October 1, 2014

A Smashingly Successful “Stratospheric Meeting” of African Diaspora Leaders in New York

Announcement to Raise $5 Million in Famine Relief for Africa

African Ambassadors to Celebrate Kwanzaa

Calling it a “Stratospheric Meeting,” the Chairman of the African Union Commission, Mr. Jean Ping, was quoted by CIDO Director, Dr. Adisa as saying that the Thursday, October 6, 2011, biggest gathering of selected high caliber African Diaspora leaders was a “high level meeting within a high level.” The Conference organized by the African Union Diaspora Task Team, attracted African Diaspora leaders of Afro-Latinos, Afro-Caribbeans, African-Americans and continental Africans, including leaders from Canada and South America, representing organizations such as the World African Diaspora Union (WADU), the Pan-African Diaspora Union (PADU), Sixth Region Diaspora Council (SRDC), as well as others.

Arriving at the meeting, Ambassador Dr. Dudley Thompson and his wife, being welcomed by Dr. Chika Onyeani, chair of the African Union Task Team, left, Ambassador and wife (middle), Ambassador Erieka Bennett and His Excellency Ambaassador Tete Antonio of the African Union Permanent Observer Mission to the UN. At the left hand corner is Mr. Charles Williams, Legislative Assistant to the Speaker of the New Jersey Houe of Assembly, and on the right is Ambassador V. S. Okobi.

Task Team members are Dr. Chika Onyeani, chairperson; Dr. Georgina Falu, Secretary; Mr. Omowale Clay, 1st Vice Chairperson; Mr. Sidique Wai, 2nd Vice Chairperson; and Ms. Dorothy Davis, member, and Ms. Miriam Omala, member and African Union Commission representative.

Prominent African Diaspora leaders at the meeting included the dynamic and legendary leader of the World African Diaspora Union, Ambassador Dr. Dudley Thompson, who is slated to be the first African Diasporan to receive the first symbolic United States of Africa passport at a ceremony to be held in Africa some time in 2012 and who had flown in from Florida; the most prolific Pan-African and father of Afro-centrism who has penned more than 70 books, Professor Molefi Asante; the man who has devoted all his life to Pan-Africanism and former Chair of the African Studies Department at City College, CUNY, Professor Leonard Jeffries; the son of the legendary Hon. Dr. Marcus Garvey and vascular surgeon, Dr. Julius Garvey; the incorruptible retired Nigerian General and now a member of the United Nations Panel of Experts on Iran Nuclear Program, General Ishola Williams; the keynote speaker and former Attorney-General and Associate Justice of Ethiopia, former legal adviser at the World Bank and currently William E. Leuchtenburg Professor of African and Afro-American Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Professor Bereket Habte Selassie; the dynamic three-time Mayor of Irvington and chair of the New Jersey Urban Mayor’s Association, Hon. Mayor Wayne Smith; the legendary cultural anthropologist and filmmaker whose documentaries are highly valued, Dr. Sheila S. Walker; the peoples’ councilman Hon. Charles Barron and his dynamic wife and Assemblywoman, Hon. Inez Dickens; the African Union at large Ambassador for the Diaspora, Ambassador Dr. Erieka Bennett based in Accra, Ghana; the popular youth speaker and a Fordham University student, Ms. Nana Brenyah.

Other prominent leaders included former Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Dominica to the UN, Ambassador Crispin Gregoire; President and Founder of the Afro-Latino and Caribbean Women Organization, Ms. Yvette Modestin; former Secretary of Foreign Affairs, US Virgin Islands, Dr. G. C. Corbin; Founder and CEO of the African Heritage Foundation based in Atlanta, Georgia, Chief Tunde Olatunji; Chairman, United African Congress, Dr. Mohammed Nurhussein; Founder and Director of the Declaration and Programme of Action Against Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia, Durban Declaration 2001 Watch, Ms. Dowoti Desir; Director of the Black Studies Department at City College New York, CUNY,Dr. Gordon Thompson; Chairman of the Nigerian in the Diaspora Organization, America (NIDO), Mr. Ganiyu Dada, as well as others. Of course, you cannot forget the prominence of Queen Mother Dr. Delois Blakely.

