Posts Tagged 'Madagascar'

Mo Ibrahim Prize Recognizes the Leadership of Pedro Pires



Gregory L. Garland serves as the Charge d Affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Praia, Cape Verde.

Americans learn in high school that one of the greatest acts in our history happened when George Washington declined, twice, the opportunity to stay in power. The first time came at the end of the long war for independence where, instead of accepting a title of nobility and possible kingship, Washington famously took off his uniform and returned to Mt. Vernon a civilian. Called back into service as president, Washington again said no when pressured to run for a third term, setting a precedent that became a part of the U.S. Constitution.

We celebrate Washington because he, more than anyone, assured us a legacy in which the Constitution, not a personality, remains central to who we are. As a nation, we remain skeptical of those who would concentrate power in one office or one person.

Depersonalizing Politics

Seeking a way to nurture the same tradition of democratic rule of law and abnegation of personality on his continent, self-made Sudanese billionaire Mo Ibrahim decided to use his vast fortune to celebrate the George Washingtons of Africa. He established the Mo Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership to honor leaders who have said no to unending power. These leaders have set the example of depersonalized politics and alternation of office so desperately needed in societies struggling to build institutions that are greater than the sum of individuals.

So Far Only Three Winners

Only three men have received the prize of $5 million dollars — Festus Mogae of Botswana, Joaquim Chissano of Mozambique, and now Cape Verde’s former President, Prime Minister and veteran political figure Pedro Pires. Pires, 77, won the award for his contribution to Cape Verde as a “model of democracy, stability, and increased prosperity.” Specifically, the award cited his influence in assuring Cape Verde’s successful transition in the early 1990s from one-party to multi-party governance. Pires first learned of his award during his daily workout at a gym. In his typically modest fashion, Pires spoke to reporters emphasizing the Cape Verdean nation, not his own individual role and politely begged the reporters to let him finish his exercise routine.

Asked later in the day how he planned to use the money, Pires answered that he would use some of it to write his memoirs. And what memoirs they would be! Pires was a major figure not just in Cape Verdean, but in African history in general. In 1991, the then-dominant liberation party, the African Party for the Independence of Cape Verde (PAICV), lost the parliamentary and presidential elections. Under his leadership as General Secretary, the PAICV gracefully ceded power to the opposition, setting a timely and important example not only for the country, but for the continent.

Don’t Forget the Africa of 20 Years Ago

Consider for a moment the state of Africa two decades ago. In the wake of the fall of the Berlin Wall, strongmen dominated much of the continent. Despite tentative olive branches, the white-minority apartheid apparatus still clung to power in South Africa with the barrel of a gun. Chissano’s Mozambique had suffered a gruesome civil war and seemed set for a generation of violent retribution. It was at this moment that the wind of democratic change in Cape Verde began to blow across Africa. The Cape Verdean model of the strongman and his party stepping down after electoral defeat set the standard for such countries as South Africa and Mozambique. The vitality of the Cape Verdean democracy, so recently demonstrated in a hotly contested presidential contest to succeed Pires, remains a refreshing tonic for Africans struggling to find a lasting democratic way forward.

Aristides Pereira: Gone But Not Forgotten

No praise of Pires, however, should go without mention of his long-time comrade in arms, colleague in peace, and mentor in politics, Aristides Pereira, who passed away on September 22 at the age of 86. Pereira and Pires fought under the Cape Verde/Guinea-Bissau liberation movement’s founder and leader, Amilcar Cabral in Guinea-Bissau. They knew much of the liberation-era leadership of Mozambique and Angola as well, including Chissano, who watched closely what the Cape Verdeans were achieving. For most of Pereira’s tenure as president, Pires was prime minister. Together, they directed Cape Verde out of five centuries of suffocating colonialism and into policies that have achieved a high rate of literacy; strong, consistent market-based economic growth; judicious regional leadership; and democratic rule of law at home. Together, they said yes to democracy and gracefully stepped aside at the decision of the voters. In Cape Verde itself, the four-day mourning for Pereira has in many ways set the stage for Pires’s award.

