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2011 -- A Year of Challenges and Opportunities in Africa

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By Melvin Foote, Special to the NNPA for Constituency for Africa –

It can be said that 2011 will be seen as a year of tremendous challenges and opportunities for the 54 nations of Africa. With the world economy continuing unabatedly in the throes of global recession, African countries fought hard to soften the impact on their local economies while at the same time dealing with the various issues of increased democratization, good governance, healthcare, education and jobs for its people.

Many of the African countries that gained their independence in the 1960s, celebrated their 50th anniversaries this year. The 50-year mark triggered some serious analysis amongst African people as to what has gone right, what has gone wrong, and what needs to be done over the next 50 years!

In 2011 seventeen African countries, (including Nigeria, Cameroon, Benin, Cape Verde, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda, Rwanda, Zambia and Tunisia), were slated to hold presidential election. Some of these elections, notably in Nigeria, Benin, Tunisia and Zambia went forward with the decision widely respected amongst the populations. While others, notably Cameroon, DRC, Madagascar, Malawi and Uganda were either deemed unfair by large segments of the populations or postponed altogether.

The “Arab Spring” an unprecedented effort to do away with tyrannical governments in the Middle East and North Africa, began in Tunisia, and quickly spread to Egypt, Libya and other countries in the region. Two of the governments and their leaders, Zine El Abidene Ben Ali’s in Tunisia and Hosni Mubarak’s in Egypt, succumbed to the people’s pressure and shockingly collapsed in a short period of time. Rebellions in both countries were led by young people utilizing social networking technologies to mobilize. Both Tunisia and Egypt are now in various stages of democratic reform and trying to establish democratic institutions that would be more responsive to the people.

In Libya, the 30-year regime of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi came to an abrupt end in October, after a protracted civil war. Libya was also swept up in the winds of the “Arab Spring” with similar demands of the young people in Tunisia and Egypt for the tyrannical regime to step down. However, instead of leaving office, Gaddafi called out his military and began a brutal initiative to crush the rebellion. The United States and NATO responded by establishing a “no-fly” zone over much of the country, and provided assistance to opposition forces, which eventually lead to the deposing and killing of Gaddafi. As we head into 2012, many unanswered questions remain about the future of Libya, a wealthy oil-producing nation.

On July 9th, following a referendum on independence, the Government of South Sudan became the newest independent country on the continent, bringing to an end the continent’s longest running civil war. Independence for South Sudan comes after a protracted war with the north that lasted nearly 40 years and resulted in a purported 2 million deaths, millions more displaced, and a development starved economy. More than 75% of the oil reserves of the former Sudan (North and South), lie in South Sudan. In addition, the South is blessed with an abundance of other mineral resources, as well as water resources and fertile lands. Currently, it remains uncertain as to how this new nation will build a country virtually from scratch.

Once hailed as a model of stability, Cote d’Ivoire slipped into the kind of internal strife that has plagued many other African countries. Under the leadership of its first president, Felix Houphouet-Boigny, Cote d’Ivoire was a model of stability for more than 3 decades after independence. The regime of Henri Bedie (who succeeded Houphouet-Boigny upon his passing), ended in a military coup in 1999, with Bedie fleeing to France. In an effort to remain in power, Bedie planted the seeds of ethnic discord by trying to stir up xenophobic behavior against Muslims in the north, including his main rival, Alassane Quattara.

In 2000, Laurent Gbagbo came to power. In October 2010, after a much delayed elections was held, he lost to Alassane Quattara. Rather than handing over power to the newly elected president, Gbagbo sought to remain in power by the force of the gun. The ensuing four-month stand-off ended only when Quattara’s forces overran the country’s south region, finally capturing Gbagbo and transporting him to the Hague to stand trial at the International Criminal Court.

Another major story in Africa in 2011 was the return of devastating episodes of drought and famine in Somalia and east Africa. This time around, the drought is exacerbated by the protracted 20-year civil war in Somalia, with a very limited central government in the country. Hundreds of thousands have already perished in this drought and millions more are at risk!

