Leonard Robinson; Led Africa Society

By Joe Holley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 29, 2006

Leonard H. Robinson Jr., 63, president and chief executive of the Africa Society and a former State Department official in the Reagan and Bush administrations, died July 25 of complications of a kidney infection at Washington Hospital Center.

Africa became Mr. Robinson's passion and his expertise during nearly four decades of public service. "Most Americans don't know anything about Africa, except Tarzan, Jane and wars," he told the Cleveland Plain Dealer in 2000, on the occasion of the first National Summit on Africa, which he organized. "Africa is portrayed as 'the glass is half empty,' not as 'the glass is half full.' We want to portray Africa in a way that it hasn't been portrayed before."

As an outgrowth of the Africa Summit, Mr. Robinson led efforts to create the Africa Society, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to strengthening public awareness and support for Africa. It came into existence in 2001.

In 2002, the Africa Society developed a multidisciplinary package of education materials that sought to integrate lessons and information about Africa into schools across the country.

"In the upcoming year, the role of U.S.-Africa relations will affect a collective group of more than 1.1 billion people," Mr. Robinson noted two years later, when the program was expanded. "Therefore, learning about the continent of Africa should not be treated as an elective. It is, in fact, a necessity."

C. Payne Lucas, former president of the nonprofit Africare, spoke of Mr. Robinson's strong convictions in a statement released by the Africa Society: "He believed that people could and would overcome centuries of economic and political impoverishment and geographic and social isolation by getting to know each other and by working cooperatively to resolve seemingly intractable problems."

Mr. Robinson was born in Winston-Salem, N.C., and attended Bennett College in Greensboro, N.C. He received a bachelor's degree from Ohio State University in 1964 and attended graduate school at the State University of New York at Binghamton. He also did postgraduate work at American University and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

From 1964 to 1967, he was a Peace Corps volunteer in India and, at 23, was named the Peace Corps' associate director for India. He later became the agency's director of minority recruitment.

He became interested in Africa in the early 1970s, his brother, Michael Robinson of Los Angeles, recalled. At the time, he was working in Ghana and Kenya for Family Planning International Assistance, then the international division of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

Tall and distinguished-looking and an engaging public speaker, he considered a career in politics. In 1982, he ran as a Republican candidate for Montgomery County Council. Although he lost, his candidacy brought him to the attention of the Reagan administration, and he was appointed deputy assistant secretary of state for Africa affairs. He served from 1983 to 1985 and was responsible for economic and commercial policy.

From 1985 to 1990, he served as president of the African Development Foundation, established by Congress in 1981 to provide small-scale assistance to African community-based organizations and grass-roots enterprises.

He returned to the State Department's Africa Bureau in 1990, serving as deputy assistant secretary of state with special responsibility for Central and West Africa. He also directed U.S. diplomatic initiatives toward resolving the Liberian civil war.

In 1997, he established LHR International Group, a consulting firm that provided U.S. foreign policy analysis for African and Asian leaders and governments. Also in 1997, he was named to the board of the newly created National Summit on Africa, which led to his position with the Africa Society.

His marriages to Courtney Butler Robinson, Julia Davis Robinson and Cassandra Wilson Robinson ended in divorce.

In addition to his brother, survivors include a daughter from his first marriage, Kemberley Robinson of Houston, and a daughter from his second marriage, Rani Robinson of the District; and his mother, Winnie T. Robinson of Durham, N.C.

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