Citizen Pires

George Washington himself would have understood Pires. He fought against the French before fighting with them. He fought with the British before fighting against them. He swore fealty to the king before rejecting all royalty. And when all was said and done, he said no to being King George, American-style. He said no to being President-for-Life, and chose again to be Citizen Washington. Congratulations, Citizen Pires!


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“Walking the Talk” in Zimbabwe

Charles A. Ray serves as U.S. Ambassador to Zimbabwe

Conventional wisdom holds that people over 50 cannot master social networking; that new media and fancy tech toys are reserved for the young. This is an unfortunate misperception that causes many senior government leaders to avoid a great opportunity to reach out to new audiences in a manner that they “hear” and understand.

For the record, I’m solidly in the pre-computer generation, having turned 65 over a year ago and worked as a government employee for over 49 years. Therefore, according to prevailing thought, I am one of those who simply cannot make best use of new technologies that my younger colleagues take for granted. But, I refused to accept this.

For years, I was casually active on social networking sites, but since I took up my post as Ambassador to Zimbabwe, I have leveraged my social media activity as part of my job to promote U.S. foreign policy. How has a member of the “Silent Generation,” those born before or during World War II in the hush that preceded the digital explosion, managed to do this? Buy into the system (literally and figuratively), find your voice, and use the tools everyday.

Almost every U.S. embassy and agency has a website, and even a Facebook page, to communicate with public audiences — in the United States and abroad. U.S. Embassy Harare has a website and a Facebook page, as well as a YouTube channel and a Twitter account.  I use my personal Facebook page, Twitter feed, and blog to supplement and expand the embassy’s messages. In Zimbabwe, where 65 percent or more of the population is under 35, these tools are increasingly effective channels for communicating with educated, young Zimbabweans. With Zimbabwe’s dramatic rise in the use of 3G service to access the Internet, our use of these methods gives us rapidly growing access to young people on their cell phones. Using Facebook and SMS, we regularly put together youth-oriented discussions and programs at a moment’s notice.

My embassy team also uses social media to blunt the impact of incessant anti-Western propaganda by the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF). For example, when hard-line elements blocked meetings I had scheduled with young people in rural areas, we responded with live Facebook chats — engaging the very same young people, some of whom logged onto Facebook through their phones while others participated on computers in our American Corners. The chat was accessible to anyone following our Facebook page and generated more discussion and media coverage than an actual live meeting would have.

I also engage in daily chats with young Zimbabweans on my own Facebook page. My page has become a platform for explaining U.S. policies in an informal setting. This has changed some of the perceptions that young Zimbabweans have of the United States and American officials. During one of my late night chats, a young Zimbabwean man wrote, “Who does the writing on your page? A member of your staff?” “No,” I replied. “I do it myself.” “Wow!” was his response. “I’ve never heard of a senior official doing something like that himself.”

In a country, such as Zimbabwe, where young people are often ignored, making myself available to youth audiences on social networking sites has done more to undercut slanted government messaging than almost all of our other programs. I answer their questions and sometimes ask my own; but, more importantly, I engage them in conversation and I listen to what they have to say. The fact that young Zimbabweans are seeking us out at the rate of 25 — 40 new followers per day is testament to the effectiveness of this method of communication. Even some younger government officials have joined our fan crowd.

By demonstrating U.S. values in direct and practical ways to a vast, hungry digital audience, we have changed the terms of the debate in our bilateral relationship immeasurably. We’re not just talking about the values of open dialogue — we are “walking the talk.” To quote my grandmother, the woman who raised me and shaped my own values, U.S. Embassy Harare’s use of social media is proof that, “What you do speaks so loud, I can’t hear a word you’re saying.”

And, it also proves that you don’t have to be a member of “Generation X” or a “Millennial” to use these tools effectively!

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Maximizing the Impact of Public and Private Global Health Commitments

Amanda Makulec is a Monitoring and Evaluation Associate, John Snow Inc.


