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Can a U.S. Summit Change Perceptions of Africa?

President Barack Obama (center) with (left to right) President Macky Sall (Senegal), President Joyce Banda (Malawi), President Ernest Bai Koroma (Sierra Leone), and Prime Minister José Maria Pereira Neves (Cape Verde) in the Cabinet Room of the White House on March 28, 2013. Credit: Images

President Barack Obama (center) with (left to right) President Macky Sall (Senegal), President Joyce Banda (Malawi), President Ernest Bai Koroma (Sierra Leone), and Prime Minister José Maria Pereira Neves (Cape Verde) in the Cabinet Room of the White House on March 28, 2013. Credit: Images

In advance of this week’s U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit in Washington, D.C., National Public Radio published an article that discussed the goals of the summit, the first such event organized by a U.S. president for 40 African leaders. One is to bring African heads-of-state in contact with American business leaders for discussions on investment and business opportunities; the other is, according to the article, “to change the narrative” about Africa, from one mired in violence and humanitarian crises to that of business opportunities.

Business and entrepreneurship are not often considered as public diplomacy strategies, but it makes sense why they should be. After all, business affects the national economy, which then affects how the people see their lives and their country, informing their relationships with other nations. History supports this phenomenon: after the Korean War, it was economic reforms that provided the initial boost to help South Korea become the cultural and economic powerhouse it is today. Brazil’s economic growth in the past decade has renewed international business interests in the country, with many companies establishing South American hubs in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.

Changing continental perceptions are not new – both of the aforementioned countries were largely obscure in the world consciousness, recognized only by their regional identities until they received individual economic breakthroughs or high-profile public diplomacy events (i.e., Olympics, World Cup). But is a three-day summit in the U.S. the answer to changing the world’s perceptions of Africa? After all, Africa is comprised of 54 nations; to suggest that (largely Western) countries should singularly invest in an entire continent is vague at best and ignorant at worst.

In addition, none of the forums and panels are schedule to address specific regions or countries in Africa. Even the name – U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit – perpetuates the idea of Africa as a single unit with monolithic problems. The recent health crisis involving the Ebola virus is case in point: although only three African leaders, not the entire continent, had to drop out of the summit to address the crisis in their respective countries, international media seem to have already juxtaposed the issue with that of the entire summit involving all of Africa.

Whether the continent’s public diplomacy will be helped by the U.S.-based summit remains to be seen. Sources in the NPR article conceded that the summit is more of a “pageant” rather than a site for actual deal making. But if the amount of time, money, and attention paid to the summit are any indication, it’s clear that many are regarding it as more than just a show.


PD in Practice: U.S. Facilitates Religious Dialogue on the Central African Republic Crisis

Michel Djotodia resigned on Jan. 10 amid rising conflict between Christians and Muslims in the country, leaving thousands dead. Credit: AFP/Getty via

Michel Djotodia resigned as president of the Central African Republic on Jan. 10 amid rising conflict between Christians and Muslims in the country, leaving thousands dead. Credit: AFP/Getty via

Note: I have noticed that much of the commentary and academic literature on public diplomacy tends to focus on the leadership, structure, funding, and theory of public diplomacy, with much less attention on the actual conduct of activities and programs in the field. In an effort to help redress that imbalance, I hope this will be the first of a series of blog posts that highlight current or recent U.S. public diplomacy efforts around the world.

The ongoing crisis in the Central African Republic (CAR) has attracted little attention in Washington over the last several weeks. The news last week that the CAR president agreed to resign has sparked hopes for a possible peaceful resolution to a situation that has already claimed a thousand lives in the last month alone and displaced almost a million people from their homes.

The African Union and France have led efforts to stabilize the situation and broker a solution and senior U.S. officials, including Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power and Assistant Secretary for African Affairs Linda Thomas-Greenfield, visited last month and pledged U.S. support as well.

In addition to our traditional diplomatic efforts, we have also brought public diplomacy efforts to bear on the problem. Some have been concerned that the conflict could exacerbate tensions between the majority Christian and minority Muslim populations, as well as other groups. With a view towards promoting dialogue and connecting religious leaders with their American counterparts, the U.S. Department of State, led by U.S. Special Envoy to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Rashad Hussain, hosted an interreligious dialogue last week on the crisis that included the Archbishop of Bangui, the President of the National Islamic Association, the President of the Evangelical Association, and the Mayor of Bangui.

According to a U.S. Department of State press release, “The religious leaders from CAR described their efforts to end the ongoing violence and promote peace, thanked the United States for its assistance and efforts, and called for further international humanitarian and security assistance in CAR. The panelists from the United States praised the religious leaders in CAR for their efforts to promote religious tolerance and reconciliation, noted examples of successful interfaith cooperation in the United States, and proposed further collaboration with their counterparts. Both sides agreed to continue the discussion further, to work together to increase education and training on reconciliation and peacebuilding and to seek opportunities to support the travel of religious leaders to CAR to support peace and inter-religious cooperation.”

