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Tumultuous Week for Trinidad

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By Bert Wilkinson
Special to the NNPA from the New York Amsterdam News

Last week, Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar fired controversial Sports Minister Anil Roberts from her cabinet, blaming him for seriously mismanaging a government-funded program that was designed to create employment for youths and give others who have dropped out of school and the workplace system a second chance in life.

Roberts, a former swimming coach turned parliamentary and political Rottweiler for the government, had angered cabinet colleagues and the population at large for a series of missteps during his four years at the ministry, including widespread corruption at the Life Sports program and, of all things, engaging in political sacrilege with his recent ministerial order to remove Trinidad and Tobago from the list of names on the national franchise cricket team participating in Caribbean Premier League Twenty20 competition.

The move was quickly, publicly and embarrassingly reversed by cabinet colleagues to resounding applause from the team and cricket supporters in general. But perhaps his biggest misstep might have been his continued denial that he was the person in an undated mobile phone video seen rolling a joint and talking about taking a pull or two in a hotel room somewhere in Port of Spain. He has continued to deny that the striking resemblance and familiar voice could have been him until this week.

Persad-Bissessar leads the largely Indo-supported People’s Partnership coalition government, which could lose under the weight of persistent and widespread corruption allegations and administrative ineptitude to the Afro-dominated People’s National Movement of Opposition Leader Keith Rowley when fresh polls are called by May of next year.

But while his firing and his resignation from Parliament continue to generate tons of news material for political analysts and the opposition, it appears to also signal to the population of 1.3 million that if the prime minister were to pay enough attention to allegations of widespread corruption in the country involving high officials, she might well run out of people to fill top positions on the island, cabinet included. After only four years in government, the prime minister has been forced to fire 20 high-level functionaries during the period, including 13 ministers. Roberts is just the latest. Some of the others include senators.

Political analyst Winford James told The Guardian newspaper just this week that the People’s National Movement will return to power after just a single five-year term in opposition because of the problems associated the People’s Partnership. He blamed “too many blunders and missteps” of government, noting that several cabinet shakeups would appear to the populace that the prime minister did not fully know what she was doing, even saying that infrastructural development was tilted more to Indo communities than others.

Obama Seeks '‘Long Term' Partnership with Africa

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By George E. Curry
NNPA Editor-in-Chief

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – President Barack Obama announced Tuesday that the federal government and private U.S. companies are investing $33 billion in Africa – $12 billion in new commitments – as part of an overall plan for his administration to strengthen its relation with the world’s second-largest continent.

Speaking to nearly 50 African heads of state and top officials at the U.S.-Africa Summit at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in the nation’s capital, Obama said: “As president, I’ve made it clear that the United States is determined to be a partner in Africa’s success – a good partner, an equal partner, and a partner for the long term.

Although this is the largest gathering of African leaders ever convened by a U.S. president, China has had several such conferences and has a strong presence in Africa, building infrastructure and making loans, without attaching the United States’ concerns about democracy or human rights.

Offering an indirect contrast to China’s presence in Africa, President Obama said, “We don’t look to Africa simply for its natural resources; we recognize Africa for its greatest resource, which is its people and its talents and their potential. We don’t simply want to extract minerals from the ground for our growth; we want to build genuine partnerships that create jobs and opportunity for all our peoples and that unleash the next era of African growth.  That’s the kind of partnership America offers.”

Obama announced five steps that he said will “take our trade with Africa to the next level.”

  • Work to renew the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA);
  • Provide $7 billion in new financing to promote American exports to Africa as part of the “Doing Business in Africa” campaign;
  • Partner with Africa to expand electricity, a requirement for economies to flourish;
  • Help African countries trade with one another and
  • Do more to empower the next generation of African entrepreneurs.

Most of the government funding will come from existent U.S. development banks and therefore will not require new spending approval from Congress.

The United States does most of its trading in Africa, primarily in the energy sector, with just three countries – South Africa, Nigeria and Angola.

“Our entire trade with all of Africa is still only about equal to our trade with Brazil – one country,” the president stated. “Of all the goods we export to the world, only about 1 percent goes to Sub-Saharan Africa.  So we’ve got a lot of work to do.  We have to do better – much better.  I want Africans buying more American products.  I want Americans buying more African products.”

Obama said, “I’m pleased that in conjunction with this forum, American companies are announcing major new deals in Africa.  Blackstone will invest in African energy projects.  Coca-Cola will partner with Africa to bring clean water to its communities.  GE will help build African infrastructure.  Marriott will build more hotels.  All told, American companies – many with our trade assistance – are announcing new deals in clean energy, aviation, banking, and construction worth more than $14 billion, spurring development across Africa and selling more goods stamped with that proud label, ‘Made in America.’”

