Archives For african diaspora

Last night, I attended the Andrew Young Lecture at the Nigerian Embassy in Washington, D.C., hosted by the Africa Society. The main attraction of the night was Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Linda Thomas-Greenfield. After the obligatory free wine, diplomatic corps schmoozing, and sampling of veggies, samosas, and meatballs from the reception table, the crowd (which I reckon was about 80 persons or so) and I were ushered into the auditorium room to hear preceding remarks by representatives from Chevron(!), the Asia Society, and Ambassador Adebowale Adefuye.

Asst. Secretary Thomas-Greenfield’s speech centered around the Obama administrations policy priorities for Africa. She discussed Obama’s Power Africa initiative, a multi-billion dollar project which aims to improve electricity supply on the continent through support from the public and private sector. She spoke excitedly about the Young African Leaders Initiative or YALI, which will bring a group of 500 (out of over 50,000 applicants!) of young Africans to the United States for a chance to learn leadership development during the Summer. Thomas-Greenfield declared this summer to be “The Summer of Africa” in Washington D.C., the culmination of which will be Obama’s African Leaders Summit in August.

Most of Thomas- Greenfield’s  speech were the normal talking points that one would expect about U.S. priorities in Africa. We got youth employment, democracy and elections, security and terrorism, and human rights. The normal song and dance.  but no mention of the wave of anti-gay legislation sweeping the continent.

Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Linda Thomas-Greenfield delivering the 2014 Andrew Young Lecture at the Nigerian Embassy in Washington D.C.

Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Linda Thomas-Greenfield delivering the 2014 Andrew Young Lecture at the Nigerian Embassy in Washington D.C.

Things got interesting during the time for questions.

A Nigerian gentleman in the audience stood up and gruffly challenged Thomas-Greenfield. “Why did you not mention the power of the diaspora in your speech? Why have you not approached us? ”  He was right, she hadn’t mentioned the diaspora at all.

Thomas-Greenfield shot back with an answer I did not expect. She said, that the diaspora was not doing enough to pressure and influence lawmakers in DC. “You want us to come to you…you need to come…write to your congressmen! We need the African diaspora to make policy demands on us. Organize yourselves into pressure groups like others have done.”

After Q+A was over, I approached Thomas-Greenfield to clarify what she meant. She said, “People want to set up meetings with us and ask us what we in the administration can do for them when its the congress that has the money!” She said the diaspora needed to organize like other lobbies and use their votes to voice the changes they wished to see in U.S. policy towards Africa. “If you vote, tell your congressmen what priorities are important.”

A lot of rhetoric in the last few years about the African diaspora in the development and policy community tends to suggest that Africans in the diaspora are the secret magical key to unlocking Africa’s development potential. From diaspora remittances to educated Africans returning from the West to Africa to start businesses, we have heard plenty of narratives about the sacred African diaspora. But to have a ranking official candidly challenging the diaspora to be more active for Africa within the U.S. government is a splash of cold water in the face.

Are African lobbies challenging immigration policy? Can we point to African diaspora groups that had a hand in crafting the Power Africa or YALI initiatives? Are there campaigns to lobby congress on policies towards conflict zones? Are there political awareness initiatives that can help the diaspora be more educated about  U.S. congressional hearings on Africa? Does the diaspora have priority points when it comes to policy?

I had plenty of conversations about the diaspora after the evening was over. Many of my friends agreed that the African diaspora in the U.S. is indeed not organized, at least to the same degree as other pressure groups. Some on Twitter said that the diaspora should focus on lobbying governments back in their home countries. Others said that the wide range of issues affecting 50+ countries make organizing inherently difficult.

One friend of mine said, “You know, Africans can be complacent once they get to this country. They are not used to asking their government for anything and getting something in return. They are not used to approaching government.”

Whatever the case may be, we in the diaspora can always do more. And maybe when it comes to political organizing here in the U.S. we have been dropping the ball.

Setting Sail Again

September 11, 2012 — 9 Comments

The time has come for for me to set sail again.

After two years in New York City, and three years stateside since my last stint abroad in Ghana, I will be setting my sights on a temporary stay in the Caribbean. I will be making a move to the Dutch Antilles in a little over a week. Idyllic choice of location, yes, but I am personally compelled to take myself out of the NYC/DC environment for some time to gain some personal clarity on many aspects of my life and purpose. In order to prepare for life’s next steps, one must take some time to decide what shoes to put on first.

I am also compelled by the untold stories of the Caribbean, the under-reported stories of the black diaspora that are just as much a part of the  of the fabric popular discourse on African migration as the U.S.-Africa connection. Little do people know that the largest collection of African history/slavery artifacts in the Caribbean is in Curacao. Little do people know that people from West Africa come to the Dutch Antilles and find that they can understand the local language, Papiamentu. Little do people know that the issues of belonging, identity, and globalization that I have wrestled with as a member of the African diaspora in the United States, feature prominently with Curacaoans as well. I want to tell these stories, and hopefully stories from other parts of the Caribbean. My hope is that I can find ears that will listen.

I know it is not the traditional path many would have thought I would have taken after graduate school. But after graduate school, I realized that a burning curiosity about the world has been driving me and the best way for me to satisfy that is to gain first-hand experience. I’m not rich, and who knows if I ever will be, but I decided to save up my M&Ms and Skittles in the bank so that I can take this chance, so that I can bet on myself. I’ve always have tried the best I could to follow my heart, and to this day, though I may have made mistakes, I have no regrets, only lessons.  I need to do what is best for myself, so that I can move to serve others in this life.

To those who think I am leaving my work Africa…never fear! Africa is in my heart and my blood. I am looking to make my return to the continent soon, when the time is right.

I will undoubtedly miss my wonderful family, as well as all fantastic friends in New York, DC, and Dallas, and everywhere else in this world I have been fortunate enough to spend some time in. But hey, keeping in touch is what Facebook, smartphones, Twitter, Skype, Gchat, WhatsApp, smoke signals and Morse Code are for, right?

To all those who have supported, encouraged and helped me to work through this process, I thank you. To those who have questioned and criticized, I hear you, but know I still respect you.

Until next time, Ayo, United States!