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Gbagbo has Special Connection to Blacks in the U.S.

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By George E. Curry –

(NNPA) ABIDJAN, Côte d’Ivoire – Laurent Gbagbo, who has served as president of Côte d’Ivoire for 10 years, has always had a special connection to the United States.

“I visited the United States many times,” he recalled in an exclusive interview with the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) News Service. “The first time was in 1980.” As part of his study abroad, he visited New York, Washington, Boston, Philadelphia, and Memphis, which holds a special place in his heart.

“I visited Memphis, the city of the blues,” he recalled. “…I saw B.B. King in Memphis, with his big earring and his guitar. I saw him perform. I saw John Hooker. I saw him perform. But, the artist I loved dearly and I have all of his documented life is Ray Charles.

“Ray Charles’ life is a real defiance of nature. This is a man who when 5 years old, lost his brother. The seventh year, he became blind. Fifteen years, he lost his mom and his dad. So, when he was 15, he could not see, he had no parents, but when he died in 2004, he was one of the richest performers in the world. This is what I call a fighter. I like people who fight to make it in life, who start from scratch and reach the top level of their life. The fight of his life is more important to me than his voice.”

Gbagbo also said he was inspired by civil rights fighters in the U.S.

“When we were young, we listened to everything. I listened to Cassius Clay, who became Muhammad Ali. I listened to Carmichael – Stokely Carmichael – whom I met before he died. I met him in Senegal. He was in Guinea, where he married Miriam Makeba. I listened to Malcolm X and then Martin Luther King.

“For us young Africans who were far from the United States, we didn’t know what was the best attitude, the best path to follow to end what was not an inside problem to America. It was a worldwide problem, the problem of segregation of Blacks. We are Black so we felt concerned about what was happening in the United States.”

And, he paid special attention to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

“Among all the problems we have, Martin Luther King has indicated one important way to resolve the problems: triumph without war,” Gbagbo said. He said he noticed how King used non-violence in dismantling racial segregation in the U.S. and how South Africa, to a less extent, used non-violence to eradicate apartheid.

“Black Americans should not think that the teachings of Martin Luther King are only for them,” he said. “It’s a teaching. It has to be implemented, it give results, extraordinary results.”

And when Gbagbo visited America, he made an extraordinary effort to visit Memphis.

“In Memphis, I saw the motel where Martin Luther King was killed,” he recalled. “We went to see the room. There were some flowers at the door where he was shot. After that, I saw that the place had been changed into a foundation, a Martin Luther King Foundation. It’s a good thing.”

Gbagbo recently announced that he has asked Charles Steele, Jr., immediate past president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), the organization co-founded by King, to create the Charles Steele Jr. Peace and Nonviolence Center in Abidjan. Gbagbo said he would be the first volunteer to undergo special training in nonviolence.

Once that’s established, he won’t have to make so many trips to Memphis to rekindle the memory of Dr. King.

President of Ivory Coast Deplores Election Double-Standard

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By George E. Curry –

(NNPA) ABIDJAN, Côte d’Ivoire -- Laurent Gbagbo, the embattled president of Côte d’Ivoire, more popularly known as the Ivory Coast, says President Barack Obama, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, and other western leaders should stop questioning the legitimacy of his re-election and accord the West African country the same respect the United States was given in the controversial 2000 presidential election contest between Al Gore and George W. Bush.

In an exclusive videotaped interview in his presidential residence, Gbagbo said: “You in the United States, in 2000, you had an election dispute between Al Gore and George W. Bush. They did a recount of the votes. Did we go get the NATO forces to come and attack America and impose democracy on America? This is a post-electoral dispute. That’s why I’m [suspicious of] all those countries who are rushing in to condemn us. I don’t trust them.”

In three separate rulings, the U.S. Supreme Court halted the recounting of ballots in the race between Bush and Gore, allowing Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris’ certification of Bush as the winner to stand. Bush’s victory in Florida gave him 25 electoral votes, allowing him to defeat Gore 271 electoral votes to 266.

