MacArthur DeShazer, Executive Director, The National Summit on Africa
This text has been professionally transcribed. However, for timely distribution, it has not been edited or proofread against the tape.
MACARTHUR DESHAZER: Africa seems to be the one continent that we know least about, but those things we do know, they’re negative—almost always.
KEITH PORTER: This week on Common Ground, the plan to hold a national summit on Africa.
DESHAZER: If we are to be effective in elevating Africa’s image in this country and influencing the policy-making process, then it had to be an inclusive effort.
PORTER: Common Ground is a program on world affairs and the people who shape events. It’s produced by the Stanley Foundation. I’m Keith Porter.
PORTER: One year from now Washington, DC will host the most ambitious effort ever to improve relations between the United States and the countries of Africa. The hope is that every African head of state along with President Clinton and the leaders from every American corporation and non-governmental organization working in Africa will join in October 1999 for the National Summit on Africa.
DESHAZER: The overall goal is to raise Africa’s profile in this country. That is its image as it currently exists in this country. And to do that we want to educate the American public about Africa and engage more Americans in the policy-making process. And also to develop a new constituency or new constituencies, because there are many constituencies already out there, but we want to broaden and strengthen those that are there.
PORTER: The man organizing this monumental summit is Executive Director MacArthur DeShazer. He served in the Clinton Administration as Director of African Affairs on the National Security Council.
DESHAZER: We want to create a plan of action that will inform and reshape policy-making for Africa in the U.S.
PORTER: How was the idea for this summit born?
DESHAZER: Well, the idea grew out of, frankly, out of a White House conference on Africa. And I want to stress here that this is not a government operation. But the idea of it grew out of the White House Conference on Africa. Which was the first ever White House Conference on Africa, held in June of `94. Which I was one of the principal organizers. The Ford Foundation had a representative there, in the name of Timothy Bork, who at the time was the Director for the Middle East-Africa Division of the Ford Foundation. He was an attendant at the White House Conference. He took—picked upon on the idea of a National Summit for Africa. And I think initially he even tried to get the Administration to adopt the idea. Failing that, took the idea back to New York to the then-President of the Ford Foundation, Franklin Thomas, who I understand allocated money to—seed money—to develop the concept of a National Summit on Africa. That was done over a period of about a year. And then once the concept was developed they looked around in Washington for a Africa-focused, Washington-based organization to launch the summit, and that was AfriCare and C. Payne Lucas. Both played a very key role in just creating, or at least the foundation for getting the National Summit started.
PORTER: I noticed from your literature you have a very impressive list of directors and national co-chairs. Tell us about those people and how were you able to get them to sign on.
DESHAZER: The average person, when they understand what it is the National Summit is trying to do gets very excited. And I think everybody that I’ve engaged in a conversation with on this subject is very excited about it. And I, that explains, really why, for the national co-chairs we have just a very super list of those: Bishop Tutu—who responds by the way every time we send him a notice of something, he responds to it; Julius Nyrere and Jack Kemp and Paul Simon….
PORTER: Former heads of state, former senators…
DESHAZER: Yes, yes.
PORTER: Yeah, a lot of people who’ve served in government…
PORTER: …both in the U.S. and around the world.
DESHAZER: Yes. And our board of directors is the Who’s Who of the Africa-focused organizations. And our thought in having these people around our board was to really draw on their many skills and expertise in organizing this kind of activity.
PORTER: I saw you had both Paul Simon and Nancy Kassebaum.
PORTER: You mentioned Jack Kemp. So you do have bipartisan support…
DESHAZER: That’s right.
PORTER: …within this country as well.
DESHAZER: That is very key in this entire effort. In fact I was, I made commitments very early on when I agreed to come on board to do this that we absolutely must be inclusive. If we are to be effective in elevating Africa’s image in this country and influencing the policy-making process, then it had to be an inclusive effort. And so that has really occupied a good part of my challenge. And I think we made some pretty good progress, frankly.
PORTER: Now we’re working toward the actual National Summit on Africa in November of `99. Is that correct?
DESHAZER: That’s correct—well, actually right now it’s October, it’s late October `99. But it could carry over into November, yes.
PORTER: In Washington, DC.
DESHAZER: In Washington, DC, that’s correct.
PORTER: All right. Tell us about the preparatory events that have been taking place.
