic politicians of that period, interested in holding government or political offices.  They were the true combatants.  But unfortunately, they were betrayed by their own people they helped to  free from prison like Daikole Daissala,  Issa Tchiroma Bakari and the likes of Kodock, Bello Bouba and other power-hungry selfish opportunistic politicians.  Despite all the drawbacks as a result of those multiple acts of treason by senior politicians, the former Parlement leaders, most of whom have been in exile for close to 2 decades, are finalizing plans to return to Cameroon to finish the battle for democracy they started in 1991.

PAV: Looking at the generation of students in Cameroon today, what do you think of their response or involvement in the challenges facing the country?

Corantin Talla: The youth of Cameroon feel betrayed by politicians of both sides of the political spectrum.  Hence, their lack of interest for politics and their distrust of the political system.  The youth of Cameroon should cease to be the followers of discredited politicians and take their destiny into their own hands and demand for democratic reforms in Cameroon. The youth and conscience du Cameroon will work hands in glove to bring about genuine democratic changes in Cameroon without counting on divine intervention or any foreign power. In short, the youth should rise up and create the necessary counter-power needed to force the dictatorial Regime of Biya to leave power and give way to genuine democratic reforms by a transitional leadership chosen by the people.

PAV: You now head an Association known as Conscience du Cameroon; may we know what it does and what bearings it has on the political landscape in Cameroon?

Corantin Talla: Conscience du Cameroun is an American NGO that the government of Cameroon refused to register in Cameroon in 2009.  However, as an organization whose mission is to promote democracy, peace, and development in Cameroun, we have organized many protests in the USA against the Cameroonian dictatorial regime; we have participated in the creation of the United Front of progressive Cameroon movements in the Diaspora. And more importantly, we have help Cameroonians in the Diaspora in terms of academic, legal, and professional integration.

We have also created a synergy between progressive forces of the Diaspora and local progressive movements.  We have helped to strengthen the civil society in Cameroun.   Now, our main goal is to sensitize and mobilize Cameroonians

The students of Parlement selflessly gave their all to bring about positive political change in Cameroon.

The students of Parlement selflessly gave their all to bring about positive political change in Cameroon Talla contends

so that we can bring down the current regime or force them to agree to a consensual implementation of political and electoral reforms that will bring about genuine democracy in Cameroon.  We reject the recently voted electoral code in Cameroon and warn the government about the consequences of their unwillingness to open the political system to genuine democracy for the sustenance of peace and social cohesion in Cameroon.

PAV: You certainly interacted with a lot of political leaders in the 90s and there are all still in place today, which of these leaders impressed you most and what is your take on the democratization process?

Corantin Talla: None of the leaders impressed me the most. But I did recognize the then courage of Fru Ndi, the selfless leadership of Pr. Jean-Michel Tekam, the determination of other leaders of the opposition as well as the students’ members of le Parlement.   I thank all my former comrades of le Parlement wherever they may be today and call upon them to get ready so that we can be back to finish the job of liberating our people from the shackles of neo-colonialism and local dictatorship  of President Biya and his creatures.

PAV: Cameroonians agree the need for change is even more acute today than it was in the early 90s but things are not evolving as fast as many want, where do you think the change Cameroonians want is going to come from and how?

Corantin Talla: The change in Cameroon will come from Cameroonian themselves and not from some hypothetical external or foreign power.  We Cameroonians have to wake up from the Stockholm syndrome and take our destiny in our own hands.  We should not count on any godly help but on our own actions.  The civil society and genuine opposition as well as the progressive movements of Cameroon in the Diaspora should form a united front for political reforms in Cameroun.  And then the front should sensitize and mobilize Cameroonians towards the creation of a powerful counter-force to the entrenched dictatorial regime of Yaoundé.

PAV: Last question Sir, your reaction to the recent arrest of Prime Minister Ephraim Inoni and Minister Marafa and your opinion on the whole operation Sparrow Hawk which has seen the arrest of Government Barons

Corantin Talla: The arrest of anyone deemed corrupt, including Marafa and Inoni is a good thing for the Cameroonian people provided that the judicial system is not used to punish innocent people.  Nevertheless, all the thieves and embezzlers should be arrested without discrimination. More importantly, in the end the man who incarnates the system, President Paul Biya, should be held accountable for his own economic crimes.

PAV: Thanks very much for granting this interview

Corantin Talla: Thanks very much too.