His Excellency Ambassador Tete Antonio, the African Union Permanent Observer to the United Nations, together with members of the African Union Diaspora Task Team, including its chair and chairman of the event, Dr. Chika Onyeani, 1st Vice Chair Mr. Omowale Clay, 2nd Vice Chair Mr. Sidique Wai, Secretary Dr. Georgina Falu and member Ms. Dorothy Davis, played host. Over 75 organizations were represented at the event.

Two prominent African Diaspora leaders who cancelled at the last minute due to official duties included His Excellency Ambassador Ibrahim Gambari, former Under-Secretary General for Political Affairs at the United Nations and currently United Nations Secretary-General’s Representative, Darfur, Sudan; and Dame Dany Hounghedji, Legal Adviser to the European Parliament.

Representatives from the African Union 6th Region Canada Foundation Inc. included Ms. Alesia Johnson, Vice-Chair, Ms. Evadne Wilkinson, National Facilitator, Ms. Barbara Stewart, Secretary, and Mr. Justice Kotie, Elders Council.

The Hon. Abike Dabiri-Erewa, Chairman of the Nigerian House of Representatives Committee on the Diaspora, sent her Special Assistant Mr. Bamikole Omishore, to represent her.

Kicking off the high-powered event with a rousing speech was His Excellency Ambassador Macharia Kamau, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of the Kenyan Mission to the United Nations and current Chair of the African Group of Ambassadors. And Dr. Jinmi Adisa, Director of the Citizens and Diaspora Department (CIDO) in charge of all African Diaspora affairs for the African Union Commission.

Ambassador Kamau expressed his excitement and appreciation of the assembled influential leaders and noted his distress at the injustices that Africans in the Diaspora continue to experience as he has traveled all over the world working for the United Nations, UNICEF, UNDP, the Belinda and Bill Gates Foundation. He expressed admiration of the Israeli Diaspora and what it has done for Israel, and questioned why Africans in the Diaspora could not unite? He asked, “What if we were able to galvanize the energy and genius that reside in our Diaspora? What if we were able to get everybody to realize just how incredible a constituency they are, and how if they came together they could make our continent, our people, our history, transformative to the world? What if we could do this? And why can’t do this? How come we keep stumbling, what is it that undermines our ability to come together to realize the full energy and full power of our Diaspora? I keep asking myself this question. When I look at the Israeli constituency, I am amazed at how infinitely powerful their Diaspora has become. I was based in South Africa, I worked in Latin America, and here in the United States, I am admiring, I am admiring, I am not resentful, I am admiring how they have they have come together and built such an incredibly strong constituency that speaks to the interests of their people. And I ask myself, what about us, why not us? What’s it? I know in us, we have the spread for all the evil of slavery, for all the evil that has forced many Africans to leave their homes, for all that evil, the only one fundamentally good thing I can say about it is that it has placed Africans virtually everywhere on earth. It is an incredible fate.”

Continued Ambassador Kamau, “When the African Union passed its Consultative Act to reach out to the Diaspora, I knew we have bottomed out. After 500 years, we have bottomed out. And the rise and the rights of the Black Diaspora of the continent and of our Africanness had begun. It might seem like a small and an insignificant turn-around, but you know everything has to start somewhere. And for me this was a great moment that we have begun to understand on our continent, that we have begun to realize on our continent that we are one with everybody else out there, that we are not what it is that we are projected to be by the international media. That there is something bigger and deeper and more real that makes us one people, a very powerful people that can make this world reach the heights it has never reached. If you are impressed with the world today, wait until the full energy of our collective African genius kicks in.”

