Wednesday, March 31, 2010

U.S. Grants Help Tanzania Maintain Centuries-Old Mosques

By Jeff Baron
Staff Writer

Washington - The Kizimkazi mosque has been a landmark on Zanzibar for 900 years, and a U.S. grant has helped preserve it for future generations.

The U.S. Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation has provided support for saving three mosques in Tanzania, including the one near Kizimkazi on the island of Zanzibar that is considered one of the oldest Islamic buildings on the coast of east Africa. The 2008 grant allowed for repairs and restoration of the mosque's roof, ceiling, doors and windows as well as the mihrab, the ornate alcove that indicates the direction of Mecca.

The Kizimkazi mosque is old enough to show the roots of Islam in the region. Most of the mosque dates to a reconstruction in the 18th century - as proclaimed in an Arabic inscription from that time - but inscriptions near the mihrab that are in Kufic, an older form of Arabic script, put the date of construction in the 12th century, and some design elements of the mosque reflect the influence of Persia. Islam arrived in southeastern Africa with traders from Arabia and Persia, 3,500 miles (5,633 kilometers) to the north.

In proposing the Kizimkazi mosque for a grant from the Ambassadors Fund, U.S. diplomats said a restored mosque could attract tourists, who also visit the town as the launching point for dolphin tours, and give visitors a greater appreciation for Tanzania's cultural heritage. "The intended outcome is that this culturally significant site will be something that Zanzibaris can be proud of," the proposal said.

The mosque, which is still in use as a center of community life, was suffering damage from rain and even from bats and birds that nested inside.

Work on the Kizimkazi mosque followed another project, also supported by the Ambassadors Fund, to restore two mosques that date from the mid-17th to early 18th century on the island of Pemba. The mosques, which contain unique features that combine Swahili and Persian architecture, had fallen into disrepair from the harsh climate and a lack of maintenance.

The mosques needed work on their roofs and ceilings, along with replacement of faulty electric wiring. They also got new lighting and ceiling fans, fresh paint and new prayer mats.

"This area is one of the poorest and most remote of what is already a remote part of Tanzania. ... While the community has managed to keep the mosques in working order, they have no way of raising money from the congregations to fund the necessary restorations," the funding proposal said.

A U.S. official who visited Pemba to discuss plans for the project "heard many complaints about the hardships of life in these villages, including the problem of having no access to fresh water," the proposal said. "But when asked which was a higher priority for the community - access to fresh water or restoration of their historic mosque - the village elders unanimously stated that restoring the mosques was more important."

Source: U.S. Department of State

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Cameroonian Farmer Brings Expertise Home

By Kathryn McConnell

Washington - Gwendoline Nyambi Na-ah, a native of Beba village in the North-West region of Cameroon, was inspired by the farm extension agents who came to visit her farmer parents when she was growing up.

She saw her mother, especially, participate in testing new farming techniques. She was so inspired that she decided to study agriculture so that she would be able to give her mother "knowledge she needs to manage her fields."

Today, Nyambi pursues advanced agriculture studies in the United States and plans to bring farming practices from test fields and labs to poor farmers in Cameroon.

After completing high school, Nyambi moved from Cameroon to Nigeria and applied to a university to study agriculture. She was not admitted into the agriculture department, so she chose botany as her major. She has earned a bachelor's and two master's degrees, focusing on plant pathology and crop protection.

Today, she is studying agriculture for a doctoral degree at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas. She plans to teach farmers in Cameroon "to adopt technologies that ... can increase their incomes."

Nyambi is already doling out good advice. She recommends "integrated farming practices," such as mixing the cultivation of food crops with the planting of leguminous trees or letting livestock graze between crop rows to get the most use of all the land. "Diversification not only with crops production but also with other income-generating activities will go a long way to improving livelihoods," she said.

Nyambi wants to lift barriers, such as lack of property rights and access to credit, that hinder women farmers from becoming involved in community farm groups. In Cameroon, as in much of the developing world, women make up the highest proportion of farmers.

When she returns to Cameroon, Nyambi also wants to focus on conservation of natural resources such as trees and productive soils.

"My country has a diverse and rich ecosystem structure endowed with natural resources. But conservation practices have to be in place to maintain it," she said. "I want [youth] to be aware of their environment and take part in managing it sustainably because their future depends on it."

Source: U.S. Department of State

Planting Scientific Ideas - and Harvesting More Food - in Kenya

By Karen Calabria
Special Correspondent

New York - Linnet Serenge Gohole, who grew up on a farm in the western Kenyan town of Kakamega, didn't always envision a career in agriculture. As a girl, she thought she'd like to be a dentist when she grew up.

"I spent all of my school holidays out in the fields planting and harvesting. My entire childhood was spent working on a farm. I wanted something [different]," she said. But when she failed to qualify for dental school - by a single point - she returned to what she knew best: farming.

"When I decided to study agriculture, I had no idea how much I'd enjoy working with farmers and the real joy I'd feel when what I've taught them makes a positive difference," Gohole said.

Gohole, 41, lectures agriculture students at Moi University in Eldoret, Kenya. Some of what she teaches them she learned as a recipient of a Norman E. Borlaug Fellowship, which brought her to Delaware State University in 2009. There, she underwent technical training in crop diversification. She learned to implement advances in biotechnology and molecular biology in crops native to her east African homeland. So far, she's achieved success with high-yielding strains of banana plants and drought-resistant varieties of sweet potato.

She hopes these advances will address the very real problems many Kenyan farmers face as a result of climate change: higher frequency of drought, creeping deserts and land degradation among them. "When I was young, families in my community produced enough food to feed their families. Now, with the population growing and outdated farming practices, it's not unusual to see homes where only one meal is served a day. And it's not a healthy meal, mostly cornmeal and greens - they're simply eating to fill their stomachs."

The repercussions go beyond food production. "You can't educate children who are hungry all the time. Health suffers, too, because people would rather spend money on food than on a trip to the hospital."

When she's not in the classroom, Gohole spends most of her time with small farmers in the communities surrounding Eldoret. "One of the areas of my research has been to look at ways to help small farmers eat better," she said. "We're trying to reintroduce indigenous crops, like yams and cassava. These are more suitable for the soil, don't have to be sprayed as much and have greater nutritional value than what farmers typically grow."
Despite their initial resistance to adopting new methods, farmers have slowly come around. Techniques like intercropping, the entwining of two crops on the same plot, have led to greater yields at harvest time. "Farmers can sell the surplus and add to their income." As a result, many have been more open to implementing new farming practices, such as diversifying crops and planting drought-resistant strains.

"Mostly, we're teaching small farmers to think of agriculture as an enterprise, not just a means of survival," Gohole said.

Source: U.S. Department of State

U.S.-Educated Plant Expert Teaches Ghana's Farmers

By Karen Calabria
Special Correspondent

New York - "In Ghana, we import a lot of our food. There's absolutely no reason for that," horticulturist Mildred Osei Kwarteng says.

That's been the guiding principle behind Kwarteng's career. Growing up in Kumasi, the country's second-largest city, she spent a great deal of time working on her grandmother's small farm in a neighboring village. School holidays spent sowing and harvesting crops made Kwarteng think she didn't want to be a farmer. But despite that attitude, agriculture stayed with her. In the end, she says, she decided she wanted to help Ghanaian farmers figure out how they were going to feed Ghana's people.

Kwarteng, 30, has spent the last decade working as a development officer at the agriculture ministry in Kumasi. There, she trains agricultural extension agents and small-farm owners to use new techniques that are both environmentally sound and financially powerful. Kwarteng sees the training as vital to Ghana's well-being, since agriculture accounts for 35 percent of the country's gross domestic product and more than half of the work force is involved in the industry.

"Years ago, farmers knew good farming techniques. But that knowledge has been lost," Kwarteng said. "Now [farmers] rely too much on agrochemicals - insecticides, fungicides, fertilizers." The overuse and misapplication of those chemicals has degraded the soil, contaminated the water supply and posed health risks. Couple this with the sprawling growth of urban areas, and Ghanaians face a reduced "amount and quality of land that's even available for farming." (To begin with, only 18 percent of the land is arable.) To address these issues, Kwarteng applied for a Norman E. Borlaug fellowship. She was accepted and, in 2008, headed to the University of Kentucky, where she studied pesticide use and irrigation in urban farming zones.