DESHAZER: Well, the plan is to have seven regional summits. They are, in using the UN World Conference model that we’re using to organize these events, they are actually preparatory conferences. But we call them Regional Summits. In selecting the seven we identified seven hub cities around the U.S. where we would conduct these preparatory conferences: Atlanta was the very first one, very successful; Chicago was the second; we’re looking at Houston, Denver, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Boston, as sites for the remaining. And we’re planning those now. What happens in each one of these regions, each one of these hub cities, is that we, there are a number of parallel programs that we organize using local resources, local talents, and we bring in some things, but mostly local talent and activities to do this. And then a key part of the preparatory conference is the deliberative process. This is where using the UN World Conference model, where we form committees around five very broad themes and these themes are economic development, trade and investment; democracy/human rights; sustainable development; peace and security; education and culture. And each region develops its own plan of action as a result of our deliberative process. And the idea is that once we finish the seven regional summits then we will—there will be a period at the last regional summit where we will then integrate all seven regional plans of action into one document. And then at the National Summit, then we will adopt that document. And that will be our policy plan of action and which we intend to use to influence the shaping of foreign policy for Africa.
PORTER: I think it’s, the five theme areas are very interesting to me because it does show that this is truly sort of a broad-based effort. It’s not just how to get more business connections or how to get more cultural connections—it’s much more broad than that. Let’s talk through each one of those. The first one is the economic development and trade area. What do you expect to happen there? What’s the, what are the connections you are looking for?
DESHAZER: We work with some of the Africa-focused organizations in the area of economic development: the Corporate Council on Africa has been one organization that we have spent, that we have worked very closely with. In fact they put on a very effective program down in Atlanta. I think one of the largest and best-attended events down there, where they talked about the African emerging markets, they talked about direct foreign investments in Africa, they talked about regional co-operation and the effect of international trade agreements on Africa. Of course at the time the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act was going through our Congress and of course that got a lot of attention as well. But the idea is to really draw attention to Africa and the countries of Africa. And I, let me stress, I said countries of Africa and not country of Africa, because usually when I say that you don’t, people don’t hear the last syllable on countries and think I am saying country of Africa. And that is a problem. There are some people who think that Africa is a country.
PORTER: The next one of your five them areas is democracy and human rights. Tell us something about that.
DESHAZER: With Africa having a number of developing societies there is the need to draw attention to a lot of the problems there. And help work through some of the human rights issues: the Great Lakes region being one that comes to mind right away. And of course South Africa coming out of the Apartheid era. Democracy on the continent, we want to draw attention to the fact that there are more than 30 countries that have emerging democracies. They have held elections. They have been declared, for the most part, free and fair, and they are putting into place those institutions that are necessary to enable democracies to take hold and grow.
And if I could just sort of stress one thing here on democracy and human rights, I was really struck by a conversation I had down in Mozambique. I was still in the White House at the time and I was one of five members of a presidential delegation, the U.S. presidential delegation to President Chissano’s inaugural. And I was sitting among some of the newly-selected cabinet members and I heard a conversation that struck me. And the conversation was about the new buzzwords, the new air that was blowing across the continent. And the sense was that these members were a little bit apprehensive about this democracy stuff and about just sort of seeing it through until the next breeze blows across the continent. In other words they, there was not a whole lot of trust that this would take hold. But I am quite pleased to say that if you look at what is going on in Mozambique right now it is, they’ve clearly gotten through that. And they have opened their markets up. They have privatized. And they’ve got double-digit economic statistics and I think that the country is doing quite well. As are a number of others.
PORTER: Yeah, it’s interesting I think that in Africa how there are countries that are such, at such varying degrees of their development in democracy. You know, there are some that are just at the very first step of the path and some that have been there for quite some time.
DESHAZER: That’s right.
PORTER: And we tend—like you say—we tend to treat the whole continent as one. And as if one policy were adequate for all of those cases. And it’s clearly not. Well, the next area you mentioned on themes is sustainable development; I think it includes environment as well. Tell us about that.
DESHAZER: Yeah. A lot of discussion—and these are usually very well attended events, at least at the two regional summits we’ve already organized. Sustainable development, quality of life and the environment get a lot of attention. Rural development and food security information, communication science and health and population, all of those are issues that are dealt with under that label. And obviously if any of the democracies are going to work, they—sustainable development must be a part of that.