 

 

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Senegalese Democracy Is On The Right Course
May 12, 2012 | 0 Comments

-Prof Souleymane Diagne on the demise of Wade

By Ajong Mbapndah L

The palpable tension in the build up the election contrasted sharply with the final outcome in the recent elections in Senegal. President Abdoulaye Wade was defeated in the second round by his former protégé Macky Sall. In a salutary show of political maturity that speaks volumes  on the state of democracy in Senegal, defeated President Wade was the first to concede with warm words of congratulations for Macky Sall. Considering that this is the second time in recent times that a seating President was not only defeated by the opposition but left power without the kind of drama and rancor that is the norm in many other African countries, Prof Souleymane Diagne says democracy is on the right path in Senegal.A philosopher of great international repute cited by the authoritative French paper Le Nouvel observateur as one of the 50 thinkers of our time, Prof Diagne says the promises made by Wade to bring change to Senegal were ultimately his undoing as there were too lofty to be fulfilled. Though Wade gets credit for respecting the will of Senegalese, Prof Souleymane says it could not be otherwise since the margin of defeat was comparatively high.

Senegalese people are a very impatient people he says in a veiled indication that Macky Sall may not have much of a honeymoon. Diagne who is a member of the scientific committees of Diogenes (published by UNESCO’s International Counsel of Philosophy and Social Sciences), CODESRIA (Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa), and of the African and Malagasy Committee for Higher Education (CAMES), as well as UNESCO’s Council on the Future. Currently a Professor of French and Philosophy at Columbia University, Souleymane Diagne believes that  in a continent where democracy is struggling to take root amid incredible odds, the resilience of the Senegalese people may  serve as inspiration for other African countries.

PAV: After another successful election with a candidate from the opposition defeating a sitting President, is it safe to say democracy is firmly established in Senegal?

Prof Souleymane Diagne: -I think that we can say yes. The first political change that happened in 2000 was a major change for the Senegalese democratic institutions of course but to have a repeat is a major achievement especially at a time when stakes were so high with the huge disputes over the third term agenda of President Wade and the dispute on whether he was eligible to even run at all. It was a happy ending with voting deciding. If it was not voting, it would have been the streets .It was a peaceful political change where the incumbent lost and congratulated the winner in what was a major test for democracy in Senegal.

PAV: Outgoing President sometimes came across as a stubborn leader, were you surprise with the grace which he embraced defeat?

Prof Souleymane Diagne: -Yes somehow. Prior to the elections his declarations just not envisioning the possibility that he could lose were worrisome. Many people were worried that he did not consider the prospects of losing and things like that but at one point he must have reminded himself of the example set by his predecessor Abdou Diouf. The idea that there was already a deep history with Diouf conceding gracefully must have been a positive precedent. There are many people who think he had no choice though considering that the margin of defeat was even more than that of Diouf when he lost to him. He could not have done otherwise.

PAV: He came in with a lot of promise and was virtually forced out by Senegalese, what went wrong with the Wade Presidency and the “Sopi” or change it was expected to bring?

Prof Souleymane Diagne: -Well in retrospect historians will say it was predictable. Basically Sopi was running a very populist campaign against a President in charge of the structural adjustment programmes .His predecessor who succeeded Senghor in the early 80s was the President under whose watch the unpopular structural adjustment programmes were enforced with the degree of poverty and social discontent that came with it. It was an opening for the opposition which proposed a programme promising jobs, better economic conditions etc. Wade did this with the Sopi which was a promise that things will be better. It was a populist message but those kinds of promises are very hard to deliver and he certainly did not deliver for the twelve years he was in power. In the end his own promises were turned against him.

PAV: May we know some of the achievements recorded by Wade, in other words what would you consider a legacy of the Wade Presidency?

Prof Souleymane Diagne:-What his main legacy might be is the renovation of Dakar which is very different today in terms of fluidity of traffic and sidewalks. Many people from the opposition have said and rightly so that Senegal is not just Dakar. Another aspect of infrastructure is the new airport he wanted to construct in Dakar. He said during the campaigns that he wanted to launch it before he leaves.

Macky Sall's arrival heralds a generational shift in Senegalese and African Politics

Macky Sall's arrival heralds a generational shift in Senegalese and African Politics

So those infrastructural aspects could be considered a legacy. Obviously he would like people to consider the African renaissance monument a legacy but it has been very controversial especially in terms of appropriation. You can build anything but sometimes when people do not see themselves in it, it will not be a good legacy.

