Monday, December 22, 2008

Congo's Christmas Prayer 2008: "Lord, Please Gimme Some Shelter"

Christmas Holidays 2008 in the eastern DR Congo.
Ben Affleck, The Rolling Stones and the UNHCR present "Gimmie Shelter".

This Christmas holiday season be sure to remember that millions of people down in the Democratic Republic of Congo desperately need our help. Don't look away, don't forget about them. Please let's not forget about these people while we are enjoying this sacred holiday season in relative safety and peace together with our families and friends.

A Christmas wish from me this year?

An opportunity to head south in 2009-2010 to see if I can't lend a helping hand in removing some of this abysmal misery and danger from people in the DR Congo. That my own children understand what is happening there and why it is happening, and that they are inspired to help out in every way they can. That millions of us around the globe finally realize that 'Enough is Enough' and convince our political leaders and leaders of intergovernmental bodies (i.e. the UN, the AU) to bring an end to this decade-long humanitarian crisis in the eastern DR Congo.

Thank you for visiting Jewels in the Jungle this year, and a special thank you to all of my fellow blog authors and colleagues for your support. Merry Christmas 2008 and have a safe and happy holiday season. See you again in 2009, God willing.

Related articles and resources (updated Dec 30, 2008)

Official website for the DR Congo 'Gimme Shelter' Campaign -
A humanitarian campaign for the victims of the fighting, rape, and plunder taking place in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo

UNHCR Videos at YouTube
Ben Afflick's Short Film for the UNHCR 'Gimme Shelter' Campagin

ABC News 'Nightline'
Ben Affleck Tours Refugee Camps in Eastern Congo Nov 20, 2008
Ben Affleck's Journey Through the Congo Jun 23, 2008

Hat Tip to my man 'The Hausmeister' over at the African Loft online community for the lead on this story: 'Ben Afflick Advocates for Congo Refugees' Dec 17, 2008

Heal Africa - providing holistic care for the people of the Democratic Republic of Congo
Ben Affleck: The Power of Normal People Nov 2008

Goma Film Project
LUMO - a documentary film about helping to heal the victims of sexual violence and mass rape filmed at the HEAL Africa hospital in Goma

Women in War Zones Project - a documentary film and photography about the work with victims of extreme sexual violence filmed at the Panzi Hospital of Bukavu

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Thursday, December 04, 2008

Memory books, HIV/AIDS, and Africa: "So that when I die you will never forget me."

Portrait of Harriet, a main character in the film "Memory Books" by German documentary filmmaker Christa Graf.

“We know everything about how Africa is dying but we know very little about how Africa is living.”
Henning Mankell, popular Swedish crime novelist and the author of “I die, but the memory lives on”

I have to admit that for the past weeks I have been rather depressed like many people may be around the world with all of the problems that humanity is facing. From a global financial crisis that is threatening everyone to warlords on the rampage in eastern Congo; to Somali pirates operating with impunity off the coast of the Horn of Africa while their country sinks ever deeper into the Abyss, attacking commercial and passenger ships right down the coast of East Africa to Tanzania; to Zimbabwe’s monster-in-residence Robert Mugabe virtually choking the very lifeblood out of his country and his people while regional African leaders debate whether to act either on behalf of the people of Zimbabwe or serve their own short-sighted interests, to Sudan’s despicable leader Omar al-Bashir & Co. trying to snake their way out of a pending ICC indictment for acts of genocide and crimes against humanity in Darfur.

To top things off the attacks and atrocities against innocent civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan continue seemingly unabated despite our best efforts to stop them while terrorists have successfully carried out brutal attacks and mass murder in India’s megacity Mumbai, threatening to turn the Indian subcontinent into a living Hell. These are dark times for humanity, no doubt about it.

And then along comes
World AIDS Day 2008 (December 1st) when caring people across the globe reflect upon the loss and ravages of a disease that has killed and continues to kill millions and millions of people. On the evening of December 1st while scanning TV channels for something good to watch I stumbled upon a film at ARTE-TV that I want to share with you. It is a documentary film about HIV/AIDS in Africa, Uganda to be specific, but unlike any other that I have seen on the subject to date. The film is named simply “Memory Books” and was shot and directed by a renowned German filmmaker named Christa Graf. It is a film about hope and self-help groups organized by Ugandan women who are HIV-positive working to support one another and create something useful for the soon-to-be orphaned children of sick and dying parents. This “something” is a collection of tender and loving words and photographs and drawings contained in little books for the children and as the filmmakers remind us, these Memory Books may be some of the most important documents of our time. Handwritten, handmade, nothing fancy, costly, or high tech.

I won’t take up much more of your time with my own words as I would like you to explore Memory Books on your own thanks to the wise choice that the German filmmakers have made to launch a website (English, German) and a blog in support of the film and the Memory Books Project in Uganda. However, I would like to add the following few words:

Regular readers of Jewels in the Jungle may remember that the title of this blog owes its origins to a project for assisting orphans in Uganda
as I explained in my Aug/Sep 2008 interview series “Seven Questions”. Parts of the film “Memory Books” was shot on location where that inspirational project took place (in and around the Ugandan cities of Kampala and Jinja on Lake Victoria, and rural villages in the Iganga district). As I watched this excellent documentary I couldn’t help but wonder about the fate of the beautiful children featured in my Yahoo! Flickr photostream on Uganda___ how many of these children are doing well and excelling at school, how many are sick with disease and may be no longer with us? I also was reminded of my friend Fred, a good and highly intelligent man who has been working with AIDS orphans in southeast Uganda and the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo for years, trying to help these children with meager resources donated by local people without any assistance from the Ugandan government or international aid organizations. I remember our many conversations about the crisis with HIV/AIDS and its impact on life in Uganda as well as our talks about the unfolding humanitarian nightmare in eastern Congo.

Perhaps someday I will create my own “Memory Book” with my two grownup children so that they will have something valuable to help them remember their “old Dad”___ but in the meantime if I happen to die unexpectedly (God forbid) please remember me by what I have tried to express here at Jewels in the Jungle and for my children may they remember precious moments from the past that we have been blessed to share together both at home and abroad. Now have a look at this outstanding and “important” film about dealing with the anguish of loss before and after the death of a dear loved one.

Excerpts from the documentaryMemory Books’ courtesy of the official film website

In front of the small brick house Dennis and Chrissi brush their teeth every evening in the dim glow of the oil lamp. The 10-year-old watches his little sister conscientiously as they get ready for bed. Since their mother died of AIDS two years ago they are both orphans, two of more than two million of their kind in Uganda. There are few countries in Africa that have more households run by orphaned children and, despite extensive efforts by the government to raise awareness, experts on the subject predict that nearly 35% of Uganda's population is infected with HIV. When the parents die, the children are forced to look after themselves.

