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Sending Military Equipment to Police Questioned

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By Freddie Allen
NNPA Senior Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Last week, Washington lawmakers grilled officials from the Defense Department (DOD), Homeland Security and the Department of Justice over programs that sent equipment and money to state and local law enforcement agencies. Experts say those resources ultimately contributed to the militarization of police departments nationwide.

The stunning images of police decked out in fatigues, menacing peaceful protesters with assault rifles, and firing tear gas and rubber bullets into mixed crowds that included children, shocked many who witnessed the local law enforcement response to the unrest that engulfed Ferguson, Mo., following the shooting death of Michael Brown, an unarmed Black teenager who was shot and killed by Darren Wilson, a White 6-year veteran police officer.

During a hearing on federal programs that support state and local law enforcement groups, Senator Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) said that she was shocked and saddened as she watched events unfold in Ferguson, Mo., in the weeks after Brown’s death and said that most Americans were uncomfortable watching a suburban street in the St. Louis suburb being transformed into a warzone complete with camouflage,  armored vehicles and laser sights on assault rifles.

“Those lawful, peaceful protesters on that Wednesday afternoon in Ferguson, Mo., did not deserve to be treated like enemy combatants,” said McCaskill.

McCaskill noted that the Defense Department’s 1033 program, authorized in 1997, allows the DOD to send surplus equipment to state and local law enforcement for free.

“Much of the equipment from the program is as mundane as office furniture and microwaves,” said McCaskill. “But the Department of Defense is also giving local law enforcement million-dollar tactical vehicles, including its mine resistant ambush protected vehicle or MRAP.”

MRAPs are built to withstand roadside bombs and improvised explosive devices.

“These are vehicles that are so heavy that they can tear up roads,” said McCaskill.

During the Senate hearing, Alan Estevez, the principal deputy undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics at DOD, said that the department shared $1.9 million in excess equipment with state and local law enforcement agencies. Most of the items were considered “uncontrolled equipment,” such as office furniture, filing cabinets, medical kits and tool kits.

The Ferguson, Mo., police department received two Humvees, one generator and one cargo trailer from the DOD, according to Estevez. The St. Louis County police department acquired six pistols, 12 rifles, 15 weapon sights, one ordinance disposal robot, three helicopters, seven Humvees and two night vision devices

Estevez said that state coordinators determine the need for local law enforcement.

But McCaskill said that the Defense Department’s own records show that, in the last three years, DOD has given 624 MRAPs to state and local law enforcement agencies, “seemingly without regard to the need or size of the agency that received them.”

“In Texas, for example, local law enforcement agencies have 73 MRAPs, the National Guard has only six,” said McCaskill. “In Florida, local police departments have 45 MRAPs and the National Guard has zero.”

She questioned whether state and local law enforcement even needed the equipment.

McCaskill said that according to the Defense Logistics Agency nearly 40 percent of the equipment given away to law enforcement is new.

“It doesn’t appear that buying new equipment and then giving it away and spending more money to replace it is an effective use of the Defense Department resources,” said McCaskill.

Proponents of the programs have argued that the resources are essential in helping local law enforcement fight terrorism in a post-9/11 world. When Senator Thomas Coburn (R-Okla.) asked Brian Kamoie, the assistant administrator for Grant Programs for the Federal Emergency Management Agency at the Department of Homeland Security to recall the last event that required local law enforcement to use equipment they received through the program for counter-terrorism efforts, the FEMA official was at a loss for words.

Kamoie settled on the 2010 failed bombing attempt in Times Square in New York City and during the apprehension of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the suspect in the Boston Marathon bombing that killed three people and wounded more than 260 others.

Kamoie testified that a grant-funded, forward-looking infrared camera mounted on a Massachusetts state helicopter helped police locate Tsarnaev, a point Coburn soundly refuted. The Oklahoma senator said that a homeowner in Watertown, Mass., found Tsarnaev in his boat and called 911.

