“Ambassador Mwencha articulated the best scenario that would be coming out of the Global African Diaspora Summit. “The explicit purpose of our gathering here today,” he said, “must be situated within this premise. Our expectation is that the Global Diaspora Summit would come out with a Magna Carta or fundamental law for the Diaspora Program but the real task would begin immediately after in the implementation of its outcomes and legacy projects for development. Thus the Outcome document that our leaders will adopt will come back to us as a framework for implementation. That implementation effort will require mass mobilization to enable its achievement and your role as the first base of the elected African leadership within the African Diaspora within the United States will place you at the vanguard of these efforts.”
NEW YORK, NY – Apr. 19, 2012 - “We are ready to work with Africa and the African Union,” that was the clarion call that was sounded by Black mayors who attended the high-powered meeting between a delegation from the African Union Commission led by the Commission’s Deputy Chairperson, Ambassador Erastus Mwencha and the Director of CIDO, Dr. Jinmi Adisa and on the Mayors’ side by their President, the Hon. Mayor Robert Bowser of East Orange and its Executive Director, Ms. Vanessa Williams. This high-powered meeting took place at the African Union Hall of the African Union Permanent Observer Mission to the United Nations, at 305 East 47th Street, New York, NY.
The meeting was a result of months of arduous work, started on December 31, 2011, in East Orange, New Jersey, when Dr. Adisa and his delegation met with the President of the National Conference of Black Mayors, Hon. Mayor Robert Bowser of East Orange, at the residence of Dr. Chika Onyeani who facilitated the meeting between the two groups. Onyeani is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of the African Sun Times and CEO of the Global Africa Media Group, a consulting and public relations firm. The meeting was premised on the fact that black mayors are the first tier of Black leadership in the U.S., and as such are in a very good position to help the African Union in realizing its objectives about the African Diaspora which it had created as the 6th Region of the African continent. The African heads of state, meeting in January in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, agreed with this assessment and subsequently agreed on the need for Black Mayors to play a critical role in its Diaspora agenda.
The meeting was an affirmation of the African Union’s realization that it could employ the resources of an organization that is already well-situated, and already taken initiatives on their part in reaching out to Africa without waiting for an invitation. The National Conference of Black Mayors had already visited countries like Uganda, Nigeria, and Senegal to liaise with their counterparts in developing strategic and practical initiatives, without dueling on mere rhetoric. “The Mayors,” said Ms. Vanessa Williams, Executive Director of the NCBM, “have to be right there where the people are. They have a pulse of what is going on in the community, and as we talk about the African Diaspora and the Summit that would be taking place in South Africa, and why it is so important for Mayors and elected officials to be involved is because the Mayor knows every integral inch of their community because that’s how they are elected. So, if it is faith-based leaders that are needed, we know how to bring them to the table through the office of the mayor; if it is civil rights organizations that are needed to be at the table, we know how to organize them and bring our brightest through the office of the mayor; if it is teachers, if it is educators, if it is college professors, all of these fibers of one’s community reside in the office of the mayor.”
More impressive is that the NCBM has been able to organize more than 22,000 Mayors of African descent worldwide. Said Ms. Williams, “We have successfully been able to organize 22,000 Mayors of African descent around the world. That is a phenomenal number. Who would have thought that we had 22,000 mayors around the globe who are of African descent, that are all claiming their African heritage and their African roots. If we look at Brazil, if we look at Colombia, and Peru, if we look at Mexico, we have African people, we have African descendants that want to get involved.”
“Use us,” said Mayor Bowser, who spoke on behalf of the Black mayors. Beginning his speech, Mayor Bowser said that the Mayors were very honored to be having such a high powered meeting with the African Union, as well as all the organizations who were there. “It is time for us to unify all people of African descent, and I believe there is enough brain power in this room to make this happen, there is enough brain power here to change the world, and change the misguided opinion about the people of African descent. Now, much of what I am going to say today, I have said before.”
Mayor Bowser talked about areas that of great interest to Africa, areas that are vital to economic growth to the continent as well as providing jobs to teeming millions of unemployed Africans. “We want to deal with tourism and technology and training for people and getting into the business world. As Mayors, we can use our offices to be a vehicle to connect with what is needed in the whole Diaspora. So, use us, use us to accomplish some of these goals because we have the common goal, we have the enthusiasm, we have the wherewithal to work together with the African Union and whoever wants to get onboard with us. And I think some folks needs to get on this train right away because otherwise you will be left at the station. So, please, the leadership of the African Union, we are here to work with you. Everything is on our side, now is the time. Thank you.”