"I learned proper use of pesticides, better irrigation methods and natural methods of mining nutrients from the soil. In Ghana, we've started with small, simple changes, like cover cropping. By planting alfalfa or clover in addition to the primary crops, farmers can replenish the soil, cut chemical costs and even reduce work hours, requiring farmers to till less."

"These models have allowed us to extend technology to poor rural farmers, reduce their cost, increase their yield and secure good prices for their crops," Kwarteng said. "We're increasing sufficiency, reducing poverty and improving quality of life." The new methods have been successful on a small scale, but Kwarteng isn't about to stop there. "Now we have to educate more people," she said.

Source: U.S. Department of State

Monday, March 29, 2010

Vice President Biden’s Call with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak







Washington, DC - Monday March 29, 2010. Vice President Joe Biden called Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak today to extend his wishes for a quick recovery and to congratulate him on the birth of his first granddaughter, Farida Mubarak. The Vice President told President Mubarak that he looks forward to rescheduling his visit to Egypt to a future date.


Source: The White House

Saturday, March 27, 2010

U.S. Lawmakers Concerned over Political Conditions in Ethiopia

By Jim Fisher-Thompson
Staff Writer

Washington - Key U.S. lawmakers, both Democratic and Republican, have expressed concern for political conditions in Ethiopia, citing authoritarian tendencies by its government as well as human rights abuses such as the continued detention of a prominent opposition leader.

Leading off a March 24 hearing on U.S. policy toward Africa, Representative Donald Payne (Democrat, New Jersey), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health, said of the ruling party, "I am deeply concerned and troubled about the deteriorating [political] conditions in Ethiopia. The EPRDF [Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front] is becoming increasingly totalitarian."

The chairman said he was particularly bothered by the Ethiopian government's recent jamming ( http://www.america.gov/st/texttrans-english/2010/March/20100322135903xjsnommis0.1228296.html ) of Voice of America (VOA) broadcasts after the government unjustly compared the official U.S. broadcasting agency to the Rwandan hate radio station Milles Collines. Payne said the Rwandan station was "used by those who committed the Rwandan genocide" in 1994.

The panel's highest-ranking Republican, Representative Chris Smith (New Jersey), added, "Unfortunately, Prime Minister Meles [Zenawi] shows deteriorating signs of human rights practices."

Payne expressed special concern for Birtukan Mideksa, a former Ethiopian judge and opposition leader convicted in 2005 of attempting to overthrow the constitutional order and sentenced to life in prison. She was pardoned in 2007, but rearrested and her sentence reinstated in December 2008.

According to the recently released State Department 2009 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, Birtukan, who led the opposition UDJ (Unity for Democracy and Justice) party, was "held in solitary confinement until June, despite a court ruling that indicated it was a violation of her constitutional rights. She was also denied access to visitors except for a few close family members, despite a court order granting visitor access without restrictions."

The report added, "There were credible reports that Birtukan's mental health deteriorated significantly during the year." While critical of the Ethiopian government's treatment of dissidents and the conditions of their imprisonment, the State Department report acknowledged that "the government continued efforts to train police and army recruits in human rights."

Asked to comment by Payne, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson said: "Ethiopia's human rights record could be far better than it is right now. There are a number of allegations made that have been documented in the State Department's Human Rights Report that indicate shortcomings in the government's treatment of individuals that come under arrest. We encourage the government to treat everyone in a humane fashion."

On Birtukan, Carson told the panel, "We have asked the Ethiopian authorities why she was rearrested after having been paroled and whether, in fact, we can expect her release anytime soon."

During an official visit to Ethiopia three weeks ago, Carson said, he met with Prime Minister Meles and raised the case of Birtukan as well as a number of other individuals who are being held by the Ethiopian authorities. "I encouraged the government to act in a responsible fashion in dealing with these cases and noted very clearly that the continued imprisonment of people like Ms. Birtukan undermined the credibility and image of the Ethiopian government."

Carson said he also spent more than an hour going over a range of issues related to democracy and good governance and "the need to have free and fair elections" during his discussion with the prime minister.

"We are watching with great interest ... and encouraging the government of Ethiopia, as well as the opposition parties, to act responsibly during the election campaign and during the [May] election itself," Carson said. "We think it is incumbent on the [Ethiopian] government to do everything it possibly can to ensure that the playing field is level in the run-up to the election, that there are opportunities for the opposition parties to participate prior to the elections in their campaigns and that they be allowed to vote freely and fairly on election day.

"We do not want to see a repetition of the violence that followed the flawed election of 2005," Carson told the lawmakers.

Earl Gast, U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) senior deputy assistant administrator for Africa, also cited the importance of elections to the democratic process in Africa, telling the House panel, "We believe that leaders who manipulate elections are living on borrowed time."

"As African societies and political systems continue to develop, the expectations of people toward their governments will continue to rise," he said. Political processes that don't meet these expectations can trigger instability and even violent conflict, which can set a country's development progress back a generation."

And with more than 20 elections scheduled for Africa in 2010, the official said USAID in 2008-2009 devoted about $89 million for political competition and consensus building in Africa - a third of the development agency's budget for democracy and governance on the continent. "Our goal is to support the creation of fair and credible election systems, not to determine electoral winners," he said.

(This is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://www.america.gov)

Monday, March 22, 2010

Senegal: The Presidential Tour (World Premiere)

Washington, DC - Monday March 22, 2010

U.S. Cable company - Travel Channel and the Africa Society of the National Summit on Africa have launched a new and exciting documentary film on Senegal under the Presidential Tour label. The film "Senegal: The Presidential Tour," hosted by former New York Giants player Tiki Barber, is the fourth feature of an African nation since the franchise was launched nearly a decade ago. It profiles all sectors of Senegalese life including education, religion, health, culture, tourism and sports. The highlight of the film is a newly constructed African Renaissance Statue, the biggest in the world.

Prior to the screening which took place in the Preston Hall at the World Bank headquaters, Senegal's President Abodoulaye WADE, World Bank Vice President for Africa Region, Oby Ezekwesili, Africa Society President, Bernadette Paolo and New Jersey Congressman Donald Payne took their turns to address the audience of about 300 people who came from the development, diplomatic, non profit, civil society and Diaspora communities.

Travel Channel which is available in 95million U.S. households will first air the film at 7pm on Monday April 5, 2010. Other African nations that have been profiled so far are Uganda (2003), Ghana (2005) and Botswana (2008).



Photo Report















Bernadette Paolo (CEO - Africa Society)














Oby Ezekwesili - VP Africa Region (World Bank)














President & Mrs Wade (Republic of Senegal)














Tiki Barber (Documentary Host)














Congressman Donald Payne














Guests














President Abdoulaye Wade














Premiere (Screen Shot)

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Secretary Clinton Congratuates the People of Tunisia








Washington, DC -
March 20, 2010

On behalf of President Obama and the people of the United States, I congratulate the people of Tunisia as they celebrate 54 years of independence. This is an opportunity to honor Tunisia’s history and culture. And on this special day, I reaffirm the commitment of the United States to support the aspirations of the Tunisian people for an independent, democratic and open Tunisia and a peaceful and prosperous future.

Ties between our two nations extend back over two centuries, and it is our hope that those bonds will endure well into the future. We look forward to strengthening the partnership between our governments and the friendship between our people, working together on issues of common concern and shared responsibility.

I offer best wishes for a safe and happy holiday

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State



Friday, March 19, 2010

Ambassador DiCarlo on Illicit Arms Trafficking in Central Africa


USUN PRESS RELEASE
March 19, 2010

AS DELIVERED

Remarks by Ambassador Rosemary A. DiCarlo, U.S. Alternative Representative for Special Political Affairs, on illicit arms trafficking in Central Africa, in the Security Council Chamber, March 19, 2010

Thank you, Mr. President. I would like to express our appreciation to you, Mr. President, and to the delegation of Gabon for organizing today's debate on this important issue. I'd also like to thank Deputy Secretary Magiro for her comments and presence today, and Mr. Costa and His Excellency, Mr. Sylvain-Goma for their remarks.