With the growing realization of Africa as a bastion for strategic minerals -- it is now attracting unprecedented interest from most notably China, but also India, the United States, Russia, Japan, Brazil, wealthy Middle Eastern countries and other countries, who are now devising all kinds of strategies to access African oil, diamonds, uranium, kotan, bauxite, and other natural resources. If the negotiations with these countries are not well managed by the African Union and African nations, there is a legitimate fear that Africa could find itself in short order with a new form of colonization!

Despite these challenges, Africa is making remarkable progress towards promoting economic growth and sustainable development on the continent. Some of the highest rates of returns being recorded across the globe, are being found on the African continent.

Additionally, the well-regarded presidential elections that took place in Nigeria this year, combined with the highly impressive economic growth being reported there, suggest the “sleeping giant” is now ready to take its place as the economic engine on the continent in 2012!

African leaders are also working hard to promote inter-Africa trade between countries, with heavy emphasis on increasing agriculture production – another sign that bodes well for the entire region and the world.

Africa is aggressively turning towards her Diaspora in the United States, South America, Europe and elsewhere, to attract trade and needed investment, to promote innovation and to access technologies, and to effectively lobby and promote the cooperation of western governments in the continents development.

While much remains to be done in Africa to promote economic development, Africa and the African world has much to look forward to in 2012.

Melvin P. Foote is the President and CEO of the Constituency for Africa (CFA), a 21 year old Washington, D.C. based education and advocacy organization. He is also a well respected expert on a range of issues and topics concerning Africa and the African Diaspora. He can be reached at mfoote2420@aol.com.

FAMU Drum Major's Death Ruled a Homicide

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Special to the NNPA from the Florida Courier –

Florida A&M University drum major Robert Champion’s death was ruled a homicide on Friday.

An autopsy conducted by the Orange-Osceola Medical Examiner's Office "revealed extensive contusions of his chest, arms, shoulder, and back with extensive hemorrhage."

The results of the autopsy showed that Champion, 26, died because of blunt-force trauma suffered during a hazing incident.

Even though there were no broken bones to 26-year-old Champion's internal organs, there was "a significant rapid blood loss" due to the injuries he suffered, the report further stated.

The medical examiner added that Champion died as "the result of hemorrhagic shock due to soft tissue hemorrhage, incurred by blunt force trauma sustained during a hazing incident."

The Orlando Sentinel reported Friday that sheriff's investigators said they will meet with the State Attorney's Office soon to determine what, if any, criminal charges will be filed.

Champion died after the annual Florida Classic football game between FAMU and Bethune Cookman on Nov. 19. Authorities have said the drum major died after an apparent hazing ritual on a parked band bus.

Champion's mother, Pamela, reached at her Georgia home late Friday, said she's "still trying to come to terms and absorb" the information contained in the report, according to The Orlando Sentinel.

FAMU’s Board of Trustees will hold a conference call on Monday to discuss President James Ammons' status. Florida Governor Rick Scott met with Ammons in a 45-minute closed-door meeting on Friday.Ammons said he would let the FAMU Board of Trustees decide on Monday whether he should step aside. According to the Tallahassee Democrat, Ammons was joined in the meeting with the governor by former state Sen. Al Lawson and FAMU trustee Marjorie Turnbull.

A crowd estimated at approximately 2,000 people, mostly students of Florida A&M University, Florida's largest historically Black university, staged a nonviolent, spontaneous nighttime protest march on the home of the governor on Thursday night, demanding that he rescind his decision requesting that FAMU's Board of Trustees immediately suspend Ammons.

"Gov. Scott's looking out for the best interest of the university, and still strongly feels that Dr. Ammons should step aside until the investigations are completed," Scott's deputy press secretary, Jackie Schutz, wrote in an e-mail to the Sentinel. "The Medical Examiner's findings speak for itself."

A joint statement issued by Dr. Solomon L. Badger III, chairman of the FAMU board, and Ammons, called the autopsy information "extremely upsetting for all of us, even though it confirmed what we suspected.