PAV: Macky Sall served as Minister and later Prime Minister under President Wade, what are some of the major challenges that he faces and how might he be different from Wade?

Prof Souleymane Diagne: -It’s going to be different. During Wade’s Presidency, a forum of the opposition and the civil society realized there should be a change in institutions because Senegal inherited from France a system where the President had too much power. There is need for more balance in the system with parliament more empowered. The opposition and the civil society agreed on this amongst others in a conclave boycotted by Wade. Its conclusions were accepted by Macky Sall .Under him Senegalese institutions may change with more power to the parliament, a huge step forward for democracy.

Second, the Presidential terms will revert back to five after been raised to seven by Wade. So the Presidential term of office will be five years renewable once. While Sall might have served as Minister, Prime Minister and President of the Assembly under Wade, it must be recognized that the reason he fell out with Wade was the desire to exercise oversight and accountability in government actions. Wade’s son was summoned before a parliamentary commission to explain usage of money for the agency he was in charge of which was building infrastructure in Senegal. He was ready to fight corruption and wanted power to be accountable. His campaign gave reason to believe that he will fight corruption.

PAV: Is there a way that he could channel the positive energy generated in the youth, civil society, personalities like Youssour Ndour and Jacques Diouf as they sort to defeat Wade into the realization of some big achievements for Senegal?

Prof Souleymane Diagne:The manner in which his government was choice of members has been favourably received. It has people from the civil society .People like Youssour Ndour should be able to serve the Senegalese Culture well.

Untenable promises were part of Wade’s undoing

Untenable promises were part of Wade’s undoing

At the same time you must understand whoever is in power in Senegal will be dealing with a very restive and impatient people. Senegalese are a very impatient people and do want to see results.

PAV: What lessons do you think the rest of Africa should learn from the elections especially in those countries where the democratic experience has not been as exciting and successful as in Senegal?

Prof Souleymane Diagne: In a continent struggling to have democracy, where poverty is high, and there is so much demagoguery, it is so easy for populist discourse to blind side people from the main issues. Any successful election is an encouragement. At one point the Senegalese example was considered flawed but there is a kind of resilience of democracy by African people who want democracy. It is the path to unity, only truly democratic countries can come together to form the kind of confederation or union the continent wants for its salvation. So any good news from any country is good news for the continent.

 

 

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Inspirational Leadership Critical For Africa – John Kufuor
May 12, 2012 | 0 Comments

-Sit Tight Leaders betray trust of the people says Former Ghanaian President

 By Ajong Mbapndah L.

He may be out of Office but the esteem he enjoys across the globe makes you wonder if he misses anything about power at all. Former Ghanaian President John Kufuor is a prominent figure in the small but growing club of elder statesmen in the continent. For leaving power after two terms (2001-2009) Mr. Kufuor is revered by many across the continent. Out of office Kufuor who served as Chairperson of the African Union from 2007-2008 is still engaged in multiple activities most with a bearing on development in Africa. He is Chairman of the Interpeace Governing Council, World Food Ambassador of the UN against hunger, member of several boards including the Leon Sullivan Foundation, and the Brenthurst Foundation of South Africa just to cite a few. Not the type to shy away from a good course, President Kufuor was recently introduced as a Special Envoy for Neglected Tropical Diseases by the Global Network for Tropical Diseases at a Luncheon in Washington DC. In a chat with PAV, President Kufuor said, his desire to improve on the quality of life not only for Ghanaians but also for humanity makes him ready for service whenever he is called upon. The future is only getting brighter for Africa he enthused but cautioned that inspirational leadership was needed for the continent to reap premium dividends from the courtship it is getting from the rest of the world. Urging leaders to respect  trust bestowed on them by their people, President Kufuor says those using messianic instincts to remain in power for ever act in error. Given the opportunity, African people will make their own way forward successful says President Kufuor .

PAV: H: E congratulations for your nomination as new special envoy for neglected and tropical diseases, may we know what this means for you, Ghana and Africa?

John Kufuor: Very Important because neglected diseases have been causing havoc to our communities. There sap our efficiency and productivity among our working communities, our children and make the old unhappy. This can be seen in our villages with diseases like guinea work, river blindness etc. So I feel humbled and honoured that the Global Network should invite me to be its Special Envoy to advocate support from around the world for the fight against these neglected diseases and also to advocate among the recipient countries and heighten the awareness of the dangers posed by these diseases to our people. It is a big thing and I welcome it. I believe the fight is been joined and with the political context that my coming in is calculated to bring, both the local and international community will get up and do more about relieving people of these diseases.