A very special project has emerged in Uganda as a result: Memory Books, written by infected parents, mostly mothers, and their children. Aware of the illness, it is a way for the family to come to terms with the inevitable death that it faces. Openly, honestly and compassionately, the books give the children a chance to prepare themselves for life on their own. Values and traditions are passed on in the form of stories, fairytales and songs and the family’s history is recorded with the children's favorite memories or their parent's wishes for the future.

The books not only capture immeasurably valuable memories, but also allow members of the family to process some gruesome realities and prepare for the future. Hopelessness and desperation are confronted through the collaborative effort of remembering and recording, a process that inspires unexpected strength and even solace in the face of death. These books will likely be the most important guidelines that these orphans have to lead them through life.

Excerpts from August 2008 interview with filmmaker Christa Graf courtesy of (International Documentary Association)

Synopsis: In Uganda, AIDS-infected mothers have begun writing what they call Memory Books for their children. Memory Books are a way for families to come to terms with the inevitable death that they face. Hopelessness and desperation are confronted through the collaborative effort of remembering and recording, a process that inspires unexpected strength and even solace in the face of death.

IDA: How did you get started in documentary filmmaking?

Christa Graf: Until 1978 I worked as a laboratory technician in the biochemistry research department of the Max Planck Institute and at universities in Munich, Berlin and New York. Long trips in Africa, the Americas and Asia inspired my dream of becoming a journalist. In 1992 I began an internship at TELE5 TV station and later worked as a volunteer at TV Freising. Since 1994, I have been a freelance author and producer for various TV stations and have created more than 50 reportages and documentaries for renowned stations including ZDF, 3sat and Bayerischer Rundfunk.IDA: What inspired you to make Memory Books?

CG: In 2006 I went to a reading of I Die, But the Memory Lives On by Henning Mankell, a Swedish author who gained bestseller stardom with his series of crime novels. Because he lives not only in Sweden, but also in Mozambique, he has a special interest in African concerns, so he wrote the first book about the Memory Book project. At the reading Mankell said a lot about the Memory Books and how they might become one of the most important documents of our time, which sparked my interest. I wanted to find out more about the Memory Books, so I decided they would be my next topic.

IDA: What were some of the challenges and obstacles in making this film, and how did you overcome them?

CG: One of the biggest problems ocurred right at the beginning. I went to Uganda to find protagonists for the film. Unfortunately, as soon as I told them about the documentary's topic, they all lost interest, turned me down and refused to help. Of course I could understand it because for them it looked just like another European making another film about AIDS and how Africa is ruining itself. But when I explained I was trying to make a film about how Africa deals with this problem and how it lives, not about how it dies, they became very cooperative and friendly.

Additional resources and related articles

Memory Books – the official website of the documentary film by Christa Graf (German, English)
Film trailer (English, Lusoga and Luanda, the indigenous languages of southeastern Uganda)
Note. Film trailer is in Apple Quicktime format, approx. 38MB in size
Main characters
Video interviews with the filmmakers and producer including film excerpts (German)
Note: videos are in Apple Quicktime format, approx. 100MB in size total
The organisation NACWOLA
Dennis and his sister Chrissi
Press Material
Memory Books - a film by Christa Graf (the official blog)

ARTE-TV (a German/French independent television network)
Memory Books: damit du mich nie vergisst (German text and video)
Program airs on ARTE December 1st, 5th, and 10th (check local listings) – website of the International Documentary Association
Interview with filmmaker Christa Graf about the making of “Memory Books” by Thomas White, Aug 2008

Henning Mankell – official website of the popular Swedish author
Lest We Forget: Africa's AIDS Crisis - Photo Essays - TIME

James Nachtwey’s XDRTB Project to help raise awareness and action against Extreme Drug Resistant Tuberculosis (XDRTB) – personal website of the award-winning TIME photographer

Camera Rwanda @ Flickr – the Flickr photostream of professional photographer Kresta King-Cutcher Venning

Jewels in the Jungle @ Flickr – my humble Africa photostreams at

Plan International
AIDS Memory Books

World AIDS Day 2008 - UK official website

BBC News
Picturing life with HIV in DR Congo, 11/30/08
Personal website of photojournalist Nell Freeman

The pitfalls of Africa’s aid addiction, 11/24/08
Sorious Samura’s documentary on the sorry state of corruption and neglect in public health services administration in Sierra Leone and Uganda

BBC World - Panorama program: Addicted to Aid (aired Nov 24th)

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Monday, November 17, 2008

CBS Interview with the Obamas On Their Personal Transition to the White House

The CBS News '60 Minutes' interview exclusive with the US President-elect Barack Obama and US First Lady Michelle Obama after the elections. November 16, 2008

A special treat for my 'overseas friends and readers' who may not be aware of this delightful interview conducted by one of America's favorite TV news magazines: CBS News '60 Minutes'.

More info about the program: 'The Obama's On Their Personal Transition'.

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Monday, November 10, 2008

The Obama Election Victory as Viewed from Germany: 'Mr. President, Wir Sind Überglucklich!'

Update November 17
Added new links to German news articles as well as links to the online video files for the CNN program 'Fareed Zakaria GPS - Obama: The Past as Prologue'.


How do you write about something as monumental as the election of the first African American president of the United States of America? As the noted author and biographer Robert Caro said during a roundtable discussion with Fareed Zakaria, “This is an epic moment in American history”. Ref: Fareed Zakaria GPS program Sunday November 9th ‘Obama: The Past as Prologue’.

Fareed Zakaria GPS – US Historians on Barack Obama – program video Part 1

Fareed Zakaria GPS – US Historians on Barack Obama – program video Part 2

It has taken the better part of a week to begin recovery from my overwhelming joy over this great political victory and I am not alone. Several days after the announcement to the world that Barack Obama had won the 2008 US presidential election, people here in Germany are still very excited and überglucklich (overjoyed, ecstatic) about his victory.

It makes one think that by electing a new president for our own country we the people of the United States may have also elected the ‘President of the World’ or better stated a ‘President for the World.’ Millions of people are so relieved and excited that American voters have made the right choice. Their emotions and feelings of good will toward America are genuine as far as I can determine. This is what real political capital and international goodwill is really all about and ‘We the People of the United States of America’ dare not waste it. We can build a better nation and help to build a better world upon this change in leadership. People all over the world are counting on us to work with them in a new spirit of cooperation, trust and mutual respect___ so that we may build upon this new foundation in political and world history.