After the president’s speech, on-stage interview with Takunda Chingonzo, a 21-year-old wireless executive in Zimbabwe, illustrated the complexity of relations in Africa.

Chingonzo said, “I’m working on my third startup –  it’s called Saisai.  We’re creating Zimbabwe’s first free Internet-access network, hence liberating the Internet.  So in our working, we came to a point in time where we needed to import a bit of technology from the United States, and so we were engaging in conversation with these U.S.-based businesses.  And the response that we got time and time again was that unfortunately we cannot do business with you because you are from Zimbabwe.”

He continued, “…And I understand that the sanctions that we have – that are imposed on entities in Zimbabwe, these are targeted sanctions, right?  But then we have come to a point in time where we as young Africans are failing to properly engage in business with U.S.-based entities because there hasn’t been that clarity.”

Obama said, “Well, obviously, the situation in Zimbabwe is somewhat unique.  The challenge for us in the United States has been how do we balance our desire to help the people of Zimbabwe with what has, frankly, been a repeated violation of basic democratic practices and human rights inside of Zimbabwe.

“And we think it is very important to send clear signals about how we expect elections to be conducted, governments to be conducted – because if we don’t, then all too often, with impunity, the people of those countries can suffer.  But you’re absolutely right that it also has to be balanced with making sure that whatever structures that we put in place with respect to sanctions don’t end up punishing the very people inside those countries.”

The U.S. has a diplomatic presence in Harare and, like the European Union, has been moving toward normalizing relations with Zimbabwe.

Obama said technology will forever alter how countries in Africa and elsewhere around the world are governed.

“The reason the Internet is so powerful is because it’s open,” Obama explained. “…And what facilitates that, and what has facilitated the incredible value that’s been built by companies like Google and Facebook and so many others, all the applications that you find on your smartphone, is that there are not restrictions, there are not barriers to entry for new companies who have a good idea to use this platform that is open to create value.  And it is very important I think that we maintain that.

“Now, I know that there’s a tension in some countries – their attitude is we don’t necessarily want all this information flowing because it can end up also being used as a tool for political organizing, it can be used as a tool to criticize the government, and so maybe we’d prefer a system that is more closed.  I think that is a self-defeating attitude.  Over the long term, because of technology, information, knowledge, transparency is inevitable.  And that’s true here in the United States; it’s true everywhere.”

South Sudan Faces Possible Famine

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By Freddie Allen
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – South Sudan, the world’s youngest country, is dangerously close to famine as a result of food insecurity, weak governance and armed conflict, according to Nancy Lindborg, assistant administrator for the Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance (DCHA) at the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

She made the shocking revelation at a press briefing Monday during the U.S. – Africa Leaders Summit. The historic gathering of heads of state and top government officials from 51 African nations, the largest of its kind to be hosted by a United States president.

Lindborg said that climate change and armed conflict can undermine the development of fragile nations and keep vulnerable communities in a state of perpetual crisis.

“When you have governments that are not accountable to their people, that are marginalized, that are weak, that are not providing services to their people, you have greater for potential conflict,” she said.

Following vicious civil war between the north and the south that spanned decades, the country split in 2011 and South Sudan was born. Peace in the south didn’t last long. Less than three years later, violence exploded in the young nation in December 2013, after South Sudanese President Salva Kiir claimed that Vice President Riek Machar planned to force him out of the government.

The United States has pledged $456 million since December working through the United Nations and experienced non-profit groups on the ground. The funds paid for food, medical care, fishing rods and other aid supplies.

Lindborg said that the challenge is making sure that aid workers have access to the people that need them the most. When either the government or the opposition keeps trucks from rolling or airplanes from flying, that assistance is delayed.

“It is the result of the political leadership, both the government and the opposition, choosing political gain over the welfare of their people,” said Lindborg.

Lindborg said that, in less severe conditions, aid workers stockpile food and supplies in hard to reach areas across the region, before the rainy season starts and roads become too treacherous to travel.

“We were not able to do that this year, because of the fighting and the lack of access,” said Lindborg. “The most urgent thing is for the leadership of [South Sudanese] President Kiir and the opposition to choose peace and to use the negotiation process to find a way forward that puts that nation back on a pathway of peace and development that they fought very hard for and the South Sudanese people deserve for that mission to be realized.”