PAV: How does this new assignment tie in with some of the issues that dominated your Presidency in Ghana?

John Kufuor: Well, health and education are both basic and crucial when it comes to development. If you talk of human development and you do not talk of education, and you do not talk of health, then I do not know what it is to talk about. This appointment ties in with what efforts I made while in government to improve on the quality of live for Ghanaians.

PAV: You are Chairman of the Interpeace Governing Council, World Food Ambassador of the UN against hunger, member of several boards including the Leon Sullivan Foundation, the Brenthurst Foundation of South Africa etc where do you get the energy and how do you juggle all these activities?

John Kufuor: Well, I want to say that I come to politics with a missionary call to help improve on the quality of live for people not only for my people in Ghana, but also for humanity. Where ever I can contribute to improve on quality of living, I am always ready to be of service. I believe people see this in me and this is why people invited me to be part of the venture that brought me here.

PAV: We ask the questions because the continent has leaders who have been in power for thirty years and counting, do you share the concerns of Africans on this disturbing trend?

John Kufuor: First I believe in the self confidence of the African people that given the opportunity, they will make their own way forward successfully. So anybody who pretends to be the messiah because that’s the mentality of those who stay in power indefinitely is making a mistake. You swear by the constitution when you take power and by the same constitution, you must step down when your time or term is up. If you refuse to step down, you are betraying the trust of the people. Any leader who respects the trust of the people he leads would not want to perpetuate himself in power especially against their wishes.

PAV: The continent recently had coups in Mali and most recently Guinea Bissau as one of the Elder Statesmen, what is your reaction to these developments?

John Kufuor: Our continent is very big in terms of land mass and population and faces many challenges. I hope the African Union would use this panel of the wise and other agencies to get people to dialogue and try to resolve the many problems besetting the various countries and people. It is important that in moments of crisis the African Union should show the necessary leadership.

PAV: For the first time an African in the person of Ngozi Okonjo Nweala contested for the presidency of the Bank and lost how much of a blow is this for Africa?

John Kufuor: Well actually those of us who know and appreciate the competence of Ngozi and her expertise in the management of the World Bank are sorry she did not make it. The bank is a world body and the world is made up of so many countries and diverse people. Today our sister did not make it but as you observed, it is the first time, I believe the next time an African candidate will make it just as Koffi Annan also broke into the scene at the United Nations. Africa should bid its time and not give up.

PAV: President Kufuor a prediction on the future of the continent as we  to round up?

John Kufuor: I think it is showing so much promise now. The continent is getting lots of attention from all sides of the globe. From the East, China, Japan and India are courting Africa. From the west America and Europe are doing same, Russia does not want to be left behind. This shows there is something about Africa and we must not only be proud but be very ready for that. However leadership is very critical. We must get leadership that will inspire us with confidence and pragmatism instead of dwelling on ideologies we have neither thought through nor understand. If we were to do that and negotiate well with all our friends and partners, Africa will take center stage in the world.

PAV: President Kufuor thanks for talking to PAV

John Kufuor: Thanks

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-Nigerians Are United Against Terrorism
February 21, 2012 | 0 Comments

-Country Can do without politicians in Military Uniform

– Ayodele Akinkuotu Executive Editor Tell Magazine on developments in Nigeria

By Ajong Mbapndah L

Attacks from Boko Haram, elections, the deregulation crisis with strikes which almost grounded the country et al, Nigeria has continued to make headline news. As the Boko Haram continues to run riot in the country, politicians have spent time trading blames. President Goodluck Jonathan who came in with a lot of promise has been under criticism from the break down in security that almost made the country helpless in the face of the Boko Haram. Nigerians are however united against terrorism says Ayodele Akinkuotu Executive Editor of the authoritative Tell Magazine. Approached by PAV in a bid to get an unbiased assessment of the situation in Nigeria, Ayodele says the ease with which the Boko Haram unleashes its mindless attacks has created palpable fear in Nigerians. It may take a while for the Nation to overcome the nightmare but Nigerians are united on the fact that terrorism will do the nation no good. A highly respected voice in African media circles, Ayodele answered questions from PAV’s Ajong Mbapndah L on the Boko Haram, the deregulation crisis, corruption, concerns on whether Nigeria will survive as one Nation and more.