PORTER: We’re talking in this edition of Common Ground with MacArthur DeShazer. He is Executive Director of the National Summit on Africa, scheduled for Washington, DC in October of 1999. Printed transcripts and audio cassettes of this program are available. Listen at the end of the broadcast for details. Common Ground is a service of the Stanley Foundation, a non-profit, non-partisan organization that conducts a wide a range of programs meant to provoke thought and encourage dialogue on world affairs.
DESHAZER: I’m reminded of one other thing that I should mention here. I think this is very important about these five themes. And that is that there are certain issues that cross-cut every one of these. Women’s issues is one of those. Another is the HIV. I mean it’s, we have under sustainable development health and population. The AIDS crisis—and it is a crisis on the continent—and I have to mention here the mention just recently, I think it was by the World Bank, I’m not exactly sure, but it was the prediction about, there was a roll-back on the prediction about world population. That it was ordinarily expected to be 9.8 billion by they year 2050 and they rolled it back to eight-point-some billion. Mainly because they expect that by the year 2050 that AIDS will have had a devastating toll, taken a devastating toll on many countries and primarily on the African continent. And in some countries the rate would be somewhere in the neighborhood of 25% of the population affected by AIDS. So it’s, that has implications for economic development, it has implications for democracy and the human rights, and sustainable development, all of that. Yeah.
PORTER: The last area is education and culture. And I know that there are some countries when you talk about AIDS and AIDS education, that in some countries of Africa—Uganda comes to mind—they’ve done a very good job of educating the population because they’re very frank in talking about AIDS. Yet in other countries the culture does not allow them to be as frank as they need to be in talking about AIDS.
DESHAZER: That is exactly right. And I think that is not really clearly understood in this country. I was just, I had lunch with the former Foreign Minister of Zambia. And we were talking about the nuances of the Zambian society and their culture. That it is not expected that immediate family members can talk about sex to their children. It is just something that is not done. The extended family is the element within the family that educates the children about sex. And the problem is that the extended families like, or families, like in the rest of the world, are being affected. I mean the nuclear family is being eroded for a number of different reasons, which we don’t have time to go into here. But the point is that with the nuclear family affecting the extended family and then these taboos about not, about the immediate family not discussing sex, people are not being informed about the dangers of…
PORTER: …Because then oftentimes you don’t, you no longer live around your extended family.
DESHAZER: That’s right.
PORTER: And so that channel of communication has broken down.
DESHAZER: That’s right.
PORTER: Wow. That’s very interesting. Hmm.
DESHAZER: I should just note here—I know we’re going to talk about the poll that Peter Hart Research Associates did for us—but in that nationwide scientific survey what we learned when we asked Americans “What should our priorities be? What should the U.S. priority be for Africa?” And 74% of the respondents said it should be education.
PORTER: Wow. Really?
DESHAZER: And I think that played a key role in the President’s trip to Africa. If you note, when he stopped in Kampala, Uganda, he announced his education initiative. I think out of recognition of the fact that that’s what the American people should be our number one priority. And that was on a list with economic development and human rights and all that—not to diminish any of those—but tops on their list is recognized as education. And we skipped over, by the way, peace and security. Very key in all this, conflict prevention and resolution, defense spending and arms trade, civil-military education, all those are very key parts of the peace and security label.
PORTER: You mentioned the survey. You did, as part of the preparation for this you did a survey on American perspectives on Africa. A national survey as you say, done by Peter Hart, a very well-respected polling agency. What are some of the key findings of that survey?
DESHAZER: The key one being that our priority should be education. I think we also found that many Americans want to know more about Africa. We found that the attitudes are fairly positive when they are informed about Africa and what happens on the continent.
PORTER: Summit organizers described the survey as the most wide-ranging and thorough investigation ever undertaken into American’s knowledge of and attitudes toward, the continent of Africa. To the extent that survey respondents had thoughts on Africa the results show first, that Americans know only a little about Africa, but generally have positive feelings toward the continent. Second, many Americans want to learn more about Africa and the public support efforts like the Summit on Africa, to raise awareness about Africa and African issues. Third, people favor closer ties between the United States and Africa, although they do not perceive a major U.S. strategic interest in Africa. Fourth, many Americans see signs of overall progress in Africa and are cautiously optimistic about its future. Next, people feel that Africa faces serious economic, political and social challenges. Africa’s perceived strengths are its natural resources, both human and physical, rather than its institutions. And finally, the survey shows that the public believes the United States’ top priority in helping Africa advance should be improving education with a secondary focus on promoting trade and investment, and on environmental protection.
