On Thursday, First Lady Michelle Obama and First Lady Mariame Faye Sall of Senegal encouraged young girls to excel in education at the Martin Luther King Middle School in Dakar, after meeting for tea at the presidential palace.
Coming out to a jubilant applause, Mrs. Obama, Madame Sall, and Martin Luther King Principal Rouguy Ly Sall walked on to an elevated stage, where they were greeted by the school's choir with the American and Senegalese national anthems.
Once the Majorettes dance troupe finished performing to drums in cherry printed dresses, Principal Sall addressed the students in French.
First Lady Sall would introduce Mrs. Obama to the the students in English, stating, "It is a great pleasure to have you [Mrs. Obama] here, and welcome."
Mrs. Obama then took to the podium, explaining that the reason she chose Martin L. King Middle School was because of their accomplishments, "But most of all, I want to recognize all of you; the very students of this outstanding school. You are the reason why I wanted to be here today, because I am so impressed and so inspired by all of you. I am impressed by your academic achievements, by how hard you're studying, and by how well you are doing on your exams. I'm inspired by your leadership skills, by how your running your student government, meeting with so many prominent leaders and preparing yourselves to becoming the next generation of leaders in your community."
Using her background as a way to connect with her audience, Mrs. Obama acknowledged that both the students and their families are likely making significant sacrifices in order to stay in school, "But of course, I know that what you all are doing here isn’t always easy. I know that some of you may be the first in your families to attend a school like Martin Luther King, so there might be people at home who don’t quite understand what you’re going through as you work to succeed here. And I know that for some of you, just sitting in these classrooms each day requires great sacrifices by your families."
Still, as the students read the First Lady's translated remarks on their laps, Mrs. Obama made sure to explain that their decision to invest in education will have lasting effects beyond themselves:
"So I know that it can take real courage to pursue your dreams, to come to this school, to pour yourself into your education, to envision possibilities for yourselves that no one could ever imagine. But don’t ever forget that by investing in your education, you are doing the very best thing you can do -- not just for yourselves, but for your children and your grandchildren. And you’re also doing the very best thing you can do for your country.
"That is true here in Senegal, and in the United States, and across the globe. When girls are educated, their countries become stronger and more prosperous. That’s why, here in your country and in my country as well, our leaders are working so hard to expand educational opportunities to more and more young people, especially our young girls."
Mrs. Obama ended her speech prodding the future leaders to draw on the strength of former South African President Nelson Mandela, who is currently on life support, "If President Mandela could endure being confined to a tiny cell, being forced to perform back-breaking labor, being separated from the people he loved most in the world, then surely, all of us, we can keep showing up and doing our best -- showing up for school each day, studying as hard as you possibly can. Surely, you can seize the kind of opportunities Mandela fought for for all of us; surely, you can honor his legacy by leaving a proud legacy of your own."
Watch the First Lady speak about Mandela here:
[ione_embed src=//www.youtube.com/embed/8ziOHUNJuR0 service=youtube width=560 height=315 type=iframe]
Afterward, Mrs. Obama, daughter Malia, and niece Leslie Robinson visited a classroom, where select students conversed with them.
Mrs. Obama is in Africa for a six-day trip that kicked off earlier this week in Senegal with plans to continue to South Africa and conclude in Tanzania. As with this speech, Mrs. Obama will continue to promote youth leadership, healthy living, and female empowerment across the continent.
The First Lady was last in Africa in 2011, when she visited Botswana and South Africa with her daughters, Malia and Sasha, and mother, Marian Robinson. Previously, Mrs. Obama went to the continent with President Barack Obama in 2009. Then, the Obamas visited Ghana.
Continuing her trip through Africa, U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama (pictured center) met with teens at Sci-Bono Discovery center in Johannesburg, South Africa, on Saturday afternoon.
Introduced by MTV Base Video Jockey, moderator Sizwe Dhlomo, Mrs. Obama took to the podium with Google Plus broadcasting students from Los Angeles; Kansas City, Kansas; New York City; and Houston.