On October 31, 2011 there was a presidential election in Côte d’Ivoire. A run-off election was held November 28, 2010 between Gbagbo and Alassane Ouattara, a former prime minister under President Felix Houphouet-Boigny and an economist for the International Monetary Fund. The chairman of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) announced that Ouattara was the victor, which pleased Sarkozy and other western leaders who had been supporting Ouattara.

Gbagbo, who was first elected president of the former French colony a decade ago, said those supporting Ouattara ignored the second part of a two-step electoral process. After some of the ballots were challenged by Gbagbo, the Constitutional Council – the equivalent of the U.S. Supreme Court – ruled that Gbagbo won the run-off with 51.45 percent of the votes, three percentage points higher than Ouattara’s 48.55 percent.

“In our constitution, the Independent Electoral Commission is just an administrative body. It organizes the election and it proclaims the provisional results,” Gbagbo explained. “The only institution which by law proclaims the final results, proclaim who won the election and who receives the oath of president is the Constitutional Council.”

Sarkozy expressed support for Ouattara before the Constitutional Council issued its ruling.

“The Independent Electoral Commission has announced the results, which signal a clear, indisputable victory for Alassane Ouattara,” Sarkozy said on December 4, 2010. “After verification of the votes, the United Nations Secretary-General Mr. Ban Ki-moon endorsed the result of the ballot and congratulated President-elect M. Ouattara. Following this, President Obama and the European leaders, like me, saluted Alassane Ouattara’s victory.”

Sarkozy was relying on a 2007 peace agreement that required the United Nations to certify election results. However, Gbagbo asserted that as a sovereign nation, no outside institution is above his country’s highest court.

After throwing out voided ballots, the Constitutional Council concluded that Gbagbo had defeated Ouattara 2,054,537 to 1,938,672.

The Constitutional Council is composed of six counselors and a president. Under the constitution, the president of the National Assembly appoints three of the jurists and the president of the country picks three, plus the president of the Constitutional Council.

Critics argue that given its makeup, it is not surprising that Council ruled in Gbagbo’s favor. Gbagbo does not deny that most of the justices are his friends, but said that is no different from the president of the United States appointing members of the Supreme Court, pending Senate confirmation.

Gbagbo also noted that the Independent Electoral Commission was heavily packed with Ouattara supporters, a point mentioned in some of the Constitutional Council’s documents.

In a signed appeal to voters, dated November 27, 2010, Gbagbo and Ouattara agreed, “We solemnly pledge to accept the election results as declared at the close of polls by the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) and the Constitutional Council.”

Article 98 of the constitution proclaims, “The decisions of the Constitutional Council are not susceptible to any recourse…”

Instead of accepting the ruling by the country’s top court, however, Ouattara claimed victory and called for the physical removal of Gbagbo from Côte d’Ivoire. He remains ensconced in the Golf Hotel, protected by United Nations troops. The only way to reach or leave the hotel is aboard a U.N. helicopter.

Côte d’Ivoire, once known as the Paris of Africa, is the world’s largest producer of cocoa. Its downtown skyline is dotted with impressive skyscrapers. The country is slightly larger than New Mexico and has a population of approximately 21 million.

Ethnic, geographical, and religious factors are part of the tension between supporters of each candidate. Gbagbo is a Christian from the Bete ethnic group and lives in the south. Ouattara is a Muslim, a member of the Dioula group, whose supporters are mostly in the northern part of the country, a section held by rebels who initiated a civil war less than two years after Gbagbo became president.

Gbagbo said he was under pressure to hold elections in 2010 even though the international community that now opposes him never insisted that rebels lay down their guns as part of the peace process.

“Many Americans don’t even know what is Côte d’Ivoire,” said Gbagbo. “When I was in the U.S., I was obliged to say we are between Ghana and Liberia… So when they tell them there’s a dictator somewhere in a country called Côte d’Ivoire who lost the election and doesn’t want to go, they take it. It’s very easy when it concerns Africa because they say, ‘Well, it’s Africa.’”

Gbagbo, a former college professor, has a Ph.D in history and wrote his dissertation on French colonization of Africa. He said many of the problems on the continent stem from the relationship between African leaders and their old colonial powers.

