UN Africa Day and the International Year for People of African Descent 2011
United Nations Headquarters in New York
31 May 2011 from 2 pm to 5 pm
Conference Room 2 North Lawn Building
“FORGING CLOSER LINKS BETWEEN AFRICA AND THE DIASPORA”
The UN hosted Africa Day on May 31st. The presenters for the day included:United Nations Officials, Mr. Serigne Mamadou Bousso Leye, Minister of Culture, Senegal;Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Founder and President, Rainbow PUSH Coalition;Ambassador Dudley Thompson, President, World African Diaspora Union;Dr. Julius Garvey, son of Pan Africanist pioneer Marcus Garvey; Ambassador Tete Antonio,Permanent Observer of the African Union to the United Nations, The CARICOM Group of Ambassadors to the United Nations; Prof. Iba Der Thiam, Famous African Historian, Chair of the Forum of the World Festival of Black Arts and Cultures, Dr. Djibril Diallo, Senior Advisor to the Executive Director, UNAIDS, New York; Vanessa Williams, Executive Director, National Conference of Black Mayors, Atlanta, GA Richard Gant, Cheryl Wills, NY1 Television Anchor among others.
Overall the African Diaspora was mostly lauded during the African Day celebration. Many challenges and achievements were discussed. Discussion of strategies were lacking. The idea of Diaspora wasn’t clearly articulated, leaving the audience with varied perspectives on how particular organizations and individuals have leveraged the term to substantiate their cause. The potential role that the African Diaspora can play in the development of the civic, economic, political, and security sections of the infrastructure of the African Continent was discussed. It was also reassuring to hear the willingness of African states to involve the diaspora in the politics of what Ambassador Ogwu termed as the ‘home base’.
The Day started off with Tete Antonio,Permanent Observer of the African Union to the United Nations, addressing the crowd. One of the initiatives that Tete Antonio spoke about was mobilizing public opinion towards the importance of creating a permanent memorial to the victims of slavery. Paullete Bethel,The permanent Ambassador to the UN of the Bahamas and representative of CARICOM, presented a similar request focused on the Transatlantic Slave Trade to be erected at the UN. Tete Antonio also made points regarding the demographics of Africa being comprised of 62 % youth and soon to be 70 %. This sentiment was spoken yet most of the presenters were in the twilight of their careers. His presentation gave an outline of what currently needed to be addressed in the Diaspora but did not include methodologies for change in his speech.
Ambassador Joy U. Ogwu, National Permanent Nigerian Ambassador to UN began her speech with discussing the founding of the African Union. 8 years ago African countries came together with the common ideal of re-engineering Africa in a Post Colonial Context. Peace and Security would serve as guide post of African states. Ambassador Joy U. Ogwu posited that the project of the African Union is incomplete without the inclusion of the African diaspora in the architecture of a prosperous Africa. Connecting Africa to the Diaspora would do a great deal to maintain the continent. The identity of Africa is only further underscored by acknowledging the Diaspora as the Sixth Region. Building a Continental African infrastructure should be a joint venture with the African Diaspora in the 21st century. All people of the diaspora should think of themselves as stakeholders in Africa.
Brazillian Ambassador Maria Viote gave her perspective about what the role of Africa is going to be in the 21st century. She talked about the similarities and contributions from people of African descent in Brazil. It i because of their shared cultural ideologies and history that Africa is a priority for Brazil. Africa and Brazil are both calling for a reform of the UN Security council. Many of the countries share views on international policy. Her speech highlighted economic growth that has been occurring for the past few years and how these shifts are opening up inroads for Brazil to invest in Africa economically. She also talked about the new security initiatives from the African Union being vital to the Continent’s ability to trade.
Senegalese Professor, Writer/Historian, and First Vice President, National Assembly of Senegal, Iba Der Thiam gave an inspirational speech about the potential for a new Africa in the 21st century. He gave an old Nigerian saying, “If the river changes direction crocodile must follow”. This idea of the world changing, and Africa also changing with it, is an important sentiment. He emphatically stated that the African continent is awakening. One of the ways that it is doing that is through a consolidated force. Regional and sub-regional unions are occurring throughout the world and that seems to be the way of the 21st century. He spoke of the importance of joint ventures with powerhouses on the Asian continent in increasing economic growth. The concept of Diaspora is turning the weakness created by division into a resource. He stated Africa and it's Diaspora can count as “one of the most important regions of the 21st century if it can speak with one voice.” Dr. Thiam reiterated the fact that the Diaspora is the sixth region. He urged the Diaspora to participate in the forums of the African Union. Adding the diaspora to Africa would make it one of the largest demographics of the world and underscore the fact that we are now living in an African renaissance. There needs to be potential for Pan African publishing, working in clean water, health, trade, training of future African leaders, travel to increase commonality, as well having the the effects of slavery memorialized.Professor Thiam’s speech sought to encourage the Diaspora to go into uncharted areas where we the people can establish to establish consciousness because ‘Consciousness is power’. If Africans are successful in continuing to establish links with the 6th union, with Asia, and the Middle East, development and exchange that currently exists will be significantly augmented.
Civil Rights activist, Reverend Jesse Jackson was one of the honored speakers. Reverend Jackson spoke about the idea of Diaspora from the context of a returning for reconstruction. He started off with an analogy that related to American Football. The story spoke about the importance of not celebrating before the game is over, which directly related to the event that was a celebration of the gains worldwide of people of African descent. This served as a point of entry to examine the importance of human rights and international law being universal. He spoke of accountability by vaguely alluding to the invasion of Iraq being a human rights violation. In his opinion there is a profound disconnect between people of African descent. He shared a quote from Civil rights organizer, Jim Farmer, “When a dog bites us in Birmingham, we bleed everywhere.” He spoke of how this was not the sentiment in our current time because everyone is focused on their own position. He addressed the affects of post-colonialism in his familiar rhyming fashion and Jesse Jackson cadence. “We have a new race policy and now need a new trade policy”, seemed to be an apt way to describe inequity of wealth distribution.He was critical of how 10% of the people control all of the land and shipping. He spoke about a capital apartheid and educational apartheid.
The Africa Day celebration culminated with some moving words by young speakers. Although they were cut short by the speeches of their elders, topics ranged from: the place of women in the diaspora, the grassroots movements of young continental Africans, and being mindful of the use of of the term “Diaspora”.Though it was the theme of the day, it seemed that the term “Diaspora” was not problematized enough. The Africa day celebration while, inspirational should have outlined more of a strategic plan for achieving the goals it set forth. It seemed as if the group that would potentially address this issue had the shortest allotted time to speak. Arts and culture were also barely touched upon, perhaps leaving an entry-point for an institution like MoCADA to engage in carving out a niche in the Sixth Region.It was great to have a day of celebrating the African Diaspora but as Reverend Jackson said, “you can’t ‘celebrate before the game is over.’’ At the end of the event it was evident that there is still work to be done.