Like many other blog authors and online journalists I thought I would share my personal experiences regarding this election over the past weeks and days with my readers___ for the historical record mind you because we all made history together. This is what I experienced here in Germany:

Election Day Minus 1 and Counting

I must admit that even before Election Day (November 4th) arrived I had been having uncontrollable fits of sobbing and fighting back tears as I realized the historical significance of what was about to happen___ that Barack Obama and Joe Biden had a better-than-even chance of winning this historic US election. Fortunately this was occurring while I was alone in my office or somewhere else in private where I could quickly wipe away the tears. I couldn’t believe that so much emotion and anticipation over these elections had welled-up inside of me that I could accidentally breakdown before my friends and colleagues or worse yet breakdown in public. Scared me to death; thought that I was going mad.

Now that Election Day has come and gone and the American people have chosen in such overwhelming numbers the next President of the United States of America, I am feeling much better thank you. The tears and sobs have subsided (but not entirely). I thought that I may be one of only a few people suffering with this strange pre-election day illness but learned later that this affliction has been affecting people all over the world.
Colin Powell has been crying together with his whole family, Jesse Jackson had tears running down his face while standing in a park in Chicago; here in my neighborhood people from Europe and the Middle East and Africa have come up to me full of jubilation with congratulations and best wishes to the people of America. I bet you that more than half have admitted they either broke down in tears or had to fight tears back upon learning of Obama’s great victory. Old and young people, black and white people, people from various nations and ethnic backgrounds, people who lived through terrible wars and extremely difficult circumstances which affected their lives dramatically were shedding tears of joy over the election of the first African American U.S. president. Imagine that.

It shouldn’t be surprising because for months the buzz on the streets in Germany has been about the 2008 US elections. As Election Day neared this ‘buzz’ intensified like something many of us have never witnessed. German TV networks and press deployed their best news teams all over America and in Washington D.C. in anticipation of a historical event that would shake the world: the election of the first ‘black’ President of the United States. On election night and the days following the German news media coverage was simply massive. If you have any doubts about what I am saying (writing) please have a look at the small sample of news coverage online from Germany and Europe that I have listed at the end of this post.

Election Day: November 4, 2008

On the eve of the elections I couldn’t do anything of real consequence due to a heightened sense of nervousness and fear that something would go wrong. I had spoken with several friends and acquaintances who were supporters of Obama (few of whom who could actually vote in this election) and we had reassured one another that everything was going to be O.K.; that Obama would win the US election hands down. Expert political analysis and polls available online were pointing to a solid Democratic Party victory but like many people back in the US and in other parts of the world we did not trust the information we were seeing on TV and reading online and in the newspapers. We did not fully trust our instincts and powers of reason. Some unforeseen event or person was going to spoil our hopes and dreams, dash our heartfelt wishes and prayers for a victory in these elections against the wall.

Toward evening I received something wholly unexpected. It was a letter from my lovely daughter who lives and works in New York City. She just wanted to make contact with her ‘old Dad’ and inform me about what was going on in her busy life and to remind me to follow the elections and to cheer Barack Obama on to victory. Anytime a parent hears from their child who is separated by miles and miles of ocean it is something special. In this case it was more than special, it was ‘a sign’ that something really big and beautiful was about to happen in our lives. You see communications between my daughter and I had unfortunately fallen silent over the years__ for far too many years. Our communication with one another was being re-established on the eve of one of the greatest historical events that we would ever witness in our lifetimes. At that point I knew that everything was going to be alright not only for Senator Obama and all of his millions of avid fans and supporters but also for Dad and his beloved daughter Dalia. I went to bed that evening assured of victory long before the polls closed and the counting of ballots had begun back in America. I knew that he would win and I knew that he was going to win BIG!

So I slept relatively well on election night having mailed my absentee ballot to the United States three weeks ahead of time. No long lines at the polls, no 5 hour+ waiting periods, no problems with names not being on registration lists, no officials telling you that you cannot vote because of your skin color or ethnicity, no growling pit bulls with lipstick and attack dogs and police beating on you with batons and knocking you down with water canons, none of that historical BS. Vote early; it is worth it, I’m telling you.

Election Day + 1: November 5, 2008
The morning news that swept the world’s breadth away

I woke up to good news on Wednesday morning. I was greeted at breakfast with fresh coffee (a good German roast), a selection of breads, German wurst and cheeses, and the news that Barack Obama had won the election. Of course the counting of ballots and reporting was not finished in all U.S. states due to the time difference between the US and Europe, but Senator Barack Obama and Senator Joe Biden had assembled enough electoral votes to declare a resounding victory.

After breakfast I received an early morning phone call from a Congolese friend who has lived in Germany for many years. She was just as ecstatic over this victory as the people dancing in the streets all across America and the world, at a time when her own country, the Democratic Republic of Congo, is suffering from a never-ending war and a humanitarian crisis that has cost the lives of more than 5 million people. It was touching to share her excitement and joy and after a brief discussion about the outcome of the elections she said the following (in German), “This was the will of God what has happened in America today. You are a blessed people and the future of Africa and the world depends on what you do.” I knew after that that this was going to be a very long day.

One of the first people that I met that morning was my good friend Reza. Reza is from Iran and worked for over 20 years in the government administration of the
late Shah of Iran. He has been living in exile together with his family in Germany for about 25 years. He fled to Germany after his release from prison in Tehran a few years after the beginning of the Iranian Revolution. Reza and I love to discuss and debate politics and history with our small circle of friends in his Kiosk (small shop). Our little group came together by mere chance and is made up of ‘old guys’ from at least 5 nations. Our old German friend and the Iranian guys have experienced terrible war and destruction in their own countries___ dating back to WWII and moving forward to the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980’s. We are good at world history let me tell you; we’re experts. Just ask us.

Reza has been an avid fan of Barack Obama ever since the young senator from Illinois began to gain news media attention here in Europe. All throughout the grueling 2008 US election campaign with its ups-and-downs and unrelenting bitterness, the endless waiting and uncertainty about who would emerge as the presidential candidate for the Democrats and the Republicans, my friend Reza was unshakable in his confidence of a victory for Barack Obama in November. He just knew who was going to win the election, no question in his mind.

Note: Reza likes to refer to President-elect Obama by his middle name, Hussein. He always does that with a big mischievous grin on his face. His favorite English word for the past weeks has been CHANGE. “We need change!”

