ALTHOUGH they were abandoned when it mattered most, yet they proved to be worthy ‘ambassadors’ of the continent. The entry of the ten journalists from Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, and Uganda tagged ‘Africa Rising…’ emerged Best Overall at the Poster Show of the just-concluded Spring 2013 Professional Fellows Congress (PFC) in Washington, D.C., United States of America.

A total of 93 entries were submitted for the contest with just five categories of awards on offer: Most Virtually Engaging; Most Thought Provoking; Best New Initiative or Idea; Best Covering Culture, Community, or Society; and the grand prize, Best Overall. The announcement of winners at the farewell session on Saturday, May 11 drew curtains on the four-day assembly.

Specifically, the congress, which began on May 8, marked the culmination of the Professional Fellows Programme, which provided targeted professional development and support to emerging leaders working in the fields of Economic Empowerment, Legislative Process and Governance, as well as Media.

It was designed to provide participants with a four-to-eight-week practical fellowship experience to broaden their professional expertise. Placed in private, non-profit and government offices across the United States, the Fellows learn about how issues in their respective fields are addressed in the U.S., interact with a broad network of professional colleagues, and develop a more nuanced understanding of Americans and American society.

Coordinated by the Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) unit of the U.S. Department of State, the main objective of the programme is “to increase mutual understanding between people of the United States and other countries…and thus to assist in the development of friendly, sympathetic, and peaceful relations” (Mutual Educational and Cultural Exchanges Act of 1961).

But with a total of 220 participants drawn from 44 countries and territories across the world, Media, out of the three thematic engagements, was least represented. Only 19 participants: 10 journalists came from four countries in Africa, while the remaining nine were from Bangladesh.

Other countries in Africa represented at the congress under different themes (either Economic Empowerment or Legislative Process and Governance) were Egypt (14), Libya (6), South Africa (13), Tanzania (7), and Tunisia (14). Pakistan had the largest number of representatives, 22. Azerbaijan and China had one participant each.

The African journalists were Ibrahim Kasita of New Vision, and Dorothy Nakaweesi, Monitor Publication Limited (Uganda); Lanre Lasisi, Channels Television; Hamza Idris, Media Trust Limited; and Kabir Alabi Garba, The Guardian (Nigeria); Alphonce Shiundu, Nation Media; Bevertone Kipchuma Some, The Standard, and  Joan Chepkorir Barsulai, Standard Newspaper (Kenya); Ekow Essabra-Mensah, Business and Financial Times; and Albert Futukpor, Ghana News Agency (Ghana).

They all arrived in the U.S. capital city, Washington, D.C., on April 7 and underwent three days of intensive orientation programme that focused on how news organizations in the U.S. carry out their daily operations before they dispersed to their various places of internship on April 11. Some of other issues tacked during the orientation exercise (run from April 8 to 10, 2013 in Washington, D.C.) were introduction to the United States and its media, the dual nature of U.S. news media, social media strategies, digital tools for African journalists and diversity. They returned for the congress on May 7.

As a key highlight of the four-day congress, seventh in the series, the Poster Show has been designed as an opportunity for fellows to share their professional work and interests with other fellows and the State Department. Beyond this however, the journalists, with the supervision of Johanna Carrillo and Sameen Dadfar of International Centre for Journalists (ICFJ) embellished their Poster with colourful motifs that celebrated the uniqueness of the continent in terms of natural endowment, human and material, in addition to highlighting certain peculiarities of the journalists’ countries.

Indeed, Africa was given a global mileage at the Show that lasted for three hours on Friday, May 10. The expansive ballroom on the second floor of the Renaissance Arlington Capital View Hotel, South Potomac Avenue, Arlington, Virginia suddenly became a bazaar as presenters explained the intrinsic elements of the posters to viewers comprising fellows, State Department staff and invited guests.

Earlier on Thursday, May 9, the journalists were more or less disappointed when no ambassadors turned up for the ‘Citizen Diplomacy Lunch with Washington-based Foreign Ambassadors and Embassy Staff’. It was designed for “Ambassadors to the United States and local embassy staff from Fellows’ countries to dine and network with the Fellows.”

Only Mr. William Anani-Abotsi, Minister/Counsellor in charge of Economics, Embassy of Ghana came. However, organizers had told participants that “some embassies had no staff available to attend this event. They sent their regrets and best wishes.” Do Nigeria, Kenya, and Uganda belong to this category? This is a question authorities in these countries should provide answer to.