As always, it is difficult to measure the value of such public diplomacy efforts, but I think there is little doubt that these are exactly the type of people-to-people contacts that can help defuse tensions and contribute to a long-term resolution of the conflict. U.S. Special Envoy Hussain, the Department’s Bureau of African Affairs, and the U.S. Embassy in Bangui should be commended for their efforts in this regard.

The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the State Department or the U.S. government. The author is a State Department officer specializing in public diplomacy, currently detailed to the IPDGC to teach and work on various Institute projects.

Nelson Mandela –The Ultimate Public Diplomat

English: Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg, Gaute...

Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg, Gauteng, on May 13, 1998 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Nelson Mandela leaves us in December, a season of holiday hope. His passing inspires us to reflect on his spirit of hopefulness and optimism and his role as a public diplomat.

I first met Nelson Mandela on February 15, 1990—four days after he emerged from 27 years of imprisonment in South Africa.  I was there as a producer for ABC News Nightline. Mandela had agreed to give Ted Koppel a one-on-one interview.  What I remember most when he arrived for that interview in Soweto was his gracious smile, his warm but firm handshake, and the elegance of the man who towered, physically over Koppel but still managed to look him in the eye as an intellectual peer.

So much has been written about Nelson Mandela, but what is rarely said is that he is the epitome of public diplomacy—one of those rare individuals who understood the power of people to move nations and ideas.  Mandela was a connector, bringing people together from all walks of life—rich, poor, skilled, unskilled, men and women, athletes and artists.  He had the gift of gab and the kindness that radiated a room.

At a time when his own country could have descended into far greater violence and societal division, Mandela instead steered his nation with words through a transition from apartheid rule that was marked by a commitment to national unity and peace even while boldly confronting the evils and divisions of its past. Mandela inspired people and governments the world over seeking peaceful and just resolution of conflict.

A good public diplomat like Mandela understood that for a nation to truly heal, its people must reckon with the past and with each other.  It is why on June 28, 1995, Nelson Mandela announced the creation of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. That act alone turned history into the present and future South Africa and elevated his story of struggle over injustice and adversity. As he said in his inaugural address as president of South Africa on May 10, 1994, “We commit ourselves to the construction of a complete, just and lasting peace.”  Personal commitments sometimes mean more than treaties and documents, and Mandela knew that his word was his oath.

President Mandela, your history is our global history and you remain a lodestar shining brightly like your beautiful smile. We all wish you peace in this season of peace.

Domestic, Foreign, and Cosmopolitan: Uganda’s Potential to Build Ties Through Women

Rebecca Kadaga is Uganda's first female Speaker

Rebecca Kadaga, Uganda’s first female Speaker

by Kate Mays

Looking at only the gender makeup of the Ugandan government, one could make the argument that Uganda is doing pretty well with gender equality. Women make up almost 35% of its current parliamentary members, and in 2011 the 9th Parliament elected its first female Speaker. Further, Uganda was ranked 28th in the 2012 World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Report for political empowerment (compared to a rather shoddy 55th place showing for the US. Of course, gender parity in government is only one of many metrics to judge how equally genders are treated within society.)  And the gender parity in Uganda’s government representation right now exists primarily because of a gender quota, which was included in the 1995 Constitution, and stipulates that each district must elect a female representative (to date, there are 112 total).

I am not going to delve into the pros and cons of Uganda’s gender quota – that discussion would be divergent and has been done effectively elsewhere – but it is an important premise on which to evaluate the Ugandan government’s approach to gender equality. Namely, one that embraces gender mainstreaming principles, which gained a lot of momentum after the 1995 Beijing UN Conference on Gender and Development, and continue to be practiced and implemented by some governments, the United Nations, the World Bank, and other international organizations.

Gulu Women march

Uganda does not have a sterling history in terms of its treatment of women. In the economically dominant Bugandan culture, it is commonplace for women to kneel down before men as a respectful way of greeting them (men do not return the favor, neither to women nor other men). Patriarchy pervades Ugandan culture – this post from the WomanStats blog has a good description of the gender roles. In James Lull’s definition of culture, he emphasizes the “extreme repetitiveness of everyday behavior” as the foundation for culture: “Cultural redundancy produces and reproduces meanings which form the bases of coordinated social interaction.” While the act of a woman kneeling for a man in greeting might only seem like an odd, outdated cultural tradition, the societal manifestations of the patriarchal custom are more insidious. According to statistics from the Uganda Women’s Network, 60% of Ugandan women experience gender-based violence. While this has been the focus of some more-recent legislation, it will likely take more than a few laws to reverse the culture and improve on the kind of gender inequality highlighted in this figure.

Source EthnicSupplies image Uganda

However, even if the situation on the ground, culturally within the society, is still grim, embracing the language and principles of gender mainstreaming signals to the international community that the Ugandan government acknowledges that gender inequality is a problem that needs a solution, and shows that it is at least making strides to address it. (Uganda has a Ministry of Gender, Labour, and Social Development; it also crafted a National Gender Policy in 2007). For all of gender quotas’ potential deficiencies and possible exploitation, it is, I would argue, a step, and one that signals a commitment to being open to take further steps.