That alone, however, does not explain why there is such widespread opposition to Gbagbo. The U.N., France, the U.S., the African Union, the Central Bank of West African States and the 15-member Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) all assert that Ouattara is the duly elected president.

When asked about African opposition to his remaining in power, the prideful Pan-Africanist became subdued, selecting his words carefully.

“English-speaking countries that were colonized by Great Britain do not suffer the pressure from their colonial power as former French colonies,” Gbagbo stated. “The French have a stronger impact on its former colonies than English-speaking superpowers. That’s a factual situation. Other than that, our French-speaking countries are more fragile than English-speaking countries.”

In other words, some African leaders feel intense economic pressure to do the bidding of France.

Not everyone accepts that explanation.

Abbul-Rahma, writing in a column for GhanaWeb.com, said: “…The Ivorian problem is not an issue of colonial imperialism, but a determined effort by a tyrant to defy the will of his people and of the international community.”

Some critics are trying to use the situation in Côte d’Ivoire and other troubled Black countries as an excuse to reintroduce colonialism.

In his January 11th column in the Wall Street Journal, Bret Stephens dismissed Côte d’Ivoire, Haiti, and the Sudan as basket cases.

“What, if anything, does it all mean? It means that we have come full circle,” said Stephens, deputy editorial page editor of the newspaper. “It means that colonialism, for which the West has spent the past five decades in nonstop atonement, was far from the worst thing to befall much of the colonized world. It means, also, that some new version of colonialism may be the best thing that could happen to at least some of the countries in the post-colonial world.”

Ouattara called for a “special operations” raid to seize Gbagbo and “take him somewhere else.” With France cheering them on, African leaders in ECOWAS have discussed the possibility of using military troops to remove Gbagbo from office.

Ghana President John Mills, a member of ECOWAS, said he will have no part of such a move. And one of Mills’ predecessors, Jerry Rawlings, supports his decision.

“More outrageous election results have taken place without intervention,” Rawlings stated. “How can we justify an intervention in this instance, when the results are so close and divided along ethnic lines? Let us investigate all the peaceful options available rather than a military intervention that cannot establish a peaceful political transition in Côte d’Ivoire.”

President Obama is part of the international effort to isolate Gbagbo.

Like the European Union, he has announced a travel ban on Gbagbo, his wife, and three of his top aides. In addition, an executive order issued by Obama forbids U.S. citizens from conducting financial or commercial transactions with Gbagbo and his inner circle and freezes all of their U.S. assets.

“They said they are closing all of the accounts of President Gbagbo and his staff in the foreign banks, but I laughed at it,” Gbagbo said, flashing a broad smile. “I have no accounts outside [Côte d’Ivoire]. In the United States, they found a small account that’s for my daughter when she was a student there. There’s $400 in the account. She forgot that there was $400 left in it. That’s the only account that is called Gbagbo and they don’t even belong to me. They are not for me, they belong to my daughter.”

According to the White House, Obama has tried to reach Gbagbo by telephone on at least three occasions, but the African leader would not accept his calls.

When asked about refusing to speak with U.S. president, Gbagbo said, “I didn’t even know if Barack Obama called me because his ambassador, he has discredited himself. So, when he tells me something, I don’t believe him.”

That notwithstanding, Obama sent a letter to Gbagbo urging him to step aside. According to Gbagbo, Obama said “he’d give me a professor’s job in Boston.”

Despite his ability to see humor in some U.S. actions, it is clear that Gbagbo is pained about the actions of America’s first Black president, a president whose father was born in Kenya.

When this interviewer asked Gbagbo what he would say if Barack Obama were sitting across from him, Gbagbo replied: “If I was in front of him, I would say his administration is being misled, that his administration is being totally misled on this issue,” Gbagbo said. “He has to help Africans build strong states and to build those strong states, you have to re-enforce the power of the institutions on which the nations stand. He must respect those institutions.”

Gbagbo said Obama is more than simply a Black man in the White House.

