A Summit of Black Mayors
A Summit of Black Mayors
Signifying much in Africa’s Renaissance
By Rosalind McLymont
For five days last December, some 250 African mayors and mayors of African descent from the United States, Canada, the Caribbean and Latin America cloistered at the sumptuous Le Méridian President Hotel in Dakar, Senegal, over ways to collaboratively address common social and economic challenges in their jurisdictions. Billed as the World Summit of Mayors Leadership Conference, the Dec. 15–19 gathering was a fitting denouement to the International Year for People of African Descent, with critical relationships established between local African mayors and their Diaspora counterparts and among the mayors of the Diaspora themselves. It was a milestone in the African Renaissance championed by Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade, defining a far more strategic engagement of people of African descent in the continent’s rebirth than the personal ventures that to date have characterized the Diaspora’s involvement in that rebirth.
“It is an important moment for Senegal — to welcome our brothers and sisters from the other side of the Atlantic to come together to find pathways to development for our respective communities,” Awa Ndiaye, Senegal’s senior minister for culture, gender and quality of life, told the gathering.
It was the first trip to Africa for Aniece Liddell, mayor of Moss Point, a Mississippi city with a population of less than 15,000. “If you’re not at the table you lose out. So I’m here. I’ve made connections,” she declared. The trip seemed to have paid off for her even before President Wade’s private jet that took the entire U.S. delegation from New York landed in Dakar. “I’m a water city on the Gulf Coast. Coming into Senegal, I picked up in casual conversation that Panama Canal traffic will be opening to more ports,” Mayor Liddell said. “You’ve got to be ready to capitalize on those things as you hear about them. So I’ve got to go back and make sure our ports are ready to capitalize on export business.”
Babacar Diamé, mayor of Foundiougne, a prominent river city in the Fatick Region of Senegal, was similarly concerned about port development. “Right now, all the resources go to Dakar Port, so Dakar gets all the business. Foundiougne can be a vibrant port, too,” he complained at a workshop on the role of local communities in generating tourism, trade and business. The city is also well positioned for ecotourism, he said. “We need to partner with Americans on tourism development. We must form a cadre to develop tourism in Africa,” he said.
Bilateral commerce and tourism as economic stimuli were key issues for the mayors. “How do I export to you? What can you export to me? How do we twin in tourism?” Larry S. Bryant, mayor of Forrest City, Ark., asked his African counterparts.
Declaring that his city is “focused on tourism,” Omar Neal, mayor of Tuskegee, Ala., emphasized the importance of international municipal collaboration to sustainably exploit global opportunities and achieve economic growth. “This is a critical part of our exchange because it sets the framework for our work in the future,” he said at the session on “Decentralized Cooperation: Partnership Between Africa and the Diaspora Through Participation of Communities,” which he co-chaired with Aliou Niang, president of the Association of the Regions of Senegal. The summit must “establish a new paradigm of sustainable collaboration to posture ourselves for continuous collaboration. Each of our cities must do an assessment of who we are and how we can contribute to each other,” Neal said.
The summit was a joint effort of the National Conference of Black Mayors, the National Association of Senegalese Mayors and the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).
NCBM President Robert Bowser, mayor of East Orange, N.J., led the U.S. delegation of about 30 mayors. “I want to see if we can come up with a list of priorities that we can address and a plan, so that in, say, six months we can say ‘we were here and now we are here,’” he told The Network Journal. “There are things we can learn from Africa. It’s not always about what we Americans can bring to Africa. Senegal has been very successful in eradicating AIDS, down to 0.7 percent of the population. They have these clinics all over the place that are very well run. In my city, East Orange, we have nine percent AIDS. It’s bad. We can take Senegal’s model and implement it at home.”
The U.S. African Renaissance and African Diaspora Network, a New York-based initiative coordinated by UNAIDS senior adviser Djibril Diallo, Ph.D., played a crucial role in facilitating the summit. “This [summit] and other initiatives help to accelerate progress toward the achievement of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals by 2015, using the response to HIV/AIDS as an entry point, Diallo said.
African mayors and their representatives arrived in Dakar with expectations as great as those of their Diaspora colleagues. “I want to see a good partnership, a twin-city relationship, to develop exchanges in culture, sports and education, human resources and in building capacity,” the deputy mayor of Louga, a city in northwest Senegal, said in a conversation with TNJ. Each year, at the end of December, Louga holds a five-day International Festival of Folklore and Percussion (FESPOP), a cultural event that’s also focused on international cooperation for local development. “It helps to bring people together for business opportunities. Mayors of the Diaspora should attend this festival,” he said.
On the final day of the summit that also heard from Angelino Garzón, vice president of Colombia, where more than one-fifth of the population is of African descent, the mayors agreed to form a steering committee to facilitate cooperation activities between mayors across Africa and the Diaspora, helping to connect mayors and their municipalities and assisting them with the development of cooperation projects on a city-to-city basis or among groups of cities. They also agreed to implement a pilot “twinning agreement” between the mayors of 12 cities in Senegal and 12 cities in the United States to exchange information and to plan and implement joint projects in infrastructure improvement, trade and business, health, education and technology. The projects they envision include exchange programs for high school students; online and digital projects between universities and high schools; AIDS prevention and reduction activities; partnership and “peace” tours to learn about each other’s specific issues; and workshops and exhibits for young artists and writers.
Earlier, President Wade had proposed the establishment of a center for the African Renaissance and Diaspora Initiative in Dakar or another location, with the ambitious mission to “work with the U.S. African Renaissance and Diaspora Network to coordinate and assist activities for the realization of the African Renaissance within the framework of the African Union, with the recognition of the Diaspora as the sixth region of Africa and leading to the formation of the United States of Africa by 2017.” These activities would include municipal collaboration; collaboration between African universities, historically Black universities in the United States and other universities in the Diaspora; early childhood education; cultural and artistic exchanges and programming; and scholarly research to advance the African Renaissance, with the African Renaissance Monument in Dakar as the center for initiatives, the president said.
If commitments made by the president of the National Association of Mayors of Côte d’Ivoire and Vice President Garzón hold firm, the 2012 and 2013 summits will take place in those two countries, respectively. Giving voice to sentiments that took root over the five days in Dakar, Mayor Frank Jackson of Prairie View, Texas, said, “If we can put our minds together and utilize the resources we have, there’s no reason why we can’t reconnect the triangular trade system [as in the transatlantic slave trade that linked Europe, Africa and the Americas] and make it work for us.”