In his piece on Cosmopolitan Constructivism, Cesar Villanueva Rivas notes that “that the ways in which [countries’] identities and intentions are constructed abroad count.” Gender mainstreaming, at the very least, signals an intention, and helps to foster an environment of promoting women’s empowerment. As a result, countries like Sweden, Norway, and the US have shared knowledge and resources with Uganda, through direct engagement with the government in helping to craft gender policy, as well as through Ugandan universities and the numerous NGOs in the region.

What does this mean for Uganda’s cultural diplomacy efforts around women? I would argue that there is a lot of potential for Uganda to stake a bigger global claim on some of the issues it has been working on domestically. Many countries in Africa have adopted gender quotas and are still struggling with similar obstacles to societal and cultural gender equality. Using the NGO infrastructure that already exists, Uganda could coordinate with women’s groups like the Pan-African Women’s Organisation and FEMNET (the African Women’s Development and Communication Network) to host a summit or forum on women in politics, with particular attention paid to leadership and advocacy. A similar program, the African Women Leaders Project, was held in 2008, but it was also run by outside organizations. Although a seemingly intangible detail, if such initiatives come from the African countries themselves it gives them a real power. Further, it would show that Uganda is not only open to accepting the “cosmopolitan” values of “tolerance, friendship, and respect,” but is also “internalizing” these values.

I want to be the first woman president of UgandaIn his piece, Rivas cites Alexander Wendt, who identifies three “degrees” of internalization, the third being “legitimacy,” which is “the most developed of these actions pursued by states, since it emerges from the state’s principles and convictions.” Wendt uses the framework of “friends” and “allies” to differentiate the modes with which countries interact; “friends” is a longer-term relationship in which countries “join a process of common understanding and societal exchanges, step by step.” Within this framework also emerges the idea of a “Self” and an “Other.” Wendt marks progress by how a state can “identify with other’s expectations, relating them as part of themselves.” In the third degree of internalization, “Self is not self-interested but rather it is interested in the Other.” In this case, I would say the “Other” is both Ugandan women as well as countries abroad.  Uganda should act for women’s empowerment in recognition of what their “expectations” are for being treated equally, and internalize that goal of equality as one of its own.

The disparity in how women are treated in Ugandan society and how they’re treated in the government’s official gender policies is problematic because it sends a mixed message to other countries. Tolerance, friendship, and respect have to start at home, in order to be credibly projected to the rest of the world. Just as gender quotas project a positive image, it is important for Uganda’s reputation abroad that Ugandan women’s lives continue to improve.

The above post is from Take Five’s Student Perspective series.  Kate Mays is studying Cultural Diplomacy as Communication at the George Washington University, looking at themes such as youth, gender, health, climate, free press, and democracy, and writing on how these themes relate to cultural diplomacy and communication.  

India and Africa Building Ties through Youth Populations


India: the world’s most populous democratic country with one of the largest economies. Africa: a largely developing continent attempting to work itself out of vast poverty and violent conflicts. Both have large youth populations, a desire to play a stronger role in international markets and, importantly, an interest in each other.

In early April, India’s Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) sponsored a two-day collaborative workshop in New Delhi known as “INDIAFRICA: A Shared Future.” The purpose of the forum, held on April 4-5, was to bring together the youth (defined as those under 30 years old) of two populations that have a mutually growing interest in each other to fashion solutions to the many shared development challenges faced by India and Africa:

“The initiative [was] born in 2011 out of recognition of shared sensibilities, histories and intertwined cultures between India and the African continent. The connection between India and Africa, home to an over-two-million-strong Indian diaspora, has been ‘a continuous process of socio-cultural and economic exchange.’”


Given these similarities, why the targeted focus on youth? As previously mentioned, both India and Africa have considerable youth populations. According to statistics from the CIA World Factbook, the median age in India is 26.5 years, while the median age for countries in Africa ranges from 15.1 in Uganda and 18.9 in Zimbabwe to 25.3 in South Africa and 28.1 years in Algeria. The young populations, as Manoj Kohli, head of the International Business Group for Bharti Airtel, explains, are very attractive, especially when considering “the western world, Russia, China, Japan are all graying.” Navdeep Suri, joint secretary of public diplomacy in India’s MEA, said, “The driving vision of the program is to unleash the enormous energy of young people, to encourage their powerful creative ideas and to enable them to be facilitators of this process.”

As described on the website, “INDIAFRICA: A Shared Future is a unique people-to-people initiative that aims at engaging multiple stakeholders in India and Africa through contests, fellowships, discussions, events, collaborative projects and cultural exchanges.” During this workshop, a total of 72 Indian and African youth (36 Indian and 36 African individuals), coming from a wide range of disciplines, pitch and debate “their views on challenges and opportunities in areas like energy, environment, healthcare, education, culture, creative exchanges, tourism, governance, food and nutrition in their respective regions…”

Public diplomacy, in the past few decades, “has been widely seen as the transparent means by which a sovereign country communicates with publics in other countries aimed at informing and influencing audiences overseas for the purpose of promoting the national interest and advancing its foreign policy goals.” This—what one might call public diplomacy in the modern sense of the word—was put forth by the University of Southern California Center on Public Diplomacy. The definition is useful in the sense that it is broad and fairly encompassing, but how does INDIAFRICA fit within it?