“One of the key lessons learned during United States military missions in Iraq and Afghanistan was the idea that we had to win the hearts and minds of the citizens there,” said McCaskill. “I find it ironic that at the same time we are embracing those tactics as strong evidence of progress against the insurgency, we are in fact undermining the organization of our domestic police departments.”

Peter Kraska, a professor at the School of Justice Studies at Eastern Kentucky University, said that the clear distinction between our civilian police and our military is blurring in significant and consequential ways.

“What we saw play out in Ferguson was the application of a very common mindset, style of uniform, appearance and weaponry used every day in the homes of private residences during SWAT raids,” said during the hearing.

According to Kraska, who specializes in criminal justice theory, police and criminal justice militarization, the total number of police paramilitary deployments, or call-outs has increased by 1,300 percent between 1980 and the year 2000.

In a statement submitted to the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, Kraska estimated that by 2007, there were an estimated 60,000 SWAT team deployments.

“And it is the poor and communities of color that are the most impacted,” said Kraska.

According to a report on the militarization of American policing by the American Civil Liberties Union, a nonprofit group that defends individual freedoms and constitutional rights, “42 percent of people impacted by a SWAT deployment to execute a search warrant were Black and 12 percent were Latino.”

Kraska said that it is no coincidence that the skyrocketing number of police paramilitary deployments on American citizens since the 1980s coincides perfectly with the skyrocketing imprisonment numbers.

The Sentencing Project, a research and advocacy group that promotes reforms in the criminal justice system reported that almost 40 percent of people in state or federal prisons are Black and that almost half of the people serving time in state prisons in 2011 were locked up for non-violent drug offenses.

“It is hard to imagine that anyone intended for the wars on crime, drugs and terrorism to devolve into widespread police militarization. At the same time, we have opened the door for outfitting our police to be soldiers with a warrior mindset,” said Kraska. “These wars have been devastating to minority communities and the marginalized and have resulted in the self-perpetuating growth complex. Cutting off the supply of military weaponry to our civilian police is the least we can do to begin the process of reigning in police militarization.”

In a written testimony submitted to the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, Hilary Shelton, the Washington, D.C. bureau chief for the NAACP, said that the group has long advocated for a change in the paradigm, which has driven our criminal justice system.

In his statement, Shelton called for the adoption of “use of force” principles to be incorporated into the “Law Enforcement Trust and Integrity Act” and that any law enforcement agency which receives federal funding or participates in equipment transfer programs such as the Defense Department’s 1033 program show proof of annual training for all personnel on the appropriate use of force. Shelton also said that police officers need anti-racial profiling training.

“We need to move away from the failed scenario of declaring ‘war’ on the American people, whether it be the ‘War on Drugs,’ or a ‘War on Crime,’ and law enforcement needs to be trained to stop stereotyping people based on what they look like, the clothes they wear, the color of their skin, or the neighborhoods in which they live,” said Shelton.  “Above all, law enforcement at every level, local, state, and federal, should stop perceiving the citizens who they are hired to protect and serve as ‘the enemy.’”

Violence Against Women Law Needs Strengthening

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By Jazelle Hunt
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – In July, bystander footage of an unidentified California highway patrol officer pummeling a Black woman on the side of the road hit the media. Last week, federal judge Mark Fuller was arrested for beating his wife, and subsequently accepted a plea deal for professional leave, six months of counseling, no charges, and an expunged record. And controversy continues after video surfaced of NFL Baltimore Ravens running back, Ray Rice, knocking his wife unconscious in an elevator last Valentine’s Day. The 2014 Miss America pageant stirred that pot over the weekend, when a judge asked a contestant about Janay Rice’s decision to remain in her marriage.

On the 20th anniversary of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), it seems there is still work to be done.

For this reason, Vice President Joe Biden, who co-sponsored the law in 1990 as a senator from Delaware, will convene legal scholars and professionals, and Department of Justice officials for a Summit on Civil Rights and Equal Protections for Women. No date has been set.