"We again convey our deepest condolences to the Champion family. We will continue to cooperate with all agencies looking into the matter and are committed to creating a safe environment for the entire FAMU community and ensuring that this never happens again at FAMU."

Orange-Osceola Medical Examiner officials said the autopsy found no evidence of a natural cause for Champion's death, including disease, sickle-cell trait, drugs or alcohol.

"Immediately after the hazing incident, he complained of thirst and fatigue; minutes later, he noted loss of vision" and soon suffered cardiac arrest, the medical examiner said.

Gainesville lawyer Christopher Chestnut, who is representing Champion's family, said, "It confirms our suspicions."

The family is distraught, he said, and wants to put an end to hazing. The Champions have already filed notice of intent to sue the school, although they do not know who was involved, what was done or where.

In a separate case, three FAMU students were charged Monday with beating Bria Hunter during a hazing ritual a few weeks before Champion’s death.

Tallahassee police said that on Oct. 31 and Nov. 1, Hunter was beaten with fists and a metal ruler to initiate her into the “Red Dawg Order,’’ a band clique for students who come from Georgia. Hunter told police that days later the pain became so unbearable that she went to the hospital. Besides her broken thigh bone, she had had blood clots in her legs.

Sean Hobson, 23, and Aaron Golson, 19, were charged Monday with hazing and battery, and James Harris, 22, was charged with hazing.

Information from The Associated Press and The Orlando Sentinel were used in compiling this report.

Lincoln University's Nelson Exits at Top of His Game

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OPINION-EDITORIAL

By Dwight Ott, Special to the NNPA from the Philadelphia Tribune –

Ivory Nelson is leaving the battlefield of Black higher education at the end of what he has called his “finest hour” — his 12-year presidency Lincoln University in Lincoln, Pa.

“This has been hard and diligent work,” said Nelson, 77, of his time at Lincoln, as he sat in his office on the second floor of the schools International Culture Center last week.

Nelson joined Lincoln in 1999, after serving in leadership positions at Central Washington State University, Prairie View A&M University and Texas A&M University.

Nelson’s academic career also spans teaching graduate and undergraduate chemistry and serving as department head, assistant dean of academic affairs and vice president for research. He has also enjoyed a career in the corporate sector where he was a research chemist for both Union Carbide and American Oil Company.

In one of his last interviews as president of Lincoln, Nelson, who is also considered one of the world’s top scientists, talked of how he has safely navigated this oldest historically Black institution of higher learning in its sometimes-unwieldy path toward developing strong Black minds, in particular, and young minds in general. He has steered Lincoln through economic reefs, developmental setbacks, and sometimes public relations minefields into a safe port of unprecedented development and dramatic growth.

“It’s been most rewarding even in its down moments. Even when I may ask myself why am I doing this,” said Nelson who is set to be replaced at the end of the month by Robert R. Jennings.

Nelson, who has developed a reputation as a distinguished educator, has been battling on the front lines of stabilizing Black institutions of higher learning as well as others for three decades.

In that time, Nelson has been president of four universities — two of them majority white institutions. This no-nonsense leader who roamed the university with a list of five-year goals in his pocket has managed to get the university through the recent recession when Black colleges were among the hardest hit institutions in the nation.

He helped guide Lincoln through a tense period when university officials yielded control of the Barnes Foundation board of directors. Subsequent to that the Barnes art collection was moved from Lower Merion to Center City.

Most recently he helped to douse a potentially lethal public relations flare up in which a Pakistani professor made controversial remarks about Israel and the holocaust.

But most importantly, he has also managed to keep the university’s nose out of debt at a time of difficulty. In fact during his tenure he obtained over $360 million in state funding for upgrades [capital construction and renovations] on the main campus as well as in Philadelphia.

Upon arriving at the institution, he helped to beat back a $15 million deficit that was siphoning off the life of the university.

But, he said, recession and post recession cuts have nonetheless taken their toll, with the state alone cutting 17 percent out of the 34 percent for Lincoln’s budget that it once provided.