At its core, INDIAFRICA is an initiative that might be defined as “little c” cultural diplomacy, a narrower subcategory of public diplomacy. Using Dr. Emil Constantinescu’s definition, cultural diplomacy can be defined as “a course of actions, which are based on and utilize the exchange of ideas, values, traditions and other aspects of culture or identity…” INDIAFRICA fits perfectly within this characterization and has the added element of youth involvement. Rather than convening a forum for business and government officials, INDIAFRICA brings together two youth populations in the name of building positive first impressions and tapping on the energy, creativity and enthusiasm–rather than the demonstrated expertise–these groups have the potential to generate.

INDIAFRICA lumps different categories, such as business and culture, together in the same package. The initiatives taken on by this enterprise include building democratic developmental institutions; establishing governance networks in areas such as agriculture, micro-finance, entrepreneurship development and healthcare; generating employment; creating “profitable partnerships”; funding the future through Indian soft loans to its African partners; and finally “building trust and mutual respect and building relationships.” And participants tackle these strategies in a number of ways—not simply the two-day workshop. INDIAFRICA promotes India-Africa collaboration through a series of contests: 1) Business Venture, 2) Poster Design, 3) Photography, and 4) Essay Writing, each attributing to a cultural diplomacy niche.

Each of the four contests has a theme that aligns with some larger cultural phenomenon. In the 2012-2013 contests for instance, the theme for Business Venture Contest was “Entrepreneurial Solutions to Address Developmental Challenges,” the Poster Design Contest’s was “What does Freedom mean to you?” the Photography Contest’s was “Communities in India and Africa” and the Essay Writing Contest’s was “How can India and Africa collaborate to co-create a brighter future?”  These themes align well with the ‘universal norms’ of democracy and innovation, while suiting INDIAFRICA’s aim to help shape the future of these two geographies through their respective youths. They emphasize the culture of both India and Africa while still moving them toward more global political and developmental environments. Suri surmised this point by noting that the multidisciplinary contest series help “create a platform for talented and young Indians and Africans to exchange ideas about emergent realities, successes and challenges and explore future collaborations in business, design and culture.”

YV_workshop_banner (1)

The beauty of INDIAFRICA lies within its configuration, which includes strategic as well as shared considerations. The Indian government has increasingly viewed Africa as a realm of opportunity for furthering its commercial interests, and the “leadership of Indian and African nations have set a bilateral trade target of $100 billion by 2015.” Kohli said that his company alone has invested $13 billion in Africa, plans to invest more and has already recruited about 7,000 employees in the continent. Although cultural diplomacy is rarely conducted  in the name of self-interest, it is worth noting that India’s interest in Africa extends beyond purely strategic self-interest and that the country considers this initiative as a means for achieving shared policy goals. Both geographies (both the governments and national companies) “work jointly to help in capacity building, knowledge sharing, job creation and other areas.” The similar and shared foreign policy goals lends INDIAFRICA to being seen as a joint collaboration, benefiting all involved.

“A large workforce with fewer children to support creates a window of opportunity to save money on health care and other social services; improve the quality of education; increase economic output because of more people working; invest more in technology and skills to strengthen the economy; and create the wealth needed to cope with the future aging of the population.”

This window, known as the demographic dividend, can be addressed through initiatives such as INDIAFRICA that bring together the young people in the name of a better future. For young participants, who may or may not be true opinion leaders in their home societies yet, this forum provides the ultimate learning model as well as a safe venue for the sharing of ideas. Further, this particular program not only allows youth to address development challenges and think of solutions early on, but it is also acts as the foundation for the future relationship between the two geographies.

Everybody’s Talking About World Press Freedom Day

World Press Freedom Day – celebrated today, May 3, with the centerpiece UNESCO event held in Carthage, Tunisia – is one of those global phenomena, like soccer, that seizes Americans only peripherally.  Yes, the main event last year was held in New York, and yes, U.S. organizations such as the Committee to Protect Journalists release key reports on the occasion, but by and large the day comes and goes here in the U.S. without much fanfare.  Through the wisdom of our founding fathers and much vigilance and hard work by journalists, editors, and publishers since that time, U.S. press freedom is secure.  But this is by no means the case everywhere, and therefore World Press Freedom Day becomes an important opportunity – and sometimes an all-too-necessary excuse – for renewed discussion of media freedom issues in countries around the world.  The U.S. government, through its Embassies overseas, is an active participant in these discussions.