PAV: A United Nations Office was bombed last year, On Christmas day a Christian facility, many public offices have been targeted and many innocent lives lost, as a result of the Boko Haram which has continued with its attacks unabated and even ordered Christians in the North to move back to the South and Muslims in the South to move back to the North, is Nigeria under siege from this sect?

Ayodele Akinkuotu:There is no doubt that with the mayhem they have unleashed in the last several months, the nation is certainly under siege from the Boko Haram. Their mindless atrocities have created so much palpable fear, especially with the seeming ease with which they strike at their targets. While the nation was caught unawares, the good news, however, is that the security agencies are beginning to counter them through intelligence gathering. It is true some Christians who are southerners are relocating, even if temporarily; but where will Christians who are northerners relocate to?

Nigerians in protest

Nigerians in protest

There is no doubt the militant sect wants to plunge Nigeria into a religious crisis. But many patriotic Nigerians have realised their unwholesome intention, and are not about granting them their wish. It may take a while before the nation overcomes this nightmare, but millions of Nigerians are united on one fact that terrorism will not do the nation any good.

PAV: Religion is a sensitive nerve on the politics of Nigeria, when this Muslim sect targets Christians and Christian facilities, how does the broader Muslim population in Nigeria distinctly distance itself from the Boko Haram and its activities?

Ayodele Akinkuotu: The broader Muslim population has condemned without reservation the mindless activities of Boko Haram. Members of the group are mere impostors hiding under the guise of religion to perpetrate evil. Islam abhors violence. Anybody who says anything to the contrary simply does not know the religion and such a person cannot be a Muslim, no matter his claim to being one. And that includes the Boko Haram

PAV: What is the reaction of Nigerians on the way the Government of President Jonathan has handled the crisis thus far?

Ayodele Akinkuotu:Well, the reactions have been mixed. Many people think President Goodluck Jonathan has not come down heavily on the sect. Others believe, however, that he is trying considering the constraints there are. Do not forget that this is a guerrilla war unleashed on the cities by a faceless group. What the Jonathan administration needs most is cooperation of the citizenry, especially those living in the North of Nigeria, where the Boko Haram is based.

Ayodele assesses Nigeria with the kind of objectivity missing in politicians

Ayodele assesses Nigeria with the kind of objectivity missing in politicians

Furthermore, the crisis has confirmed one thing many Nigerians have been calling for quite some time, an overhauling of the nation’s security agencies. And that should include community policing, which will ensure that criminals can be easily identified.

PAV: In previous administrations, little was heard about the Boko Haram, is the surge in their activities a as a result of Christian Southerners at the helm of the country?

Ayodele Akinkuotu: From the little we know so far, the Boko Haram did not just spring up overnight. This is a group that has been recruiting members quietly over the years. Many of their members had been arrested in the past under previous administrations only for them to be released for “no want of evidence”. And because the security agencies were not only careless, there was no synergy between them that would have created the necessary platform to interpret properly the” monster” that was growing right under their nose. The issue is beyond just a Christian being at the helm of the country’s affairs; the Boko Haram first came into national consciousness in the administration of late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, who was a Muslim from the north. We have been told Boko Haram has links with Al Qaeda Maghreb and even the Taliban. The countries where the latter groups originate are basically Islamic. And we have witnessed Muslim-on- Muslim violence in those places.

PAV: The USA, and the other members of the International Community have expressed interest in helping Nigeria to fight the sect, does Nigeria need international help?

Ayodele Akinkuotu: Nigeria surely needs all the support it can get from the international community. However, such assistance should be limited to sharing information with security agencies on how to combat terrorism. The United States has been fighting terrorism for years both within and outside its shores. Nigerian security agencies will benefit greatly from counter-insurgency trainings. A physical deployment of foreign troops to Nigeria for the purpose of combating the Boko Haram menace may be counter- productive. I think the nation has enough security outfits and personnel who if well equipped can stop the terrorists in their tracks.

PAV: Nigerians were in the streets expressing anger over deregulation, may we understand what deregulation is all about and who has a stronger case the government which made the decision or the people who are against it?

Ayodele Akinkuotu: This deregulation of the downstream sector has been going on for years. To the common man on the street, deregulation means removal of fuel subsidy. The issue of subsidy arose because we import refined petroleum products for local consumption, an irony for a nation, which is the sixth oil producer in the world. Therefore Nigerians could not understand why our own refineries would not work; why we import fuel from other places thus creating employment in those countries while millions of Nigerians are unemployed. The deregulation was in public discourse for several weeks and Nigerians wanted to be educated properly by government on why they have to pay more for premium motor spirit. That debate was still in progress when the government announced the removal. Many thought the government was deceitful and uncaring by deciding to inflict more pain on hapless Nigerians on the first day of a new year.