In a time of international economic uncertainty, it is more important than ever for donor agencies to ensure global health dollars are being spent wisely for maximum health impact.  Investing in maternal and reproductive health programs around the world has supported a one-third reduction in maternal mortality since 1990, and saved the lives of millions. Moving forward, donor agencies are committed to maintaining and continuing that success through new mechanisms for providing basic maternal, newborn, and child health services which leverage both public and private resources and through integrated programs to improve service delivery, like USAID’s Maternal and Child Health Integrated Program (MCHIP).

One such coordinated effort is the Alliance for Reproductive, Maternal, and Newborn Health (the Alliance), which was born over a year ago to support progress towards MDGs four and five in ten priority countries, including Bangladesh, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, Tanzania, and Uganda. Together, these countries account for around 68% of unmet need for family planning globally, 54% of maternal deaths, and 56% of all neonatal mortality. The Alliance’s public sector partners include USAID, the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID) and the UK Department for International Development (DflD).  The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation contributes its private donor funds and expertise to the core group of partners.

While Alliances and Coalitions seem to spring up often in today’s globally-connected era, this partnership strategically focuses on fostering local country ownership of programs, emphasizing cost-effective spending of donor dollars through improved coordination across agencies, and ensuring it does not create parallel systems for working with countries, providing services, or monitoring and evaluation of its work, instead leveraging existing mechanisms.

Together, these tenets support a coordinated effort to improve maternal and reproductive health worldwide, reducing redundancies in programming and providing a mechanism for sharing learning and best practices across donor agencies. Over the course of the Alliance’s first year, partners have worked diligently to develop relationships with local governments, identify new approaches to long-acknowledged health challenges, and forge relationships with private corporations committed to investing in and improving global health outcomes.

Merck, who recently announced the launch of their Merck for Mothers Initiative, worked with the Alliance to develop a partnership focused on improving access to long-acting reversible contraceptive implants through cost reductions and innovative financing mechanisms. As a woman-controlled, simple method for family planning, implants have grown in popularity in developing countries. Through this partnership with Merck and the cost-reduction initiatives, up to 14.5 million additional women could have access to implants between now and 2015, preventing thousands of unintended pregnancies and saving the lives of both women and their babies. In Ethiopia alone, the government will save an estimated $2 million per year as a result of the program, and annual savings globally will be up to $10 million. This partnership is just one of the many the Alliance is pursuing with private organizations.


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New Lease on Life: U.S. Embassy Bangui Rescues Abandoned Chimp

Rebecca Owen serves as Regional Policy Coordinator in the Bureau of  Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs.

For nearly 15 months, Ambassador Frederick B. Cook, Mrs. Denise Cook, officers, and staff from U.S. Embassy Bangui and the French Embassy fed and cared for Claude. Claude, an eight-year old chimpanzee, was abandoned at a defunct zoo, where he became fully grown and languished in a cage so small he was unable to stand upright. Originally a “pet,” his plight is not unique. The illegal “exotic pet” trade leaves thousands of animals stranded or abandoned once they reach adulthood and become too large or too difficult for their owners to manage. Luckily for Claude, he was discovered by Mrs. Cook and a group of embassy spouses.

Claude soon found himself the focus of an interagency coalition to find him a new and appropriate home. Ambassador Cook enlisted the assistance of Richard G. Ruggiero, Chief of the Near East, South Asia and Africa Branch of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, who reached out to Doug Cress, Executive Director of the Pan African Sanctuary Alliance (PASA), to find a suitable sanctuary for Claude and two other abandoned pet chimpanzees. After months of effort, space was found at the Chimpanzee Eden in South Africa through the Jane Goodall Institute (JGI). Despite concerted efforts, only Claude was allowed to leave Bangui. The first effort to move him failed when his traveling crate proved to be too large to fit on the aircraft. Embassy Bangui, however, refused to give up.

