Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The Future of Africa: In Review, a follow-up event to the U.S.-Africa Summit and YALI Summit

By Margret C. 
Margret Chu is a former P.A. at UNA-NCA. She holds a B.A. in French and Middle Eastern Studies from the University of California, Santa Barbara. 

On August 12, 2014 UNA-NCA and IREX partnered together to host a follow up event featuring a panel to reflect on the first ever U.S.- Africa Summit and YALI, the Young African Leaders Initiative. The African leaders Summit and YALI are President Obama's initiatives to improve relations between the US and African countries. The summit brought together the largest number of heads of states ever convened in Washington at the same time. YALI brought approximately 500 young African leaders to the US to study at various universities across the country, do internships and gain professional experience, and to participate in the summit.

The panel featured a good balance of perspectives to summarize the summit, featuring Jon Temin, the Director of the Africa Programs at the US Institute of Peace, Nulu Nuluyombya, a Washington Fellow from Uganda, and Honorable Robert Joseph Mettle-Nunoo, former Deputy Minister for Health for Ghana. The event was later joined by the special adviser to Honorable Daniel Yaw Adjei, Ghana’s former Ambassador to the US and Brazil. The discussion was moderated by Elizabeth Latham, Academic Exchange Officer. U.S. Dept. of State. These panelists and moderator brought an academic, outside perspective of the summit and its outcomes, opinions from a youth perspective, a voice from a head of state point of view, and finally a U.S. government representative.

The great thing about having these different points of view is that it gives many facets of the summit, resulting in a more comprehensive overall picture. Of course everything is relative to perception and this variation of perceptions is beneficial to understanding the expectations and outcomes according to different actors and points of view.

Nulu began the panel by speaking about her experience as a YALI fellow which consisted of classes, an internship, and the summit. Nulu was a great joy to listen to, and reflected a desire to be a catalyst for change through her description of the university portion and summit portion of the initiative. She spoke highly of the classes that she took and people that she met, making cross continent connections with other YALI fellows. Nulu admitted that when she first arrived in America she was focused on her girls in her non-profit Success Chapter Uganda, which develops entrepreneurial and leadership skills for young people and especially young girls. Through her classes she was able to broaden her interests in economic development, public health and managing an organization, all which are key to the sustainable success of her own non-profit organization.

Nulu's ability to identify some of the key roots of problems with African development and her recommendations to remedy them were quite remarkable. She unabashedly pointed out that Africa had a large problem with mistrust of the youth, stating that the African heads should stop looking at the youth of their nations as enemies who might topple them from power and the presence of corruption or poor governance. The fact that Nulu was able to identify these problems and speak out against it leads us to believe that the youth of Africa are ready for profound change in their countries to bring development to a continent that has been neglected. This is frankly brings a breath of fresh air to the aspect of Africa's governance and its role in its development. This is not to say that it is the only thing affecting the development of Africa, but it is certainly a major and fundamental issue that must be addressed before any progress can be made.

Mr. Mettle-Nunoo also brought some candid opinions of the worlds' perception of Africa and what can be done to move pass this rigid stigmatizing of the many countries.  He agreed that there are those who are too comfortable in their homes to do anything, who are comfortable with that power and that is a problem.

He recommended that Africa get chances to get their economy running, through exports and imports and less outsourcing. His role as the former Deputy Minister for Health of course has shaped his stance on medications and drugs in Africa. He made the point that drugs for African maladies should be made by Africans for Africans because it is they who suffer from them. This could be a big economic boost for the industry in Africa, but also a step in eradicating disease, something that plagues African countries even in today's world of major medical advancements. This would address some major aspects in the development of Africa, the economy, capacity building, and health.

The Director of the Africa program at the U.S. Institute of Peace, Jon Temin was a necessary part of the panel as well, bringing an outside, academic perspective. He chose to lay out his thoughts in a big picture way, outlining 3 things that went well, and 3 things that could have been better. Firstly he expressed the first positive of the summit, that it happened at all. He noted that a summit of this magnitude was quite a feat, convening the most heads of states in one place at the same time, ever. It took a lot of planning, coordination, security measures, and people to pull this off. Secondly, he applauded the fact that democracy and governance, an ever delicate subject, was at the top of the agenda. Some people attribute certain failures of African states to lack of strong governance and fair democracies and given that the very heads of state and officials who may be responsible were there to discuss shows a victory in tackling this major issue. Thirdly, Temin remarked on the active participation of the private sector who play an important role in boosting the African economy. Their engagement could bring a lot of investment to Africa, helping them create jobs and gain investment, promoting further development.