PAV: Corruption has been known to be rife in the country, are there any signs that the government is making progress in fighting it?

Ayodele Akinkuotu:There are two agencies charged with fighting the war against corruption. It will be uncharitable to say they have not done well. There are still so many constraints blocking the war. There is a Code of Ethics for public officers in Nigeria. The Code is being observed in the breach. The failure to follow due process in the execution of public contracts prepares a fertile soil for corruption to thrive in. The private sector is not left out too, as recent probes of the banking sector and even the on-going probe of the petroleum sector have shown.

There has been little for President Jonathan to smile about since he got to office

There has been little for President Jonathan to smile about since he got to office

Many of our leaders in both the public and private sectors are not transparent and accountable in their handling of their responsibilities. The nation will turn the bend for good in the anti-corruption war the day a leader who is determined and has the political will emerges. It is such a leader who can deal with all the sacred cows who are stealing the nation blind, thus mortgaging the future for generations yet unborn.

PAV: In all fairness and for the same of some objectivity and honesty though is there anything the Jonathan administration has done that deserves credit, just anything no matter how small?

Ayodele Akinkuotu: Except for his deployment of troops to the streets of Lagos and some other cities in January to frighten anti-fuel subsidy protesters off the streets, Jonathan has tried in the area of rule of law.

PAV: Are the crises that Nigeria is facing today not an invitation for the military to start nursing political ambitions again?

Ayodele Akinkuotu: The military laid the foundation of these crises during their 30-year rule. If any group of soldiers becomes adventurous and tries to stage a putsch, it will be a serious error of judgment. I

think the nation can surely do without politicians in military uniform. This democracy should be seen as work in progress. Therefore it should be allowed to grow and get a taproot so that it can thrive.

PAV: Last question Sir, is Nigeria capable of remaining one, strong and united and what will it take?

Ayodele Akinkuotu: Millions of Nigerians do not entertain any doubt that their country can remain as a strong, indivisible and united nation. Although we are just 51 years old as an independent country, the journey to nationhood began nearly 100 years ago. The 250-odd ethic groups have become so interdependent that it would be chaotic if we now declare “to your tents oh Israel”! Considering the position of Nigeria as the largest black nation on earth, a balkanized Nigeria will not only create turmoil in the sub-region, but the ugly ripples will be felt all over Africa. To avoid such a development is why many eminent Nigerians across the ethnic divide have been calling for a national conference. That call is against the backdrop that the 1999 Constitution is not “a people’s constitution”. They believe that constitution was fashioned by a cabal in the military for a hidden agenda. Thus at the moment the country which is supposed to be a federation is being run like a unitary government. A national conference in which all the ethnic groups are represented will discuss the fundamentals of our co-existence as a nation. There are many who are opposed to this conference in the belief that it may pave the way for disintegration. They are being told, however, that to continue to postpone this national dialogue by shying away from it is to perpetually bind us to discord.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Africa is Extremely Important To US Foreign Policy
February 21, 2012 | 0 Comments

-Bruce Wharton Deputy Asst Sec for Public Diplomacy for the Bureau of African Affairs

By Ajong Mbapndah L

President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have  Africa very high on the U.S Foreign policy priority list says Deputy Assistant Secretary for Public  Affairs at the State Departments African Bureau. Although President Obama in his fourth year in office has made it to Sub Saharan Africa just once,   Mr. Wharton uses a broad list of very high U.S Africa is high on US Foreign Policy says Bruce Whartongovernment Officials who have visited the continent to stress the importance of Africa in the Administration’s Foreign policy. In an interview which took place towards the end of last year, Mr. Wharton’s expectation that Secretary of State will return to the continent in early 2012 was on mark as Hillary Clinton recently rounded up another trip to Africa with stops in Liberia, Ivory Coast, Togo, and Cape Verde. The Obama Administration according to Mr. Wharton sees partnership in its relationship as oppose to patronage. The USA is not in open competition with China in Africa he says, opining that both countries bring very different things to the table. Whereas the Chinese are interested in raw materials, Mr. Wharton who has served in South Africa and Zimbabwe says his country is more focused on building human capacity. The United States he believes however has a responsibility to urge American Businesses to take a fresh look at the opportunities that abound in Africa. Interviewed by Ajong Mbapndah L, the affable State Department Official offers insight into the USA Foreign Policy in Africa and the logic behind some positions taken by his country in Libya, Ivory Coast and the D.R.Congo.