President Barack Obama’s statement on World Press Freedom Day 2012 makes U.S. principles and commitment clear, as does the video statement of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.  But U.S. Embassies overseas also actively seize the opportunity of World Press Freedom Day to reinforce American support for the principle and practice of media freedom.  Many Embassies develop and promote creative opportunities for local journalists and editors to speak out.   More on that below.

When the UN General Assembly proclaimed World Press Freedom Day in 1993, it outlined the following goals:
–     to encourage and develop initiatives in favor of press freedom
–     to assess the state of press freedom worldwide
–     to remind governments of the need to respect their commitment to press freedom
–     to encourage reflection among media professionals about press freedom and professional ethics
–     to mobilize support for media that are targets for the restraint, or abolition, of press freedom
–     to remember journalists who lost their lives in the exercise of their profession

UNESCO’s selection of Tunisia as the site of this year’s World Press Freedom Day ceremony reinforces its key theme for 2012: Media Freedom Helping to Transform Societies, summarized here:  “the recent uprisings in some Arab states have highlighted the power of media and the human quest for media freedom, as well as underlining the fact that social inequalities will indefinitely search for equilibrium, in order to address those inequalities. Could the Arab Spring have taken place without the proliferation of social media or satellite TV? [Text messaging] and social media have enabled the diffusion of vital information to reach the widest number of people in a very short span of time. Social media have enabled protesters to self-organize, and have engaged the global youth in the fight to be able to freely express themselves and the aspirations of their wider communities.”

U.S. Embassies are making the most of this opportunity to reinforce American principles and policies in support of press freedom.   Here is just a small sampling — from Angola to Surinam (both this and this), to Pakistan (via YouTube and Facebook); from the Philippines (through a new partnership with the Philippine Press Institute), to an op-ed by a State Department official that was shared via this all-Africa digital media outlet, picked up in Namibia, and tweeted by All-Africa news website Co-founder and Chairman Amadou Mahtar Ba; from an upcoming Twitter Q&A in Rwanda, to a seminar in Luxembourg, and this U.S. Ambassadorial initiative reported in Kyrgyzstan.

World Press Freedom Day is also an important occasion for the UN, the Committee to Protect Journalists, Reporters Without Borders, and other global organizations to recognize journalists who are “targets for the restraint, or abolition, of press freedom” — in other words, journalists who have been intimidated, persecuted, jailed, or even killed because pf their work.

The U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, through its website, also highlights compelling and emblematic cases of journalists who are imprisoned or living under threats, among them Reyot Alemu (left) of Ethiopia, who was sentenced to 14 years in prison in June 2011.

As the UN General Assembly of 1993 intended, May 3 has become an occasion in most countries for journalists and editors to sit down, sometimes with government officials, to discuss and debate press freedom issues of local concern.  Not infrequently, governments use the occasion to reinforce their own perspectives on the need for restraints and limits on press freedom – or (per our recent blog post Fear and Loathing in Development Journalism) to define journalists’ role in the country’s development.  This debate around media responsibilities vs. media freedom is discussed explicitly or implicitly in many local news stories on World Press Freedom Day, including in this revealing sample of pieces from Uganda,  Nigeria,  Sri Lanka,  IndiaGuyana. and Ghana.

Press freedom is an issue for every day, not just for May 3.  But World Press Freedom Day is a vitally important opportunity to get people talking about what is happening in their countries and what needs to change.  And public diplomacy to promote press freedom is one of the most important kinds of public diplomacy there is.

African-Americans in Africa in the 1960’s: an early example of the New Public Diplomacy

Searching online for details about the life of Dr. Marie Gadsden, a ground-breaking African-American internationalist who was my husband’s dear friend and mentor, we discovered  intriguing threads linking her to a complex and deeply fascinating story:  the story of African-American political and cultural engagement with newly independent Africa in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s.

It is also a story, I would argue, about two-way, collaborative, non-assymetrical dialogue — with and without government support — of the kind that today is the elusive prescription for successful public diplomacy as described by scholars such as Jan Melisson, Rhonda Zaharna, Kathy Fitzpatrick, and others.  (If you have another view on this, Take Five welcomes your contributions and insights.) 

To return to the story:  Marie Gadsden was one of the first African-Americans awarded a Fulbright fellowship, which in 1953 took her to Oxford University in the UK.  There, chance put her with roommate Sarah Ntiro, a future icon of Ugandan women’s rights, a pairing that added impetus to Marie’s growing interest in strengthening U.S.- African ties.

1959 found Dr. Gadsden teaching English to government cabinet members and to English teachers in newly-independent Guinea, as a response to President Sékou Touré’s first request of the first U.S. Ambassador to that country.  In 1960, Dorothy Height, who was president of the influential National Council of Negro Women and who would go on to be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal for her work in the Civil Rights movement, recalled joining in a women’s labor march with Marie Gadsden in the Guinean capital of Conakry.

Dr. Gadsden would likely have known of future Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall’s travel to Kenya and the UK, also in 1960.  And a few years later, in 1966, Dr. Gadsden crossed paths with famed American poet Langston Hughes in Nairobi, most likely during his USIA-sponsored trip to Uganda and Ghana.