Mr. President, every year, thousands of conventional arms worth millions of dollars flood illegally into every conflict zone in Africa, despite Security Council arms embargoes. These ongoing weapons flows mean many thousands of deaths, millions of displaced persons and refugees, and billions of dollars spent on humanitarian assistance and emergency relief aid. The numbers are heartbreaking: UN-generated data suggests that conflicts fueled by the illicit arms trade have left an estimated 14 million refugees homeless worldwide and 26 million people internally displaced.

The instability and insecurity born of these conflicts are massive obstacles to development. We all understand that Africa is harmed disproportionally by these trends. Of the 20 countries that experience the lowest levels of human development, all but one of them are in Africa - and more than half of these countries have been shaken by significant levels of violence since 1990. One stark example is the Democratic Republic of Congo, where the transfer of arms into the eastern DRC fuels a terrible conflict and threatens stability in the Great Lakes region. Indeed, a vicious cycle of underdevelopment and insecurity in Central Africa and elsewhere stokes conflict and illicit arms flows - and that, in turn, can thwart well-intentioned governments and international actors working for progress.

Mr. President, to stem this tide of illicit arms, we must not only strictly observe and enforce UN arms sanctions regimes; we must also rigorously implement other international or regional instruments, as well as national export controls on arms flows to embargoed regions in Africa. Moreover, we should consider which controls are appropriate for arms transfers to conflict zones not subject to Security Council sanctions.

The United States is particularly proud of our extensive and rigorous system of export controls.

We engage and assist other states - both bilaterally and through multilateral organizations and regimes - to raise their standards and to prohibit the transfer of capabilities to rogue states, terrorist groups, and groups seeking to unsettle regions. Conventional arms transfers are a crucial national security concern for the United States. We have always supported effective action, based on the highest standards of responsibility, to control the international transfer of arms.

Indeed, we face questions of both law and responsibility here. Legal but reckless international transfers often fuel the illicit arms trade. For this reason, the United States voted in the General Assembly last fall to support a strong and robust Arms Trade Treaty. We will actively support ATT negotiations as long as the ATT Conference takes its decisions by consensus. This is necessary to ensure that all countries can be held to standards that will improve the global standard, to ensure the widest possible support for the Treaty, and to avoid loopholes that may be exploited by those wishing to export arms irresponsibly.

My government is also dedicated to combating the illicit trafficking of small arms and light weapons through support for destroying stockpiles of surplus, poorly secured, or otherwise at-risk weapons and munitions.

Since 2001, the United States has funded the destruction of more than 1.3 million small arms and light weapons, more than 50,000 tons of ordnance, and nearly 32,000 man-portable air-defense systems in over 38 countries around the world - including six of the 11 member states of the UN Standing Advisory Committee on Security Questions in Central Africa.

Mr. President, the illicit arms trade hurts African countries disproportionately, but this issue should be a source of global concern. Illicit small arms can intensify and spread regional conflicts; and the linkages among arms trafficking, narco-trafficking, terrorism, and organized crime are very real.

In the most basic sense, traffickers are traffickers: narcotics traffickers, for instance, may very well use their established routes and networks to traffic in weapons or humans should the situation present itself.

Given the stakes here, my government is particularly pleased to be participating this June in the Fourth Biennial Meeting of States to consider the implementation of the Program of Action to Prevent, Combat, and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All its Aspects. We join Chairman-designate Ambassador Macedo in noting that this meeting is crucial to helping lay the foundation for a successful review conference in 2012.

Thank you, Mr. President.

(end transcript)

(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://www.america.gov)

Combating Piracy and U.S. Policy in Somalia

Foreign Press Center Briefing - Washington, DC - March 19, 2010

Two senior U.S. government officials spent an hour briefing members of the international press corps in Washington on the latest developments on piracy in Somalia as well as U.S. policy concerning the matter. The two are Thomas M. Countryman, (L) - Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Political-Military Affairs and Donald Y. Yamamoto, (R) - Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of African Affairs. The full videotaped session is available below.











Countryman (top) / Yamamoto (bottom)


Watch Full Briefing Below:


http://link.brightcove.com/services/player/bcpid1857622883?bctid=72859519001





U.S. Defers Enforced Departure for Liberians

THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release March 19, 2010








MEMORANDUM FOR THE SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY

SUBJECT: Deferred Enforced Departure for Liberians

Since 1991, the United States has provided safe haven for Liberians who were forced to flee their country as a result of armed conflict and widespread civil strife, in part through granting Temporary Protected Status (TPS). The armed conflict ended in 2003 and conditions improved such that TPS ended effective October 1, 2007. President Bush then deferred the enforced departure of the Liberians originally granted TPS. I extended that grant of Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) to March 31, 2010. I have determined that there are compelling foreign policy reasons to again extend DED to those Liberians presently residing in the United States under the existing grant of DED.

Pursuant to my constitutional authority to conduct the foreign relations of the United States, I have determined that it is in the foreign policy interest of the United States to defer for 18 months the removal of any Liberian national, or person without nationality who last habitually resided in Liberia, who is present in the United States and who is under a grant of DED as of March 31, 2010. The grant of DED only applies to an individual who has continuously resided in the United States since October 1, 2002, except for Liberian nationals, or persons
without nationality who last habitually resided in Liberia:

(1) who are ineligible for TPS for the reasons provided in section 244(c)(2)(B) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, 8 U.S.C. 1254a(c)(2)(B);

(2) whose removal you determine is in the interest of the United States;

(3) whose presence or activities in the United States the Secretary of State has reasonable grounds to believe would have potentially serious adverse foreign policy consequences for the United States;

(4) who have voluntarily returned to Liberia or his or her country of last habitual residence outside the United States;

(5) who were deported, excluded, or removed prior to the date of this memorandum; or

(6) who are subject to extradition.

Accordingly, I direct you to take the necessary steps to implement for eligible Liberians:

(1) a deferral of enforced departure from the United States for 18 months from March 31, 2010; and

(2) authorization for employment for 18 months from March 31, 2010.

BARACK OBAMA

# # #

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Africa Rural Connect Kicks Off 2010 Ideas Competition


After successful first year, National Peace Corps Association program to help rural Africa
launches its second annual contest to generate online discussion






Washington, D.C. – Africa Rural Connect (ARC), a program of the National Peace Corps Association (NPCA), is an online global collaboration network, where knowledgeable people work together to communicate and respond to the needs of African farmers. After a highly successful first year, the ARC program on March 15, 2010, kicked off its second annual contest to generate ideas to help rural Africa. In every round of the contest, ARC will award prizes to the top ideas.

“This is a brand new competition since the pilot launch last summer,” says Molly Mattessich, manager of online initiatives for the National Peace Corps Association. “We are excited to see both new and returning participants.”

Using innovative software called Wegora, ARC allows participants to share their ideas, applicable skills, and knowledge in order to build the best ideas. Participants are encouraged to join in any part of the ideas process, from posting ideas, to remixing and commenting and endorsing them. The end goal is to develop sustainable project plans that can be implemented in rural Africa on a modest budget.

As a way to give everyone a level playing field, ARC has reset all the endorsements back to zero. However, this does not mean an old idea can’t compete in this year’s competition. All posts, old and new, can be remixed, commented on, and endorsed. The only ideas that are excluded from winning in the 2010 competition are those that have won prizes in past rounds, although even those ideas can continue to receive feedback, comments, and remixes. Also, those who created an idea are welcome to remix it into something new and updated to compete in this year’s contest as remixed ideas with fresh information or insights can win a prize.

“Last year proved how the discussions on the site generated innovative ideas, which in turn created lasting partnerships and that goes farther than any prize money awarded,” adds Mattessich. “We’re already seeing the impacts these discussions are having on communities throughout rural Africa and this is just the beginning.”

To share your ideas with the ARC online community, visit:
http://www.AfricaRuralConnect.org/

Check out the National Peace Corps Association's new Africa Rural Connect video!
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tKrt1nvEPLA

Friday, March 12, 2010

African Stars, Stories Honored at the Oscars



South African film, documentary about Zimbabwe showcased at awards ceremony.

Hollywood, California - This year, the 82nd annual Academy Awards ceremony, known as the Oscars, reflected the growing influence of African artists - and issues - on the American movie industry.