It was imperative that Reza be the first friend that I greet on the morning after election night. He was waiting for me patiently while sweeping autumn leaves before his little kiosk. As I approached he displayed the widest smile that you have ever seen. We hugged one another tightly with great joy and tears in our eyes and hearty claps of congratulations on each other’s shoulder; we practically danced in the street with overwhelming happiness. Then we calmed down and discussed the outcome of the elections and what it may mean for improved relations between the U.S.A. and Iran and countries throughout the Middle East. We talked about what an Obama victory could mean for the whole world. Discussions with Reza are always interesting and he has taught me a great deal about the history and culture of his country. Reza insisted that we drink a glass or two of champagne as a toast to the victorious new president-elect. I suggested that we drink tea instead (due to his religion Islam) but he was having none of that. Champagne it is for Reza and me!

Election Day +1: From the Middle East to Africa
A stroll across the road to meet with my close friends from West Africa

I have written before (
see the introduction to my last post dated September 22nd) about my close relationship with a number of young Africans who live in my city. My favorites are three young businessmen from Togo: Justin, Vincent, and Sassou. There business (a barber shop, one of the most successful salons in the city) is located just up the street from Reza’s kiosk, so it was logical that this was to be my next stop.

They were waiting on the ‘old man’ as I expected. Again there were plenty of hugs and slaps of congratulations on shoulders and backs and exclamations of joy over the great victory of Barack Obama all around. The look on their faces of happiness, satisfaction and relief that the election was finally over is indescribable. These young men were the epitome of what was happening that day not only in the African Diaspora in Europe but all across the African continent. I didn’t need to see the video footage on CNN and BBC World from Obama’s ancestral homeland Kenya and capitals across Africa; I was witnessing it live here in Germany. Every African that I saw that day, everyone that I knew from Africa that I met on that day, was walking tall with pride and rejoicing over this great event. I left my three friends after a half hour or so of celebration and discussion. Like everyday at work they had the wall-mounted flat screen TV set tuned to the news, CNN and TV5 (France) and N-TV (Germany). These guys are not just Obama fans because he is black or of African ancestry, they are up-to-speed on the issues and the challenges facing the world. They understand that this victory is also for them and their people back in West Africa, and someday I fully expect to see them use this experience together with our many conversations about politics and world issues to bring a needed and lasting change to their own county. I am certain they will have an impact on helping to bring good governance to Togo someday. “This is your victory too, this is your time.”

Election Day +1: From Africa to Europe and America
Finishing the day with family and friends

I finished Election Day+ 1 together with a small group of American friends and our partners. We met that evening for dinner and drinks at our favorite American-style restaurant and bar. The owners are two Germans who have lived many years in California, a husband-wife team that was split right down the middle on who was the best candidate for President of the United States. Angela won of course, Chuck was crying in his beer back in Los Angeles, California.

We had a very enjoyable evening together with lots of laughs and jokes about how we each handled the enormous stress of this long campaign, and plenty of advice for the new president-elect about how to handle that snake pit called Washington D.C. and what he needs to do to help move the world forward in the right direction.

Here is my small bit of advice for the new President-elect of the United States:
Get some rest Mr. President, you are tired and you have earned a good rest. You will need all the energy and expert advice and wisdom you can assemble soon enough. For now, just rest as much as you can and reflect upon this great victory.

Coming blog posts: ‘Ein Postcard an der US Präsident’ series:
A roundup of viewpoints and analysis from Europe and Africa on the US election victory and the transition of power. Commentary about the historical implications of the US elections from leading historians and experts on politics and world affairs.

Related news articles from Germany about the 2008 US Elections

ZDF TV Network (Germany), ZDF Mediathek (online media archive)
ZDF Mediathek: US Wahl 2008 (US Elections 2008 - full coverage)

Obamas Schnappschüsse von der Wahlnacht
Video reports, election coverage and photos of the Obama family on election night

Die Deutschen: Ein Jahrtausend deutsche Geschicte (full program notes)
ZDF Mediathek:
Ein Jahrtausend deutsche Geschicte (video series)
Special 10-part TV series on German history starting on 10/24/08
Note: The 'Die Deutschen' series doesn't have anything to do with the 2008 US elections. It is a tip to my readers regarding a ZDF History TV series covering a thousand years of German history with contributions by some leading historians on the subject . (German language)

Spiegel Online - International edition
Special feature: America Has Made Its Choice

(An archive of 2008 US elections news and editorials)

Interview with British Historian Niall Ferguson on Obama and the Global Crisis: 'A World War without War', 11/11/08
The World President: Great Expectations for Project Obama, 11/11/08
What the President-Elect Wants from Germany: Obama Win Sparks Hopes and Fears, 11/10/08
Obama's Triumph: A Radical Cry for Change, 11/05/08
Interview with Obama’s Germany Advisor William Drozdiak: ‘The US is actually serious about ending unilateralism’, 11/10/08

Could It Happen Here? Where’s Europe’s Obama? 11/06/08
‘One of Us’: Africa has high hopes for Barack Obama, 11/07/08
Good Morning Mr. President: What Europe Wants from Obama, 11/05/08

Interview with Neoconservative Scholar Robert Kagan: ‘America Remains Number One’, 10/27/08 – a special report on John McCain’s foreign policy advisor
America’s New Agenda: How the US can fix its damaged reputation abroad by Strobe Talbott, 10/13/08 (IP Global – German Council on Foreign Relations)
Rise of the Rest: The challenges of the new world order by Wolfgang Nowak, 10/02/08 (IP Global - German Council on Foreign Relations)
The End of Arrogance: America loses its dominant economic role, 09/30/08 (a 5-part feature article)

Gabor Steingart’s West Wing (a weekly column about US politics)
Obama's Historic Election Victory: The Resurrection of the American Dream, 11/05/08
West Wing: America, where it pays to fail, 09/30/08

Der Spiegel's report on the Transatlantic Trends Survey 2008:
Europeans back Obama but not necessarily his policies, 09/10/08
Transatlantic relations archive
Special feature: US Election 2008

DW World - Deutsche Welle Online 2008 US Elections coverage
Europe Hails Obama Win, Calls for “New Deal”, 11/05/08
European Press Review: Welcome, Barack Obama, 11/05/08
Opinion: World Hopes for New Beginning by Peter Phillip, 11/04/08

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Monday, September 22, 2008

Seven Questions Interview Q&A Nr.6: Africa and the U.S. Presidential Campaign

Note: I felt that I should publish my answer to interview question number 6 out of sequence so that readers would easily notice it. Bearing in mind the the state of world affairs being discussed at the UN General Assembly 2008 meeting in New York this week, the U.S. presidential campaign moving into its final critical weeks, and the recent Wall Street financial crisis that rocked stock markets and economies worldwide, consider this a 'Heads Up' post for the world.

