Africa: Who Is Next President To Champion Diaspora?
Now that Wade is out of office, who will be the next champion of Diaspora Africa?
The African Diaspora needs a new African-Diaspora-centered African President.
The role was enthusiastically and pragmatically being fulfilled by former President Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal, until he was democratically ousted out of office in 2012 when the Senegalese thwarted his attempt to run for a third-term.
The operative word there is ‘democratically’ because of the grace with which Abdoulaye Wade exited the presidency. After being trounced by his former protege Macky Sall 65%-35%, Mr. Wade immediately conceded defeat and expressed his readiness to help the new president. It was an act of class, given how the leaders of the surrounding countries around Senegal have used the military in maintaining themselves in power, after losing elections.It was also a rare occurrence in Africa where only three countries – Ghana, Senegal and Zambia – have seen governments change from the party in power to the opposition, or in the case of Ghana, vice versa. A case could also be made of Malawi where the second woman African President Joy Banda was ousted by Peter Muthurika, brother of the late Malawi President Bingu wa Muthurika.
Of course, the Senegalese have always had a democratic process admired continentally and world-wide. Hence, when the Celebrate Africa Foundation, of which I am the chair and founder, started the “African Country of the Year” Award, Senegal was the first country we selected based on their democratic principles – governments changing hands between the governing party and opposition; religious tolerance – their first President Leopold Senghor, a Christian ruling a country of 95% Muslim for 20 years before giving it up; gender equality – successive governments having appointed women as prime ministers and important cabinet positions in a Muslim country; coup d’etat free – Senegal has never experienced military take over. I once asked my friend former Senegalese Washington, DC Ambassador Mansour-Seck why as a former chief of general staff of the Senegalese army why he never planned a coup. He replied “I am trained as a soldier to protect my country and repulse any invaders, not to seize the government,” a lesson some of our crackpot ambitious military should learn.
President Abdoulaye Wade and his wife together with President Marc Ravalomanana and his wife, attended to accept the award for Senegal, together with many African ambassadors.
So, why are we nostalgically panning for a new Abdoulaye Wade who will seize the mantle of the African Diaspora and bestow his/her leadership with the same type of enthusiasm and pragmatism that former President Abdoulaye Wade had exhibited whilst in office.
And exactly what did Abdoulaye Wade do to be regarded with such accolade? Well, let’s see: There are 54 African countries who are accredited to the United Nations in New York – Senegal is the only African country with its consulate-general offices in Harlem, capital of Black America. When President Abdoulaye Wade would arrive in New York for the United Nations General Assembly meetings, while other African Presidents held their events in high-class expensive hotels like the Waldorf, Pierre or Plaza, his event would be held at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture on 135th and Malcolm X Blvd in Harlem. He would also have major town hall meetings at the United Nations where enormous numbers of Africans, African Diaspora and others would attend.
While former South African President Thabo Mbeki essentially articulated the “African Renaissance” intellectually, it was President Abdoulaye Wade who practically built the “African Renaissance Monument,” to symbolize the emerging giant called Africa and looking to the West to reclaim its children sold into slavery.
Wade sought and established a great working relationship with the National Conference of Black Mayors, having realized that though we have a U.S. President who is black and only one black Governor, as I have always advocated, the Mayors are the first tier of black leadership in this country that African leaders through the African Union should focus on. Most African immigrants live in those cities that the Mayors govern.
This is the kind of leadership of the African Diaspora by an African President that I have not seen another African President remotely trying to approximate – well late President Nelson Mandela was a class unto himself – he was a leader of the world. What the upcoming summit between President Barack Obama in the next week has demonstrated how impotent the African Diaspora has become right now, either through official inaction or through our own indolence in recognizing a long time ago that it was incumbent upon us to initiate a credible program that would entice our Presidents to say, eh, “let me go and see what these people are doing.” We had ample time, as somebody reminded me in reply to my earlier posting, to plan such an event but we have failed woefully, and rather people like me pointing fingers.