Three things that Temin found could have been improved were the celebration of certain heads of state in elaborate manners which promoted a continuation of the disparity of wealth between the people and officials, and in a sense, the corruption that the summit sought to tackle. Temin also felt as though there was not enough discussion on pressing, destabilizing conflicts on the African continent, such as that in South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo. These conflicts often spread into other countries, destabilizing them as well, and interrupting advancement in development. Thirdly, Temin found that the media coverage of the Summit was terribly shallow, and complained more of the traffic jams it caused than the issues discussed. Given the amount of people the summit affected and the goals it was trying to achieve Temin felt as though major outlets could have given much more time to the Summit. Temin gave a good round up of the good and bad but of course, the summit was just the first test run and like he mentioned, African leaders didn't know what to expect from this Summit either. Temin said that there was likely to be another one, which hopefully will take those aspects that wren't addressed to the fullest extent, into consideration.

My questions rest in a remark that the former Deputy Minister for Health made concerning the youth and their tendency to adhere to a Western model and the Western model in relation to Africa and the rest of the world. In a world where countries are ranked by first world, second world, and third world in terms of development, and those first world countries are the creators of that "Western model", how will Africa be able to reach that level of development if there are heads of state unwilling to follow that model? While Mr. Mettle-Nunoo has well founded hesitation of losing tradition and culture to the Western models' tendency to homogenize, where is the middle ground that allows for development without losing culture and tradition? Is that true core culture and tradition destined to become a part of the history that also sustains it, with no role in the future, say a century or two from now? And what of the youth who turn to that "Western model" and who will be the future of Africa? How will the African heads of state use the youth energy when it seems to conflict with their discord with the "Western model"?

This summit was the first of its kind, and a huge undertaking. It wasn't perfect, but it was a start for positive change on the African continent and African relations with each other and the rest of the world.  Despite the seemingly impossible challenges that the African leaders face, the young fellows showed incredible initiative and reflection. Upon encountering these brilliant youth, I have confidence in Africa's future.

Combating Human Trafficking – What YOU Can Do About it

By Sultana F. Ali, Christina Hansen, and Michael Jadoo

Human trafficking; we have all heard this unfortunate and tragic human rights violation referred to as “modern slavery,” but do we really know what it looks like and how we can help? On September 23rd, the United Nations Association of the National Capital Area (UNA-NCA) Human Rights Committee held an event at The George Washington University with an expert panel discussion and resource fair with organizations dedicated to combating human trafficking. UNA-NCA President Don Bliss opened the event by citing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,” to set the tone for the evening. He then addressed the issue by stating that, “trafficking has no respect for sovereign borders and should be treated as a crime by the UN.” Essentially, we have to work together globally to address these issues, but we must also act locally. 

Moderator and former UNA-NCA president Ed Elmendorf, set the stage by discussing the resource fair and placing the impetus on YOU (each one of us) to act , his hope was that at the end of the evening, each of us will have  specific actions audience attendees can and should take to combat human trafficking.

The first panelist, Ambassador Mark Lagon, a key writer on the Trafficking in Persons Report published by the U.S. Department of State, told a story of a Nepalese woman who had been placed deeply into debt by an unregulated working agreement and was treated with violence; she had been punished by being burned with an iron. “Human trafficking is extreme exploitation – whether at a rice mill in India or a sex trafficking victim in the U.S.” He cited statistics on this terrible trend. At a minimum, there are 21 million human trafficking victims estimated by International Labor Organization (ILO) and only 45,000 survivors were found and even fewer traffickers were prosecuted. He identified the potential reasons some are lured into trafficking – from marginalized people lacking better alternatives, to the potential desperation of individuals, to rule of law unable to protect people from traffickers. He quoted Gary Haugen (InternationalJustice Mission) and Irene Khan (AmnestyInternational) who said, “Without access to justice we cannot help the poor help themselves.” The U.S. must be an exemplar, as a vigorous promoter of policy to fight human trafficking around the world – to help victims, and build capacity and partnerships to tackle this problem. The message needs to go to prosecutors and legislators of all areas: the U.S. has to go beyond just the physical and medical care; it is important to also provide mental care to deal with long-term trauma and help survivors reclaim dignity. We have to fund the right organizations who are fighting human trafficking. Funding for organizations helping survivors has remained at the same level for eight years, even though these organizations are helping victims in a variety of ways - including preventing honor killings for sex trafficking survivors to transitioning victims to a new life.
The Role of Multilateral Institutions
Ambassador Mark Lagon recounted the UN agencies that touch this issue, including the UN Office of Drugs and Crime, ILO, and UNICEF. While the coordination can be improved interagency, these organizations are doing work to create baseline data. The ILO calculated that $150 billion is earned on the backs of enslaved people each year. He urged the UN to focus even more on reporting. The UN’s work on gender issues has brought to light that 55% of sex trafficking victims are female. It is critical that survivors have actual access to justice. People have to have confidence in the justice system and social programs to support them when they ask for help. It is important to strengthen partnerships between government, private sector, multi-lateral institutions, and NGOs to help tackle this problem. Amb. Lagon left attendees with the four key lessons: it is important to have the mechanism to measure the extent of this problem, both globally and in the U.S; set up parameters to ensure our efforts are working; make sure partners’ missions are in alignment; and be clear about the motives in partnerships and make sure those motives will create positive results.