Read Part 1 (Q&A Nrs. 1,2,3) of the Seven Questions interview here
Read Part 2 (Q&A Nrs. 4,5) of the Seven Questions interview here
Koluki is crossposting excerpts from the interview at her blog

Seven Questions for Jewels in the Jungle
(continued from Q&A Nr. 5)

6. How do you think each American Presidential candidate, Barack Obama and John McCain, would impact America's relationship with Africa if elected?

You know, when I first saw this question I thought it would be difficult to answer because I have heard precious little in this campaign from either John McCain or Barack Obama about how they view America’s foreign policy toward Africa. But after taking some time to do a bit of careful research on the subject I’ve come across some very interesting factual information on the subject.

One thing that should be noted is that this U.S. election campaign may be one of the most closely watched political events in human history. As I explained in a previous post about Senator Barack Obama’s July visit to Germany the overseas interest and excitement about this campaign is phenomenal. It is bigger than anything that has come out of American political life for decades and the outcome of this presidential election is important not only for U.S. voters but for citizens around the globe.

It’s hard for Americans living abroad to explain the dirty politics and negative personal attacks that have emerged in this campaign. The level of ‘political attack ads’ are shocking not only for Americans and veteran U.S. political journalists but also for many foreign observers following this election. Darrell M. West of the Brookings Institution describes this aggressive behavior as an all-time low in U.S. political campaign history. If patriotic Americans are truly sincere about improving the country’s standing and image abroad then the Republicans and Democrats need to rein in this toxic behavior at all levels of their respective campaigns. The presidential candidates need to get back to discussing real issues and offering solutions for the mounting problems that we all are facing. The upcoming presidential debate on September 26 would be a good place to start.

The global phenomenon surrounding the Obama campaign for President is a ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ experience and I shall not forget it as long as I live. This man’s candidacy has inspired people from all walks of life and has instilled a special feeling of pride and new hope for a better world in many people of every color, ethnicity, and nationality. It is a pity that the Republican presidential candidate Senator John McCain, an accomplished and distinguished U.S. politician, has not been able to arouse a similar level of excitement and interests in these elections outside of the United States.

I have been approached countless times by people in Germany who want to eagerly discuss the 2008 U.S. election campaign and the historic candidacy of Senator Barack Obama. They want to talk about everything from race relations in the U.S. to how national politics really works in America. This election campaign is especially exciting for my African friends and other people of color in Europe who seem to have adopted Obama’s run for President as if he were the leader of their own respective countries. Obama’s candidacy represents a powerful and symbolic break with these people’s own colonial past and collective dreams for the future. My experiences are something special and I think that we as Americans cannot afford to ignore this important message from so many people from every corner of the world. As reported in several newspapers and TV news networks Europe’s fascination with Senator Obama is unusually high. Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine conducted a reader poll that showed an overwhelming amount of support for Barack Obama over John McCain by a whopping margin of 83%. Newsweek’s new sister publication The has a related article on Obama’s global appeal titled ‘The World in His Hands’ that is also worth reading as it echoes what we already know here in Europe.

I try to caution people (especially young African men) not to be overly confident about Senator Obama easily winning this election in America but I get the feeling that many people are simply not listening. I enjoy explaining to them how U.S. politics works and the importance of this historical presidential election. Their interest has remained keen over the many months of campaigning and news coverage by CNN and BBC News and our conversations about politics in America and in Africa are lively and informative. My hope is that my young friends and acquaintances will take something from this experience with them back to their own home countries in Africa. That some of these young Africans will become active in the politics of their country and work hard to bring the benefits of a true democracy to their people. I expect to see their names in Africa’s good news headlines someday.

So as far as the presidential candidate Barack Obama impacting the U.S.A.’s relationship with Africa and Africans, he has already done it and he has done it in a very big way. Just the manner in which he has handled himself so far in this very challenging political campaign has inspired many African people for generations to come. If it were left up to the world to choose the next U.S. president, the 2008 race for the White House would already be over. The November polls in the United States would simply be a formality in keeping with our constitution.

I think that good people around the world are desperately trying to send a strong message to Americans, pleading with us to make informed and intelligent decisions about our leaders in the 2008 U.S. presidential election. They are trying to tell us that the person who sits in the Oval Office of the White House come January 21, 2009 is damn important for their lives and future too. These are voices that we must not ignore as American voters, no matter which political party we adhere to, we dare not ignore the pleas and hopes and dreams of our friends and allies around the world. So for the remaining few weeks leading up to the U.S. general election on November 4, 2008 I hope that my fellow Americans behave in a manner that is becoming of a great nation and a great people. It would go a long way in helping to restore the world’s confidence in America and it might help many of us to restore confidence in ourselves.

Now to get back to your question, what was your question?
Oh yes, how do I think that each U.S. presidential candidate would impact America’s relationship with Africa?

I think that both U.S. presidential candidates, no matter who wins in November, will have little opportunity to devote a great deal of attention and energy toward Africa during their first year in office. It is not that John McCain and Barack Obama does not care about what happens in Africa or does not want better US-Africa relations. All of the U.S. presidential candidates have expressed their views and ideas about U.S. foreign policy and you can read what they have said at the Council of Foreign Relations Campaign 2008 website: The Candidates on U.S. Policy toward Africa.

In my opinion the problem is that the next U.S. president will be immediately faced by a mountain of problems as soon as he opens the door to the Oval Office on January 21, 2009. Like a swarm of locusts the world’s problems and crises will be all over the incoming president, things that need his immediate and special attention and his most valuable asset, his time. The urgent needs of African countries may be in danger of being shuffled toward the bottom of the President’s ‘TO DO list’ yet again as has been the case in previous administrations. It is not only the incoming U.S. president who will be confronted with these mounting problems as we shall witness at the UN General Assembly 2008 meeting in New York this week. Africa’s needs and challenges are at great risk in the face of a global financial crises, climate change, food shortages, and conflict.

Let’s be honest with ourselves, this is exactly what will happen in the first 100 days of next U.S. administration until the President can assemble his new cabinet and get a handle on what needs to be done immediately and what can wait until later. Once the President’s foreign policy team has been selected and assembled, African leaders and advocates and activists will concentrate on building a working relationship with the administration, including meeting with the next U.S. Secretary of State and Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs. This will be the first order of business in Washington DC for Africa’s diplomats and political and business leaders.

