From the Many With U.S.-Africa Ties, Oneness

By Donna Britt
Friday, July 8, 2005

Three weeks ago at the town hall meeting for the "Africans in America" national conference on African refugees, local black leaders spoke movingly about the sometimes powerful, sometimes hair-slim ties that bind black Africans to their American brothers and sisters.

Among the listeners was Makoi Manuer, a tall Sudanese immigrant from Grand Rapids, Mich. Puzzled by the hostility he has encountered from some African Americans, Manuer told me about a U.S. acquaintance who, like most black Americans, is a descendant of slaves. Confronting Manuer as a black African, the man said, "You guys sold us. . . .

"Why would you come here?"

The Crystal City town hall meeting was different, Manuer said. Over and over, black Americans spoke of their desire for stronger social, financial and spiritual bonds with native Africans, giving him his "first day in the United States when I [felt] connected to my African American brothers, who I've loved for 500 years," Manuer said.

Finally, he'd found black Americans "looking for oneness," he said.

Oneness is an ambitious goal for people who look similar but whose lives are markedly different. Americans live in a world both intimate and unconnected, in which we can empathize with London residents minutes after yesterday's bombings occurred, but have almost no understanding of everyday life in Africa, the planet's second-largest continent.

Could the Group of 8 summit concluding today in Scotland make a difference? A key topic for leaders of the world's richest nations has been African poverty -- an ancient problem that is suddenly so trendy that an international concert was devoted to it.

Before the summit, President Bush pledged $1.2 billion in U.S. aid to Africa, much of it aimed at fighting malaria, a preventable disease that annually kills more than 1 million Africans. "Americans believe that human rights and the worth of human lives," Bush said, "are not determined by race or nationality, or determined by distance. . . .

"Every life matters."

Every life, it seems, matters more to British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who devoted the summit to transforming Africa. Blair had traveled from capital to capital, asking donor nations to commit to spending 0.7 percent of their gross national products on development assistance, eventually winning an agreement to cancel $40 billion in debt owed by poor nations.

Last month, critics pounded Bush for declining to meet Blair's 0.7 challenge and for cynically suggesting that such an amount would be squandered. Corruption is a real problem, but over the decades, supervised Western programs have saved millions of African lives by successfully battling such diseases as smallpox, river blindness and leprosy and increasing child immunizations. New programs could be similarly monitored.

Bush responded with a pledge to double aid to Africa by 2010 -- which sounds great except that relatively little of that commitment represents new money, according to Susan E. Rice, who was an assistant secretary of state for Africa in the Clinton administration.

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