Like South Sudan, the Central African Republic (CAR) internal fighting and extreme weather have compounded the need for international humanitarian aid.

According to a July 2014 report by Amnesty International, “members of the mostly Christian Anti-Balaka and mainly Muslim Séléka” have committed serious human rights violations and abuses in CAR.

“Since December 2013, deliberate large-scale killings of civilians, including women and children, have continued unabated, sometimes followed by mutilation, dismembering and burning of the bodies. Acts of cannibalism have also been reported,” stated the report. “Other crimes taking place in the country include torture, enforced disappearances, recruitment and use of children, rape and other forms of sexual violence, looting, demolition and burning of houses, villages and places of worship, such as mosques and churches, as well as the forced displacement of populations.”

Lindborg said that there is a critical need for truly sustained peace and reconciliation in Central Africa, where nearly half the country is in need of critical assistance and humanitarian aid. The U.S. pledged $118 million to CAR and the surrounding region for security and community-based peace building and reconciliation groups.

Lindborg praised government officials in Sierra Leone for making incredible efforts to move away from civil war and the violence that ripped that country apart from 1991-2002.

“They have slowly put the country on the pathway to development,” said Lindborg she said that Sierra Leone’s leaders focused on freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of the media and on decreasing the number of political prisoners held in the country.

“It’s really been an effort in providing inclusive, effective and legitimate governance that has been key,” explained Lindborg. “It provides a vision and a template that is inspiring for all of us.”

During the U.S. – Africa Leaders Summit, USAID and The Rockefeller Foundation committed $100 million to the Global Resilience Partnership, “new model for solving the complex and interrelated challenges of the 21st century such as persistent and often extreme poverty, food insecurity, and climate shocks,” in Africa and Asia, according to a press release on the initiative.

The project includes a “Resilience Challenge,” aimed at bringing ground-breaking and creative solutions to bear on problems facing Sahel, the Horn of Africa, and South and Southeast Asia.

“Disasters and shocks pose an unparalleled threat to the world’s most vulnerable communities and hamstring the global humanitarian response,” said USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah in the press release. “This new bold partnership will help the global community pivot from being reactive in the wake of disaster to driving evidence-based investments that enable cities, communities, and households to better manage and adapt to inevitable shocks.

Kerry and Biden Urge African Leaders to be More Open

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(NNPA) WASHINGTON – Calling this an “extraordinary moment of opportunity,” Secretary of State John Kerry gently urged African leaders hosted by the White House to eradicate political corruption, limit their time in office to two terms, be more accepting of dissent and adopt universally accepted values that advance the lives and freedoms of its citizens.

Kicking off the 3-day US-Africa Summit that began Monday, Kerry said: “Empowered civil society is the foundation of every successful democracy here in the United States, in Africa, and around the world, because in the end, our most enduring relationships, most consequential relationships are not with one particular government at one moment in time. It’s not with those who are in power for the short run.”

He explained, “The legacy is really shaped by the people of a country and the people of a continent, the people of Africa who stand on principle for the long haul and who are increasingly connected to the world around them and who, therefore, aspire to greater and greater set of opportunities.”

Vice President Joe Biden, also speaking on the opening day of the summit, suggested that leaders make a stronger effort to root out political corruption. “Corruption is not unique to Africa, but it’s a cancer in Africa as well as around the world,” Biden stated.  “Widespread corruption is an affront to the dignity of its people and a direct threat to each of your nation’s stability.”

It was doubtful that Kerry’s and Biden’s speeches will change the political landscape in Africa. The presidents of Equatorial Guinea, Angola and Rwanda have been in office for more than three decades and don’t appear ready to step down.  Many African leaders have millions stashed away in foreign accounts.

Kerry’s carefully crafted speech took what many claim as fundamental American values and placed them within a global context, perhaps in an effort to make them more acceptable.

“Strong civil society and respect for democracy, the rule of law, and human rights – these are not just American values. They’re universal values. They’re universal aspirations. And anyone who reads history and knows history understands that.”

Kerry continued, “Why does America care whether countries around the world, including African states, enforce the rule of law, reform their economies, and embrace pluralism? Very simple. We care because we believe that when people can trust their government and rely on its accountability and transparency on justice, that society flourishes and is more stable than others. We believe that opportunity and prosperity are powerful antidotes to the violent urges of extremism and division. And we know that the gravest threats to the security of nations almost invariably come from countries where people and their governments are at odds, where they are divided.”