Yes, we need to accept our dismal failure in responding and planning for a meaningful interaction between African leaders and ourselves, although not for not trying in reaching out to Mauritanian U.S. Washington, DC Ambassador Mohamed Lemine El Haycen who has yet to have the courtesy to return repeated calls. Most times, African Ambassadors and embassy officials forget why they were sent to a country – it is not only to relate with the host government, but to interact and protect the interests of its citizens in that country. They avoid their Diaspora like a plague.
But our acknowledgement of our own dismal failure does not absolve the officials who represent the African Union in Washington, DC, the African Union Representative Office. They too have known for months that the African Presidents were invited to Washington, DC., It should have been their responsibility to organize a meeting between the African Diaspora and some of the African Presidents. But such actions require foresight which has been lacking from that office as it relates to the community – the Africa Diaspora – for which it was established. I know I might be crucified for saying this, but we should always call spade a spade if Africa is to progress. As far as I am concerned, the African Union Representative Office in Washington, DC., has not been fulfilling its mandate. I know there have been major impediments that have curtailed outreach to the community, but they are not impediments that a concerned official should not have been able to overcome and make that office a veritable center of African Diaspora center and advocacy.
You know there used to be a time when Ambassadors were recalled after three or four years unless you have a powerful ‘uncle’ or father who was the President back home. And it needs to be pointed out that Her Excellency Ambassador Amina Salim Ali, the AU Ambassador in Washington, DC, has been in office for 7 years, while her counterpart in New York, His Excellency Ambassador Tete Antonio will be completing his five years in office by November this year. It is possible that these officials have become complacent and tired, and therefore fresh faces are needed if the African Diaspora is to move forward.
This also bothers on the nonchalant and disrespectful manner that the AU’s CIDO – the Citizens Diaspora Directorate – together with the Directorate of Information, have responded to the upcoming meeting. First, they sent emails to some individuals announcing that there would be a town hall meeting. On July 15, we received email titled, “Town Hall Meetings to engage the Diaspora Media on Implementation of the AU Communication Strategy and Agenda 2063 , Washington and New York, 4 and 8 August 2014″.
The email went on to state as follows, “As part of the preparations for the upcoming African-US Leaders’ Summit, the AUC (African Union Commission) will be organizing two Town Hall Meetings as side-events to engage the Diaspora Media on the Implementation of the AU Communication Strategy and Agenda 2063 in Washington and New York on 4 and 8 August 2014 respectively.
The purpose of the Town Hall meetings is to mobilize the media as a vehicle for building a comprehensive stakeholder community within the African Union that involves and engages all sections and state of the African community in AU activities, policies and programs.
The advantages of this process are two-fold. First, it would raise awareness of the activities, policies and program of the African Union. Second, it will establish a working partnership between the AU, Diaspora journalists and the international media within and outside Africa on AU program and activities….”
Imagine then my surprise reading a posting from one of the emerging young African Diaspora leaders in Washington, DC., Ms. Evelyn Joe, in which she posted a cancellation of the town hall meeting as sent to her from the African Union. I don’t know that those who originally received the original announcement have received the cancellation, but I am yet to receive one. Courtesy demands that the original recipients of the announcement should have been informed of the cancellation.
The above are just some of the problems that mitigate our progress in the African Diaspora, but I believe that with a President like former President Abdoulaye Wade providing the kinds of leadership he had provided while in office, we could move cohesively forward. President Abdoulaye Wade is of course still kicking strongly at 90 years old or thereabouts, and this is an invitation to him to reach out to some of the African presidents to see who will follow in his footsteps of being a leader of the African Diaspora. He doesn’t necessarily have to force his former protege and current Senegalese President Macky Sall to follow in his footsteps unless he genuinely wants to, but I believe with his reach out, we may have a new African-Diaspora-centered African President.
Dr. Chika Onyeani is the Publisher/Editor-in-Chief of the award-winning African Sun Times.