Mayor Bowser spoke about other areas they have already been involved in Africa. “We have been working with the HIV/AIDS center, in fact we will be in Arlington, VA, on Saturday doing a presentation about public and private partnerships; we are working with the UN, we are working with the World Conference of Mayors because what they are doing what they are doing there is that they are working on education of awareness, screening, prevention, follow-up and removal of discrimination associated with this terrible disease. The other area we are working with countries is dealing with agriculture. We have had discussion many times, why is that in the US that our government pays farmers not to grow crops. Yet folks are starving every day.
Certainly, some of the programs we saw in Africa, could be applied here to make sure we are able to grow and market, it is business. And that’s what we want to bring. We are also working with countries to increase trade, we are working with the State department, the Commerce department and I just heard recently that the Sister Cities are in a little bit of trouble and they have come to the National Conference of Black Mayors and has asked us to get more involved. Sister Cities should not be totally social. It should hands-on working together and sharing those experiences together.”
Buttressing Mayor Bowser’s point, Ms. Williams said, “When we went to Senegal, we sat down with His Excellency President Wade who we respect dearly and he shared with us the universities that they have there in Senegal and how we make sure that there a twining that took place between the universities in Senegal and the universities that are in the U.S. So we formed a Memorandum of Understanding with both the UNCF as well as NAFAO, both of which represent the historically black colleges and universities in the US. And we were able to create through the Memorandum of Understanding a linkage between the universities to say that our college professors with your college professors, our college students with your college students, how could we begin to intercede where we see there is blockage of African students getting into U.S. schools. Because this was something that we heard was happening and how could we through the office of the mayor be able to act as a conduit to be able to assist those young people to get education here in the US by opening the doors of historically black colleges and universities.
Then we looked at the issue of good health and medicine. We were able to partner with the National Medical Association and in each of our National Summit of Mayors conferences, we have been able to bring a medical mission with us. We have been able to bring African-American physicians, nurses, health practitioners to come into the communities in which we were going into as part of our summit and to provide free medical services to the children, the youth and the elders that are in rural communities as well as within the metropolitan cities who cannot afford basic health care. So we have been able to make those type of linkages with Medshare, another organization to bring in medical equipment into the countries that we are working with.”
So it is through this partnership with the African Union that the National Conference of Black Mayors stand willing and able to be a great partner. I hope my presentation will allow you to understand our true desire to partner with the African Union. It is my wish that through my presentation you understand our willingness to be a helpmate, to be able to bring the resources and people of our communities that we know could be a resource to the African Union. And it is through the office of our organization, that we believe that we can help to connect other areas, even outside of the United States that have not been a part of this dialogue that needs to be at the table.”
The keynote speaker and leader of the African Union Commission delegation, Deputy Chairperson Ambassador Erastus Mwencha started by saying that he had been given marching orders by his lieutenant Dr. Jinmi Adisa to be at the meeting, but “was very much pleased to have this opportunity to meet with you and the statement that has just been delivered confirms that expectation. And I hope that by the end of our discussion today, we will not only find common ground but prepare marching plan as the Mayor has said that we can work with and remember this day as a day that it all began.”
Ambassador Mwencha started by enumerating the accomplishments of Africa, “Before I delve into the objectives of this august gathering, let me bring you fraternal greetings and some good news from Africa, a continent that is increasingly determined to bring prosperity to its people, by working hard for peace and stability, by embracing democracy and good governance, and by catalyzing integration of the 54 states. The fact that in 2011, six out of 10 fastest growing economies in the world were from Afriva is testimony to this effort. Africa has a well-articulated vision and strategy that seeks to graduate at least 30 countries into middle-income status by 2030. Currently Africa’s growth is largely fueled by demand for and exports of natural resources and by adopting prudent macro economic policies. The future will however draw on its youthful population, which accounts for sixty per cent of the 1 billion people living in the continent. This calls for massive investments in education, health, infrastructure, food security and requisite technology to add value to its natural resources that in tandem create jobs.”