“I’m very proud that when the Blacks now walk down the streets in America, they are not looked down upon like a sub-human,” Gbagbo explained. “This is my pride. But politics remain politics… He is an American president. And, he defends the interests of the United States.”

Equal Access Dominates Discussions During Black Newspaper Publishers Conference

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By Richette L. Haywood, NNPA Contributor –

St. Thomas, VI – Equal access. Those two words dominated discussions, during the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) 2011 Mid-Winter Conference. Recognizing the need to grow its reach into federal and corporate arenas, the oldest and most influential Black newspaper association had executives/consultants from the top 25 Fortune 500 companies and industry insiders present the publishers with concrete lessons learned and best practices to expand its penetration into those markets during the country’s economic recovery.

“We pride ourselves on being very on point. We focus on the influence that we have. And, we have a responsibility to enhance the quality of life for our Black brothers and sisters,” NNPA Chair Danny J. Bakewell, Sr. told the group. Collectively, the association needs to implement a strategy to gain equal access to advertising revenue.

Based upon an audit of the country’s Black owned and operated newspapers, Chuck Morrison, Executive Vice President and General Manager of Uniworld, pointed out that the Black Press had no advertising reciprocity, based on the data he compiled. Specifically, he said that of the top 25 companies with a significant market share in the African American community, some firms did no advertising with the Black Press during the review period. The 13 worst offenders, in alphabetical order were; Allstate, Anheuser-Busch, Chrysler, Coke, Kraft, Johnson & Johnson, Miller Coors, Nissan, Pepsi, Sony, Toyota, U.S. government and Walt Disney. The companies that consistently spent advertising dollars with the Black Press, in alphabetical order, are; AT&T, Comcast, Ford, General Motors, Home Depot, and Macys.

Developing strategic approaches positioning the Black Press to gain equal access to federal and corporate advertising dollars were discussed during several workshops. Dennis Hunn, NNPA Executive Vice President Advertising and Marketing stressed “… we need to know where we are, define where we need to be, and, finally, develop a step by step plan to describe how we get there.” Among the strategies discussed to help the newspapers generate revenue was marketing and special events. In addition, as a part of its overall strategy, the NNPA is developing an enhanced infrastructure to expedite execution of its internal processes.

The call for equal access did not end with its members. But, extended to the people of St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, the conference site. Mr. Bakewell told the publishers the association’s support of the U.S. Virgin Islands 30-year agreement with the owners of locally produced Cruzan Rum, was the right thing to do. The Black Press will continue to support economic development in St. Thomas, specifically as it applies to the competition between St. Thomas and Puerto Rico to secure the manufacturing rights for Cruzan Rum. Nathan Simmonds, Senior Policy Advisor for the United States Virgin Islands told the publishers “the benefits of the rum agreement are not just paper deals.” Economically, the agreement with the company will generate $50 million in revenue this year and is projected to triple within in the next six years. Applauding the publishers for not “believing the hype”, Mr. Simmonds said “thank you for getting the facts and utilizing your power of the press to help us move forward.”

During the closing night Salute Dinner, award winning actress and author Victoria Rowell thanked the membership for its coverage of the on-going challenge faced by Blacks to gain equal access to jobs in the entertainment industry. She commended the association for its support that recently resulted in the hiring of the first African American writer on the popular daytime soap opera “Young and the Restless”, where she appeared for 17 years. “This is only step one” said Rowell, referring to the three time award winning writer being hired on a six week trial basis for the show. “None of this could have been expedited had it not been for you. The Black Press has always been good to us. We have a long way to go in Hollywood. But, none of this could have happened, the way it happened, had it not been for the Black Press. We need access. And, this is what the fight is about.”

Steele Comments on Future Plans Following RNC Ouster

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Special to the NNPA from the AFRO-American Newspaper –

While politicos continue to debate whether the circumstances surrounding Michael Steele’s withdrawal from the race for Republican National Committee (RNC) chairman were fair, he said he is still looking to make a nice living in politics.

“He’ll be fine,” said conservative political analyst Raynard Jackson. “He’ll do some TV and probably some book tours.”