After acknowledging former President Nelson Mandela's condition, the First Lady reminded students of their power, "In the coming years, all of you will be building the businesses, making the discoveries and drafting the laws and policies that will move our countries and our world forward for decades to come. So now more than ever before, we need you guys to step up as leaders; we need you to be engaged in the pressing challenges of our times."
Mrs. Obama relayed to the audience that the freedom fighters of the anti-apartheid era and the Civil Rights Movement were the same age as they are now.
Mrs. Obama then explained that youth today should be inspired and motivated by the tenacity and perseverance of the youth who were killed during the Soweto uprising of 1976 as well as Arkansas' Little Rock Nine, who were the first to desegregate an all-White high school amid threats and intimidation in 1957.
"See those students in Little Rock and Soweto...they came from families just like many of yours. Their parents were maids and janitors and factory workers, so they weren't rich and they certainly weren't powerful but these young people decided to face down bullets and beatings and abuse because they desperately wanted an education worthy of their potential. They wanted the same things that so many of you want today.
"They wanted a good education, they wanted to go to college, they wanted good jobs, they wanted to provide for families of their own and by taking a stand to change the course of their own lives, they changed the course of history.
"And today, all these years later, see so many of us are still benefiting from the sacrifices they made. I know that I stand here as First Lady of the United States of America and my husband is President because of those 9 men and women of Little Rock, Arkansas."
After Mrs. Obama's speech, the more than 200 students in attendance, who formerly sat in rapt attention, gave a rousing applause, appearing both moved and inspired.
The First Lady then transitioned to the conversation segment of the event, sitting down with 12th-grader Aubrey Baloyi, 10th-grader Mirriam Kgokane, 11th-grader Keamogetswe Rakgoadi, and 16-year-old Tebogo Tenyane in addition to singer John Legend who sat with students through the Google Plus broadcast in Los Angeles, and other students across the United States to discuss peer pressure, education, and success.
Unfortunately, the majority of South African youth face major hardships from the very beginning of their educational development.
In 1994, one-third of school-age children were reportedly illiterate and at least 2 million children were reportedly not enrolled in school because of high costs.
And even though school enrollment is no longer an issue, with 97 percent of school-age children currently attending school in South Africa, the low quality of the education has had a crippling effect on young people's careers, with nearly 71 percent of the population between the ages of 14 and 34 unemployed, according to Aljazeera.
Consequently, Mrs. Obama made sure to re-emphasize the power of education, while using the sacrifices of others to propel oneself forward:
"But I want you to remember this: No one is born a rocket scientist. No one is born as President of the United States or of South Africa. No one is born being smart or successful. You become smart and successful through hard work –- by doing those math problems, writing those papers; by getting things wrong, and then trying and trying again until you finally get them right.
"And if you get discouraged, if you ever think about giving up, I want you to think about those students in Little Rock and Soweto. I want you to think about all the people throughout history who sacrificed so much for all of us."
The First Lady's most-recent stop in South Africa is her second country in her Africa tour. On Thursday, the First Lady met with First Lady Mariame Sall of Senegal before visiting an all-girls middle school in Dakar.
This visit is Mrs. Obama's second time in South Africa. In 2011, she met with 76 women at the top of their fields at the Young African Leaders forum.
With Africa having seven of the world's 10 fastest-growing economies as well as the youngest and most-rapidly growing population -- which is slated to double by mid-century -- in the world, those in the know are looking to capitalize on a continent that is increasingly being seen as a place of "limitless opportunity."
On Sunday afternoon, President Barack Obama delivered his much-anticipated Africa address at the University of Cape Town. There, he underscored his key African initiatives, which include strengthening democracies, lifting millions out of poverty, leveraging technology, and announcing his unprecedented Power Africa program, which seeks to bring electricity at aggressive rates to the continent. But how does President Obama's foreign policy in Africa compare with his predecessor, former President George W. Bush, who served two terms from 2001 to 2009? Here, the Daily Beast explores their records.
While history will always remember former President Bush for waging the Iraqi war on never-found weapons of mass destruction, Bush's health record in Africa, on the other hand, is hailed by many as one of his chief accomplishments.