President Bill Clinton signed the bill into law on September 13, 1994.

Summit participants will brainstorm solutions to end the gender bias in the justice system that affects the way cases are handled. They will also examine ways to allow survivors to sue their assailants in federal court – a VAWA provision the Supreme Court struck down in 2000.

In addition to the summit, the Vice President’s Office released a state-of-affairs report on the issue of violence against women.

“When VAWA was first passed, almost every state crime involving interstate elements (from gun crimes to cattle rustling) was covered by the federal criminal code – but not sexual assault and domestic violence,” the report reads. “Although there is still much to do, this anniversary gives us a moment to reflect on the vital, often life-saving work the Violence Against Women Act has inspired and supports. Since its passage 20 years ago, help has come on all fronts.”

According to the report there has been significant traction, both culturally and legally, on the issue.

The national rate of intimate partner violence against women has fallen 64 percent between 1993 and 2012, or 61 percent for Black Americans alone, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. VAWA-funded organizations have made gains in prosecution, and more services have become available for more survivors.

Today, VAWA has been expanded to serve LGBT survivors, those living in Indian country, undocumented immigrants, and college students. In 2000, the definition of dating violence was added to the law. In 2005, healthcare organizations received VAWA funding to offer long-term mental and physical care for survivors.

But there are still lingering issues.

As Biden highlighted at a commemoration ceremony last week: “We have so much more to do, because there’s still sex bias that remains in the American criminal justice system in dealing with rape – stereotypes like she deserved it, she wore a short skirt still taint prosecutions for rape and domestic violence.”

Additionally, against women and dating violence are problems among youth; researchers have found that 1 in 10 teens will be harmed by someone they are dating, and 1 in 5 young women will be sexually assaulted during college. Until 2009, women age 18 to 24 have had the highest rates of being victimized by intimate partners—currently, women age 25 to 34 have the highest rates.

The White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault was launched in response at the beginning of this year. Its mission is to increase research and prevention, improve schools’ response to sexual assault, and to increase transparency on government enforcement.

There’s also the contention that VAWA itself doesn’t have much powed it is largely a federal grant program to help public entities do a better job of serving survivors, and support private entities that are already working around this issue. (The law also directs federal agencies to carry out already-existing laws and regulations).

Biden and proponents believe that in light of uneven law enforcement and judicial response at the state and local level, VAWA should be allowed to grant the federal government jurisdiction to enforce the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Additionally, other crimes involving interstate elements can be tried in federal court—this is not true for sexual assault and intimate partner violence.

In other words, survivors whose attackers have stalked them across state lines, or abused wives whose husbands have forced them to move away from support systems, or people who have been victimized via the Internet, must rely on state courts for justice. If they do not have a paper trail on their abuse along the way, it may be difficult to get a conviction for ongoing victimization, instead of a conviction for one incident in that state.

Since the 1970s, other legal figures and elected officials have argued that granting such jurisdictional powers would be to drag the federal government into “family disputes,” or overstep state rights.

In the meantime, the Obama Administration continues to produce campaigns, initiatives, federal guidance, and public resources to help eradicate violence against women.

“On the anniversary of this landmark legislation, we rededicate ourselves to strengthening the protections it first codified, and we reaffirm the basic human right to be free from violence and abuse,” President Obama wrote in a commemorative proclamation. “Too many women continue to live in fear in their own homes, too many victims still know the pain of abuse, and too many families have had to mourn the loss of their loved ones. It has to end—because even one is too many.”

Library of Congress Hosts Civil Rights Exhibit

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By Jazelle Hunt
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) –  In honor of the 50th anniversary of the landmark Civil Rights Act, the Library of Congress has launched “The Civil Rights Act of 1964: A Long Struggle for Freedom,” an exhibition of rarely seen documents and oral histories on the push for civil rights.

A few things set this exhibition apart from the multitude of this year’s commemorations.