The second attempt expanded the coalition of rescuers to include not only the JGI-South Africa, but also Kinsgley Holgate’s “All Afrika Expedition,” Aquavision, United Against Malaria, the South African Defense Force and the Johannesburg Zoo, in association with the Born Free Foundation. This new group of partners again made plans for his relocation via a South African Defense Force C-130 cargo plane, and this move was successful. Today Claude is living and socializing among his peers in the Jane Goodall Institute — Chimpanzee Eden in South Africa, a spacious, protected natural environment.

Claude is very fortunate, but he is only one of thousands of animals that fall victim each year to illegal trafficking, as “wild pets” or poached for use in traditional medicine, bushmeat, and exotic trinkets. The State Department has worked with the USDA, the Forest Service, and the Wildlife Conservation Society to raise awareness in Central Africa about the detrimental effects of these activities through ministerial-level meetings and public information outreach. Our involvement doesn’t end with awareness, however.  The Bureau of Oceans, International Environmental and Scientific Affairs (OES), in conjunction with the U.S. Agency for International Development and other U.S. government agencies, supports several programs to reduce illegal wildlife trade. State provided start-up funding for the Association of South East Asian Nations-Wildlife Enforcement Network (ASEAN-WEN), now the world’s largest enforcement network for wildlife trafficking-related seizures and prosecutions, and plans to replicate this effective regional model through the South Asia Wildlife Enforcement Network (SAWEN) and beyond. In 2020, INTERPOL refocused international attention on the need to address illegal wildlife trafficking by adopting a resolution unanimously pledging support to back the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and to fight environmental crime.

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Yamano Akwaaba!

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Deborah Robin Croft, U.S. Africa Command, Public Affairs Office wrote: 

Ghanaians say Yamano Akwaaba, meaning “we welcome you.” This is exactly how we all felt at the first, ever African Military Chaplains Conference, co-hosted by AFRICOM and the Armed Forces of Ghana, that took place from 3 October to 7 October in Accra, Ghana.

We were made to feel welcome in many ways during our stay. The 38 African military chaplains and seven US military chaplains were treated to a cultural day during our visit. We took a field trip to visit a dam on the world’s second largest man-made lake, Lake Volta.   After touring the dam, we had a wonderful boat cruise complete with a reggae band and a buffet lunch.  During the cruise, the chaplains all visited with each other and had many one-on-one conversations; Africans with other Africans and U.S. chaplains with Africans.

There were also moments of quiet reflection while some of us gazed over the glass-like waters and the reflected sky. Others were dancing to the band as they played a medley of African, Reggae, and Ska music.

The high point of the boat trip was a visit to a small island where we off- boarded the boat and were greeted by a traditional African band and dancers along with vendors selling dried fish in large baskets. We got out and found our land legs and met a cheerful group of mostly women and young children.

We were all exhausted on the long bus ride back to the hotel as some of the chaplains broke out in prayers and songs of praise.

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President Obama Meets With Tunisian Prime Minister Essebsi

Tunisian Prime Minister Meets with President Obama


President Barack Obama met with Prime Minister Beji Caid Essebsi of Tunisia today (October 7, 2011) in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, D.C. After their meeting, President Obama said:


“…As I think all of you know, Tunisia was the first country in the North African Middle East region to begin this incredible transformation that we now call the Arab Spring. The movement that began with one street vendor protesting and taking his life in response to a government that had not been responsive to human rights set off a transformation in Tunisia that has now spread to countries throughout the region. As a result, Tunisia has been an inspiration to all of us who believe that each individual, man and woman, has certain inalienable rights, and that those rights must be recognized in a government that is responsive, is democratic, in which free and fair elections can take place, and in which the rights of minorities are protected.

“We are deeply encouraged by the progress that’s already been made in this short period of time. In part, because of the extraordinary leadership of the Prime Minister, what we’ve seen is a orderly process that includes constituent assembly elections this month, that will include the writing of a constitution and fair and free elections both for a new parliament and a new President.

“So given that Tunisia was the first country to undergo the transformation we know as the Arab Spring, and given it is now the first to have elections, we thought it was appropriate that Tunisia would be the first to visit the White House.