Reports say Steele is mulling over offers from CNN and Fox News to become a political analyst. Fox News would make the most sense, as Steele served in that capacity with the conservative news network before becoming RNC chairman.

Steele recently expressed his eagerness to return to television in an interview with FrumForum, a conservative Web site dedicated to the Republican Party and conservative politics.

Steele said he plans on “doin’ some TV here and there. There’s a presidential cycle coming up; I plan to play in that a little bit. Maybe a lot.”

Steele also reflected on the reasons he was unable to gain enough support to retain his position as RNC chairman, telling CNN’s Wolf Blitzer that perhaps the party wanted someone with a different style.

“I've been trying to figure that one out myself as well, and I think the reality is they wanted someone different in there,” Steele said. “They wanted someone who had a different tone than I did. That's fine.”

He had more pointed words for some of his colleagues, especially new RNC Chairman Reince Priebus. Steele said that Priebus, who he appointed to the position of RNC general counsel, ran against Steele when he saw an opening.

“I know exactly how Caesar felt,” Steele told FrumForum. “It is what it is. I trust my friends. Well, I guess the adage is right. In Washington, you should get a dog.

"We put a lot of resources in Wisconsin over the last two years,” Steele said of Priebus, who is also chairman of the Republican Party in Wisconsin. “That’s what you do for the team."

Black Press Push for Social Media Presence

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By Richette L. Haywood, NNPA Contributor –

St. Thomas, VI – Black newspaper publishers attending the National Newspapers Publishers Association (NNPA) Mid-Winter Conference know what they want. Their focus was on how the Black Press can and should use social media networks to drive awareness of the Black Press as a brand, develop an enhanced digital engagement with Black America, and develop stronger partnerships with advertisers and its readership.

“The rise of social media networks like Facebook and Twitter has given print media a unique opportunity to develop even deeper relationships with our audience and marketing partners,” said Dorothy R. Leavell, chair of the NNPA Foundation. “This event is designed to explore all the possibilities that social networks offer newspapers. Newspapers excel at attracting communities of like-minded users and this event will help newspapers take community building to the next level.” Reaching that next level has been a difficult undertaking for traditional print industry, as both minority and mainstream publications struggle financially to hold on to their print market while competing in a digital age.

Reader interest start, where it has always started, said Eric Easter, an AT&T consultant and print journalist from Washington, D.C. “It’s all about the story, first,” said Easter. Deciding what is the best way to tell the story does not mean changing a publication’s brand or voice. “You don’t need to stop being who you are,” said Easter. “The key is to find out ways to engage (readers) on a daily basis. You have to understand your audience to expand.”

To accomplish that goal, AT&T consultant and owner of Capitol Consulting Group, Kevin Parker communicated to publishers that they have to “integrate being the most trusted voice in Black America” into its presence on the internet. “They need to figure out how to make the social networks work for them and they need to find out where their readers are (from a digital perspective).” Most importantly, Parker said, newspapers must target and capture a more youthful demographic.

Scott Davis, publisher of The Nashville Pride newspaper and one of the younger members of the association, said he will incorporate strategies discussed during the workshops into his newspaper’s operation. “I have a popular entertainment and sports writer. We will be looking to translate his stories (online). Social networking gives us another reach our community and I am excited about that.”

Keeping that enthusiasm alive among its members is critical, said NNPA Chair Danny J. Bakewell, Sr. “We are helping each other to grow into this next phase. We want to make sure we have value added workshops to take us into the future.”

Staying true to its conference theme - Value, Trust & Influence – the four-day event attracted corporate sponsors, including General Motors and Ford, both of whom have undergone their own financial issues. “Business is about relationships and understanding what our needs are. And, hopefully, we can find solutions that would work for both of us,” said Eric Peterson, Vice President of Diversity at General Motors.

Held in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, the conference kick-off event was the NNPA Chairman’s Reception, hosted by Danny J. Bakewell, Sr., which was attended by past and present government officials. The hospitality of St. Thomas was extended to the NNPA by John P. de Jongh, Jr., governor of the Virgin Islands who hosted a reception at the governor’s mansion.

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