But Nelson who is a proficient and prolific grants writer [in addition to author of 11 technical books] has helped to raise funds despite such setbacks. A $22 million residence hall was built during his tenure, as well as a $40 million science and technology center. The student union and library were also renovated, and the enrollment at the school has also grown from 1,975 to 2,210.

Part of that growth in students may be due to resurgence in interest in Black universities that began at the end of the 20th century and seems to be continuing.

“Black universities are as relevant as ever,” said Nelson knocking down any speculation that Black colleges may be anachronistic in an age of a new “colorblind” America.

He said Black universities graduate 25 percent of all the Black college graduates in the country.

“We wouldn’t be graduating 25 percent if we had no product to sell [Black well-educated youth]. “Black universities have stood the test of time. We have survived. We have survived and thrived.”

The Louisiana native who graduated with top honors from Grambling University, said he started out in poverty in Curtis, La., his father an AME minister.

He said he did not have such a wide selection in schools to attend. Later generations, he said, with a wider choice, may have chosen majority white universities. But, he said, now the children of those same generations are choosing Black schools where they can find nurturing, mentoring, and caring from people who want you to succeed.

He said Black schools are also more diverse.

“I’ve been president of two white institutions [as well as two Black],” Nelson said. “They have different method of operating. We don’t have vice-presents for diversity and yet our campus has been more integrated than any white college.”

Nelson said the key to his success has been keeping goals in mind. He said his science background allows him to avoid a cookie cutter approach in handling each situation. He said he approaches each situation according to the facts surrounding it and tailors his solution accordingly.

Those who know him might add that part of his success may be do to the help of his wife Patricia Nelson, who like her husband is a Ph.D. and is active on the campus.

Regardless of his method of success, Nelson his “finest hour,” as he describes his stint at the university, has been put to good use.

“I am confident I have left this university a better place.”

Texas Minority Voting Power Threatened

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By Aswad Walker, Special to the NNPA from the Houston Defender –

The case of Texas redistricting took another dramatic turn recently as the U.S. Supreme Court granted state Attorney General Greg Abbott’s request to temporarily block interim redistricting maps.

Some view the fallout from the decision merely as an inconvenience to Texas voters and aspiring candidates. Others, however, view the stay as a direct attempt to weaken Black and Latino voting power by dismantling critical provisions of the Voting Rights Act.

The Supreme Court’s emergency stay means candidates now have until Dec. 19 to file for office. The stay could delay legislative and congressional primaries currently scheduled for March 6 until May. The groups involved in the redistricting battle are scheduled to make oral arguments before the court on Jan. 9.

The interim maps in question were drawn by a San Antonio court’s three-judge panel after complaints were raised that the redistricting maps produced during the last Texas Legislative session bolstered the political power of Tea Party and Republican lawmakers while seriously damaging the voting power of minorities.

Abbott contended that the lower court’s interim maps undermined the “will of the people” and asked the Supreme Court to intervene.

The Supreme Court decision further complicated the redistricting issue. Prior to the high court’s ruling, five Black Texas legislators publicly expressed concern that the lower court-produced maps negatively impacted voting power in historically Black districts.

“From the perspective of the Texas Legislative Black Caucus we support the interim plans for the Congressional seats and the State Senate maps,” said Houston State Rep. Sylvester Turner, one of the five initially voicing reservations.

He was joined by Houston lawmakers Alma Allen, Harold Dutton, Borris Miles and Senfronia Thompson.

“We voiced our concerns but we never asked for a stay,” Turner said. “We would have preferred the Supreme Court to stay out of this matter entirely, because you never know what’s going on in the minds of Supreme Court justices.

“I hope they don’t do anything to weaken or eliminate the Voting Rights Acts, specifically Sections 2 and 5.”

Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act contains a general prohibition on voting discrimination. Section 5 deals with the process of “preclearance.”

“Preclearance is what protects Black and Latino districts around the country,” said Coleman. “Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott wants to get rid of preclearance.

