National Summit on Africa: A Report
by Ray Donaldson (Ambo, Debre Berhan 62–64)

On February 16—20, an estimated 7,500 delegates and participants attended the National Summit on Africa at the Washington Convention Center, Washington, D.C. Many African Americans and Africans were included among the delegates. Years of planning and five regional summits held at Atlanta, Chicago, San Francisco, Baltimore, and Denver (beginning in May 1998 and ending in September 1999) preceded this final five-day event. The National Summit combined large, high-profile events, a series of deliberative sessions, educational workshops, seminars, roundtables, and many special events and performances. Its goal was to create a "constituency for Africa" in the United States. Because their was no mandate to go beyond this "final" event, the question of what to do next became a hotly debated topic throughout the Summit.

At the closing business session delegates asked: "What will be done with the recommendations adopted by the Summit? Where are we going from here?" The chairman of the Summit's Board, Dr. Herschelle Challenor, said that "this is the end of the beginning." She said that all who had attended were obligated to work toward implementation of the recommendations. The Summit staff would distribute the recommendations to organizations and make suggestions about how they might be used. There was a difference of opinion about who should provide leadership in the future. Some felt that the National Summit organization must continue. Others felt that there are many existing organizations that have a track record with Africa and are prepared to carry on the work. Some non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and grassroots organizations believed they had been marginalized by a National Summit dominated by big business and big government. The Summit's president, Leonard H. Robinson, Jr., said that there are thousands of organizations in the United States that are working for the interests of Africa and asked "Why can’t we all work together?"

In May 2000, Leonard H. Robinson, Jr., the Summit's president and CEO, sent a letter to all who had attended the Summit along with a copy of the National Policy Plan of Action that had been adopted. In his letter he reiterated the objectives of the Summit:

    To inform and educate all Americans about Africa;

    To expand, strengthen, energize and mobilize a broad base of support for the Continent throughout America; and

    To formulate a National Policy Plan of Action for U.S.-Africa Relations in the 21st Century

Robinson stated that "The National Summit will continue its work on behalf of the Continent by facilitating the implementation of the recommendations. With a Summit data base presently over 16,000 people (and growing), combined with the vast networks of national, regional, and local NGO/grassroot organizations who were so actively associated with the Summit process and movement across America, we intend to exert maximum effort on systematic advocacy activities to drive and influence the implementation of as many recommendations as feasible."

It seems clear from Robinson’s statement that the Summit does not intend to go out of business. It remains to be seen what kind of impact it will have in the future. Is implementation of the National Plan of Action of prime importance, will the Summit’s greatest legacy be the creation of a network of individuals and groups that care about Africa, or is its greatest impact still unforseeable?

Large Events
A variety of sessions (plenaries, receptions, and dinners) allowed speakers to address all the delegates and participants, as well as a national audience via C-SPAN in some cases. Some of these speakers were well known (e.g. President Clinton, Vice-President Gore, President Daniel arap Moi of Kenya, Madeleine Albright, Andrew Young); others were known to varying degrees within the African and American communities.

Deliberative Sessions
Delegates were elected from each of the 50 states. Seven deliberative process periods were scheduled during the Summit. Five concurrent deliberative sessions were held during each period; each session addressed one of five themes:

    1. Economic Development
    2. Democracy and Human Rights
    3. Sustainable Development and the Environment
    4. Peace and Security
    5. Education and Culture.

Leonard Robinson said that the working document that came from the six regional summits represented a past "moment in time" and needed to be brought up to date. Delegates discussed and amended the working document and approved a draft Policy Plan of Action. The approved draft from each of the five thematic areas, a National Policy Plan of Action containing 239 policy recommendations and ten top priority recommendations, was then brought before all delegates for final approval. At the end of the Summit, its leaders said that the work of the Summit would continue through ongoing organizations dedicated to implementing the Plan of Action. This plan represents a new "moment of time" which will have to be kept up to date.

The National Plan of Action, along with other materials, is available on the Summit's web site (http://www.africasummit.org). Additional news coverage is available at the Africa News web site (http://www.africanews.org).

Educational Workshops, Seminars, and Roundtables
A wide variety of sessions on U.S.-Africa relations and development were held during the Summit. These sessions were held concurrently with deliberative sessions, in some cases creating a dilemma for delegates.

Special Events and Performances
These events focused on showcasing African art and music. They also provided an informal environment in which participants could interact with each other. The Summit closed on Sunday, February 20, with performances and a banquet at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

Large Events
The high-profile plenaries, receptions, and dinners included a round table of world leaders, the Summit opening ceremony including President Clinton&Mac226;s keynote address, a luncheon with addresses from Africa&Mac226;s leaders, a luncheon with a tribute to regional summit host city mayors, and the closing plenary session.