In 2003, Bush created the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), launching a strategic treatment plan against HIV/AIDS. At the time, Bush earmarked $15 billion over 5 years, and according to the Washington Post, because of PEPFAR, nearly 2 million people were receiving anti-retroviral treatment in sub-Saharan Africa by 2008, when Bush left office. And according to charitable organization Doctors Without Borders, 11 countries are actively treating HIV/AIDS patients with anti-retroviral medications due to Bush's program.
Time Magazine would later characterize Bush's monumental accomplishment as the "triumph of American foreign policy." While the Washington Post's Eugene Robinson opined that combatting AIDS in Africa was Bush's "greatest legacy."
Since President Obama took office in 2008, he has continued Bush's hugely successful PEPFAR program. In fact, according to Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes, PEPFAR funding has been increased each year the President has been in office due to bipartisan support, "We’ve actually increased PEPFAR funding each year,” with Senior Director for Development and Democracy at the National Security Council Gayle Smith adding during the White House Press Corps Conference on Saturday that "[we] have enjoyed tremendous bipartisan support for our approach and what we’ve done with PEPFAR."
And according to the White house, "In June 2013, we reached the one millionth baby born HIV-free because of PEPFAR support. In Fiscal Year 2012 alone, PEPFAR’s investments meant that over 230,000 babies were born HIV-free. In sub-Saharan Africa, the number of AIDS-related deaths decreased by 32 percent from 2005 to 2011, and the number of new HIV infections fell by 33 percent from 2001 to 2011."
In 2005, then-President Bush labeled the nation of Zimbabwe an "outpost of tyranny," after the 18-year President Robert Mugabe seemingly rigged elections to continue his reign. Bush immediately imposed aggressive sanctions against the embattled leader, reportedly freezing his assets and banning travel to America. Then-Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice stated about Zimbabwe, "To be sure, in our world there remain outposts of tyranny and America stands with oppressed people on every continent ... in Cuba, and Burma, and North Korea, and Iran, and Belarus, and Zimbabwe."
In 2010, President Obama extended his own sanctions against Mugabe, with the White House releasing the following statement:
"The United States has imposed travel sanctions and a freeze on the financial assets of Mugabe, his family and closest political aides; a freeze on all nonhumanitarian government-to-government aid; and a freeze on any transfer of defense-related items and services to protest a disputed presidential election and human rights abuses by Mugabe’s government."
Maintaining the same stern tone in 2013, President Obama continues to criticize the now-26-year president in light of Zimbabwe's impending elections on July 31st,"Harassment of citizens and groups needs to stop and reform needs to move forward, so people can cast their votes in elections that are fair and free and credible," Obama said during a visit to South Africa, remarked President Obama during a press conference with South African President Jacob Zuma on Saturday.
On Promoting Democracy
After the September 11th terrorist attacks, the Bush administration essentially used the promotion of democracy as a means to fighting al-Qaeda. According to Bush's line of thinking, terrorism finds its strongest bases of power in authoritarian regimes. Therefore, during his time in office, President Bush attempted to impose democracy particularly in the Middle East and North African (MENA) regions with the proclamation of what came to be called the "Bush Doctrine," which saw any countries that rejected democracy and/or harbored terrorists as an enemy of the United States. The doctrine also dictated that the United States had the right to impose sanctions against those countries as well as invade them, as he did with Iraq and Afghanistan.
Rice drove home this point during a speech at Cairo's American University in 2005, saying:
"Throughout the Middle East, the fear of free choices can no longer justify the denial of liberty. It is time to abandon the excuses that are made to avoid the hard work of democracy. There are those who say that democracy is being imposed. It is tyranny that must be imposed. People choose democracy freely. And successful reform is always homegrown. Just look around the world today. For the first time in history, more people are citizens of democracies than of any other form of government. This is the result of choice, not of coercion.
"There are those who say that democracy leads to chaos, or conflict, or terror. In fact, the opposite is true: Freedom and democracy are the only ideas powerful enough to overcome hatred, and division, and violence. For people of diverse races and religions, the inclusive nature of democracy can lift the fear of difference that some believe is a license to kill. But people of goodwill must choose to embrace the challenge of listening, and debating, and cooperating with one another. For neighboring countries with turbulent histories, democracy can help to build trust and settle old disputes with dignity.