“The Prime Minister and I had an excellent discussion about both the opportunities and the challenges that Tunisia faces going forward and how the United States can be a helpful partner in that process. In particular, we discussed the importance of having a economic transformation that has taken place alongside the political transformation.

“The United States has an enormous stake in seeing the success in Tunisia and the creation of greater opportunity and more business investment in Tunisia. And so in addition to the $39 million that we have already provided in assistance to Tunisia as they make this transformation, we discussed a package that includes loan guarantees, assistance in encouraging trade and foreign investment — a whole range of support programs that will allow Tunisia to create a greater business investment, offer more opportunities for employment to its young people, and further integrate it into the world marketplace.

“We also discussed issues regarding the transformation that has taken place in the region as a whole. And I expressed my great admiration and appreciation for the Libyan — for the Tunisian people in the hospitality and kindness that they showed to Libyan refugees during the tumultuous period that has taken place in Libya over the last several months.

“Let me just close by pointing out that Tunisia is one of our oldest friends in the world. Tunisia was one of the first countries to recognize the United States of America over 200 years ago. One of the first trade agreements that we had as a country was with Tunisia. And so I told the Prime Minister that thanks to his leadership, thanks to the extraordinary transformation that’s taking place in Tunisia and the courage of its people, I’m confident that we will have at least another two centuries of friendship between our two countries. And the American people will stand by the people of Tunisia in any way that we can during this remarkable period in Tunisian history.”

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Joining a community: Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 5’s reception in Dikhil, Djibouti

Petty Officer 3rd Class Casey Matthews wrote

Editor’s note: The following article is a commentary by Petty Officer 3rd Class Casey Matthews, a builder assigned to Naval Mobile Construction Battalion Five, of his experiences while working in Dikhil and Kontali, Djibouti.

On August 10, 2011, Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 5, a small team of 11 Navy seabees, one Marine sergeant, and one Air Force senior airman began a journey to a remote town in western Djibouti–Dikhil. Their mission was to relieve Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 74, and finish a primary school in the even smaller village of Kontali. The town of Dikhil has approximately 40,000 people living in town and the surrounding villages. Our only line of support was a two-and-a-half-hour convoy from Camp Lemonnier, a forward deployed Naval facility in the country’s capital Djibouti City. Our mission was clear, finish the primary school and work on partnering with the indigenous population.

The crew knew how to finish the school, but partnering with the locals was new to each of us. We quickly figured out that simple gestures such as saying “hello” in a local language would start the process of integrating us into the community. Being good neighbors was the key to establishing good relationships. The children of Kontali were quick to pick up on our openness and love for children.

Within a week, a father, worried for the health of his son, Mohammed, asked us for help. Mohammed had tripped on a stone three months earlier and had a laceration on his ankle and contusions on his head that were severely infected. The crew, with approval, cleaned his wounds and dressed them. Mohammed was running and playing a few days later.

It was a great start to build trust between us and the people of Kontali, but it didn’t end there. Soon afterward, two women from the village were bitten by a snake and rushed to the local hospital in Dikhil. Upon hearing of this, several members of the team decided pay the women a visit to wish them a speedy recovery. One of the ladies who was already under the care of her friend, commented that she could not believe the American’s had come to simply wish her well. When we left, she claimed her opinion of Americans had changed completely.

Unfortunately, tragedy was about ready to strike again, a neighborhood man passed away from natural causes at the untimely age of 35. With our translator leading the way, we went to his father’s home to pay our respects. When we left, he was in tears with gratitude. The next day, he came by to express his gratitude and help us to become a part of the community. We decided to host a luncheon in our team house and break bread together with a few of the neighbors also in attendance. On the day of the lunch, the second day of Eid, we cooked a large meal, pulled the crew from the jobsite and feasted with our newly found friends. Both men were retired, one retired as the major general of the Dikhil province, the other was retired from the exalted position as minister of energy. We forged new and hopefully lasting friendships.

As the days go by, we have felt a sense of welcoming in the towns of Dikhil and Kontali. Today, we cannot walk the streets without receiving greetings and well wishes from the local populace our new friends.

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