The Library draws from its exclusive archives of the NAACP, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, A. Philip Randolph, Bayard Rustin, James Forman of SNCC, the recently borrowed Rosa Parks’ papers, and more. Visitors will see more than 200 noteworthy letters, photos, drawings, artifacts, and more, such as a page from Ralph Ellison’s draft of Invisible Man; a telegram from A. Philip Randolph to Paul Robeson discussing the lynching of Emmett Till; and the NAACP’s lynching awareness flag, which hasn’t been showcased in nearly 15 years.

According to the directors, this exhibit is also unusual for the library. It has more audio/visual media than any other exhibit has had before, and it’s the first time that media has been interactive in a temporary exhibit. Temporary Library of Congress exhibits usually run three to six months – this one will run a year.

By all accounts, every feature has been painstakingly chosen. Even the exhibit’s color scheme is inspired by the cover art of the iconic 1959 album, Mingus Ah Um by outspoken jazz artist and activist, Charles Mingus. (The album is one of 400 recordings preserved in the Library for posterity). Many of the items on display have a personal touch to them – there’s the founding document for the Southern Christian Leadership Council, typed and signed by Bayard Rustin, singed by what one could guess were his falling cigarette ashes. There’s a draft of the speech John Lewis, then-chairman of SNCC, was to deliver at the March on Washington  — typed-up and peppered with proofreading marks from veteran Civil Rights leaders who toned down his language. One page is typed on the back of an itinerary for the day.

“You go through a folder or a box with as many as 30 documents, potentially hundreds of pages. You have no idea what you’ll find. It’s a treasure hunt,” says Adrienne Cannon, African American history and culture specialist for the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress. Cannon unearthed and handpicked many of the documents on display.

“We want to be able to make connections. If we introduce something in the 1940s   it’s –like taking a needle, making a stitch, picking up the thread – and 20 years later making another stitch or needlepoint that connects the two. Generally, that’s the way history works, all these connections.”

But what truly distinguishes the Library of Congress’ exhibition is that it ventures well beyond stock narratives of sit-ins and Freedom Rides.

“One thing that’s different about this exhibit is…that it goes beyond being an exhibit purely about the Civil Rights Movement,” says Betsy Nahum-Miller, senior exhibition director. “It shows what went into getting this piece of legislation passed and how long back that effort goes.”

The exhibit begins in the late 1800s with a prologue on abolitionism, emancipation, the Reconstruction period, and the first Black statesmen. Next, it explores segregation and the rise of legal strategies and grassroots groups, then WWII and the post-war years, when other oppressed groups began to agitate. Next, visitors explore the Civil Rights Movement and the passage of the 1964 bill. The last section explores the impact of the law.

“We’re showing petitions against slavery, the denial of civil rights and that struggle for freedom – through the law, through individuals who took the chance of lobbying, through grassroots organizations, and through the three branches of government,” says Carroll Johnson-Welsh, senior exhibition director. “The exhibition shows that as you walk through. We only have a small amount of space, but we’ve managed to show all these aspects.”

Visitors will learn about lesser-known key moments such as the Civil Rights Act of 1957 and the NAACP’s campaign for a permanent Fair Employment Practices Commission (a precursor to today’s Equal Employment Opportunity Commission).

They will also see contributions from Black women, international leaders, and non-Black people of color, via unsung figures such as Anna Arnold Hedgeman, Tom Mboya, and then-Rep. Patsy Takemoto Mink (D-Hawaii). Other marginalized groups who suffered under segregation and Jim Crow are accounted for as well.

“While we interpret the beginning of the Civil Rights Act as rooted in the struggle of African Americans to secure basic civil rights in this country, we didn’t want to make the exhibit simply about African Americans, because this act encompasses all Americans,” Cannon says.