“Preclearance means when a map is drawn the U.S. Justice Department has to give its opinion on whether or not it harms minorities and their voting power. Because you have to wait for preclearance before you can have an election, if you remove preclearance, elections can be run on new maps even if they take away voting power from Blacks and Latinos,” Coleman explained.

“This stay is the worst thing that could have ever happened because Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act is now in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, where there is no appeal of the rulings of the highest court in the land,” said Coleman.

Coleman says he cannot predict how the current saga will play out, but believes there is ill intent behind Abbott’s actions.

“The goal of conservatives is to get rid of the entire Voting Rights Act; that’s been their stated goal for the last five to 10 years,” Coleman said. “But they can’t get rid of it in Congress, so they go to the courts where they have the ability to win a case because the courts have conservative judges who agree with their point of view.

“A removal of preclearance doesn’t just affect Texas, but every state. What the Supreme Court tells Texas to do becomes the law of the land. This stay is the most dangerous thing that ever happened with regard to the Voting Rights Act,” added Coleman.

The San Antonio court’s interim maps were produced to allow Texas elections to take place as originally scheduled while lawmakers worked to achieve a final redistricting map resolution.

“I can’t say right now whether the Supreme Court’s stay is good, bad or indifferent,” said Thompson. “Everything’s up in the air right now. People don’t know when the elections are; they don’t even know what the districts are.”

FAMU Students Confront Florida Gov. Rick Scott at Governor's Mansion

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Special to the NNPA from the Florida Courier –

A crowd estimated at approximately 2,000 people, mostly students of Florida A&M University, Florida's largest historically Black university, staged a nonviolent, spontaneous nighttime protest march on the home of Florida Gov. Rick Scott, demanding that he rescind his decision requesting that FAMU's Board of Trustees immediately suspend FAMU president Dr. James Ammons.

The FAMU board scheduled a meeting for Monday, following a request by Scott that the school suspend Ammons amid an investigation into alleged hazing and questions about the finances of the school's band.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement announced Wednesday that its investigation into the death of Robert Champion, a 26-year-old band leader who died after what police say appears to have been a hazing, was widening to include the finances of the school's famous "Marching 100" band. Champion died after the annual Florida Classic football game between FAMU and Bethune Cookman on Nov. 19.

"I called President Ammons and I suggested that at this time, that he step aside during the investigation, make sure that everybody is comfortable that the right things are happening there, that there's complete cooperation," Scott told reporters Thursday evening. "I hope the president wasn't involved in anything, but I think it's the right thing at this time."

The governor also confirmed that he spoke with FAMU Board Chairman Solomon Badger to request the board suspend Ammons. Until Thursday, Scott had largely refrained from passing any judgment on Ammons, saying his fate should be decided after FDLE concluded its investigation.

Scott's change of mind upset thousands of FAMU students. Even though thousands of students had already left Tallahassee for Christmas break, thousands still remain who are taking finals, are set to attend Friday's fall commencement ceremony, or both. Many of them converged on the governor's mansion late Thursday night.

Scott, accompanied by former FAMU Board Member Rev. R.B. Holmes and former state Sen. Al Lawson, among others, spoke directly to the students from the front yard of the governor's mansion which was ringed by uniformed police and, according to one student who relayed the event via Twitter, the Tallahassee Police Department's SWAT team.

Scott waded into the middle of the crowd and began answering questions about the decision to suspend Ammons (the decision stands) whether FAMU would be merged with Florida State University ("I've heard nothing about that," Scott replied) and increasing educational funding (Scott's focus is on jobs).

A Florida Courier reporter who heard live cell phone audio reports that the crowd was generally inpatient with Scott's answers. For example, when a student asked Scott a question about educational funding, Scott began responding with, “I come from public housing,” to which one student responded, "Not all of us are poor!” The crowd did not give Scott a chance to finish his response to the question.

At the end of his five to seven-minute appearance, Scott retreated back to the governor's mansion as one student yelled, “We will stay here until you change your mind!” As of this writing, students are reportedly still assembled on the front yard of the governor's mansion, and are prepared for an overnight stay.

The Florida Courier will update the story as events occur.

The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.

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