Mayor Marion Barry won points with pro-African activists recently when he declined an invitation to visit South Africa. But the mayor may have lost those same points a week later, when he announced that a vice-president of Riggs National Bank, which some accuse of "propping up" the South Africa economy, would accompany him on the mayor's five-nation tour of Africa.
The International Communication Agency, the U.S. government's principal overseas information arm, asked Barry to stop in South Africa. But the mayor said he would not become a tool of propaganda for ths South African government, whose policy of radical segementation is opposed by most blacks, including many in the United States.
Last week, however, Barry aides announced the addition of two more presons to the mayoral party. One of those is riggs vicepresident Carter H. Dove, who is in charbe of Middle East and African affairs for the bank.
Recently, self-described problack demonstrators from the D.C. Bank Campaign, a coalition of community and Africanist organizations, picketed Riggs offices and withdrew funds from the bank as a protest to what the demonstrators allege is Riggs' parctice of making loans to businesses in South Africa. Riggs officials refused to discuss the bank's alleged role in Africa.
In addition, the group accuses Riggs of redlining in the District -- refusing to make mortgages in poor and low-income city neighborhoods.
"I think it's outrageous," Lynn Shapiro, a steering committee member of the Bank Campaign, said of Dove accompanying Barry to Africa. "It appears to me that the mayor is courting officials of Riggs National Bank, a band whose policy about where it puts its money, that's needed in this city, is indefensible."
At one point, Barry had also invited still another businessman, Kent Cushenberry, a community relations director for IBM, to go along. That firm is also accused by the pro-African groups of bolstering the South African government through its computer operations in the country.
The possibility of Riggs and IBM representatives accompanying the mayor drew a double-barreled complaint from Randall Robinson, director of Transfrica, a black Africa lobby with close ties to many of the mayor's one-time activist friends.
"Riggs and IBM are enemies of African freedom and have invested heavily in the enrichment of South Africa and undergirding the whole oppressive machinery of South Africa," Robinson said. He refused to directly criticize Barry's decision. "But I don't have any problem in indentifying the bad actors i Africa," Robinson said. "Riggs and IBM are two of the most prominent."
Before plans for the trip were completed, Cushenberry of IBM withdrew, citing previous civic obligations and insisting that his cancellation was in no way related to criticism of his employer's alleged role in Africa, which Cushenberry would not discuss.
Dove said he thought the wrong perspective was being used. "Why don't you look at the good part, "Dove told a reporter. "This is a good will tour. You're having our mayor visit Africa and business people are going along. I think that's afirmative."
Barry, who declined comment last week on the company he would keep, explained to a WHUR-RM radio audience Monday that he asked the busnessmen to come along -- and pay their own way -- because he wanted to talk economic development with African leaders and thought the presence of the businessmen would help.
Without people like Dove, Barry said, he doubted "very seriously" if the African heads of state would discuss economic development with the mayor of the District of Columbia.
The mayor said the controversy stirred up by his decision could create some positive discussion of the South African issue. "I'm prepared," Barry said of his decision, "to take some heat for it."
As if the controversy related to South africa were not enough, there were also mumblings on the domestic political front regarding the name of one other person scheduled to accompany the mayor on the trip.
That is Robert B. Washington Jr., the D.c. State Democratic chairman and one who has proven in the past six months that he has more political bounce to the ounce than any of his resilient counterparts.
Washington directed former council Chairman Sterling Tucker's ill-facted campaign for mayor in the sometimes bitter democratic primary that Barry narrowly won. After the election, Washington moved swiftly to let bygones be bygones.
Each part of his rebound to political good graces drew groans of envy from loyal Barry trops who remembered Washington's face from across the political bunker in last year's intraparty war.
In May, Washington won an oblique endorsement from the mayor and was subsequently reelected chairman of the D.C. Democratic State Committee. A few days later, Barry announced that Washington's sister, Barbara, would become assistant city administrator for intergovernmental relations, a cabinet level post in the Barry administration.
Washington is a lawyer and active lobbyist of city government, as well as a close political confidant of two of Barry's principal rivals within the party -- City Council Chairman Arrington Dixon and Del. Water E. Fauntroy. Aides to the mayor speculate that Washington's success is a product of Barry's effort to broaden his own political base.
Washington insists, however, that politics had nothing to do with Barry's decision to take him along to africa. He points to visits he has made to the continent in the past and to a list of Caribbean clients. "I'm an international lawyer," Washington proclaimed in a telephone interview from Trinidad.
The mayor will have two other people with him on the African trip, neither of who has stirred controversy. First Lady Effi Barry will pay her own way. Courtland V. Cox, director of the Minority Business Opportunity Commission, will, like the mayor, travel at the federal government's expense. The group will visit Liberia, Sensegal, Kenya, Ethiopia and Tanzania, leaving July 12 and returning July 29.