For the first time, a film written and directed by an African was nominated for Best Picture. District 9, written and directed by Neill Blomkamp of South Africa, and set in modern-day Johannesburg, offers a bleak imagining of the social consequences of extraterrestrials landing on Earth. The film's principal themes of xenophobia, racial segregation and forced evictions, as well its title, are deeply rooted in the history of apartheid in South Africa. Shooting on location in Chiawelo, Soweto, the cast and crew of District 9 were overwhelmingly South African, and all but unknown to American audiences.

District 9 enjoyed a resounding and immediate success in the United States, opening as the Number 1 box office hit during the weekend of August 14, 2009. The science-fiction movie became a surprise hit with moviegoers and critics alike. Rotten Tomatoes, a U.S. online aggregator of film critiques and ratings, described the film as "technically brilliant and emotionally wrenching," and reported that it got 90 percent positive reviews.

Though District 9 did not win any of the four Oscars for which it was nominated, it received kudos from the critics.

The film Tsotsi by South African Gavin Hood picked up the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Picture in 2005, and District 9's 2010 success indicates that the South African movie industry is making an impressive impact on Hollywood.

In the documentary category, Music by Prudence, a film about a young Zimbabwean singer whose voice could not be silenced by abandonment, abuse or abject poverty, picked up the award for Best Documentary Short (short film). Director Roger Ross Williams, an African-American from a Gullah community ( http://www.america.gov/st/peopleplace-english/2010/February/20100217163730GLnesnoM0.1222498.html ) in South Carolina, learned about Prudence Mabhena from his producer, Elinor Burkett. He flew out to Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, and spent two weeks with Prudence at King George VI, a school providing rehabilitation, boarding and education to children with physical disabilities and hearing impairments - the only one of its kind in Zimbabwe. He then returned to the United States to raise funds to shoot the documentary he knew he had to make about Prudence and Liyana, her band of fellow disabled musicians.

Prudence's story is one of courage, hope and exceptional music. Music by Prudence will be on television in the United States in May, and will be shown at film festivals all over the country.

In addition to African stories, African actors were also in the spotlight this year. Nominated for Best Performance in a Lead Role, Gabourey Sidibe, whose father is from Senegal, earned praise for a breakthrough performance in the movie Precious: Based on the Novel "Push" by Sapphire. Playing an obese, illiterate, abused and pregnant teenager, 26-year-old Sidibe was hired after only one audition with the film's director. Though she did not come home with the Oscar, her performance earned critics' praise. During the Oscar ceremony, Precious co-producer Oprah Winfrey, known for her efforts to support female education in Africa ( http://www.america.gov/oprah_school.html ), paid tribute to Sidibe, saying that the young Senegalese-American was "on the threshold of a brilliant new career."

Finally, Invictus, a highly acclaimed American film about a historic moment in African history, garnered two Academy Award nominations, for Best Actor in a Lead and Best Actor in a Supporting Role. Filmed in Cape Town, South Africa, Invictus stars Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela and focuses on Mandela's early presidency and his efforts to unite the country around its mostly white rugby team in the aftermath of the abolition of apartheid. Matt Damon plays François Pienaar, the Afrikaner team captain.

Though neither actor took home the Oscar, Freeman's and Damon's performances brought a pivotal moment in South African history alive for viewers. Freeman attended the ceremony wearing a bracelet created by the Nelson Mandela Foundation ( http://www.nelsonmandela.org/index.php ) as part of the 46664 Campaign. Named after the five-digit prisoner number assigned to Mandela for nearly 30 years, the campaign uses that number as a symbol for the faith that hard work and compassion can build a brighter and fairer world. The bracelets are to be auctioned off later this year, with the proceeds going to the foundation.

Invictus is not the only Africa-related film in recent years to be recognized by the Academy. Over the years, dozens of films about Africa have been nominated for Academy Awards. Starting with 1985's Out of Africa, which won Best Picture, Hollywood began taking note of African stories and projecting them onto the silver screen, much to the delight of American critics and filmgoers:

. In 1987, Denzel Washington was nominated for his performance as South African human rights leader Steve Biko in Cry Freedom.

. In 1989, Marlon Brando was nominated for his role in A Dry White Season, a film about apartheid in South Africa.

. 1997 was a big year for Africa at the Oscars. Steven Spielberg retold the story of the slaves kidnapped by the crew of the slave ship Amistad and garnered four nominations. The Ghost and the Darkness, a thriller about the building of the railway in colonial Kenya, won an award for sound editing. That year, the Best Documentary award went to When We Were Kings, a recounting of the famous "Rumble in the Jungle" - the 1974 boxing match between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman held in Zaire. Another Best Documentary nominee was Mandela: Son of Africa, Father of a Nation.

. In 1998, Gorillas in the Mist, about Dian Fossey's struggle to protect mountain gorillas in Rwanda, earned five nominations.

. In 2001, the Academy gave the Best Foreign Language Picture award to Nowhere in Africa, a German film about a German Jewish family fleeing to Kenya during the 1930s.

. In 2004, Hotel Rwanda, about the Rwandan genocide, received three nominations.

. In 2005, The Constant Gardener, a thriller set in present-day Kenya, was nominated for four Academy Awards, and Tsotsi, a depiction of life in the townships in Johannesburg, won Best Foreign Language Picture.

. In 2006, Forest Whitaker won Best Actor for his performance as Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland. The same year, Blood Diamond, a film about the conflict diamond industry and the civil war in Sierra Leone, received five nominations.

. In 2008, War Dance, a documentary about children living in a refugee camp in Uganda, was nominated for Best Documentary.

Source: Gabrielle M. M. Brock
U.S. Department of State, http://www.america.gov)

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Secretary Clinton Meets President Ali Bongo of Gabon






March 8, 2010; Treaty Room; Washington, D.C.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, this is a very great opportunity to welcome President Bongo to the State Department. Gabon is a valued partner of the United States, and this visit gave us an opportunity to discuss a wide range of common concerns.
Before I comment on our meeting, though, I wish to express our concern for the tragic loss of life in Nigeria. We continue to urge all parties to exercise restraint and seek constructive means for addressing the cycle of violence in Plateau State. The Nigerian Government should ensure that the perpetrators of acts of violence are brought to justice under the rule of law and that human rights are respected as order is restored.

I thanked President Bongo for his and Gabon’s efforts on behalf of regional stability in Central Africa and for its leadership on the world stage, particularly at the United Nations. This month, Gabon holds the rotating presidency of the UN Security Council, and we look forward to working together on a number of shared global challenges and goals.

Among these is the grave threat posed by the possible spread of nuclear weapons. In our discussion today, I expressed our serious questions about Iran’s continued refusal to live up to its international obligations. We do believe that engagement and negotiation is preferable. And to that end, the United States has made an unprecedented effort to engage constructively with Iran and resolve the international community’s issues over Iran’s nuclear weapons program.
Unfortunately, Iran has not reciprocated that outreach, and its leaders have left the international community with little choice but to demonstrate to Iran that there are consequences for its decisions. We are now working actively with our partners to prepare and implement new measures to pressure Iran to change its course. The best way to send Iran a clear and unified message is for the international community to speak with one voice and respond with additional measures through a new Security Council resolution. President Bongo and I discussed this issue, and I look forward to continuing that conversation in the weeks ahead.

We also explored ways to strengthen the ties between our two nations, including broader economic cooperation. We are very supportive of Gabon’s efforts to diversify its economy, widen the circle of prosperity, and create new opportunities for its people. And we know, as the president knows, that economic progress depends on responsible governance that rejects corruption, enforces the rule of law, provides good stewardship of natural resources, and delivers results that help to change people’s lives for the better.

So I want to recognize President Bongo’s efforts to improve government efficiency, eliminate waste, and fight corruption. Gabon is participating in the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative and taking other steps that will give confidence both to international investors but, more importantly, to the people of the country. We stand ready to support Gabon as it further strengthens its democratic institutions and processes.

And I also want to applaud the leadership that Gabon has shown in combating human trafficking. We have forged new partnerships with the Justice Department, and Gabon is moving toward ratifying the UN protocol. This is one more example of the reform-minded leadership that President Bongo is bringing to his country.
So Mr. President, I want to reiterate what I told you in private. President Obama and I are committed to broadening and strengthening our partnership and our friendship based on mutual respect and mutual interest. We have much to learn from one another, and I look forward to your leadership in the years ahead. Thank you so much for your visit and your friendship.