Ambassador Mwencha went on to trace the initiative for the Diaspora Program. “The AU’s Diaspora Initiative had its roots in the transformation of the continental organization from the Organization of Africa Unity (OAU) into the Africa Union (AU).” “In 2007 the AU began by facilitating a global consultative dialogue between Africa and its Diaspora to create and sustain dialogue among the African people worldwide, solidify commitment to the African cause, formulate appropriate strategies for the developmental process and determine the character of mutual efforts required to support these goals. The objective desire was to turn defeat into victory and use the experience of forceful separation in the era of the slave trade and humiliation in the era of colonialism and beyond as a framework for solidarity and rejuvenation in the new world.”
Ambassador Mwencha articulated the best scenario that would be coming out of the Global African Diaspora Summit. “The explicit purpose of our gathering here today,” he said, “must be situated within this premise. Our expectation is that the Global Diaspora Summit would come out with a Magna Carta or fundamental law for the Diaspora Program but the real task would begin immediately after in the implementation of its outcomes and legacy projects for development. Thus the Outcome document that our leaders will adopt will come back to us as a framework for implementation. That implementation effort will require mass mobilization to enable its achievement and your role as the first base of the elected African leadership within the African Diaspora within the United States will place you at the vanguard of these efforts.”
On his part, Dr. Jinmi Adisa, Director of the AUC Diaspora and Citizens Directorate (CIDO), who is in charge of the Diaspora Process for the African Union Commission, spoke about the need for a recognition of spirituality as a basic element in healing the damage caused by the forcible removal of millions of Africans from the motherland. “The Diaspora project was designed to rebuild the global African family and this rebuilding has several components. First, is in its spirituality. We were forcibly separated and now we have to come together. For you to do anything physical, even in terms of development, your heart, your spirit must be in the right place. You must first be reunited spiritually for you to do anything physically. So one of the keys of the Diaspora program is to heal a body that has been lacerated. When people are forcibly removed from each other, that body is not whole again. And we have a problem, for example, when they say Africa is a hopeless continent, you have brothers from another continent say “yeah, the way they are behaving.” We have had meetings with the Congressional Black Caucus, and what happens inside is most times you get lectures about democracy and governance. There is a way people speak to each other inside, and a way you speak outside. That means the first fundamental problem that is facing the African nation, if I can use it, global worldwide, is spiritual. There has been that forcible separation that has made the body weak. For us to do anything together, we must be healed. The past must come back. We call it corporate whole again. That is one of the fundamental objectives of the Diaspora program.
The second thing is that once it is healed it becomes a framework for solidarity, and once you have that framework of solidarity, you can do things together. You can discuss your mistakes.”
Dr. Adisa spoke about the upcoming Global Diaspora Summit, the elements of the legacy projects, and the post-summit workshop that will take place in Abuja, Nigeria, later this year. “Now the Global Diaspora Summit will take place on May 25, 2012. This Magna Carta is going to come out of the deliberations of that summit. We are still finalizing the program, but it will be preceded by a ministerial meeting. This process is very different from normal African Union processes; normally there are 54 African countries, when we have a meeting we have all the leaders of the state. The Diaspora process is different. When we have a meeting, we have the 54 states, we have the Caribbean states, we have the countries in Latin American, where there are large population of Afro-descendants, where we normally use a base of 10%. The US will be very heavily represented, first by two Congressmen, two by the representatives of the Black mayors, and then by eminent personalities who have been working with us on the Diaspora program. If you feel there are some individuals who should be there, please let us know and we will look at it. It is a coming together of everybody from around the world, to produce as his Excellency has said, a Magna Carta which is a fundamental law that will guide the program and decide on the areas of priority of action. The focus of the African Union, as His Excellency has stated, as on development. So, this is essentially the agenda, to be preceded by ministerial meeting.
I think there is something I am trying to say that is lost in translation regarding the summit. There will be 54 African states, all the states of the Caribbean, there will be states where there are significant African populations, like Brazil will be there, like Venezuela, like Cuba, they will all be there. And there will be the United States also. So, this is a meeting of the African community, the ministers will be an extended version of the African Union executive council, and the summit is a Global African Diaspora Summit. All the people who can boast of significant African ancestry will be there. So whatever agreement comes out will be a fundamental law agreed upon by Africans around the globe.