The new president as with administrations past will be listening very closely to the advice and recommendations of his national security and foreign policy advisors before he makes any decisions about steering a new U.S. policy course toward Africa or anywhere else in the world. The 2008 Democratic presidential campaign team has assembled about three hundred advisors to assist their candidate Senator Barack Obama with foreign policy issues. I’d say with that large number of policy experts and seasoned U.S. diplomats the Democrats are taking U.S. foreign policy seriously. I don’t know if the 2008 Republican campaign team has an equal number of foreign policy advisors to help Senator John McCain but perhaps he doesn’t need them. After all Senator McCain has been around for a long time in Washington DC and he is also well known by many diplomats and world leaders. John McCain does get his world leaders and their countries a bit mixed up every now and then like he did with Spain’s Prime Minister Zapatero and Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez. Heck, a slipup like that could happen to anybody at that age. Whatever the number of foreign policy advisors and experts that are holed up in each party’s camp we shall see how well versed each candidate is on U.S. foreign policy issues in the opening Presidential Debate to be televised on September 26th.

CNN aired a special program this past weekend titled ‘The Next President: A World of Challenges’. Veteran news correspondents Christiane Amanpour and Frank Sesno played host to five (5) former U.S. secretaries of state. The program was taped on September 15 at George Washington University in a roundtable discussion titled “The Next President and U.S. Foreign Policy: Guiding Principles and Global Challenges”. Unfortunately for those of us who live outside of North America the CNN special aired at 03:00 CET on Sunday September 21st. I don’t know about you but I am asleep at 0300 hours unless there is an emergency or something. During the roundtable discussion at GWU former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell was asked what he thought about an Obama victory in November. He made it clear that he had not yet made up his mind on who he would vote for but Colin Powell did say that an Obama victory “would be electrifying”. I agree with Powell, an Obama victory would stun the world. The Election Center 2008 website has more on the roundtable event: Ex-secretaries of state share advice for next president and CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360° program blog has published two posts about the event as well:

Excerpt from Frank Sesno’s post at CNN’s AC360°

There we were, sitting alongside five people who had made history and shaped American foreign policy for nearly four decades. Vietnam and détente. Hot war with Iraq and Cold War with the Soviet Union. Mideast peace conferences and arms control. Kosovo and Iran. Rwanda and Iraq. The fall of the Berlin Wall and the scourge of drought, poverty and AIDS in the developing world. Henry Kissinger, James Baker, Warren Christopher, Madeleine Albright, Colin Powell. Five former American Secretaries of State. The conversation was remarkable for its candor, depth and realism.

We gathered at the George Washington University, where I teach, to talk about the challenges facing the next American president. Christiane Amanpour brought her experience and hard edge to the questioning. The list of challenges we asked about was daunting– from big global issues like climate change and poverty to decisions about how to deal with the new, more assertive Russia, how to handle Iraq and Afghanistan, whether to reach out to Iran, how to fight terrorism and fix America’s tattered image in the world.

Here’s what the secretaries’ bottom line was: get over it. Get real. Be smart. The world is a complicated place. America has to lead. Play down the ideology, they seemed to say, and approach the world rationally and with perspective. Imagine that.

Read more at AC360°
Former Secretaries of State to Next President: Get over it. Be real. Be smart.

Excerpt from Christiane Amanpour’s post at CNN’s AC360°

One of the most interesting areas where they differed was Darfur and the question of Genocide. These hardened diplomats were torn – but they agreed that U.S. intervention was not in the cards. Even Secretary Powell who told us he had first called it genocide on behalf of the US government:

Colin Powell: “You look at something like Darfur, and it just breaks your heart. But the ultimate solution to the crisis in Darfur is a political solution between the rebels and the government in Khartoum.”

Madeline Albright:” Well, I think it’s in the U.S. national interests, in fact, to do something about humanitarian situations that lead to or are genocidal. And the question is how you get the will of the American people behind it. It is not easy. But I’ll say this is, if you’re the United States, you’re damned if you do or damned if you don’t. We intervened in Somalia, and people thought that was a mistake. We didn’t intervene in Rwanda, and people thought that was a mistake.”

James A. Baker III: “When you formulate and implement foreign policy — and I bet you everybody here would agree with this — you have got to take America’s principles and values into consideration. And we’re talking here now about principles and values. But you also have to have a healthy dose of national interest involved, because otherwise you lose the support of the American people. Your foreign policy can only be sustained as long as you bring the American people along with it. They are the final arbiter of foreign policy in our democracy. We cannot be the policemen for the world“.

Yes, but Darfur is a big topic on US campuses, with a serious grass roots movement to stop the genocide there. When the Secretaries started laying this on “bringing the American people along”, I was sorely tempted to turn to the audience for a show of hands. I am sure there would have been an overwhelming call for action from the floor. I’m sorry I didn’t ask.

Read more at AC360°
Five Former Secretaries of State: Cracking diplomacy, and jokes

Here are more reasons why I think that Africa’s issues and concerns will not be a very high priority in the first 12 months of the incoming U.S. administration:

1. Just this week Wall Street and major financial markets around the globe are facing yet another economic meltdown. Financial mismanagement and very reckless behavior by top managers at key multinational investment banks and mammoth insurance companies will be costing U.S. taxpayers dearly if and when the dust ever settles over this mess. I’ve read news analysis that say that the bill to American taxpayers for the failures on Wall Street this year alone could reach US$ 1 trillion___ that’s right, 1 trillion dollars with a t!

Fingers of blame are pointing in every which direction while it is clear that there has been poor government oversight and regulation of the U.S. banking and insurance industries. And it is also evident that the Barons of Wall Street have gone completely mad with a lot of other people’s money. People are deeply pissed off at America about this financial crisis from Peoria to Persia and if it were not for massive financial help from the central banks in Europe and Asia the U.S. economy would be near collapse.

One of the first things that the new U.S. president must do immediately after taking office in January is to come up with a solid plan and expert team to address this massive problem. “It’s the economy, stupid!” happening all over again just like on the eve of President Clinton’s first administration but this time even the world’s smartest economists are dumbfounded about what to do next and how global markets can dig themselves out of this deep hole. So if you have any good ideas about how to fix this mess send them to the expert panel of economists assembled by the New York Times.

2. The War in Iraq is looking as if there may be some light at the end of the tunnel after all with the handover of command of coalition forces by General David Patraeus to General Ray Odierno. Although the terrible sectarian violence and number of suicide bombings and wanton killings are down in most parts of the country, Iraq is still a nation desperately seeking peace and stability and resolution to its many problems and challenges.

The next U.S. president will be saddled with the responsibility of managing continued U.S. involvement in Iraq, including the drawdown of U.S. forces in the country and helping the Iraqi government with reconstruction. Iraq and Afghanistan will be as great a burden on the next U.S. president as it was on President George W. Bush, and the emerging tensions between the U.S. and the nuclear-armed unstable government in Pakistan may prove to be the nightmare that nobody dared dream. These conflicts and crises will continue to weigh heavily on America’s human and financial resources and God forbid that all Hell breaks loose somewhere else on the planet. If it does, we are all doomed for sure.