How did this effect Africa?
In response to 9/11, President Bush forged a close relationship with then-Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo to block the growing terrorist activities of the Taliban and al-Qaida in West Africa; Obansanjo proved to be an important ally for the region in the fight against terror.
In 2009, President Obama publicly rejected Bush's unilateral approach of imposing democracy on other nation's during his speech in Egypt, saying, "The ultimate success of democracy in the world won’t come because the United States dictates it; it will come because individual citizens demand a say in how they are governed."
Still President Obama does agree with his predecessor in that terrorism takes root in areas where democratic government is lacking. This past Saturday, President Obama said, "It is my strong belief that terrorism is more likely to emerge and take root where countries are not delivering for their people and where there are sources of conflict and unaligned frustrations that have not been adequately dealt with."
“The danger we have right now, for example, in a place like Somalia, is that it’s been two generations, maybe three, since there was a functioning government inside of Somalia. We start to see some progress in part because of intervention by African nations in Somalia to clear the space and create the space for governance. But you look at what is happening in Mali, for example, right now, part of the problem is that they have a weak central government and democratic institutions that weren’t reaching out as far into the country as necessary.
"We have to build such institutions of responsiveness, governance and democracy. Those things become defense mechanisms against terrorism. They are the most important defense against terrorism."
Still, the President definitively stops short of using military action against authoritarian countries who reject democracy, explaining that"[the United States] will not likely intervene in specific matters but expects that the whole of African countries will “collaborate with us to fight” terrorism, according to NGR Guardian News.
Giving Aid vs. Forging Partnerships
In 2008, President Bush signed a $698 million deal with Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete to reduce poverty and improve roads power, and water supplies. Called the "Millennium Challenge Compact," the deal was a conditional one: in order to be a recipient of the grant, one's country had to employ democratic principles and responsible economic policies.
Historically, the United States has maintained a Father-like relationship with Africa, punishing recalcitrant leaders with sanctions and giving financial backing when they walked a straight line.
From the beginning, President Obama has insisted that he is looking to partner with the growing continent. When the President visited Ghana in 2009, he said, "So I do not see the countries and peoples of Africa as a world apart; I see Africa as a fundamental part of our interconnected world -- (applause) -- as partners with America on behalf of the future we want for all of our children. That partnership must be grounded in mutual responsibility and mutual respect. And that is what I want to speak with you about today.
“As for America and the West, our commitment must be measured by more than just the dollars we spend. I've pledged substantial increases in our foreign assistance, which is in Africa's interests and America's interests. But the true sign of success is not whether we are a source of perpetual aid that helps people scrape by -- it's whether we are partners in building the capacity for transformational change.”
The White House states in its "Support for Strengthening Democratic Rule of Law, and Human Rights in Sub-Saharan Africa that "the United States strongly supports the great strides many African countries have made to ensure good governance, rule of law, and respect for human rights. We commend the progress they have made to broaden political participation and improve governance, and will remain a steady partner as they continue to work to strengthen electoral processes, ensure transparency and accountability in government, and provide security while respecting and protecting universal rights and fundamental freedoms."
Going much further, the President has invested in Kenya and Tanzania. According to the White House:
"In Kenya, the $53 million Yes Youth Can program empowers nearly one million Kenyan youth to use their voices for advocacy in national and local policy-making, while also creating economic opportunities. In advance of Kenya’s March 2013 general elections, Yes Youth Can’s “My ID My Life” campaign helped 500,000 youth obtain National identification cards, a prerequisite to voter registration, and carried out a successful nationwide campaign with Kenyan civic organizations to elicit peace pledges from all presidential aspirants.
"In Tanzania, the United States has dedicated $14 million to strengthening government accountability institutions and linking them with Tanzanian civil society watchdog groups and civic activists in a constructive partnership to further government transparency. The program focuses on improving access to information for Tanzanian citizens in four key development sectors: health, education, natural resource management, and food security."
On Sunday, the President also announced his newest initiative, "Power Africa," which seeks to double power access and "achieve universal electricity access by 2030," using wind, solar, and hydro energy.
And still, the President has made sure to emphasize throughout that Power Africa is only possible due to an active, effective partnership.