The African Union has taken a position that it is not enough for the African Union to implement the Diaspora program by taking decisions on its own. This decision must also be agreed so that when we go into a country, each leadership must know that we have agreed that this agreement must be implemented across the globe. So that’s why it is a Global Summit. There will be a ministerial on the 23rd. This ministerial will receive additions, like from the mayors, from the Pan-African Parliament and from the pre-summit of the Diaspora community.
The summit is supposed to come out with some legacy projects,which you can add to now. The legacy project include remittances, we want to build an African Institute of Remittances. One of the things we have seen is that the cost of remittances are so high, we want to reduce that. We now know that the remittances we get are bigger than the aids we get from foreign countries, but nobody recognizes that. So, we want to be able to look at it, the volume of remittances and ensure that these remittances are being used for consumption, while on the other hand the houses that control these remittances are able to do developments in other countries. We want to structure and reorganize it.
The second one is that we want to have an African Volunteer Corps, a Diaspora Volunteer Corps, where our doctors can go back to the motherland so that the community idea becomes symbolized physically. We want to draw a convergence between the spiritual and physical elements so that people can see it in the field. So we will have volunteers from the Diaspora coming and volunteers from Africa wherever there is the need will be able to go. So this is a very cardinal project. And one of the things we will do about the Diaspora Volunteer Corps is to finish the document and implement it.
The other thing is that we have the Diaspora Market Place. We want to encourage our people to put up innovative practices that can help people at the grassroots. I think the Mayors are especially important here. We want to have these inspirational ideas, which is just not impacting at the global level but impacting at the community level. So we will advertise and ask people to apply. We are being supported very strongly by the World Bank on this project.
What we have now agreed is that beyond the summit, there will be an implementation workshop. So, once the summit is finished, there will be a summit workshop in Abuja, Nigeria, which is what is in the roadmap, which will bring together all the people working in the Diaspora ministries; all the people working in the various states, who are working on the Diaspora desks, to say this is the outcome of the summit, and let’s work out an implementation mechanism that synergizes national continental programs as well as those with non-state actors. This post-summit workshop is designed to take place in July, but now they want it in the first half of September.”
Most of the Mayors who spoke basically reinforced the views expressed by their President Mayor Bowser and their Executive Director, Ms. Vanessa Williams.
The African Union Commission delegation was led by the Deputy Chairperson, His Excellency Ambassador Erastus Mwencha, and included Dr. Jinmi Adisa, Director, CIDO; Ambassador Tete Antonio, Permanent Observer of the AU to the UN; Mr. Anthony Okara, Deputy Chief of Staff, Bureau of the Deputy Chairperson; Dr. Fareed Arthur, Advisor (Strategic Matters, Bureau of the Deputy Chairperson; Ahmed El-Madani, Head, Diaspora Division, AUC; Mr. Wuyi Omitoogun (Expert, Diaspora Relations, CIDO); Ms. Nadia Roguiai, (Expert, ECOSOC, CIDO); and Ms. Miriam Omala Gauvin, Adviser, African Union Observer Mission to the United Nations.
The Mayors were represented and led by the President, Hon. Mayor Robert Bowser of East Orange; and included Hon. Mayor Antonio Blue of the Town of Dobbins Heights, NC; Hon. Michael Blunt of the Borough of Chesilhurst, NJ; Hon. Mayor Ernest Davis of Mount Vernon, NY; Hon. Mayor Wayne Hall, Sr. of Inc. Village of Hempstead, NY; Hon. Mayor Hilliard Hampton of the City of Inkster, MI; Hon. Mayor Wayne Smith of Irvington, NJ; and Hon. Mayor Mary Ann Wardlow of Borough of Lawnside, NJ; Ms. Vanessa Williams, Executive Director, NCBM; and Ms. Shantel Gilbert, Special Assistant to the Executive Director, NCBM. From the United Nations was Dr. Djibril Diallo, Senior Advisor to the Executive Director, andDirector, Global Outreach and Parliamentary Relations Office (MER) UNAIDS New York, ahd Adviser to NCBM.
Dr. Chika Onyeani, Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of the African Sun Times, who coordinated the coming together of the two groups, was assisted by Mrs. Loretta Hand-Onyeani, Associate Editor of the African Sun Times and Managing Director of the Global Africa Media Group, a consulting and public relations company.