DESHAZER: Africa seems to be the one continent that we know least about, but those things we do know, they’re negative—almost always. And the survey sort of pointed to that.
PORTER: It seems that there is interest in Africa, yet we don’t necessarily see the business links or the cultural links that could someday emerge. I mean, do you see that same kind of interest?
DESHAZER: Well, but the interesting thing is that on the business side, the business links are there. The percentage was quite high of the number of businessmen who had gone to Africa and had done business there and when asked if they would go back, they said “Absolutely.” And I should point out to you too that I was a member of Ron Brown’s trade mission. In February of `96, this was a couple of months before he died in the plane crash. We went to several African capitals. We went to, we stopped in Abidjan, in Kirigana??, in Kampala, stopped in Nairobi. But in every stop we met with a group of businessmen. These are U.S. businessmen who are already doing business in African. And when Ron Brown would ask, “What are your primary concerns in doing business in Africa?” And consistently they would say, “Our concerns are no more than those we have in any other part of the world. And that is crime.” You know, I think one businessman talked about a car being high-jacked and high-jacking, or car-jacking being a problem. And I think next to that was stability within these countries. And even that was not a concern, because from among those businesspeople, if they decided to put capital into these economies, I mean they saw something there that really made them comfortable enough that they felt that it was worth their investment.
PORTER: What kind of African involvement is there in your planning for the summit?
DESHAZER: One of the lessons learned, I think, from many of the Africa-focused people that are part of the our board and that I’ve learned personally is that when you do something like this you don’t do it without getting the African perspectives on this. And all along we have made it very clear that we desire to have the African perspective in this process. We intend to have at least one U.S.-Africa policy conference on the continent. We have been in touch with—not, more than in touch—we have collaborated already with OAU Secretary General Saleem Saleem??, the Director of the, of ECA, the Economic Community of Africa in Addis, and they’ve all agreed to collaborate with us in organizing our conference for the continent in Addis, in Addis Ababa, in Ethiopia. And that, right now it’s scheduled for the second week in March of `99.
And we’ve gotten tremendous support for that and the idea is to bring Africans from all over the continent. These are Africans from civil society. Africans from the government. Africans from just every aspect of society. There to, and they will go through these very same themes that we’ve talked about: economic development, democracy, human rights, and they will look at these papers that we’ve written around these very, five broad themes. And then they will give us their views. And we will take those into account as we pull together the final document.
PORTER: Let’s fast forward to October of 1999.
PORTER: We’re at this event. I think the literature said something like five days. What will it look like? What will happen over the course of those days?
DESHAZER: Well, ideally it will include all of the African heads of states. It will include top officials in our own government. It will include grass-roots leaders. Leaders from all of the, from civil society from all over this country. Ideally we would have a good cross-section of the very large non-governmental organizations participating. I envision those organizations displaying their wares and talking about that—take for example the NAACP—when they did their annual meeting down in Atlanta just earlier this year, they, for the first time had a session on Africa. You know, we’d like very much to see them play a role at the Summit. We hope to involve Catholic Relief Services, World Wildlife Fund. Just a number of the larger organizations that have, many of whom have done a lot on the continent on behalf of Africa for many years.
PORTER: Well, let’s fast forward a little bit more.
PORTER: Let’s go to October of 2000. From that vantage point, a year after this thing, how would you look back and judge success? What will be different in October of 2000 because of the National Summit on Africa?
DESHAZER: Well, I think what will be different is one, the images will have changed about Africa because more people will have been engaged. And they, and by that time people will begin to, will have already started to see Africa and the various countries there as vacation sites. And so those people will come back with different images and different perspectives about what the continent is like, about what the people are like, what the culture and the geography are like. I think the, in our own government I think there will be different, a different attitude about Africa policy. It will no longer be on the bottom rung or thought of as an after-thought. I think that it will just occupy more of our time and more of our conscious and more of our focus as we do all of our business, whether it’s social, whether it’s political, whether it’s cultural, economic whatever. It will, Africa will have a higher status within our own society. And I think even if we measure it and we see that average Americans are a bit more aware of the continent I think we will have accomplished what we set out to accomplish.
PORTER: That is MacArthur DeShazer, Executive Director of the National Summit on Africa. For Common Ground, I’m Keith Porter.
Our theme music was created by B.J. Leiderman. Common Ground was produced and funded by the Stanley Foundation.
Copyright © Stanley Center for Peace and Security