PRESIDENT BONGO: Thank you very much. Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to take this opportunity to thank President Obama and Madam Clinton for welcoming us to Washington. We are coming from Africa, where it’s at the time very warm, hot, and we appreciate efforts made to welcome us in the city. Because the last time we looked on television, we were afraid. (Laughter.) I remember in Copenhagen, President Obama telling us that he had to head back home because there was a snowstorm coming. (Laughter). So we went with that, and we were a bit worried when we got the invitation to come to Washington.

But we would like to really take this opportunity to thank the Administration, first for having been there with us, and last year was a very difficult year for us. And that’s those times when you see that you have friends. We’ve come a long way, we’ve gone through a democratic process, and now we are moving forward. As Madam Clinton said, our message is very clear. We want to take Gabon further. We want Gabon to become an emerging country, and we will take all the necessary steps to do that. Good governance, fight against corruption, diversity our economic – our economy and our partners. This is what we’re doing.

But we also know that we have responsibilities because we also are an elected member of the Security Council, and we know, as such, we have responsibilities. And we are going to work very closely with the United States and all the permanent members of the Security Council to make sure that the world is a better place. We fully agree with what Madam Secretary just said regarding the situation in Iran and other countries. We feel that it’s for the authorities in Iran to demonstrate that they’re willing and to go along with what the international community demands.

It’s not for us to reassure. It’s for them to reassure all of us, especially the neighbors of Iran. The neighbors of Iran have a right to live peacefully. And the people of Iran also have a right to live peacefully. So we are going to work closely because our aim is not just to punish. Our aim is to help assist, and we want to do that. But it has to be the same will on both sides, if I may say so.

Thank you.


SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you, sir.

MR. CROWLEY: Jill Dougherty from CNN.

QUESTION: Secretary Clinton, thank you. On Iran, a couple of things. One is have you heard anything about the Chinese coming – in their meeting, coming from Deputy Secretary Steinberg? And then also on these – the easing of sanctions with the internet, the internet side of it, how will that actually work? What’s the practical use to that? Because after all, if the government of Iran wanted to stop that, couldn’t they just stop it as they have before? Couldn’t it be perceived by them as very – let’s see – provocative, an attempt to bring down that government?
And if I could, very quick question on Pakistan, there’s conflicting information about an American al-Qaida being picked up. We’re still not clear about what the case is. Can you tell us?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I’m not going to comment on the third question, Jill, but let me take the first two.

We are having very constructive and comprehensive conversations with many countries, including China, and it’s not only the United States but other nations and their leaders reaching out to China as well. And I think that there is a growing awareness of the need, as President Bongo said, for Iran to reassure the world because of the consequences that could, unfortunately, come to pass if Iran pursues a nuclear weapons program and other nations feel compelled to respond. So any nation that is concerned, as China is, about oil supply, stability in the Gulf has to look very carefully at that.

With respect to internet freedom, you’re right, we are supporting the right of free expression and have granted licenses, or in the process of granting licenses, to companies that wish to provide internet tools to citizens of Iran so that they can communicate, so that they can have other sources of information about what is going on inside their country. We believe that Iran calls itself a democracy – it should act like one, and that means respecting the right to free expression and assembly of its own people. And in the 21st century, expression and assembly are carried out on the internet as well as in person. So we’re going to continue to support those Iranians who wish to circumvent and be able to communicate without being blocked by their own government.

MR. CROWLEY: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: (In French.)
PRESIDENT GABON: (Via interpreter.) Madam Secretary, the question was from a gentleman from the Gabonese press concerning the exchange of views between President Bongo and yourself, especially regarding whether there was any views that you give to the president concerning the Iran question. And President Bongo’s answer was, of course, that he is hoping that Iran would of course assure its population and its neighbors as well. And President Bongo is hoping that Gabon and the United States are going to work hand in hand within the Security Council. And then regarding also, on the other members of the Security Council (inaudible) on this issue.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you. Thank you so much, Mr. President. Thank you all.

# # #

Kenyan & Zimbabwean Amongst International Women of Courage Award Recepients

Washington, DC -March 10, 2010 - Two African women of courage are amongst 10 women to receive this years International Women of Courage Award given by the U.S. Department of State. They are Ann Njogu of the Centre for Rights Education and Awareness (Kenya) and Jestina Mukoko, Executive Director of the Zimbabwe Peace Project (Zimbabwe). This award which is in celebration of International Women’s Day, is the only award within the Department of State that pays tribute to outstanding women leaders worldwide. It recognizes the courage and leadership shown as they struggle for social justice and human rights. Handing out the awards this year, Secretary Clinton joined by First Lady Michelle Obama paid tribute to honorees.

The other recipients are from Afghanistan, Cyprus, Dominican Republic Iran, Republic of Korean, Syria and Sri Lanka. They are among over 80 exceptional women nominated by U.S. Embassies worldwide for their extraordinary work in advancing human rights. The women are in Washington from March 8 – 12 for a program of meetings with government officials, NGOs and the media.









Ann Njogu (center) of the Centre for Rights Education and Awareness was recognized for fighting for constitutional reform in Kenya and against corruption and gender-based violence.

In 2008, Ms. Njogu was co-convener of the Civil Society Congress, which worked to avert total political collapse in the aftermath of the violence that tore Kenyan society apart after the December 2007 elections. Her organization, the Centre for Rights Education and Awareness (CREAW), documented sexual and gender based violence during the post election period, providing essential data for national and international investigations of possible criminal conduct by Kenyan leaders. Ms. Njogu was also instrumental in passage of Kenya’s Sexual Offences Act, as a co-drafter and lobbyist.

Ms. Njogu has been a leader on Constitutional reform, which is crucial to Kenya’s future. She was the Co-Chair of the Multi-Sectoral Committee on Constitutional Reform, the Co-Chair of the Joint Dialogue Forum on Constitutional Reform and a delegate to the Bomas National Conference on Constitutional Reforms. Using the influence of her organization, CREAW, she has kept pressure on lawmakers for Constitutional reforms, and ensured that the reform process is representative and not skewed to benefit the existing power structure.

These activities have come with great personal sacrifice. In 2007, Ms Njogu was physically assaulted and arrested by state security for demanding that Members of Parliament review their hefty salaries in light of the generally poor state of the country. With the other arrestees, she filed a Constitutional reference now popularly known as "Ann Njogu and others versus the State," which was successfully adjudicated and now limits the time a Kenyan citizen can be held in custody to 24 hours. Hundreds of Kenyans have since used this landmark case to secure their release when police have arbitrarily arrested them and held them against their Constitutional guarantees.

In 2008, with six others, Ms. Njogu was arrested, beaten and sexually molested by police when the group raised the issue of possible corruption in the sale of the Grand Regency Hotel. The matter is still pending in court, but it is just another example of her dedication to exposing corruption and fighting for reforms in Kenya.







Jestina Mukoko (center) of the Zimbabwe Peace Project NGO was recognized for documenting human rights abuses and fighting against violence against women.

Ms. Mukoko is the Executive Director of the Zimbabwe Peace Project (ZPP), an NGO that monitors human rights abuses throughout the country. ZPP's reports provide the international community with accurate assessments of human rights abuses, including violence against women and politically-biased distribution of food, and were particularly crucial during the violent 2008 election period. Ms. Mukoko is a long-time leader in the human rights and activist communities in Zimbabwe, and, as a broadcaster for the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation, a pioneering role model.

On December 3, 2008, Ms. Mukoko was abducted from her home by state security agents. She was beaten, tortured, forced to confess to an alleged plot to mount a terrorist incursion from neighboring Botswana, and subsequently imprisoned. A court granted her bail on February 27, 2009.

After Ms. Mukoko appealed her arrest through the courts, the Zimbabwean Supreme Court finally ruled on September 28 that state security forces had violated her human rights to such an extent as to warrant a permanent stay of prosecution in the case against her. A concurrent civil suit is still pending. In the election-related violence that blanketed Zimbabwe in mid-2008, women often suffered particularly harsh abuse at the hands of security agents and ZANU-PF youths. Ms. Mukoko's abduction and subsequent court case brought the subject of politically-motivated violence – particularly violence against women – and human rights abuses home to all Zimbabweans. Across the country, people in villages discussed "what happened to Jestina."