3. The elusive search for peace in the Middle East, the nuclear negotiations with North Korea and Iran, combating the resurgence of the Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan and fighting extremism and terrorists worldwide (including in Africa), dealing with a wide assortment of problems that impact U.S. relations with our many neighbors south of the border (Mexico, Columbia, Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Cuba, Haiti…) __ all of these foreign policy challenges will be stacked high upon the next U.S. president’s desk in January 2009.

And right next to this stack of red hot foreign affairs issues will be another pile of problems and challenges labeled “U.S. Domestic Crises and Issues”. This stack has absolute top priority in the lives of U.S. citizens and voters. Addressing these issues expediently and successfully in the eyes of the American people will determine if the new U.S. president and his administration can keep their jobs. These U.S. domestic issues include the following but is not limited to this short list:

a) The U.S. economy and the huge mess in the investment banking industry
b) National security and public safety
c) U.S. job security and reducing unemployment to negligible levels
d) Addressing America’s business needs and stimulating economic growth
e) Providing healthcare insurance for all U.S. citizens (100%)
f) Improving access to higher education and better education for all Americans
g) Energy issues ranging from sourcing and securing America’s energy supplies to reducing America’s dependence on foreign oil and gas
h) Developing new and renewable energy technologies for new energy sources
i) Straightening out the legal/illegal immigration mess that affect millions and millions of Latino families in a way that works best for everybody

I think that you get the idea, that the list of problems and challenges facing the incoming president is unending___ always has been for U.S. presidents since the birth of the republic. And it shall always be this way so as long as the United States of America stands and attempts to maintain its position as a leader among democratic nations in the world.

  • So where does Africa fit into this picture, into the strategic foreign policies of the United States of America?

  • Where are African issues in the 2008 U.S. presidential campaign?

  • What do Africans need to know about the U.S. presidential candidates?

  • How will the outcomes of the U.S. elections affect the everyday lives of Africans and will they help improve the prospects for Africa’s future?

  • The Africa Focus Bulletin team at the University of Illinois and in Washington DC has just published a feature article that addresses some of these questions. The collection of editorials from the editors and distinguished scholars is titled “U.S.A./Africa: New Policy Prospects?” Here is an excerpt from that fine Africa Focus feature:

    Wanted: A New U. S. Africa Policy
    by Merle Bowen and William Minter

    [Merle Bowen directs the Center for African Studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. William Minter, in Washington, DC, edits the on-line publication AfricaFocus Bulletin.

    …Almost 15 years after Nelson Mandela took office in South Africa, the United States still lacks a coherent Africa policy. There are pieces of such a policy - support for the war against AIDS is now a bipartisan consensus, and both presidential candidates have pledged to focus on Darfur. Neither candidate, however, has laid out a policy framework that can serve both African and American interests.

    …In recent years some other African issues have attracted attention, and activists have pressured Washington to act.

    On AIDS the results have been significant, even if still inadequate. President Clinton, whose administration was missing in action on AIDS in Africa, became an effective campaigner on the issue after leaving office. President Bush, whose USAID administrator initially dismissed antiretroviral treatment for Africans as impractical because "Africans can't tell time," now finds that the presidential AIDS program is one of the few accomplishments he can claim for history.

    On other issues - conflict, human rights, debt, trade, and development - the record is less inspiring. The Clinton administration shared the international failure to act against genocide in Rwanda. On Darfur, the Bush administration has offered heady rhetoric but little effective action. More generally, neither the Clinton nor Bush years provide a good model. Both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush raised the U.S. profile in Africa, but neither followed up the hopes they raised with consistent action.

    This record looms large today given the absence of new proposals from the candidates and the projected makeup of their foreign policy teams. McCain's Africa policy may well resemble the disastrous Reagan years, noted for U.S. collaboration with the apartheid South African regime and African dictators. One of McCain's top strategists, Charles Black, was a lobbyist for Angola's Jonas Savimbi and other U.S.-backed African warlords. Obama's most prominent advisors, veterans of the Clinton administration, include Anthony Lake, who presided over the failure to respond to Rwanda, and Susan Rice, who has proposed direct U.S. troop intervention in Darfur a step which would almost certainly escalate the killing.

    Neither candidate has criticized the disastrous Bush policy on Somalia, where it encouraged Ethiopian military intervention and worsened one of the world's worst humanitarian crises. Both have endorsed AFRICOM, a new military command that risks reinforcing an already over-militarized U.S. response to Africa. Opportunistic support for dictators continues, while crises and conflicts - some, such as in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, surpassing Darfur in casualties - are ignored.

    With his openness to multilateral cooperation and his personal connections, Senator Obama has the potential for crafting a constructive Africa policy. But without an alternative framework, and active public pressure, the path of least resistance will likely follow narrow conceptions of U.S. national interests, as in the Cold War and post-Cold War periods. Anti-terrorism, Africa's oil, and competition with China are all real concerns. But pursuing those goals without attending to Africa's own needs would be self-defeating.

    A new policy must encompass the diversity of African countries and of U.S. interests. There are no magic formulas. Nevertheless, there are principles that should apply:

  • Build on the example of the response to AIDS, both multilateral and bilateral to address African needs in health, education, food, economic infrastructure, and the environment, with all countries paying their fair share.

  • Open a genuine dialogue about trade and development policy, instead of imposing rigid free-market policies that are systematically biased in favor of rich countries.

  • Minimize bilateral military involvement in Africa, which risks sucking the U.S. into local conflicts, in favor of multilateral diplomacy and peacekeeping, including paying U.S. peacekeeping arrears at the UN.

  • Stop aiding repressive regimes, and support democratic African solutions, as in the aftermath of the election in Kenya. This crisis, which threatened to turn into a civil war earlier this year, was peacefully resolved through African mediation led by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. The U.S. played a supportive rather than an ostentatious role.

  • Rely on skilled African diplomats, who include many distinguished former presidents, for dealing with other crises, as was done in Kenya. Despite the negative example of Thabo Mbeki's ineffective mediation in Zimbabwe, the fact remains that no initiative is likely to succeed unless African civil society and political leaders are in the forefront.

  • Support the large community of recent African immigrants to the U. S., many of whom are engaged in family and community projects to help their countries.

  • In short, if the United States takes a narrow view of Africa, as a recipient of "charity," a place to pump oil, and an arena for fighting terrorists, then African hopes being evoked by the Obama candidacy will almost certainly be disappointed. If, however, the United States takes a long view, understanding that its security depends on the human security of Africans, then there are real prospects for a new era of collaboration and good will.