Summit Opening Ceremony
The Summit was dedicated to developing a constituency for Africa in the United States. The leaders were pleased that President Clinton spoke at the Summit and requested more than double the time originally scheduled for his address. They were not pleased that the presidential candidates campaigning around the country chose not to come to the summit. The opening ceremony speakers included Rodney Slater, U.S. Secretary of Transportation, Ed Royce, U.S. House Subcommittee on Africa, Noah Samara, CEO of Worldspace Corporation, Dr. Salim A Salim, Secretary General of the Organization of African Unity, and President Clinton.

Noah Samara’s Remarks
One of the most inspirational talks at the opening session was given by Noah A. Samara, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of WorldSpace Corporation. Noah Samara was born in Africa to a Sudanese Father and an Ethiopian Mother. His family was living in Addis Ababa when the Organization of African Unity was formed. He came to the United States from Ethiopia weeks before the revolution began there. Thirty-seven years later, he said, we all need to use the power we have to avert catastrophes in Africa and throughout the world. "Change does not begin with declarations, legislation, and grand action . . . but always first in the minds of people." Samara quoted anthropologist Margaret Mead who once said: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed," she said, "it is the only thing that ever has."

Samara left his job as a communications attorney about ten years ago when he decided that Africa’s state was directly related to the state of its information infrastructure. He decided "To launch a satellite over Africa" to make cost effective deliverly of a variety of information across the whole continent. It took longer than he thought and cost more than $300 million, but the first satellite designed and built specifically for Africa has been launched. Samara believes that information will enable the people of Africa to access the human and material resources of the continent.

President Clinton’s Address
President Clinton noted that Secretary Salim of the Organization of African Unity said that "Africa lacks a strong constituency in the United States." The President responded that: "Africa does matter to the United States" because our views and actions must match a transformed 21st century world. Globalization is tearing down barriers between nations and people. When it comes to Africa, America must choose to make a difference by being involved. The President outlined five steps that the United States must take to be involved.

    1. Build an open world trading system which will benefit Africa. Trade must not be a race to the bottom, but we must not be afraid to act. Congress must enact the bipartisan Africa Growth and Opportunity Act.
    2. Provide debt relief to Africa nnations committed to sound policies. Struggling democratic governments should not have to choose between feeding and educating their children and paying interest on their debt.
    3.Give better and deeper support to African education. Literacy is crucial.
    4.Fight the terrible diseases of Africa, especially AIDS but also tuberculosis and malaria. AIDS will soon double child mortality and reduce life expectancy by 20 years. In Africa there are companies that are hiring two employees for every job on the assumption that one of them will die. We need to support efforts that keep people from getting the HIV virus in the first place.
    5.Build on the leadership of Africans to end the bloody conflicts killing people and killing progress. Tens of thousands of young lives have been lost in: the war between Ethiopia and Eritrea, the civil war in Sierra Leone, the famine and war in the Sudan, and, worst of all, the war in the Congo, where at least seven nations and count less armed groups are pitted against each other.

During the past year the countries within Central Africa have worked together to manage the region's security. America intends to do its part by supporting the next phase of the UN’s peacekeeping operation in the Congo.

The President closed by saying that although Africa is incredibly diverse, its people are bound to each other and to the rest of the world by our common humanity.

Opening Plenary
Five speakers introduced the Summit’s five thematic areas. The keynote speaker for this session was Madeleine Albright.

Madeleine Albright’s Remarks
Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright stated that we need to educate Americans about Africa. The United States can play a significant role there. South Africa is now taking a leadership role in Africa. Six years ago, no one including the United States did anything about Rwanda. We must do all we can to see that what happened there is never repeated. We must put pressure on the Sudanese regime to stop atrocities. We must do what we can to end the conflicts in Angola, Sierra Leone, and Ethiopia-Eritrea. Even though it is imperfect, we need to pass the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act.

Albright said that foreign aid is only 1% of the United States budget. Since the Marshall Plan, our commitment to foreign aid has diminished by 90%. Africa must get its fair share of our foreign policy budget. It is "aid to America," not "foreign aid." After the Summit’s document is produced, we need to stay involved in supporting Africa.

Addresses From Africa’s Leaders
At a luncheon on Friday at the Hyatt Hotel, Vice President Gore spoke via telephone because he would not cross a picket line set up by hotel employees. Vice President Gore was followed by President Daniel arap Moi of Kenya who gave a long, rambling speech. When President Moi began speaking several people in the audience interrupted him, objecting to his policies. Andrew Young (who was presiding) asked people to be courteous. Many African leaders had been invited to the Summit, said Young, Moi was the only head of state who came. Young said that we could question Moi about his policies during the remaining time at the Summit. Because President Moi gave such a long rambling speech, those who followed him, including Vice President Alhaji Abubakar Atiku of Nigeria were able to give only brief remarks.

