Roseline Oyejide listened yesterday as Mayor Marion Barry vividly recounted his 19-day, five-nation tour of Africa -- the meetings with heads of state, the moving visit to a West African dungeon where slavery-bound blacks were once held, the realization that blacks in Africa and America should help each other.
Then Oyejide, a Nigerian native who is studying accounting at the University of the District of Columbia, asked the mayor if he would be willing to set aside some low-income housing in the city for cash-short African students.
"Again, it's a difficult kind of decision," Barry responded. "The difficulty with that, as sympathetic as I am, is that we have over 10,000 families who would feel bent out of shape if I moved in that direction . . . As far as housing is concerned, right now, I can't cut it."
Oyejide was disappointed. "If he's talking about helping Africa over here, why can't he make a commitment?" she said. "He says hes taking a stand [Barry's campaign slogan.] Why can't he take that stand for Africa right here? Aren't we part of Washington, D.C.? Aren't we part of the citizens?"
Several African students who heard him speak to a group of about 150 students, staff, faculty and invited guests at UDC said they found a hollow ring to Barry's words.
"It was inspiring. All he was talking about was interesting. But he did not talk about any perspective. He did not talk about people who are not like him, who are not mayors. How were they received?" said Mustapha Abubakar, 21, an engineering student from Nigeria. "That is one of the major factors that will generate international friendship."
Christopher Pyne, a business administration student from Nigeria, quizzed Barry on the mayor's decision to include in his party Carter H. Dove, vice president of Riggs National Bank. The bank's role in South Africa is under criticism from opponents of that country's apartheid policy.
"The people in your entourage, they represent the same class that is responsible for the oppression in the areas that are trying to be liberated," Pyne said.
Barry blamed the controversy over Dove on Washington Africa activists, and said that African finance ministers had welcomed a chance to talk with Dove. "I admit that Riggs is doing international business," Barry said. "But we have no choice but to deal with the people that have some resources."
Pyne, too, was disappointed. "We judge people by what they do and not what they rationalize," he said. "We see him [Barry] as being part of that same deal that oppresses our people in South Africa.
Several students frowned and mumbled criticisms among themselves during Barry's remarks yesterday. At one point for example, Barry was discussing the controversially elected government of Prime Minister Able Muzorewa in Zimbabwe. "It's sort of a puppet government," Barry said.
"Just like D.C.," student government president Kelvin Young mumured to a friend, who nodded his head in agreement.