    Read more of “U.S.A./Africa: New Policy Prospects?” at

    The Leon H. Sullivan Foundation in Washington DC planned to hold a special Presidential Town Hall meeting on U.S.-Africa policy back in October 2007. Working together with fourteen organizations that advocate constructive U.S. policy toward Africa the Sullivan Foundation sent out questionnaires to all of the Republican and Democratic presidential candidates. Only four (4) candidates, all Democrats, bothered to return completed questionnaires to this influential group of NGO’s and the event had to be cancelled due to a lack of interest and participation.

    This prompted the Sullivan Foundation’s President and CEO Howard F. Jeter to write the editorial which appears below. Howard F. Jeter, a career foreign service officer, was a former U.S. ambassador to Nigeria and Botswana and among other State Department posts served as a Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs. This man knows Africa and he knows it well but he wasn’t able to convince many of the former 2008 U.S. presidential candidates that Africa’s needs and wants are also important for America.

    Presidential Hopefuls Must Match Bush Legacy
    by Howard F. Jeter – October 18, 2007

    The 2008 presidential campaign started earlier than ever, with a multitude of debates this past spring and summer before union officials, conservative caucuses, African-American activists at historically black colleges and even users of the web site phenomenon YouTube. But it appears that the more things change, the more they remain the same. Africa continues to be an afterthought among the issues American presidential candidates deal with despite the growing importance of Africa to the well-being and security of the United States.

    Africa is a continent that matters increasingly to the United States and the rest of the international community. African countries are reservoirs of the world’s vital natural resources, including petroleum, natural gas, gold, titanium, cobalt and the newly-important coltan (used in computers, personal digital assistants, etc.). Meanwhile, transnational diseases such as HIV-AIDS and West Nile Fever now plague the developed world, and for global health reasons, the control of potential epidemics in Africa is increasingly of interest to the United States and all countries throughout the world. African poverty and preventable disasters draw American development and humanitarian assistance and charitable contributions that could be devoted to sustainable development and a rising African standard of living. Due to a lack of transparency and accountability in too many African countries, billions of dollars in national revenue have been diverted from their originally intended purposes. Poor governance in Africa provides havens for international criminal syndicates and terrorism that threatens us all.

    In what may come as a surprise to some, President George W. Bush clearly understands the importance of Africa, more than any other contemporary President – Democrat or Republican. President Bush was the first Republican President to visit Africa (although his father visited Africa as Vice President), a dramatic departure from past Republican Administrations. Moreover, he is only the second President of any party to visit Africa in his first term. The Bush Administration has devoted considerable time, energy and resources to resolve some of Africa’s most intractable problems, including internal conflicts in Sudan and Liberia.

    According to a study by the Center for Global Development, President Bush has increased the amount of money spent on assistance to Africa more than fourfold, and his annual bilateral aid to Africa is more than twice the level of any previous Administration. The Bush Administration created major new aid programs that benefited African nations, such as the Millennium Challenge Account, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the Africa Education Initiative, the President’s Malaria Initiative, the Congo Basin Forest Partnership and the Initiative to End Hunger in Africa. President Bush also extended and enhanced the African Growth and Opportunity Act.

    The current Administration has created new partnerships with Africans, such as the Trans-Sahel Counterterrorism Initiative to fight a common threat. For the first time in U.S. history, the United States has appointed an Ambassador to the African Union. And also for the first time, all Africa military operations are being consolidated into one unified command so that African issues can be a focus and not an afterthought when the U.S. military must become involved on the continent of Africa in support of African peacekeeping operations, humanitarian relief and security assistance.

    A significant portion of our country’s population is directly descended from Africa. However, interest in Africa goes far beyond the African-American community. A growing number of Americans owe their jobs to trade with Africa. Many churches fund humanitarian operations in Africa. American oil companies have discovered Africa as a new frontier in our quest to guarantee our national energy security. Why then does the current crop of U.S. presidential candidates ignore the rising importance of the world’s second largest continent?

    The Leon H. Sullivan Foundation leads a coalition of 15 national organizations interested in how the next Administration plans to address major issues involving Africa. A 10-point questionnaire was sent to all Democratic and Republican presidential candidates in June. As of this writing, only Senators Barack Obama and Joe Biden, Governor Bill Richardson and former Senator John Edwards thought it was important enough to respond to that questionnaire. None of the candidates had time to attend a planned October forum on Africa, and only a few of the candidates even bothered to offer a representative for that forum to answer questions about significant issues facing Africa and their importance to the United States. It is surprising and disappointing that other candidates did not respond to at least the questionnaire since most have experience on Africa and presumably know that African issues will demand their attention if they are elected President. Consequently, one wonders why it was considered more important to answer a question from a guy in a snowman suit on YouTube than organizations representing millions of stakeholders and voters on issues of critical concern.

    The next Administration will still have to deal with the genocide that occurred in Darfur and the continued suffering of people in that country and its neighbors. Sometime during the next decade, Africa’s supply of oil to America will rival the Middle East as a source of petroleum. Concerns about what role the U.S. military will play in humanitarian and security operations through AFRICOM will largely fall to the next President. Whether African countries become full economic partners or continue as recipients of American and Western largesse will depend on what the next President does. It is important to America that our next President understands the vital role Africa plays in America’s future. Fortunately, our current President does seem to understand, and we applaud him for that.

    We need to know the intentions of those who would be President Bush’s successor before we vote and not after they are elected. We need them to tell us more than vague generalities so we can make an informed choice in the polling booth. The days when Africa only mattered to a few activists are over. Africa matters to all Americans, and candidates who do not recognize that fact may lose the support of important constituencies throughout the country.

    Ambassador (ret.) Howard F. Jeter is President and Chief Executive Officer of the Leon H. Sullivan Foundation. He was a career foreign service officer who served as U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria and Botswana, Special Presidential Envoy for Liberia, State Department Director for West Africa and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs.

    In regards to what a President Obama or a President McCain would do to improve U.S.-Africa relations is something that would be hard to predict. We can read their statements and listen to their speeches for clues about what they want to do, but in the end we just have to wait and see. A lot can happen between now and January 20th (U.S. Presidential Inauguration) that may influence their plans and ideas and hopes regarding U.S. relations with African countries. I do believe based upon what I have read, seen, and heard from the two U.S. presidential candidates and their policy advisors that U.S. foreign policy toward Africa will continue to improve and mature for another 50 years.

    Link to Seven Questions Q&A Nr. 7 (coming soon)
    Link to Seven Questions Q&A Nr. 5 (previous)
    Link to Seven Questions Q&A Nr. 4
    Link to Seven Questions Q&A Nrs. 1,2,3

    References, related articles, and additional resources
    Coming this week.

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