Although this broad view of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is maintained, a rotunda depicting the days of political maneuvering leading up to and including the law’s passage is the heart of the exhibit. Through excited correspondence between Clarence Mitchell, director of the Washington Bureau of the NAACP, and Roy Wilkins, NAACP chief executive, visitors get a play-by-play on the introduction, attempted defeat, and landmark passage of the law. There’s even the teleprompter transcript President Lyndon B. Johnson read as he signed the legislation.

The exhibit ends with a corridor panel detailing the 11 titles, or sections, of the Civil                         Rights Act of 1964 – how the law has withstood time and legal tests, and how it serves as the basis of similar laws for other marginalized groups. Library officials hope to inspire a new generation to safeguard and advance the cause of American civil rights.

“I hope that even if they didn’t go through the exhibit…that they see those titles and understand the importance of what the Civil Rights Act is and what rights it affords,” Johnson-Welsh says. “We hope when people leave the exhibit they realize that there’s a lot of work still to be done.”

Emergency Preparedness Plans Marginalize Blacks

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By Jazelle Hunt
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – This September marks the 10th anniversary for National Preparedness Month. And when it comes to emergency situations, Black communities tend to be among the most vulnerable and least prepared.

Henry Louis Taylor, Jr., professor of urban and regional planning, and founding director of the Center for Urban Studies at the University at Buffalo, believes that emergency preparedness efforts sometimes reflect the marginalization of low-income and communities of color.

“The reality is that a person grappling with decisions like survival, making ends meet…is not going to be thinking about terror attacks or explosions or ice storms and how to prepare for that. They have to prepare for basic things, like, where is my next meal coming from, or how will I get my kids to school. They’re not going to be able to [get prepared] on their own,” Taylor explains.

“When you combine that with [the fact that] the authorities and people involved in disaster preparedness planning do not understand those neglected communities, and have little meaningful relationships with those inside it, it’s clear why they’re not equipped with this information. There isn’t a system in place to work with residents…even the formation of these plans has nothing to do with them.”

This hasn’t gone unnoticed. In 2007, the Office of Minority Health convened a National Consensus Panel on Emergency Preparedness and Cultural Diversity, tasked with creating guidelines to help state and local officials include and accommodate communities of color in their preparedness efforts.
Suzet McKinney, deputy commissioner for Chicago’s Bureau of Public Health Preparedness and Emergency Response, echoes many of the panel’s findings.

“You really have to know your community, and know what the populations are that exist in the city,” she says, adding that finding and creating provisions for those who are elderly or disabled, have language barriers, limited means of transportation, or lack access to social services, is a monumental task.

“In areas where communities are socially isolated…we could have issues with trust,” McKinney continued. “We recognize and understand that, so we try to identify the advocates and groups where trust is already established, who can help us in government and other officials to reach those in insolation.”
The 9/11 terrorist attacks and subsequent anthrax threat placed our nation’s unpreparedness at. center stage. The intervening years have underscored this need, bringing disasters such as Hurricane Katrina, the H1N1 pandemic flu, a string of mass shootings, two major blackouts in New York City, a barrage of extreme weather events, and more. In response, the federal government launched resources, Ready.gov for citizens, FEMA preparedness grants for state and local governments, and more recently, the Tribal Climate Resilience Program for Indian country.

“Preparedness is a live process. I am of the belief that a plan is never complete, because when going from one emergency to another, there are always going to be some nuances that require us to alter our plans or responses in some way,” McKinney says.
Ordinary citizens are a large variable in the process as well. In recent years, the work of being prepared has been framed as a civic duty, a call to arms, and a collective effort.

“We’re encouraging [citizens] to be resilient, to be resources for one another, because we’ve realized that government entities cannot be everywhere at the same time,” McKinney says. “We want people checking on their neighbors, making arrangements in case of emergencies…we’re encouraging people to return to those behaviors that we remember when we were growing up.”

The national Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) program hinges on this concept. Through this free program, disseminated by FEMA but administered by local groups and governments, ordinary citizens can take a course on basic first responder, rescue, and emergency skills. At the end of the course, participants can opt to join a citizen corps of auxiliary first responders, who can be deployed in their communities in the event of a non-terrorism emergency.