From the press release:
"The United States and its partners will work with an initial set of Power Africa partner countries, including Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria, and Tanzania. These countries have set ambitious goals in electric power generation and are making the utility and energy sector reforms to pave the way for investment and growth. Power Africa will also partner with Uganda and Mozambique on responsible oil and gas resources management.
"Power Africa will bring to bear a wide range of U.S. government tools to support investment in Africa’s energy sector. From policy and regulatory best practices, to pre-feasibility support and capacity building, to long-term financing, insurance, guarantees, credit enhancements and technical assistance Power Africa will provide coordinated support to help African partners expand their generation capacity and access."
While Bush has gone down in the history books as a president that supported and invested in Africa more than any other U.S. president before him, much of President Obama's legacy in Africa is yet to be seen. Still, as "The Promise" author Jonathan Atler has said about two-term presidents, it is common for presidents to focus on foreign policy in their second term. With the President’s current Africa tour and new initiatives, time will tell if Obama’s record in Africa becomes one of the cornerstones of his legacy as well.
On Monday, First Lady Michelle Obama (pictured center left) flew in to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, to meet with First Lady Salma Kikwete (pictured center right), visit a bomb memorial, and then watch a performance by youth dance group Baba wa Watoto.
After being welcomed by throngs of Tanzanians who played instruments and sang songs, Mrs. Obama met briefly with Kikwete before visiting the Embassy Bombing Memorial. At the memorial, a pair of young girls with flower-laden arms awaited the first ladies.
Once Mrs. Obama and Mrs. Kikwete took the flowers from girls, they placed them at the foot of the memorial. The first ladies then paused for a moment of silence for the victims that were killed and injured in the bombings.
On August 7, 1998, American embassies in Dar es Salaam and Nairobi, Kenya, were bombed by trucks armed with 17 tons of explosive devices. Two-hundred and forty people were killed in the attacks while 4,000 were injured. Twelve of the dead were Americans.
In 2011, Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, who was allegedly responsible for the terrorist attacks and identified as the head of al-Shabaab, a Somali-based extension of al-Qaeda, was killed by Somali police.
The somber moment was soon supplanted with a lively performance by the Baba wa Watoto dance group who performed for an auditorium full of eager school children with impressive acrobatics, song, and dance punctuated with drums. Mrs. Kikwete, Mrs. Obama, and daughters Malia and Sasha sat in attendance toward the back of the venue in a single row.
Tanzania marks Mrs. Obama’s final leg in a three-nation tour of Africa. Initially, the First Lady traveled to Senegal, speaking to middle school girls about success. On her second leg, Mrs. Obama traveled to South Africa and held a Google Plus chat with South African teens and American students. After participating in the African First Ladies Summit on Tuesday, the First Lady will return to the United States.
Women in positions of power, including first ladies Michelle Obama and Laura Bush, joined forces in a summit to focus on improving life in Africa.
Hosted by the George W. Bush Institute, the African First Ladies Summit on "Investing in Women: Strengthening Africa” addressed health, economic empowerment, and education for women Tuesday morning in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
After Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete spoke about the importance of investing in women, first lady Salma Kikwete took to the podium to reiterate the gathering’s goal: "This summit will consider things that are of much significance to the well being of women in Africa, namely education, entrepreneurship, and innovation," she said.
The much-anticipated event featured first ladies from around the African continent, including Matilda Amissah of Ghana, Sia Nyama Koroma of Sierra Leone, Roman Tesfaye of Ethiopia, Janet Museveni of Uganda, Nompumelelo Ntuli-Zuma of South Africa, and Maria da Luz Dai Guebuza of Mozambique.
Laura Bush, attending with husband and former president George W. Bush, underscored the Bush Institute's purpose: "As you might guess, our overriding theme is freedom—freedom from ignorance, our education initiative; freedom from disease, our local health initiative; promoting free enterprise in the free market, our economic initiative. And, of course, freedom from tyranny," she said.
The Bush Institute’s long-term plan to invest in women will lead to a more stable, prosperous world, she said.
Eventually, people stop looking at the bangs and they start looking at what we're standing in front of.