In a country in which regime-sponsored violence and intimidation has often silenced opponents, Ms. Mukoko's ongoing legal case is an important statement against violence and oppression. Her bravery in calling to account those responsible for her abduction and torture, as well as her insistence on continuing her role as head of ZPP, has only reinforced her position as a leading human rights defender in one of the most oppressive countries in the world.

Second U.S. Science Envoy Begins Travel to North Africa




Washington, DC - March 3, 2010. U.S. Science Envoy Dr. Zerhouni, M.D., arrived in Morocco today on a two-week trip to North Africa that will include visits to Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya. On this trip, Dr. Zerhouni will seek areas for cooperation on health, science and technology, and education in meetings with heads of state, ministers, and representatives from the scientific, education, nonprofit, and business communities.

The U.S. Science Envoy Program is a core element of the Administration's commitment to global engagement in science and technology. President Obama first announced the program in Cairo last June, with Secretary Clinton naming the first three envoys -- Dr. Zerhouni, Dr. Ahmed Zewail, and Dr. Bruce Alberts -- in Marrakech last November. Dr. Zewail recently traveled to Egypt, Turkey, and Qatar, and Dr. Alberts plans to travel to Indonesia this spring.

Last month, Dr. Zerhouni traveled to France, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait on his first official trip as a Science Envoy. During the trip, Dr. Zerhouni met with senior-level officials in Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait for discussions on food security, the advancement of scientific and technological research, prevention of chronic diseases, enhanced support for children with special needs, and environmental issues. In Paris, Dr. Zerhouni met with officials from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISESCO) to consider ways to promote science and education. In Doha, Dr. Zerhouni attended the U.S.-Islamic World Forum.

Dr. Zerhouni served as Director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) from 2002 to 2008. Dr. Zerhouni initiated the NIH's Roadmap for Medical Research, established a research program to address the obesity epidemic, and made health disparities a research priority. Currently, Dr. Zerhouni is a senior advisor to Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and has been instrumental in creating the University's Institute for Cell Engineering. He also sits on the Board of Trustees of the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, which opened in Saudi Arabia last September.

Source: Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://www.america.gov)

Saturday, March 6, 2010

NASA Scientist Bridges Universe Between Morocco and U.S.

Kamal Oudrhiri Helps Promote Space Education, Cultural Celebration


By Carrie Loewenthal Massey - Special Correspondent, State Department Washington



"My story is somewhat unusual because since a very early age I was always mesmerized by the stars and the vastness of the universe," Kamal Oudrhiri reminisced.



Perhaps more unusual than Oudrhiri's fascination with outer space, however, is his gumption to follow his dreams: to work with the United States' National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and now, to help other children realize their dreams, as well as to build in his community an understanding of Moroccan and American cultural commonalities.

Oudrhiri's tale is one of adventure and daring, a young man of 18 who traveled from his home in Morocco to Los Angeles with only a secondary school diploma to his name.

"I didn't speak a single word of English and I didn't know anyone," Oudrhiri said. "I barely had enough money to last me a couple of months. Los Angeles seemed so far away from Morocco, and in the late 1980s there was no Internet, no satellite TV, and the cost to call my family in Morocco with AT&T was about $5 per minute. I was practically a world away."

Oudrhiri quickly forged a path for himself, never turning his back on his dreams and never returning home to live. Now a scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory near Los Angeles, Oudrhiri not only contributes his knowledge to the space program, but also donates his time, creativity and passion to the two nonprofit organizations he established in pursuit of the other missions close to his heart.











Kamal points at the antenna of the full-size mockup of the Mars Exploration Rover at NASA/JPL.





GROVE OF HOPE


In 2003, Oudrhiri founded the organization Grove of Hope with two objectives. First, he wanted to increase African classroom teachers' awareness of and accessibility to NASA's teaching resources.

"NASA spends millions of dollars developing education materials for teachers and they're free. Schools in the U.S. and Europe use them, but in Africa teachers, didn't know how to access and use them," Oudrhiri said.

Grove of Hope organizes events like Science Week Morocco 2009. NASA and university-affiliated volunteers led three days of workshops that introduced Moroccan teachers to an array of innovative science lessons they could bring into their classrooms. Oudrhiri witnessed the positive impact such lessons can have on students' curiosity for and ability to explore space mysteries as Moroccan schoolchildren participated in interactive lab activities that Grove of Hope furnished for the event.

"I cannot separate the work we do at NASA from what excites children all over the world. You have to see their eyes and their big smiles when space is involved," Oudrhiri said.

For more on Science Week Morocco 2009, see "NASA Enhances Space Expertise Through Middle East Alliances ( http://www.america.gov/st/scitech-english/2010/February/20100216152157kcsniggih0.849209.html )."

Grove of Hope has also worked with teachers from Senegal, Ivory Coast and Mauritania, and has plans to collaborate in Ghana and Cameroon. To continue to expand its reach, the organization next plans to create a science center in Casablanca to which teachers from other African countries could travel for training. Oudrhiri explained that the location of such a center in Morocco would ease logistical and financial burdens of travel for American volunteers carrying supplies to various African countries, while positioning resources in an accessible place for African participants. Grove of Hope's intent is to reach as many teachers and students as possible.

"We want to truly help the next generation in Africa. To do that we have to get them excited and inspired about science and technology so they can manage resources better and understand changes in their environment," Oudrhiri said.

Along with its work in Africa, Grove of Hope strives to meet its other objective of bringing a zeal for and understanding of science to American students. The organization helps inner-city Los Angeles schools obtain funding for science and technology programs, and wants to begin training teachers.

Grove of Hope gets all its money through fundraising initiatives. Oudrhiri and his partners try to tap into their personal interests, like music and athletics, to organize concerts and other events that bring the Los Angeles community together. Years of running and training others for marathons led Oudrhiri to pioneer a major fundraiser: the City of Angels Half Marathon. The half marathon continues to grow in popularity, and Grove of Hope donates all proceeds to Los Angeles schools.







CELEBRATING CULTURAL SIMILARITIES

Just as Grove of Hope supports education in both Africa and the United States, so too does Oudrhiri's other organization, the Moroccan American Cultural Center of Los Angeles (MACCLA), aim to benefit the people of both Morocco and the United States by celebrating cultural similarities.

"MACCLA is for people who are interested in the fusion between Morocco and the United States. We have a lot of common history and I'm more interested in bringing the commonalities to people," Oudrhiri said.

Oudrhiri's perception of the cultural aftermath of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks drove him to found MACCLA in 2005.

"After 9/11 people started focusing on how the people in Muslim countries are so different than people in the West, and I felt, no, let's refocus on what we have in common. MACCLA is not Morocco; it's not America; it's what brings both of them together," he said.

The organization uses academic, music and art programming to demonstrate these cultural commonalities to the public. For example, in 2009, MACCLA collaborated with the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) African Studies Center to send 15 elementary school teachers to Morocco for five weeks.

The teachers spent each week in a different region of the country to give them a broad exposure to the many intricacies of Moroccan culture, language and history. Upon their return, the teachers had to implement in their classrooms lessons based from their travel experiences. A grant from the Fulbright Program, an international exchange program sponsored by the U.S. State Department, provided funding for the trip.

In 2008, Oudrhiri produced and was the artistic director for MACCLA's musical and dance production Fez: Queen of Cities. The performance celebrated the 1,200th anniversary of the city of Fez, home to the oldest university in the world and the spiritual and religious center of Morocco, according to MACCLA. The show highlighted the active role women played in the city's society, even 1,000 years ago. Musicians from Europe, Asia and Africa partnered with contemporary dancers from Los Angeles to stage the production on a tour of cities that included Geneva, Los Angeles, New York, Rabat, Paris and Barcelona.

Oudrhiri felt most anxious about taking the show to Rabat and a home audience.

"It was a little nerve-wracking for me because you are there and trying to tell them their history and then it's performed by Americans, so you're always nervous about how it will be perceived. But we got amazing reviews from the Moroccan crowd," he said.

MACCLA next plans to partner with the UCLA Center for Near Eastern Studies to film a short piece for the "Moroccan Tutor" program, an online instructional tool that teaches Moroccan Arabic to American middle and secondary school students. A young Moroccan-American boy and girl will tape 12 language lessons.