PAV: Pan African Visions is grateful for your willingness to grant this interview Sir, may we know the place that Africa currently occupies in the U.S Foreign policy?

Bruce Wharton: President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton have placed Africa very high on our foreign policy priority list. A number of reasons for that of course. First of all, there are deep deep connections between the USA and Africa. I think the aspirations of the African people and nations and the United States are very similar. We want freedom to express ourselves, we want the opportunity to grow a strong economic future, we want to be able to choose our governments and choose the way forward. So Africa is very important to the USA.

PAV: President Obama at the sunset of his first term of Office has been to Africa, well Sub Sahara Africa just once; in the face of this how do you convincingly make the case that the USA is sincere and willing to step up its cooperation with Africa?

Bruce Wharton: Well again I maintain that Africa is extremely important to our foreign policy. You are right the President has only been to Sub Sahara Africa once. I know that he wants to return but let me point out that the Vice President has been to Sub Sahara Africa. The Secretary of State has been on two really extensive trips. In 2009 she spent nearly two weeks on the continent; I think it was ten or eleven days. Just this year in 2011, she spent another week on the continent. I expect she will go again early next year. We have had our Under Secretary for Political Affairs go to the continent. The Under Secretary for Global Affairs has been there. My Boss, Assistant Secretary Carson has been there many times. So I think it is important to point out that a lot of very high level American Officials have spent time in Africa. The Presidents’ Global Health Initiative has dedicated $63 billion to health initiatives around the world. That is a global number but if you look at the countries that benefit from the Global Health Initiative, a majority are in Africa. So I think President Obama is building on the good work that was done by his predecessors.

PAV: There are many who see great need greater partnership between the U.S and Africa, there are also many who are increasingly wary of what the US actually wants in Africa especially in the lines of interventions like the one your country was engaged in Libya, how does the U.S draw a line between its own interests and the respect of what Africans actually think is right for their continent?

Bruce Wharton: Well, I think one of the characteristics of the Obama Administration is a new approach to International Affairs especially in Africa. It is more of a partnership rather than a patronage relationship. We have worked hard to build a strong relationship with the African Union for example and with regional organizations such as ECOWAS, the EAC and SADC. The Libyan example is an interesting one. I will tell you that we responded, NATO and the USA responded to what we perceived as an emerging humanitarian crisis in Libya. We did not act alone. The Arab League essentially demanded that the world intervene to prevent Muarmar Kaddafi from inflicting harm on the 700000 people that were in Benghazi at the time. Kaddafi’s aircrafts, artillery and troops were rolling into Benghazi and the world was seriously concerned that we were about to witness a slaughter on the scale of the Rwandan genocide. So the United Nations Security Council issued security resolution 1973 demanding action implementing a no fly zone. The Arab League asked the world to protect the people in Benghazi. The US and NATO began to work on this. There was a meeting in London to which the African Union was invited, there was a subsequent follow up meeting in Paris to which was invited to attend. I can’t explain why they were not able to attend .So NATO took action and the African Union felt there had been left out but I don’t think that takes into account the impending danger in Benghazi or the United Nations Security Council Resolution or the Arab League’s call to relieve the situation.

PAV: We asked this question because the position of the African Union was at odds with what the British and French backed by the US decided to do in Libya, African leaders and indeed a number of Africans feel that there was actually much to the intervention in Libya than meets the eye.

Bruce Wharton: It was a humanitarian intervention. Muarmar Kaddafi and the Government he controlled was making war on its own people and I think after the events in Rwanda in 1994, the determination the world made was that we will not stand by and watch that happen again. So the world intervened to protect the people of Libya.

PAV: Africa is today a source of great competition certainly for its resources and huge market from the Chinese, Canadians, Indians, the Europeans  etc, what does the U.S bring to the table , in other words if you had to sum up a solid case for Africa to prefer partnership with the U S over  other countries with competing interests.