Another significant segment of the Congress was the ‘Regional Briefing Panel Discussion with Questions and Answers’ featuring all Deputy Assistant Secretaries (Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs) of the six regions of the world represented at the congress.

Held on Friday, May 10, 2013 inside the auditorium of the U.S. Department of State, Washington, D.C., the one-hour, fifteen minutes session provided an opportunity to engage the U.S. officials on certain diplomatic issues between the States and the six regions in general, and individual countries in particular.

The top officials that addressed the gathering and later responded to questions from the fellows were Michael Pelletier (African Affairs); Susan Stevenson (East Asian and Pacific Affairs); Eric Rubin (European and Eurasian Affairs); Richard Schmierer (Near Eastern Affairs); Jonathan Henick (South and Central Asian Affairs); and Kevin Whitaker (Western Hemisphere).

Pelletier was first to speak and he reiterated four pillars of actions that drive the relationship between the U.S. and the continent of Africa.

“We are working on rule of law, freedom of expression, freedom of the press and journalism to strengthen democratic institutions across the continent. The second pillar is to spur economic growth, trade, and investment. I am not sure how many of you know that six of the 10 fastest growing economies in the world right now are in Africa? In the next decade, seven of the fastest growing economies in the world are going to be in Africa, and we believe that is the huge win-win, not only for Africa and the United States, but for the rest of the world, and so, we want to encourage and strengthen that economic growth through creating more opportunities and partnership.

“The third is to advance peace and security. This is essential when you are talking about economic growth and democratic growth. When we talk about peace and security, we like to talk a lot about some of the amazing and surprising events happenings in the past few years in Somalia, in Mali, in Sudan, and South Sudan, and we believe those happenings present golden opportunities for us to work together to engender peace and security.

“The fourth is to promote opportunity and development, and this is one that I think is the broadest as we talk about opportunity to include everyone in the process of increasing growth and development in Africa. Women encouragement, youth encouragement, minority community encouragement and also in terms of supporting healthy population, well fed population, and environmentally sustainable development. We talk about food for kids, food security issue, health issue, about HIV/AIDS, climate change, it is an overall broad development initiative. All of these are goals we want to pursue in partnership with Africa. That is why we look to African leaders to take the lead as to way forward as we work on these goals.”

Responding, however, to question on perceived altercation in the information flow between the U.S. and Nigeria which has lately led to what this reporter termed ‘discordant tune’ on certain issues, with emphasis on the ‘controversial President Obama’s proposed visit to Nigeria’, Pelletier said, “this issue of discordant tune to my mind is the question of really getting down to the real information, and real primary source of information.

“First of all, in terms of the President’s travel schedule, there is no information from the White House, what you are reading is rumour. When you want to know where the President is going, you contact the White House through its interactive website to find out the real news. And it is important not to make judgment or expectation based on media report.

“As journalists, the most important thing is to go to the primary source and get the real information. Specifically, on the President’s travel, there is no official announcement from the White House. When the President or any state official is travelling, they make official announcement on where and the purpose of the travel.”

And on the country’s war against corruption, the diplomat said “fighting corruption, transparency, good governance are something Nigeria has been struggling to entrench for a long time, and we have been working with Nigeria, trying to help them on those issues. I have had the opportunity to work in Nigeria for two years, it is a great country with a lot of potentials and we are working with the government of Nigeria to address those issues. It is an important country and very strategic to the United States.”

On the refusal of the U.S. government to declare Boko Haram Movement Foreign Terrorist Organisation (FTO) in spite of the threat the activities of the group pose to global peace and security, Pelletier said, “We have named three of the leaders of Boko Haram movement as being responsible for all attacks that have taken place in the country since 2009, and we are working with Nigerian government very much to address the violence Boko Haram has caused. The issue of who is named FTO, which organization is named FTO is a big inter-agency discussion, there is a lot of different considerations.

“And I think, the important thing for us is how do we help Nigerian government deal with the violence, specifically in Northern Nigeria? We have named Boko Haram leaders for being responsible for terrorist act, but it is a big issue. We are also looking at some reports that are coming out recently as regards human right abuses. There is Deputy Assistant Secretary in charge of Human rights issues in Nigeria this week, she is actually on her way back today (May 10), I am hoping to see her next week for debriefing. In fact, it is a big issue and we have to look at it holistically. I have lived in Kaduna, Bauchi, and Kano, what is happening now in those places is horrible, but we are working with government to resolve it.”




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