Citizens are making their voices heard in Africa, Kerry said. He said opinion polls in Africa show  “large majorities of Africans support free, accessible, and fair elections, and limiting their presidents to two terms in office. Those are the aspirations that drove Wangari Maathai to launch the Green Belt Movement in Kenya and transform the way that Africans relate to the environment. And those are the aspirations that drove Frank Mugisha and others to risk their lives for LGBT rights and equality and non-discrimination in Uganda.”

The secretary of state noted that the U.S. did not have an easy time establishing a democracy, engaging in a Civil War and repairing defects in the Constitution. It is a struggle that continues to this day, Kerry acknowledged.

“Slavery was written into our Constitution before it was written out of our Constitution,” he said in a question-and-answer session following his speech. “And we all know what a battle we had in this country in order to do that, and we are still battling to make sure that our Constitution is, in fact, upheld and applied in the law in terms of voting rights and the way districts are divided. This is not unique to one continent or one place. It’s part of politics, part of human nature, and that is the greatest struggle of all. We’re still working to perfect, everybody is.”

And so is Africa, according to Kerry.

“…interestingly, most African countries have very strong constitutions. And those strong constitutions, if you read them and analyze them, actually do provide very clear separation of power, rule of law, freedom of assembly, freedom of speech,” Kerry said, replying to one question. “Even the principles of nondiscrimination are contained within most of the constitutions in Africa.

“So Africa has done pretty well in drafting the constitution and putting together the basic concepts. Where there has been a challenge, obviously, is in making sure that it is followed, and that requires the building of capacity. Doesn’t happen overnight, didn’t happen here overnight.”

No Mercy: Police Put Banned Chokehold on Pregnant Woman

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By Jeremy Pasker
Special to the NNPA from the New York Amsterdam News

The Black community is in an uproar after a video surfaced showing a seven-months pregnant woman being held in an apparent chokehold by an NYPD officer. The Police Department said her family was grilling on the sidewalk outside their home in East New York, which is illegal.

“I was shocked,” said Rosan Miller. “They just drove up and held me and began to choke. I asked them, ‘What’s the problem?’ and they never explained it. The police are here to protect us, but they’re not doing that. I’m in pain. A lot of pain.”

“[Bratton’s] policy of ‘broken windows’ perpetuates a system that targets people of color that causes negative interaction between police and community,” Councilwoman Inez Barron told the Amsterdam News. “Bratton must go!”

Monday, July 28, shortly after noon, Barron and her husband, former Councilman Charles Barron, held a press conference in front of Brooklyn’s 75th Precinct to dispute the actions taken by the NYPD. “If it was a white neighborhood [the patrolling officers] would have kept driving by,” said Charles Barron.

Miller and her family were grilling food outside their home in East New York, Brooklyn, like people in the neighborhood tend to do during the humid summer days. But a day that should have ended like any other, with laughs and full stomachs, instead ended with husband, Moses Miller, with a dislocated shoulder and Rosan Miller needing to go to the clinic to check on the health of her unborn child.

“[NYPD] are suppose to protect our community, but they ended up abusing my wife,” Moses Miller lamented from the podium, while addressing the press. “She is not feeling well. She’s feeling a lot of pain in her back.”

Police say the trouble began Saturday evening around 7 p.m., when they found Moses Miller grilling on the sidewalk, and he refused to hand over his ID and began walking away from the officers. Officers say they attempted to arrest Moses Miller, but John and Rosan Miller intervened, slapping at the officers. According to the police, Rosan Miller then resisted arrest. Moses Miller was charged with resisting arrest and his brother, John Miller, was charged with harassment and obstruction of justice. Charles Barron called for the immediate release of the Millers after learning of the incident.

Pictures of the incident show an officer with his arm around Rosan Miller’s neck, forcibly removing her from the front yard. Video footage of the incident corroborates the Millers’ claims that the police exceeded their mandate, according to the family’s attorney.

A neighbor, Tanya Wilcox, said that she’s afraid to confront officers after they act inappropriately for fear they might retaliate. She thinks that police continue to assault Black people because there are rarely, if any, repercussions for doing so.

“They need to hire police officers from the community and not transfer them in from Long Island, or whatever,” stated Wilcox, a mother of four. “They need to be mentors but not think they are above the law.”

The Barrons are both holding the police commissioner personally responsible for the tactics his men used. Retaining his role as head of the police force under Mayor Bill de Blasio, despite the multiple infractions under his watch, is unacceptable, they argued. The two also disputed Bratton’s claims that sensitivity training would remedy the schism dividing the community and the police force.

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