Ambassador Kamau acknowledged the major contributions of the Kenyan Diaspora to the surging Kenyan economy, But went on to exhort the audience to advance the participation of the youth in its deliberations, and noted the absence of more young people amongst the delegates. Said he, “We have to bring our young people along…We need to find a way to bring our young people to become more passionate about their blackness, their Africanness, and their reality so that they can become the true engine of our self-actualization.”

After welcoming remarks by the Chairman, Dr. Chika Onyeani, he proceeded to read Ambassador Gambari’s address to the gathering. (See his speech here).

It was left to Dr. Jinmi Adisa, Director of the Citizens and Diaspora Department (CIDO) of the African Union Commission, who is in charge of all Diaspora affairs for the African Union Commission, to detail the aims and objectives of the African Union with regards to its Diaspora. He started by acknowledging the great importance the African Union attached to the high-level gathering, including that of the Chairperson, Dr. Jean Ping. Dr. Adisa spoke of the fact that he had been in New York just the week earlier for the African Ministerial meeting on the Diaspora, that when the issue of the high level meeting came up, the Chairman of the African Union Commission said he believed that all the Africans in the Diaspora were high level, but what this one should be known as the “Stratospheric Meeting,” – “a high level within a high level” and looking at the people assembled had justified the Chairman’s observations, especially with the Doyenne of the African Diaspora, Ambassador Dudley Thompson, in attendance. “I am saying this to indicate the great importance that the Chairperson attaches to this particular agenda.”

Dr. Adisa went on to detail the history of the African Union Diaspora Task Team, established after a conference meeting of Diaspora delegates on October 21-22, the 90-day mandate given to the Task Team to achieve certain objectives which it did with well-acknowledged Report it sent to the African Union Commission and circulated widely, the launching of the Report in April, and the further extension of the mandate of the Task Team with a directive to achieve other certain objectives. “At various points, I have dealt with the vision and purpose of the AU Diaspora agenda, and I don’t want to belabor that point here. I think it is just as important for me to recall why the Task Team was established, what it has done, what it was supposed to do and the way forward.”

“The approach that gave rise to the establishment of the Task Team was the recognition of the need for micro-dimension as different from the larger macro-regional structure that we had been dealing with, and we had three objectives:

  1. It was to establish a framework for information flow processes and a progressive forum for information development.
  2. The second one was to set up a model for doing a prototype on mapping of Diaspora constituencies. So we wanted not just to establish this framework of progressive decision around New York, which is also the axis of the United Nations where everybody works but to use it as a basis for consolidating our American regional network. One of the tasks that we wanted them to do was to do a pilot project on the mapping of Diaspora constituencies, first around New York, and if it is valid to use it for the whole of the United States so that we can precisely locate where all our constituencies are located and reach out to them on a continuous basis. So, there was the idea of complementing the grass-roots model with the basis of the regional structure and ensuring that discussions are going autonomously and almost independently within the framework of the Diaspora.
  3. The Task Team was initially set up to work for 90 days, but we have realized the difficulty in working within this time frame. After they submitted their report and we came out here to discuss it and we asked them also if they could share this with the wider environment of the United States and people who have significant contributions to make to the agenda and refine the report and submit it to us again with your recommendations as to how we should proceed in Addis Ababa.”

Dr. Adisa went on to discuss the modalities of the upcoming Global Diaspora Summit due to take place in South Africa in May 25, 2011 (Africa Day) and assure that members of the Task Team and others would be well represented. He praised the Task Team for its accomplishments, but also pointed out the rancor within the Team. As to the fact that the Task Team has labored for a year without any budget or money from the African Union, Dr. Adisa pointed out that $44,700 has been approved for the Task Team but it needed to ensure its budget submission was in order otherwise the money would be recalled into the contingency account, from which it would be difficult to retrieve.

The keynote address was given by Prof. Bereket Habte Selassie, who was the Attorney-General and Associate Justice of Ethiopia, former legal adviser at the World Bank and currently William E. Leuchtenburg Professor of African and Afro-American Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. (See his speech here).