His contribution to "Moroccan Tutor" in effect brings Oudrhiri's journey full circle. When he first set foot on Los Angeles's Pacific shores at 18 years old, unable to speak English, "the sound of the ocean waves was the only sound that brought happiness to my heart" because it "reminded me of those moments with my family along the Atlantic Ocean near Casablanca," Oudrhiri said. Now fluent in English, and well-versed in American culture, Oudrhiri's contributions to language and science education, as well as cultural exchange, enrich the lives of people in both of his homes. Programs like "Moroccan Tutor" may just give young Americans with dreams of working in Africa the tools they need to succeed across vast oceans.

(Source: Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://www.america.gov)









US Special Envoy to Sudan, Scott Gration on Recent Trip to Africa














Gration visits Chad, Sudan, Qatar and Rwanda to push for peace in Sudan

ON-THE-RECORD BRIEFING Special Envoy to Sudan Scott Gration On His Recent Trip to Chad, Sudan, Qatar and Rwanda March 4, 2010 Washington, D.C.

(begin transcript)

MR. TONER: Good afternoon. It's my great pleasure to introduce to you our Special Envoy to Sudan Scott Gration, who is going to brief on his trip to Chad, Khartoum and the Nuba Mountains in Sudan, Doha, Qatar, and Rwanda.

And without further ado, I'll hand it over to him.

MR. GRATION: Thank you. Well, good afternoon.

QUESTION: Hello.

MR. GRATION: I did just return from a two-week trip to Chad, Sudan, Qatar, and Rwanda. The trip focused on pushing the Darfur peace process toward a solution and toward resolving the remaining CPA issues. My talks in N'Djamena with President Deby and other senior Chadian officials focused a lot on the recent Chad-Sudan agreement and on normalization of relations between these two countries.

These steps will absolutely be critical in resolving the Darfur conflict. I continued working on the Darfur peace process as I went to Sudan and to Qatar. In Doha, I was there when the Justice and Equality Movement and the Government of Sudan signed that landmark framework agreement and the ceasefire. We were actively engaged in that whole time that I was in Doha, sometimes late into the night with the Government of Sudan, the JEM, and with other armed movements in trying to get an inclusive process, one that would result in a comprehensive peace framework.

The framework that was signed between JEM and the Government of Sudan offers us an important opportunity to significantly reduce violence in Darfur. But it must include the other rebel groups to be all-inclusive. The United States has worked tirelessly with all the parties and with the international partners to facilitate the negotiations, to find the common ground between the rebel groups, and to speed this process toward an early agreement that can be implemented on the ground.

The United States supports a peace process that is inclusive, that is comprehensive. And we believe that the newly formed Liberation and Justice Movement, which represents most of the non-JEM rebels, must have a clear voice in the Doha negotiations. The Darfuri civil society, the IDPs, the diaspora, and the refugees must also have a voice in this process.

We wrapped up discussions on Darfur in Kigali. It was here where the six envoys from the P-5 countries plus the EU met for frank discussions with UN's top leadership from Sudan. In Kigali, we had an excellent opportunity to focus the international partners and UNAMID on their core mandate, which is to provide security and to protect the civilians in Darfur. While the agreements that are being negotiated in Doha are critical to achieving a lasting peace, the problems of banditry and lawlessness must be dealt with quickly if the people of Darfur are to see real improvement in their local security environment.

Although much of my trip concentrated on the developments of the Darfur peace process, I want to highlight today some of the positive progress that is being made on the CPA implementation. While in Sudan, I was able to travel to Juba, to Khartoum, and to the Nuba Mountains. And I spent a lot of time discussing the CPA issues with the NCP and with our friends in the south. We also had numerous meetings on the elections to make sure that we had an understanding of how they were progressing, and I'll be able to answer questions on those things in a minute.

Concerning the CPA, I want to congratulate the SPLM and the NCP for reaching agreements on resolving the census dispute. This was a big deal. We also saw great progress being made on the North-South border demarcation and on formally agreeing to enter discussions on the post-2011 arrangements. As you know, the national elections are scheduled for next month, and significant preparations have been made to ensure that the elections will really reflect the will of the people. But we remain concerned about some of the logistical challenges that must be resolved in the very near future.

I continue to urge authorities at all levels to make sure that every eligible Sudanese that has met the qualifications to vote has the right and the access to vote in this political process. Basic rights, freedoms of speech, of assembly, freedom of the press must be respected, and we're going to work to ensure that that's the case. There's a lot of work that must be done before April, but we're working with all the parties and with all of our partners to make sure it gets done.

I'll be leaving again this weekend to travel to Nairobi and Paris and Doha. In Nairobi, I'll be attending the IGAD summit on the CPA implementation. Then I'll head to Paris where I'll meet with French officials to discuss how we can work together to ensure success of the Chad-Sudan agreement, and to build on the ongoing peace process in Doha. I will then return to Doha to again help push those negotiations to fruition and a final agreement and to support the process to ensure that it is inclusive and comprehensive, and that it really does meet the needs and the requirements and the issues of the Darfuri people.

It's a crucial time for Darfur and for Sudan in general. We must not let this opportunity to promote Sudan-wide political transformation, to improve the overall security, to facilitate a lasting peace pass us by. We will not rest until we've done everything we can to secure a brighter future for the next generation of Sudanese. Failure in this case is not an option, and we'll strive for success.

I'm ready for your questions. Thank you.

QUESTION: There are reports of resurging - a resurgence in violence. Do you think the elections - crystal balling I suppose - or do you think that violence can put the elections off track, or is it sort of a rock of expectation?

MR. GRATION: That is a concern that we all have. As you know, that there has been a history of violence and inter-tribal and inter-communal tensions, and we are doing our best to make sure that to the maximum extent, that this - these conflicts are mitigated and that they don't interfere with the election process. We've talked with the Ministry of Interior and we've talked with the National Elections Commission and they have a plan to increase security using both security forces from the police and other forces to ensure that people can get to the polls, and that the polls are not interrupted by (inaudible) or mischief.

We will have monitors in place they come from the Carter Center, they come from the EU, the AU, and even internally to ensure that we can, to the maximum extent, (inaudible) to get ahead of these issues and bring the proper attention to areas where polling may be disrupted by violence, conflict, and insecurity.

QUESTION: Sure, the - as I'm sure you're aware, there's been some concern among some of the advocacy groups on Darfur about some of the stances that - some of the ways that the diplomacy has been pursued. On a more general point, I mean, how do you feel about how we should deal with the government in Khartoum in terms of whether to give incentives based on what's going on in Darfur? How do you feel about the balance between incentives and pressure in a broad sense?

MR. GRATION: Well, certainly, it's the responsibility of the government to provide security, to bring development to its people, to ensure that the Millennium Development Goals are turned into reality, that people have water, that they have food security, that they have gender equality and transportation, communications, and those issues. So certainly, we are going to be working and using pressures and incentives to make sure this takes place.

As you know, the agreements that will be reached in Doha will probably decrease the number of people going into camps. In other words, the lesser violence, the decreased fighting between rebel groups and the Sudanese armed forces will decrease the disruptions. But they really won't change the conditions that the people are currently living under. And the fact is we need a multipronged approach, one that brings a ceasefire, that brings stability, and brings peace at that top level. But we also have to make the changes that will result in a more secure environment for the people who now live in IDP camps, who live in these villages.

Gender-based violence still continues; that must stop. People's possessions are taken. They don't have their rights - human rights, in many cases. This has to be changed. And that's what we're trying to do now is to put into place systems of order, patterns of order, rule of law. We're trying to increase the capacity of UNAMID, the UN/UA forces that are there. And we're trying to set up programs that will allow the conditions that the people live in to be made better so that their future is brighter.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Could you talk - the agreement so far has been signed with the JEM, is that correct?

MR. GRATION: That's correct.

QUESTION: Right. What are the concrete obstacles to bringing in some of the other rebel groups to the peace agreement? Is it things that they want that the government's not offering? Is it vice versa or simply just logistical?

MR. GRATION: No, so far it's been two things that have stopped the progress. First of all, this was a framework agreement, the details of which are to be negotiated in Doha through the process that is run by the AU/UN negotiator Djibril Bassolé and facilitated by the Government of Qatar.