Bruce Wharton: I don’t think it is an either or equation. I think that Africa can benefit from Chinese interests, Indian interests, European interests, American interests and from South American interests because the Brazilians are very active in parts of Africa. Everybody brings something different to the relationship. The Chinese are very interested in raw materials and good at building infrastructure. The U S, our special relationship is building human capacity. Trying to help people become Doctors, Engineers, Lawyers and strengthening Institutions.  So I do not see it as a head to head competition with the Chinese. I think we bring different things. We do think the United States does have the responsibility to urge American businesses to take a fresh look at Africa. We think there are economic and trade opportunities that American businesses have not yet seen. We for example will be leading a big Trade Delegation to Africa early next year as a way to get American business to take a fresh look at Africa. We are excited about potential for the economic growth of the continent and will like American businesses to be part of that.

PAV: The U.S is a country known for democratic values, rule of law and respect of human rights that are the envy of many. These are values many Africans have been fighting for, these are also values held hostage by a lot of leaders with doubtful legitimacies across the continent, how does the U.S navigate between legitimate aspirations of African people and the whims and caprices of leaders especially in countries where there seem to be vested interests?

Bruce Wharton: That is a good question and part of the answer is that Africa is not a single place. There are 53 countries in the continent, in Sub Sahara Africa; we deal with about 45 of them. Each one is different, each one is unique. There is no single approach that makes sense. I think we have to deal with the culture, history and reality of each country separately. We do believe we have to do the best job possible to listen to the people of Africa and respect the dreams and desires of people of individual countries. So for example in Cote D’Ivoire we and ECOWAS, the African Union and the United Nations believed that the results of the Presidential elections held there showed very clearly that Alassane Ouattara won. So we then worked with the International Community to try to make sure that the wishes of the people of Ivory Coast were respected. Gbagbo left power and Alassane Ouattara was allowed to occupy the Presidency.

On Zimbabwe where we have profound concerns on the elections that have been held there in the last ten years, we have sort to bring targeted sanctions to a small number, less than two hundred individuals and enterprises that we believe are working against the wishes of the people. More recently in the Democratic Republic of Congo, we have openly expressed our concerns about the severe short comings in the electoral process. We don’t know that those short comings changed the outcome so we think the important thing now is to keep peace, to take a technical look at the electoral process, figure out how we can support a process where people of the D.R.C are satisfied with the results and can move forward. Again each country is at a different stage of development. Botswana and Mauritius have this whole democratic cycle. This is the first time that the DRC has ever managed its own elections in a very long time so we have to take those differences into account.

PAV: In making these decisions, does the US arrive at its own conclusions or goes along with position of its more entrenched European allies in the continent? In Zimbabwe Britain the former colonial master calls for sanctions ,in Cote D’Ivoire France the former colonial master recognizes Ouattara and in both cases the USA does same, how much of the decisions are based on independent assessment and how much is based on going with allies with greater interests?

Bruce Wharton: The answer is we arrive at our own conclusions about situations in each country and the best response to it. In Cote D’Ivoire we had teams in close contact with election observers. Of course we shared notes from people with the United Nations but ultimately our judgment that Ouattara had been elected with some 54% was based on our own data collection and data that was shared with us from international organizations such as the Carter center and multi-lateral groups such as the United Nations.

In Zimbabwe, again I think we have reached conclusions on our own about the legitimacy of elections in the last ten years. Those conclusions are shared by other people as well. I think SADC, the international organizations and other countries believe that the elections have not been free and fair, those are our conclusions. We don’t copy others.

PAV:As Africa grapples with the challenges of democracy each time elections take place, the US seems to have a way of categorizing them free and fair with examples in mind been Ghana, flawed with examples been the way the last elections in Zimbabwe or Ivory Coast were characterized and a more nuanced reaction that leads to many scratching their heads, the elections had irregularities but it is doubtful if this could affect the overall conduct of elections, is this not often a way to bail out those in the good books of the US as is the case with Desire Kabila in D.R.Congo today?

Bruce Wharton: Well first of all there is no such thing as a perfect election and we have proved that in our own country. We have issues with elections in our own country. So an election is always a process .There is never a perfect example. Like I said earlier, I don’t think it is fair to hold a country like the DRC to the same standard that you will hold a country like Botswana, or the United Kingdom or the USA. Many countries in Africa are very young democracies. Their independence only came fifty years ago

It’s enormously complicated, infrastructure is poor and institutions are weak. The key to us is whether or not we  think to the best of our ability  an elections reflects the will of the people .Sometimes it is very hard to tell and you know in case of the DRC we simply don’t know .The game then becomes how best we can help to improve on next elections and how best we can support the people in Congo who are working towards a better election.

 

 

 

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