“These trainings are about empowering our residents to stand up and be great in their neighborhoods. People with this knowledge and information can do good for all the people around them,” says Charsaree Clay, Washington, D.C. CERT program officer. She offers three recommendations for people looking to become more disaster-ready.

“Know yourself. What are the names of the medications you take? If you only take [public transportation], how would you get out of the city if you needed to? If you had to walk out of the city, could you?” Clay prompts. “Network and connect with people; you want to create a web of intermeshed people who help each other out in times of crisis. Lastly, learn—and not just by taking [CERT] training. Get online. And your community is also a resource, people in your building might know things.”
McKinney offers similar advice for whole communities, sharing that connections—between trusted officials, advocates, and organizations (such as churches)—are key to filling the gaps in government capacity.

Taylor advises people to heed, and quickly respond to all official warnings. He also recommends knowing simple but vital things, such as all of the routes out of one’s home, even in pitch darkness; the locations of the community’s safest structures; and the items needed to aid vulnerable relatives and neighbors.

“It takes all of us to be able to make this work; we can’t say the responsibility of being resilient lies in just one place,” Clay says. “It lies in our connectedness, our ability to communicate, our ability to support each other, and our ability to work together toward a common goal of having safe communities, resilient communities. Really being able to contribute…makes this sort of ripple effect. Each person that knows this information adds to our national resiliency.”

Obama's African Legacy Already Being Debated

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By George E. Curry
NNPA Editor-in-Chief


WASHINGTON (NNPA) – President Obama showed a deeply personal side of him rarely seen in public as he toasted African leaders at a State Dinner at the White House at the recently-concluded U.S.-Africa Summit in Washington.

“Tonight we are making history, and it’s an honor to have all of you here,” he said on Aug. 5. “And I stand before you as the president of the United States and a proud American. I also stand before you as the son of a man from Africa. The blood of Africa runs through our family. And so for us, the bonds between our countries, our continents, are deeply personal.”

It was precisely because of those special bonds that Africans and African Americans had such high –some say unrealistic – expectations of what Obama would do for Africa when he was first elected president in 2008.

Now those expectations have faded with the passage of time.

Since his election, Obama has made only two trips to Africa, not counting his brief trip to Johannesburg in December 2013 to attend a memorial service following the death of Nelson Mandela. His first trip as president was July 10-11, 2009 to Ghana, where he met with the president, addressed the Ghanaian Parliament and toured Cape Coast Castle, where enslaved Africans were kept before being taken to the West.

He took a three-nation trip June 26-July 2, 2013, visiting Senegal, where he toured Goree Island; South Africa and Tanzania.
Obama visited Kenya, his father’s place of birth, prior to assuming office.

As Obama noted in his toast to African leaders, “Of all the incredible moments of our trips to Africa, one of the most memorable was being able to bring Michelle, and later our little girls, to my father’s hometown in Kenya, where we were embraced by so many relatives.

“We’ve walked the steps of a painful past – in Ghana, at Cape Coast Castle; in Senegal, at Gorée Island – standing with our daughters in those doors of no return through which so many Africans passed in chains. We’ll never forget bringing our daughters to Robben Island, to the cell from which Madiba showed the unconquerable strength and dignity of an African heart. We’ve been inspired by Africans – ordinary Africans doing extraordinary things…”

With slightly more than two years left in his two-term presidency, scholars and activists are already debating what will be the African legacy of the first African American elected president of the United States.

The legacies of Obama’s two immediate predecessors on the continent are clear. Although, by his own admission, Bill Clinton should have done more to end the Rwandan genocide, fight the AIDS epidemic and end famine and war in Somalia, his legacy is the passage and signing of the African Growth and Opportunity Act – AGOA – into law in 2000.