In a discussion between Bush and Obama, moderated by journalist Cokie Roberts, the two first ladies spoke about some of the pressures that come with being in the spotlight and how it is important to be role models for young girls, who tend to be overwhelmed by societal messaging that indicates a female’s looks are far more important than her substance. Obama even mentioned her now-infamous bangs.
"Being able to pursue our passions and do things that not only help our country and connect us with the rest of the world, it's a great privilege," Obama said. "So while people are sort of sorting through our shoes and our hair—and whether we cut it or not—we take our bangs and we stand in front of important things that the world needs to see. And eventually, people stop looking at the bangs and they start looking at what we're standing in front of."
Other prominent speakers explored an array of topics about empowering African women.
Summit sponsor ExxonMobil’s President Suzanne M. McCarron interviewed U.N. Foundation Senior Fellow Mayra Buvinic on the research the U.N. and Exxon found in their 2012 report, "A Roadmap for Promoting Women's Economic Empowerment," which explores interventions that "increase women's productivity and earnings in particular economic and country contexts."
Cherie Blair, the founder of her eponymous foundation for women, and representatives from Women Entrepreneurship Development, Covenant Bank for Women, and Omidyar Network discussed how female entrepreneurs could be best equipped with training and technology. A second panel, moderated by Dr. Jemimah Njuki of Pathways and CARE Tanzania’s Women and Agriculture, explored how to create opportunities to female farmers.
Bush encouraged every African first lady to speak up about issues important to her respective country, which may include Africa’s educational divide. According to a study performed by Achieve in Africa in 2009, 18 million girls in sub-Saharan Africa do not attend school and 50 percent of women older than 25 are illiterate.
McCarron and James K. Glassman, executive director of the George W. Bush Institute, reiterated the importance of education in a Huffington Post op-ed: “Improving educational opportunities for women and girls also yields tremendous benefits. A child whose mother can read is 50 percent more likely to live past age 5. An extra year of primary school increases girls’ eventual wages by 10 to 20 percent, encourages girls to marry later and have fewer children, and makes them less likely to experience violence.”
The event marked the conclusion of Obama’s tour in Africa, which included visits to other countries, including Senegal and South Africa.
KRIBI, CAMEROON — (NEWSONE) Assembled deep in the lush, green hills of Kribi, an untouched beach resort located about 90 miles south of Cameroon’s largest city, Douala, are a group of men, women, and children who simply wait to tell their story. They sit on two spare benches across from each other in a clearing with two ramshackle artifices behind each bench that serve as shelter. The seemingly fragile buildings lack walls; in fact, to call them “buildings” is a clear misnomer because they each have just four posts with a thatched roof.
American journalists have come to the dense region to meet one of Cameroon’s national living treasures as a part of the Africa Travel Association’s 38th Congress, where officials meet to promote tourism in their respective countries. After a brief observation of the initially unfriendly community, though, it is clear that even characterizing their daily life as a “living” is a bit of a misnomer too.
The Baka people are better known as the Pygmies of Cameroon, and they — including dozens of toddlers — are eerily silent as they wait for the customary introductions to proceed. The exchange is awkward and forced, with the Baka appearing disinterested in their new company.
After some prodding, a few of the male spokesmen discuss what life has been like since they were displaced from the rainforest 50 years ago to their current environment. With 45-year-old Paul’s words being translated from his native language to French and then English, a translator says, “He does not use the word [happy] again, because he can’t live his life like he used to do. With the coming of the deep seaport, they cannot go in to the forest for fire or to do hunting. They don’t have animals here, so that is why their activities are reduced, so very soon they will be moving out of here to go back to the forest because of the developments. They are not used to the developments of the place so he is doing very bad here, very bad.”
Paul is doing “very bad” because of the increasing deforestation of his homeland, which has given way to development. In addition, China’s building of the seaport just a brief mini-bus ride away adds to both his and his people’s misery.
But the Bakas didn’t always live this way.
An Ancient People
Pygmies can be found throughout much of Africa, from Uganda to Rwanda to Burundi to the Democratic Republic of the Congo to Botswana to Namibia to Zambia to Equatorial Guinea, and even Gabon. In the Congo alone, between 250,000 to 600,000 Pygmies are said to exist as hunter-gatherers in the rainforest. Their way of life not only respects nature but has always replenished it.