There are two issues that are hampering progress right now. The first is JEM wants to be exclusive; they either want to have everybody together under their leadership before they start, or they don't want the rebels to have a two-track or a parallel-track program. And I'm talking about the other rebels. The other rebels I'm referring to were rebels that were brought together in a unification effort in Addis Ababa and some effort - and some that were brought together through the efforts in Libya. All those rebels are now in Doha, or many of them are.

And the second issue, besides JEM's desire to be exclusive, is that the rebel groups themselves are having a little bit of difficulty in choosing a leader and in organizing themselves. So we're in - that's much of what I was doing there, trying to reach common ground, trying to bring the rebels together in a way so that they can represent their people and they can represent their causes with a single voice and be strong. At some point, we're going also have to bring in the views of the diaspora, the views of the civil societies, of the IDPs into this process, especially as we start talking about things like land reform and compensation and wealth sharing.

So the ceasefire can happen with the rebels, and that's the first agenda. And then things like power sharing can be done. But at some point, as we expand, we're going to have to expand and be more inclusive to people outside of Doha also.

QUESTION: Sorry, I just - if I could follow that up. You said, on the one hand, that JEM wants to be the exclusive representative of all the rebels. And then you said the non-JEM groups are having trouble finding their own representative, which suggests that there be two people negotiating with the government.

MR. GRATION: You hit it. You hit it.

QUESTION: So is it one or two? And if all the other non-JEM guys are trying to find one, and JEM says we want to be the only one, I mean, that seems a fairly insoluble -

MR. GRATION: No, you've hit the problem.

QUESTION: Right.

MR. GRATION: But there are several solutions. Obviously, the best solution is if everybody could come under the leadership of one individual, whether it's Khalil Ibrahim, whether it's Tijani Sesei or whoever it is, that would be the best thing because than you would have a single voice representing everybody.

There's a second option where you could have two tracks that are running in parallel, where the same issues are being discussed with the JEM and are being discussed with the other group. And as they reach agreement and common ground, the facilitators and negotiators can go back and forth and actually come up with an agreement that's put together in a parallel track, but essentially the agreement is one.

The other way you can do this is do it sequentially, where the JEM gets their big issues resolved, things like the ceasefire, finalization of prisoner release, and those issues that are unique to them. And then the other groups get their issues resolved, and then you somehow put that all together into a framework agreement and then - but the reality is that allows you to move forward with a peace deal in Darfur. But it's really not going to be a final peace deal until compensation is sorted out, until the power-sharing deals are worked out. Because as you probably know, many of the rebel groups, because they had an active militia, were not allowed to participate in the election process, and therefore they are not represented in this election.

There will probably have to be some way, whether the constitution is changed and seats are added in the interim period, whether there's an interim election - there's a lot of things that we can put into play or that, I should say, the negotiators can put into play that will allow people to be represented in this interim period in Darfur. These are issues that will be worked out.

And then the last issue is, of course, that no lasting peace and durable peace will be complete until there's an accommodation of justice and accountability, and those issues will also have to be included in the final arrangement.

A question in the back, sir.

QUESTION: Yes. Who will represent the U.S. at the donors conference for Darfur this month in Egypt?

MR. GRATION: We're still working out the details. There will be representation, whether it comes from USAID, or whether it comes from our office or whether it comes from another office. Those details are still being worked out. But as you know, we only just recently had - got the invitation and we do know that our representative, the U.S. representative to the OIC will be there. And the question is now what kind of technical support team will be put together to ensure that there's adequate support.

QUESTION: And do you expect the U.S. to contribute additional money for this - at this conference?

MR. GRATION: It would be difficult for me to speculate right now because we just have started this process and we've just got the invitation.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. GRATION: Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Senator Feingold, as you know, has been active on the subject --

MR. GRATION: Yes, sir.

QUESTION: -- and with 21 co-sponsors, I believe. The Senate has asked for enlarging international representation in this effort. Could you use some help from some other countries - well, not you particularly? But I mean, would that embellish opportunities for solving this problem?

MR. GRATION: Well, let me just give you some background. First of all, we totally agree that this problem is so big and so complex and so far-reaching that not only the parties have to be involved, but the region has to be involved, the Africa Union and all of Africa, and then the international partners have to be involved. So we totally agree with Senator Feingold. We totally agree with his analysis.

And let me tell you some of the things that we're doing already as we build this coalition. We have put together a group of envoys from the P-5. We call ourselves the E-6, because France, UK, China, Russia, the United States, and the European Union have special representatives, and we get together. In fact, we were together at Kigali, all of us, to discuss the issues having to do with Darfur and CPA implementation. We meet regularly and we also have video teleconferences and telephone.

In addition to that, as you know, the troika -- the U.S., Norway, and UK - were very influential in the birthing of the CPA. We've reinvigorated that process. And the troika meets regularly. We have a group called the Contact Group and - that works on financial issues and other issues, primarily in Europe, and that group, again, meets regularly at the staff level. As I said, I'm going to participate in IGAD, where the presidents and senior leaders from Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya, and other IGAD countries are coming together, and we participate with them.

This problem is not something that's America's problem. It's something that the globe has to work on: the North-South issue, the CPA implementation, the general security issue, and certainly, Darfur. Development's going to be a key factor and we need security and development to go hand in hand. And this has to be an integrated not only within the U.S., but also with the partners of the region and the international community. We certainly agree with that and we'll support that.

Yes, sir.

QUESTION: In your travels - I may have missed it - but I don't think I recall hearing China mentioned. Can you discuss China's role, how actively they're engaged to help or not to help? And just bring us up to date on that aspect of the current situation.

MR. GRATION: Sure. I have made a trip to Beijing and have discussed these issues at very high levels within the Government of China. And when the Chinese delegation came over here to meet with the Secretary of State, Secretary Clinton invited me to join in on the segments that had to do with Sudan. So we've been involved at the government-to-government level.

I will also say that Ambassador Liu Guijin, who is the special representative of China to Sudan, and I have a relationship that goes back when he was in the Embassy, China Embassy in Kenya, and I was flying with the Kenya Air Force, so we've known each other for awhile. And we - he was at Kigali with me this last week, and we continue to have a relationship.

Let me just say this: that while we have differences at the tactical level, and certainly we have differences in terms of supporting the military aspects of the NCP, there is a strategic commonality in that China needs security and stability for its investments, the same security and stability that we need for our humanitarian goals and to ensure that the South is able to transition, should they choose that, in a way that's not violent. So we share common objectives in the region and we're working hard to ensure that we're working together in terms of development, humanitarian assistance and those kinds of things, that our plans are integrated, and that we're working together. And certainly on areas where we have differences, we continue to discuss this in an open and frank way.

QUESTION: You talk about the settlement requiring justice in the final analysis. I assume that also includes the dispensation of Bashir in the international courts. So where do you come down on that - on that particular case?

MR. GRATION: Well, certainly we believe that that issue is going to have to be resolved if we're going to have a lasting and durable peace. And so we support efforts to ensure that President Bashir answers the questions that the ICC has posed, and we support the process continuing as it's outlined in the international system. And that's - we'll have to see where that one goes. But certainly, there is no hesitancy on our part to support those.

QUESTION: If I could --

QUESTION: I'm sorry. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Just you're mentioning the talks about the CPA, how do you draw a balance between assessing the North-South issues and the Darfur issue? Do you get a sense that one needs to take precedence over the other?

MR. GRATION: Certainly in terms of importance, ensuring that the South has an opportunity to express its will through the referendum is very important. At the same time, there's an urgency of making sure that the conditions in Darfur are reversed - that people can have a brighter future, that they can have the opportunity to return or to stay in an urbanized environment. These things have to be worked at the same time. And we don't have the luxury of doing one and maybe the other. They have to be integrated, not only because we're running out of time but the two actually are integrated in many ways. There's a common border between Darfur and the South. And obviously, being able to come to a solution in the North, I believe will make things a lot easier in coming up to an accommodation with the South, especially on border issues, on sharing of wealth, and grazing and water and oil accommodation. All these issues have to be worked, and I believe they have to be worked in concert. And that's why our strategy is one that's comprehensive and it's one that's integrated and one that has a sense of urgency because the clocks are ticking.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. GRATION: Okay, thank you very much.

(end transcript)

(Source - Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://www.america.gov)