AGOA was designed to help economies in sub-Saharan Africa develop stronger economic ties with the U.S. It does that by providing trade preferences for certain goods to enter the U.S. duty free, including textiles. The law, renewed once since passage, is up for renewal again in 2015.

It is universally agreed that George W. Bush’s African legacy is what he did to curb HIV/AIDS in Africa.

A White House fact sheet noted, “President Bush has made a historic commitment to the fight against global HIV/AIDS. In his 2003 State of the Union Address, President Bush announced the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) to combat global HIV/AIDS. Later that year, President Bush signed the initial 5-year, $15 billion authorizing legislation that had been approved with strong bipartisan support. This President views this commitment as a central part of our foreign policy to help alleviate the despair that allows extremism to take hold.

“PEPFAR is the largest international health initiative in history to fight a single disease. This effort has helped bring life-saving treatment to more than 2.1 million people and care for more than 10 million people – including more than four million orphans and vulnerable children – around the world.”
What is Obama’s signature contribution to Africa?

Bill Fletcher, Jr., former president of TransAfrica, an advocacy group, summed up Obama’s African legacy in two words – “good speeches.”

He explained, “When he [Obama] was a senator, he introduced legislation in connection with the Great Lakes Region, peacekeeping and economic development. In the six years he has been in office, I’ve seen no evidence of any kind of U.S. effort to engage in peace and reconciliation.

“For example, the U.S. should be trying to resolve Moroccan occupation of the Western Sahara. But there are no special envoys working in the Great Lakes Region. The U.S. ignores the corruption of Equatorial Guinea. The response to the Nigerian Boko Haram crisis ends up being basically military and very little else. So, I don’t feel there’s anything particularly innovative in Obama’s approach toward the continent.”

Mel Foote, president of Constituency for Africa, an Africa support group, disagrees.

“His biggest legacy is going to be these young African leaders initiative,” a reference to a pre-summit gathering here hosted by Obama. “You can’t stop them. They are the powers to be in their own countries.

“He had young people from Zimbabwe here, he had young people from Cameroon here –countries that have dictators. These are the best and the brightest that have been identified by U.S. embassies, not by the governments of those countries.”

Foote and Fletcher agree that Africa’s problems extend beyond the need for additional U.S. trade.

Africa has the youngest population in the world, with nearly 200 million people between the ages of 15 and 24. In most African countries, that group makes up more than 20 percent of the total population, according to the African Development Bank. By 2045, the number of young people is expected to double.
With those growing numbers comes the challenge of providing a sufficient number of jobs.

As a Brookings report explained, “Young people find work, but not in places that pay good wages, develop skills or provide a measure of job security. With the exceptions of Botswana, Nigeria and South Africa—all of which have alarmingly high youth unemployment rates—less than one-fifth of Africa’s young workers find wage employment. Over 70 percent of youth in the Republic of the Congo, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Ghana, Malawi, Mali, Rwanda, Senegal and Uganda are either self-employed or contributing to family work.”

The Brookings study notes there is also an education crisis.

“In the midst of an increasingly knowledge-based global economy, 30 million primary school-age children in Africa – one in every four – are out of school, along with 20 million adolescents,” the report stated. “…Many of Africa’s children are denied an education because they are working as child laborers.”

The continent has other pressing issues as well, including the need for more energy.

Another Brookings study, titled, “Top Five Reasons Why Africa Should Be a Priority for the United States,” observed: “The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that there are 590 million people in sub-Saharan Africa, mostly in rural areas, without access to electricity, representing nearly 6 in 10 people in the region. In addition, 700 million people, or 70 percent of the population, rely on traditional, non-commercial sources of energy, such as biomass, for cooking.”

In his speech to African leaders, Obama acknowledged that even with Africa’s challenges, it is a continent on the rise.

He said, “Even as Africa continues to face enormous challenges, even as too many Africans still endure poverty and conflict, hunger and disease, even as we work together to meet those challenges, we cannot lose sight of the new Africa that’s emerging.”

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