President Moi’s Address
President Daniel arap Moi started by saying that much of the publicity Kenya receives in the news media is erroneous. Moi said that he believes in a responsible free press. Kenya is a democratic nation that upholds the rule of law. We cannot understand, said Moi, the expectation that all of us must have the same system of government. African nations need to evolve their own systems of democracy. Africa is being marginalized. We are asking other nations to help us resolve our conflicts, continued Moi, we are not asking foreigners to die for us.

Later in his speech Moi said that children need health care and education. If conflicts are not solved, children will be carrying guns. We welcome ongoing efforts to solve the AIDS problem. Moi thanked President Clinton for his help, but said that more help is needed. He went on to say that President Clinton has supported debt relief. Moi hoped that President Clinton will extend this program so that Kenya, a small country, can have its debt forgiven. Kenya pays more in debt service than it receives in foreign aid.

Remarks by Vice President Alhaji Abubakar Atiku of Nigeria
Vice President Alhaji Abubakar Atiku said that the basis for US-Africa partnership is the willingness of the United States to provide debt relief to African countries. The United States needs to inspire investment in African economies. African countries are committed to providing a good environment for direct investment. A timely final passage of the "right" version of the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act and inclusion of Africa in a common market is needed.

Tribute to regional summit host city mayors
At a luncheon on Saturday, Congresswomen Barbara Lee was the scheduled keynote speaker, but she relinquished most of her time to a last minute addition to the program, the Reverend Leon Sullivan, founder of the International Foundation for Education and Self-Help. Wellington Webb, President of the U.S. Conference of Mayors and Mayor of Denver, had the unenviable task of following Rev. Sullivan.

Reverend Leon Sullivan&Mac226;s Remarks
It was clear from the beginning that Rev. Sullivan was a preacher. Sullivan asked, "What do you do after you leave here?" Those of us who say we love Africa talk a lot but we have to DO something. He said that half of Congress gets less than ten letters a year about Africa. You have to "Organize." You have to "Fight Back and Speak Up." If the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank don&Mac226;t do something about debt relief in the next year, "Fight Back." Sullivan preached on, "I am wed to no one but God and my wife. Whoever is President, I am going to be there. Like an Everready battery, I just keep going and going on and on." Sullivan asked each person in the audience to invest $500 in Africa at6% interest. Many people wrote checks on the spot. Later, Ray Almeida of Bread for the World pointed out that Sullivan’s organization (that runs 40 skills training programs in 18 African nations) invests money through a program enacted by Congress last year, the Africa Seeds of Hope Act.

Wellington Webb’s Remarks
Webb asked, "How can we allow the United States to lead if we are not pushing our government to do what&Mac226;s best for Africa?" He said that in the United States and throughout the world, "we are all interlocked together." At home, Webb said, "we have to tell the state of South Carolina that we don’t want a Confederate flag flying over the state capitol."

Closing Business Session
Leonard Robinson and the Chairman of the Summit's Board Dr. Herschelle Challenor, addressed this session.

Representatives from each of the Summit’s five theme areas discussed the work and recommendations of their deliberative sessions. Dr. Challenor said that the National Policy Plan of Action with its 239 policy recommendations was a blueprint for a new and broader U.S. interaction with Africa.

Robinson enumerated ideas he had received about what needs to happen next:
The responsible thing is to ensure that the plan gets implemented.

    We need to go forward with the process.

    Africa&Mac226;s marginalization is our responsibility. We

    eed to hold our representatives responsible for their actions and inactions.
    We need to demonstrate immediately the impact of the Ssummit by influencing the presidential campaign.

    The Summit is a movement that must not die.

    There was a common thread and also a difference of opinion among these views. Some of those in attendance emphasized implementing the content of the document. Others emphasized continuing the process.

Closing Day Luncheon Program
The speakers at this luncheon summarized the Summit from their perspective and made suggestions about what should happen next.

David Beckmann, President, Bread for the World
Beckmann stressed the need to address the tension at the Summit between grassroots groups and corporate/official organizations. Grassroots organizations can make a difference; some of them believe they have been marginalized and have had to struggle to be heard at the Summit. The Summit board of directors needs to do a better job of merging diverse perspectives.

Mora McLean, President, Africa-America Institute
McLean said that everyone would not support everything in the Plan of Action, but we must ensure that African perspectives (including African immigrants to the United States) are considered.