And while Pygmies are most-overtly characterized by their height, they are officially recognized for having the second-most ancient and divergent DNA in the world; the Pygmies have lived virtually unchanged for the last 60,000 years.
And even though one would think that the Pygmies would be viewed and treated as national treasures, disenfranchisement, prejudice, and violence outside of Cameroon has come to dominate much of their everyday lives.
Maligned and Massacred
During the Congo Civil War between 1997 and 1999 and the Rwanda genocide of 1994, Pygmies were reportedly murdered. In the Congo, Pygmies claim that they were the victims of cannibalism with armed men believing that their flesh had mythical powers. In Rwanda, the Pygmies were also said to be slain during the genocide.
Together, 70,000 Pygmies were reportedly murdered during the wars due to the stealing of land, beliefs that they are subhuman, and the aforementioned “magic” they supposedly embody.
And while Cameroon’s Pygmies have not been subjected to the same level of violence and genocide, they would probably argue that they are dying a slow death for not being able to continue to live as their ancestors did. Service Head for Promotional Activities for Cameroon’s Department of Tourism Judith Ewonkem spoke about the Baka’s predicament, “They want to keep their culture; they don’t want to give up their way of life. Even the cars we drive to see them, they don’t like us bringing our cars there. They rarely go to town. They spend almost all of their time in the bush. That’s the only life they know.”
When asked whether she values the traditional life of the Pygmy, Ewonkem said, “I think they should stay as they are because that is their culture, and people travel all around the world just to see them.”
The Cameroonian government has attempted to “modernize” the Baka people by mandating that all Pygmy children go to school, but that hasn’t had the desired outcome, “There was a time when we used to pick them up and take them to school, but it didn’t work. They would still go back to the forest; that is their culture,” Ewonkem said.
Still, according to Eagle Tour Operator Fabian Ekukwe, the government is still looking for ways to improve the lives of the Bakas; meanwhile, they haven’t all shunned school, “While in the past the Pygmies were neglected, I think the [government] finally heard their cry.
“So we have this international organization in Cameroon that trains those who are willing to at least learn something to put in their [minds] and they go back there and teach their people. You have them enroll in universities, and when they come out…you have some who become the director of ministries; they are out there working white collar jobs.”
But that obviously isn’t the experience of the majority.
The government is attempting to relocate the Baka in a settlement 10 kilometers from where they currently reside, but not surprisingly, many of the Baka aren’t keen on going. In fact, Ewonkem says that the reason the numbers are so small at this particular settlement is because many Baka have returned to the forest, and according to Ewonkem, there are just about 200 Baka in the rainforest.
When John was asked why they aren’t looking forward to moving from this area since it doesn’t support their lifestyle, he said, “It’s not better, because we live in folly and poverty. Going there [to the new settlement], we will only be able to farm, and from that, with the forest being destroyed, we aren’t sure of the crops we are going to farm and what animals we will be able to hunt. I am willing to stay here if the government will help us. I am willing to work but they must keep our culture.”
In the late afternoon sun, the Baka form a circle, with some of the men making drumming sounds with sticks that they hit against a narrow log. The women and remaining men begin clapping as each one takes his or her turn to briefly express themselves in the circle.
While some of the previously resigned men and women appear to come to life as the music seeps its way into their souls, the younger generation doesn’t seem as enthusiastic. In fact, they seem to drag their feet on the dirt; their claps are lackluster, and their eyes impart a sadness as if they are fully aware of their precarious future: With no education and an increasingly diminishing forest to subsist on, where is their place in the world and how will they survive?
After 29-year-old Joe is asked about whether he would allow the new generation to go to school, he says, “Yes, they can go to school. We want them to go to school, but we don’t understand or know what they are learning so how can we help them?”
BUEA, CAMEROON — For 38 years, the Africa Travel Association (ATA) has worked to encourage travel to and within Africa with their signature World Congress event, “Cameroon, A Destination to Rediscover: Emerging Products and Niche Markets,” where journalists, travel industry experts, and a diverse array of country representatives take part in panels, gala dinners, country tours, and networking events to promote all things African.