So what were these and many other African-American icons doing in Africa? The essential answer is that they were sharing ideas, and receiving them.  Sharing expertise, and gaining inspiration.

They were seeking support from Africans for American civil rights – human rights — and working hard to mobilize American support for Africa’s political and economic development.  Traveling for U.S. public diplomacy, and traveling as private citizens, and merging the two as true citizen diplomats.

And also pressing the State Department in Washington to include more African-Americans among the ranks of U.S. diplomats, and to focus more effectively on relations with emerging African nations.

We are by now familiar with the Jazz Ambassadors of that era, a much-lauded Cold War initiative of U.S. public diplomacy that projected American culture and society through jazz greats from Louis Armstrong to Dizzy Gillespie,  Duke Ellington, and Dave Brubeck.

But fewer likely focus on the deeply emotional and polarizing backdrop of the early U.S. Civil Rights era, which saw, for example, Louis Armstrong temporarily refusing to tour for the U.S. in protest at President Eisenhower’s early handling of the Little Rock, AK, desegregation crisis.  Such tensions are the focus of historian Penny von Eschen’s absorbing book Satchmo Blows Up the World.

So the heady era when a young America embraced post-WWII globalism (a zeitgeist intensified by visionary and inspiring initiatives of the Kennedy era such as the Peace Corps and rapid expansion of U.S. development assistance), was a stirring but also conflicted period for many African-Americans who saw the African quest for post-colonial independence as a mirror and metaphor for the horrifically daunting struggle for civil rights at home.  In December 1960, Ebony magazine celebrated Africa’s emerging states as both the realization of a dream as well as a somewhat precarious, must-not-fail experiment that demanded the material and spiritual support of African-Americans as well as the official support of the United States.

Dr. Gadsden’s story, like those of many other African-American leaders whose threads were woven into it, brings that era to vivid life.  The all-too-brief details that follow are offered as an introductory sample, a tantalizing glimpse, in the hope that you will follow our own footsteps in discovering the rich history of African-American and African public diplomacy in the early Civil Rights era.

Dorothy Height’s memoir Open Wide the Freedom Gates (2009), and especially her Chapter 14, “Citizen of the World,” highlights the immediate and compelling political relevance of Height’s own international experience and that of other Civil Rights leaders.

In 1960, Height traveled for several months in Sierra Leone, Ghana, Nigeria, and Guinea to study the training needs of women’s organizations.  (It was on this trip that she met Marie Gadsden, then with the small and shrinking U.S. Embassy delegation in Conakry.)    Meetings with grassroots women who had never before thought about their problems and goals in gender terms;  being hosted by a new cabinet minister in Accra, and Nigeria’s new chief barrister in Lagos; gaining insights into the debilitating legacy of colonialism — all are vividly described.

On her return, Height helped form a senior policy advocacy group, the American Negro Leadership Conference on Africa (ANLCA), together with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Roy Wilkins, and other top Civil Rights leaders.  A remarkable coalition of African-American religious, civil rights, fraternal, sorority, business, professional, educational, labor and social organizations supported ANLCA, including the American Committee on Africa, the Phelps-Stokes Fund, and even organizations whose primary commitment was clearly to grassroots Civil Rights organizing in the U.S. such as the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee.

Height recalls that Chief Simeon Olaosebikan Adebo, newly arrived in New York as Nigeria’s ambassador to the UN, invited ANLCA leaders “to discuss how Africans felt about U.S. policy. …He wanted black Americans to think more precisely about how the U.S. was relating [not just to South Africa but] to other parts of the continent too.  He urged us to be aware of policies that affected the utilization of raw materials throughout southern and central Africa…  Above all, he wanted us to know how U.S. policy played into these complicated issues.”

Meanwhile, American poet Langston Hughes had spent much of the 1950’s putting together a highly ambitious anthology of African and diaspora writing,  published in 1960 as An African Treasury.  Daniel Won-gu Kim, in his excellent, insightful piece, We, Too, Rise with You: Recovering Langston Hughes’s African (Re)Turn 1954-1960 in An African Treasury, the Chicago Defender, and Black Orpheus (2007), describes how Hughes began the project in 1954, correponding with hundreds of writers and sifting and weighing thousands of potential contributions, many of them handwritten and “accompanied by letters … expressing their gratitude and admiration of Hughes as an elder black writer. “

Notes Kim, “the friendship and comradeship of this new generation of African writers could not have had a more meaningful influence on [Hughes]. … The anthology served as a kind of crash course, bringing him up to speed in the dizzying but inspiring pace of change in his ancestral homeland, feeding his own drive to rediscover–via African liberation–his role as a cultural fighter for the liberation of his people in the U.S.”

In 1962, on the heels of the anthology’s publication, Hughes made two trips to Africa sponsored by the U.S. Information Agency (USIA) — his first since he was an impressionable young man working on a tramp steamer in the 1920’s.  In June-July of ’62, Langston Hughes’ itinerary included a major conference of writers at Makerere University College in Kampala, Uganda, and  the dedication of a new United States Information Service (USIS) Center and Library in Ghana.