Acting Locally to Make a Difference
The magnitude of the problem nationally, and specifically, the Washington, DC metro area, is surprisingly large. Tina Frundt, the founder and director of Courtney’s House, which is the only survivor-run and African-American woman-run non-profit for combatting human trafficking in the DC area, addressed the attendees about this local issue. All survivors have a say in the development of Courtney’s House programs; providing them with an opportunity to have a voice. Her trafficking situation started at the age of 9 and ended in her late 20s. She knows firsthand how difficult it can be to receive services since most social programs are catered to girls under the age of 18. There is a lack of programs for boys and those over the age of 18. Courtney’s House helps those up to the age of 21 but won’t let people “age out” of their program. At Courtney’s house, there are no victims, only survivors! Currently their street trafficking program is helping 52 survivors and there are 37 more on the waiting list. Most survivors are in suburban areas in neighborhoods that are quite affluent. With a drop-in center, a housing program, and hotline, her organization fills the void given that no standard of care for those trying to escape sex trafficking currently exists. Surprisingly, only 5% of referrals come from law enforcement. Most referrals come from survivors and 44% of all referrals come from parents who are actively looking for their child. Tina Frundt challenged people to get involved by using the skills they have. There are many ways to help including educating children we know in words they can understand, and volunteering for an organization that helps survivors (cooking meals, sewing, etc.). She emphasized doing nothing when you learn so much isn’t helping the problem.

In understanding of the mission to act locally, UNA-NCA also hosted nearly 20 organizations at a resource fair following the panel discussion.  This organizations, largely based out of DC, represented a broad range of the work being done to combat human trafficking, both within DC and locally, and presented ways to event attendees to begin making an immediate impact on this cause.

Advocating to Fight the Cause
Mike Beard, Director of Advocacy at the United Nations Association and Global Health Director of the Better World Campaign, mentioned the first “World Day Against Human Trafficking” and spoke to increased engagement on the issue. The 2015 Millennium Development Goals (MDG) have helped to create accountability and rule of law to help transition more people out of poverty. As part of the post-2015 MDG efforts, the UN has engaged NGOs through open working groups, obtaining inputs from people around the world. Human trafficking was an issue that upraised in all parts of the work and in different contexts: from ending slavery, labor trafficking, to sex trafficking. We need a global effort and for all countries are to be held accountable. One key effort we need to make is on birth certificates; all people should have a birth certificate, but 290 million (45% of all children) do not possess this critical document that can help to protect their rights. Every child has a right to be counted and access to legal protections from their government; this begins with having a birth certificate. Through the GirlUp campaign, they are communicating to legislators on this issue. They are building a movement in support of the campaign “Passport to Protection,” a campaign advocating for universal birth certificates. This small step can provide an additional mechanism to fight human trafficking. There is also a focus on a “data revolution” to move from estimates to real data to get to the heart of the issue and reach the most disparate of victims. Mike Beard called on the audience to beyond signing petitions and liking Facebook pages and to participate in direct activism. Most members of Congress have coffee times to talk issues with constituents. Be a voice for the people who do not have voice and tell your congressperson to take action to combat trafficking.

Join UNA-NCA to get involved and “be the change you wish to see in the world.” (Mahatma Gandhi)