Mayor Wayne Smith, the third-term Mayor of Irvington, New Jersey, and chairman of the Urban Mayors Association of New Jersey spoke of the need to more economic collaboration between the Diaspora and Africa, and offered Irvington Township as the venue of African Diaspora Center.

Ambassador Dudley Thompson received a standing ovation after his speech. He is the President of the World African Diaspora Union since 2007. Born in Jamaica, Dudley Thompson was one of the most prominent barristers in the Commonwealth, having served in colonial East Africa and defended Jomo Kenyatta and his colleagues in 1952. He served as Jamaica’s Ambassador to Nigeria and was appointed Counsel to the Reparations Committee by the Organization of African Unity in 1999.

Ambassador Thompson thanked the organizers of the meeting, as well as the veterans activists who were there. “I am glad and grateful that after 95 years, the movement is not dying like me, that it is moving forward,” he said. He paid tribute to Jomo Kenyatta whom he represented in court, to Marcus Garvey whose son Julius Garvey was there, which gave him comfort that the movement was not about to die. He urged everybody to think of themselves as Africans, in fact, went on to say that we should stop regarding ourselves as the Diaspora but “non-resident Africans.”

The father of the Afro-centricism and who has written over 70 books, Professor Molefi Asante posed the question as to whether there was a need for the sixth region if there was a United States of Africa and “what would be the implications of the sixth region if we have a United States of Africa in 2017?…The second issue which we can answer here is the character of the permanent relationship between the African Union if it is transformed into the United States of Africa and its considerable Diaspora?”

Said Prof. Asante, “I think there are some steps that we need to remember, including (a) the representation of the Diaspora must be inclusive, (b) representatives from the Diaspora if we have a sixth region as is stipulated should have credibility, Pan-African credibility,and credentials, not simply credible in the Diaspora but credentials that would be seen as credible to the AU or the United States of Africa stakeholders. This should not mean that the African Union should chose our representatives but it must be able to vet the representation.”

Prof. Asante went on to say that the movement for a sixth region has been theoretical for too long and now the time has come for a concrete action. He said it was up to the delegates to decide who will draw up the legal documents for the sixth region. He again emphasized for a concrete reality and no more rhetoric.

Other main speakers included Dr. Sheila Walker, Dr. Julius Garvey (see his comments here), youth speaker Ms. Nana Brenyah, General Ishola Williams, Professor Leonard Jeffries, Ambassador Erieka Bennett and Chief Tunde Olatunji and the Hon. Charles Barron.

The meeting has been praised as one of the most significant achievements to date of the African Diaspora, bringing together disparate groups and leaders under one roof, to move the African agenda forward.

But one of the most significant accomplishments of the meeting was anannouncement to raise $5 million for the African Union in its efforts to provide funds for famine relief and in recognition of the African Diaspora as the Sixth Region of the African continent, in contributing its share and not just rhetoric in matters affecting Africa. Chika Onyeani, chair of the meeting as well as the African Union Diaspora Task Team, said he was concerned that every time there was a problem, we always see white people on television responding to the crisis, and asked what African Diaspora was doing on its own to alleviate sufferings in Africa. He referred to the $350 million that African countries had pledged to relieve the famine crisis in the Horn of Africa, and urged the assembled to do the same if the African Diaspora was to move beyond rhetoric and into concrete action. Immediately after, many people began writing their checks, but the African Union Diaspora Task Team in consultation with the Permanent Observer mission to the United Nations will soon announce the modalities of the contributions. Already, groups are planning benefit fund-raising events towards realizing the $5 million announcement.

Another important achievement was the pledge by the African Union that the African Union Group of Ambassadors would begin to hold reception in celebration of Kwanzaa.

In her closing remarks, Dr. Georgina Falu, Secretary of the African Union Diaspora Task Team, called for development of text books for teaching about the African Diaspora and spoke about how African Diaspora in Honduras and Colombia, which she recently visited, were working very hard as Afro-Descendants to retrace their African history. She thanked all the participants for attending.

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