The “M’bari Writers Conference” opened in Kampala with about 45 writers, editors, scholars and journalists from nine African countries, the U.S., UK, and Caribbean — including rising literary stars such as Chinua Achebe, future Nobel Prize winner Wole Soyinka, Ezekiel Mphahlele, Bloke Modisane, and Cyprian Ekwensi.   Langston Hughes already knew and admired many of these writers from his work on the anthology, and had also engaged in correspondence with the brilliant South African writer Bessie Head and others.   His speech at the new USIS library in Ghana clearly drew inspiration from his experience at the Kampala conference:   “[As] America comes to Africa, as through these library shelves, to offer an exchange of knowledge …  [so] Black Africa today is sending rejuvenating currents of liberty over all the earth reaching even as far as Little Rock, Birmingham and Jackson, Mississippi.”

A modern awareness of this interweaving of literature, politics, culture, nationalism, and human rights echoes through “Langston Hughes in Paradise,” Amanda Leigh Lichtenstein’s beautiful and inspirational 2011 essay in Contrary.  Lichtenstein, while teaching Langston Hughes’ poem “Mother to Son” (with its famous line “life for me ain’t been no crystal stair”) to students from the State University of Zanzibar, perceives this poem’s message of nationalism through the response it generates in her students.

Finally, there is the fascinating 1960 episode in which then-NAACP lawyer and future U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall served as an advisor to Kenyan nationalists during negotiations on a new constitution for Kenya, at the time a British colony. The story, outlined in Mary Dudziak’s Working toward Democracy: Thurgood Marshall and the Constitution of Kenya, describes an invitation to Marshall from Tom Mboya, a young nationalist leader from Kenya (who was assassinated a few years later, in 1967.)  Marshall traveled first to Kenya, and then to London, while his offers of assistance were debated by both Kenyans and British.  Interestingly, Marshall’s most substantial contribution to the Kenyan constitution was to strengthen protection for property rights, de facto those of land-owning white Kenyans.   Dudziak’s insights into the nuances and apparent contradictions of Thurgood Marshall’s work on, and later views on, the Kenyan constitution are well worth a read.

In February 1960, Marshall quickly wrapped up his involvement and returned to the U.S. earlier than anticipated “after four African-American freshmen at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College held a sit-in at the segregated lunch counter at Woolworth’s in Greensboro, North Carolina. The simple protest soon expanded into a widespread sit-in movement,” and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund set out to defend the students immediately.  “The sit-ins posed a set of legal and practical dilemmas for civil rights lawyers,” among them the problem — felt strongly by Marshall in particular, echoing his property-rights concerns about the Kenyan constitution — that the students had violated “facially valid trespass laws, not facially vulnerable segregation laws.”

Meanwhile, Thurgood Marshall maintained ties with his Kenya colleagues, and his work on the draft Kenyan Bill of Rights continued to be influential. Marshall developed a deep affection for Jomo Kenyatta after his release in 1961. He traveled to Kenya on a U.S. State Department sponsored trip in July 1963, and was an honored guest of Prime Minister Jomo Kenyatta at Kenya’s independence ceremonies in December 1963.

Marie Gadsden herself, after more than a decade with the Peace Corps, went on to become a pioneer in connecting America’s historically Black colleges and universities (HBCU’s) with international development training and exchange programs funded by USAID, USIA, and the State Department.  Her work on this effort through the Phelps-Stokes Fund and later through NAFEO brought her a level of respect in Washington that led to her being named the first African-American board chair of Oxfam-America, among many other recognitions.

Throughout her life, she maintained a deep commitment to developing America and developing Africa, to engaging young Americans and young Africans in service, both at home and abroad. She seamlessly worked for the U.S. Government, for private organizations, and to advance her own deeply held personal vision.

Hers was a life of public diplomacy.

Fear and Loathing in Development Journalism

Three items on development journalism in Africa came across my radar screen yesterday, and it was fascinating to read such a diversity of views.  It seems that harnessing media in the service of development has been used, at times, as a strategy to repress free speech and democracy, and yet the concept of development journalism is experiencing a revival in the digital age.

What do “Take Five” readers think about these issues?  What are the contemporary risks and benefits of promoting development journalism?  Shared below are the three views that, taken together, coalesced into this unexpected debate on my desk top.  I invite you to continue the discussion here.