Ken Ofori-Atta, business executive from Accra, Ghana
Ofori-Atta said that even if we disagree on some details, we should all agree that the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act is needed. He said that the private sector in Africa is fragile; capital, technology, and expertise are needed and Africa must be allowed to refinance its debt.

C Payne Lucas, President, Africare
Lucas urged organizations not to waste time squabbling. He said that other ethnic groups in the United States are well organized. African-Americans should use the Internet to get organized by talking to everyone, everywhere. We need some leaders with credibility and integrity.

Closing Plenary Session
This session was addressed by Jesse Jackson of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, Judith McHale from Discovery Communications Inc., U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher, and Ron Dellums, Healthcare International Management Company.

At the beginning of this session, the National Policy Plan of Action was approved by a voice vote of the delegates with the understanding that some errors in the printed document would be corrected by the National Summit staff.

Leonard Robinson urged all Summit participants to go forward working together.He said that the press was looking carefully at the Summit and they always look for "red meat" (negatives) to report to the public. Several others assessed the Summit’s success. At the end of this session, Dr. Mojubaolu Olufunke Okome, co-chair of the New York state delegation, spoke about the way the Summit had been organized. She presented a statement, drafted by concerned delegates and distributed for signatures in the final two days of the Summit.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson
Jackson said that what was offered to Europe in the Marshall Plan, what recently has been offered to the Balkans, needs to be offered to African-Americans in the United States and to Africans in Africa. Slavery has ended, segregation has ended, the vote has been achieved. Now, both African-Americans in the U.S. and Africans in Africa need access to capitol and technology.

Ron Dellums
Ron Dellums said that Africa is dying of AIDS. It is immoral that the world is standing by and doing nothing about it. 14 million children will be orphaned by the end of the year; 40 million by the end of the decade. HIV/AIDS is attacking the age group from 15 to 49; Africa&Mac226;s future. An AIDS Marshall Plan for Africa is needed. A bill authorizing one billion dollars is currently in Congress. AIDS can&Mac226;t be treated in a vacuum; we must build infrastructure. To do this, we need to talk about debt forgiveness.

Dr. Mojubaolu Olufunke Okome
Dr. Okome asked, "Where is the Dialogue in the National Summit on Africa?" A portion of the statement follows.

    The National Summit on Africa (NSA) has brought together thousands of individuals and hundreds of organizations to move forward the dialogue on US-Africa relations. We recognize the efforts of all those involved. However, we are extremely concerned that the process has been organized in violation of many of the core values that motivate and drive our efforts to promote social, economic, environmental and political justice in Africa. We protest the use of our names and reputations of our organizations in ways that violate the following fundamental principles of democracy, transparency and accountability:

    BALANCED AND OPEN DEBATE: Whereas representation by African official and privileged sectors is strong . . . representation within the official Summit process by other Africans in the US and by African civils ociety ... is woefully inadequate.

    DEMOCRATIC AND TRANSPARENT PROCESS: Decision-making and communication surrounding the NSA process has been concentrated in a small, centralized group without adequate consultation with the participants involved.

    ECONOMICJUSTICE:Why are corporate-friendly policies promoted, while worker- and environment-friendly policies are ignored?

    CORPORATE RESPONSIBILITY: Why is the NSA funded by companies like Monsanto and Chevron, known exploiters of workers, communities and the environment?

    WORKERS' RIGHT TO ORGANIZE: Why were functions and delegates booked at the non-union Grand Hyatt? . . . While Al Gore refused to cross a picketline, why were NSA delegates and activists expected to cross that same picket line? In spite of these issues and failings much has been accomplished that can be built on over the months and years ahead. Before any NSA continuation plans can be considered, however: A framework of Guiding Principles that enshrines the above values must be developed in a transparent and participatory manner;

    A full evaluation of the strengths and weaknesses to date must be completed and discussed, taking into account the views of at-large delegates, marginalized and missing groups, as well as those who have left or opted out. These discussions should inform considerations about whether to take forward the NSA and in what manner.

The statement presented by Dr. Okome addressed many of the issues related to the overall question about what happens next now that the original mission of the National Summit has been completed. Critics implied that the National Summit had assumed a leadership role advocating for Africa that it did not deserve. It was accused of not being sufficiently inclusive and of being indebted to the existing power structure.

A large number of diverse people and organizations gathered for the Summit. Let’s hope we’ll be pleasantly surprised to see how all these groups will be able to work together in the future for the benefit of Africa and the world.

Ray Donaldson attended the National Summit on Africa as a representative of Ethiopia & Eritrea RPCVs.

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