“Three Knight Fellows to Launch Continent-Wide Media Projects” (September 2011) announces a dynamic new initiative to be based in Nairobi, Kenya, where three media experts will train African journalists in media management, the environment, and rural development.  The project webpage explains that the media training on rural development will be conducted by Knight International Fellow Joseph Warungu, the very distinguished former head of BBC’s African News and Current Affairs department, who will “work with South Africa’s Rhodes University to build a pan-African network of journalists with the skills to cover agriculture, health, small business and other development issues.”  This particular fellowship is sponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Well, so far, so good.  I’ve spent enough time reading newspapers in developing countries to know that coverage is often dominated by purely political developments, while economic news gets short shrift.  Business news taken largely from corporate press releases and launches makes it into the paper, but not the in-depth, grassroots economic reporting that helps readers understand, for example, the local effect of global fluctuations in commodity prices, or how price subsidies can affect rural-urban migration, or how some conflicts are sustained by localized economic opportunities for the few, or how some types of information are as valuable and bankable as a durable good. Therefore, training that helps reporters and editors “follow the money” has to be a good thing, because readers want very much to understand both the development efforts and the wider economic forces that affect their most basic existence.

However, Terje S. Skjerdal’s “Development journalism revived: the case of Ethiopia” (2011) introduces some different ideas.  The author explains that “development journalism has attracted considerable hostility over the years.  … The practice has been blamed for promoting political agendas instead of people’s interests.  The strong dependency on the state, especially in African versions of development journalism, has roused worries from press freedom organizations. … Local journalism paradigms such as Nkrumah’s revolutionary journalism [in Ghana] and Nyerere’s ujamaa Journalism [in Tanzania] were seamlessly interwoven with development-oriented journalism. This was made possible because development journalism in the African meaning of the term, in contrast to the Asian, meant close collaboration between the media and the authorities rather than critical reporting on development efforts. In effect, the state media and the government joined forces against the private media … [and] the critical and investigative role of the media was severely suppressed in the name of the ‘greater good.’”

Yet Skjerdal also explains that, despite this negative history, there has been a revival of interest in development journalism in recent years.  He cites as an example the framework of five principles synthesized by Fackson Banda (Communicatio: South African Journal for Communication Theory and Research, Volume 33Issue 2, 2007) for “development journalism in a new era.”   These include seeing the audience as active citizens rather than passive consumers; listening (as journalists) to the public, and not just to official sources; promoting deliberation among people, and between the people and their leaders; and encouraging citizens to conceptualize and express their own development concerns.  In sum, the development journalist “must get readers to realize how serious the development problem is, to think about the problem, to open their eyes to possible solutions.”

The rest of Skjerdal’s piece focuses more specifically on the case of Ethiopia, and the results of a survey of Ethiopian journalists on the significance of a new Ethiopian media policy promoting development journalism.   Discouragingly, Skjerdal concludes that journalists in that country are finding it difficult to maintain their objective and outspoken stance in the face of a development journalism imperative to promote success stories in order to support national efforts.

But are there other ways to manage development journalism?  Ways in which the journalist’s core commitment to objectivity is enhanced rather than diminished by a focus on development?

Into this nuanced landscape of potential benefits and pitfalls comes a paper on “Developing undergraduate journalism curricula: Concerns and issues” presented at a 2009 South African conference by Monica Chibita, senior lecturer in journalism at Makere University in Uganda.  I read it with interest, having been privileged to work with Dr. Chibita on a multi-faceted radio journalism training project when I was posted to the U.S. Embassy in Kampala about a decade ago.

First Chibita notes the subjects that Makerere journalism students are traditionally expected to cover – media history, writing, editing, ethics, graphics, analytical thinking and research methods.

Then she asks, “for a journalist looking at practicing in an African context, though, what about understanding community problems and dynamics? What about applying their understanding of the workings of the media to poverty, maternal and infant mortality, HIV/AIDS, energy, environmental degradation, unemployment, governance etc?”  And, channelling Banda, “how about making sense of how people diagnose and seek solutions to these problems in their local context and what role the media can play in making this possible?”

And here Chibita introduces a new element, the digital revolution.   “It appears that there is a growing need [for such development-related skills.]  This is partly because communities now do have some access to a wide range of media. Technologies like the mobile phone, for instance, can be used to bridge the gap between rural people and previously inaccessible ‘mainstream’ media.”

In other words, says Chibita, since digital media brings real potential for mainstream media and government to “listen” to the public, for there to be two-way dialogue among citizens and leaders, and for citizens to be empowered to shape development issues themselves, then it is the obligation of at least some journalists to be professionally prepared to play a role in realizing that potential.

So should we be bullish or bearish on development journalism?   Should we embrace the positive vision expressed through the Knight International Fellowships and by Banda and Chibita, or are we persuaded by the more pessimistic view of Skjerdal?  In the examples above from Ethiopia, Uganda, and Kenya, do country-specific differences matter, e.g. levels of Internet penetration that are respectively below 2%, about 12%, and above 25%?  Are we persuaded by objective criteria such as UNESCO’s ranking of Makerere’s journalism program as among the top 12 in Africa?   More broadly, do the risks of defining appropriate topics for journalists always outweigh the potential benefits — or should the development imperative sometimes trump market-based media decisions in the African marketplace of ideas?

Again, Take Five welcomes you to continue this debate.

Editor’s note:  On Sunday, Mohamed Keita published an NYTimes Op-Ed entitled “Africa’s Free Press Problem.” Mohamed hits upon similar themes – his post is well worth reading.

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