With previous host countries, including Senegal, Zambia, Ethiopia, Tanzania, and South Africa, this year, the West African nation of Cameroon was chosen to host the four-day affair.
Featuring panel discussions on “What’s Happening in Business in Africa Right Now,”"Building the Capacity for Inclusive Tourism Growth in Africa,” and “Leveraging International Media to Change Global Perceptions and Increase African Tourism” — with NewsOne sitting on the panel — the ATA officially kicked off its conference on Thursday beginning with a mixture of traditional dances from the south and east regions, in particular. NewsOne attended the conference on location to explore why Africa as a whole, and Cameroon in particular, are increasingly becoming destinations of choice.
Featured panelists at the kick-off included ATA Executive Director Edward Bergman; Cameroon’s Minister of State and Tourism and Leisure Bellow Bouba Maigari; Uganda’s Minister of State Tourism, Wildlife, and Aniquities Agnes Egunya; Central African Republic’s Minister of Development Tourism and Arts Taib Yacoub; and South Africa Director of New Partnership for Africa’s Development Representative Estherine Lisinge Gotabon.
Offering a warm welcome while establishing the context for this year’s meeting, Bergman explained the importance of tourism in Africa, “We all know that perception is reality, and tourism is the most effective way to change perception.” According to the ATA, Cameroon, which has seen this event held three times previously, saw a 35 percent boost in tourism in 2012.
When asked why Cameroon should be a top destination for the country, Buea-born Gotabon said, “In the first place, Cameroon is very blessed in terms of natural resources. Just the touristic attractions are great. We have the Mountain. You drive 30, 45 minutes; you have Limbe [which is the location of] the Atlantic ocean. You have the K national park. You have the rich heritage, the tradition — there is just so much that we should explore.”
With other countries, such as Zambia, Ghana, and South Africa experiencing surging tourism levels, Gotabon explained why Cameroon is looking to make use of its national treasures as well as what potential impact it could make in her homeland, “The unemployment rate of the country is very high, which is along the same lines as most African countries where you have a lot of youth graduating from universities or technical institutions looking for jobs. And I think this is a sector that can provide jobs, because you don’t only have to look at public sector investment or jobs but you can have heavy private sector investment, and with that, the support you need for job creation for many people along the value chain of the tourism industry.
With its diverse geography, culture, and history, Cameroon hopes to draw the world to its shores. Consequently, Gotabon added, “Cameroon can be a huge destination given its central location and the fact that its a bilingual nation, English and French, it’s a plus. We have a rich cultural heritage; we have like 250 tribes in this country, all with something different that you would appreciate. Looking at the diversity. It is such a rich country. So in my view — all the elements are there to make it work. We need the policy that will help and grow the tourism industry.”
Additional upcoming events include a Young Professionals Program, a keynote address from Nigeria’s Managing Director/CEO of Transnational Hotels and Tourism Valentine Ozigbo; guest speaker CNN Hero Georges Bwelle; and African food festival AfroEats.
LIMBE, CAMEROON — (NewsOne) Tourism has been a priority of the West Central Africa country of Cameroon since 1974, when then-President Ahmadou Ahidjo established the General Delegation of Tourism. Since then, officials have attempted to get the message out about why Cameroon should be a premier destination for tourists worldwide.
Cameroon, which is nestled between Nigeria in the West, Chad in the North, and the Republic of Congo in the East, boasts numerous national treasures, such as the tallest peak in West Africa with Mt. Cameroon, black volcanic sand beaches off the coast of Limbe, the storied Pygmy people, Waza National Park, and the once-powerful Mandara Kingdom from the 1500s, whose distinguished architecture still stands.
Incumbent President Paul Biya likes to refer to Cameroon as “Africa in the Microcosm” for its varying cultures and geography and rich history. Indeed, one look at the mountainous region of the Western Highlands, the rainforests in the South, the Muslims in the North, and the bustling cities of Douala and Yaounde underscore a diversely robust country that has a lot to offer.
Head of Communications in the Ministry of Tourism and Leisure Serge Eric Epoune told NewsOne the context for tourism in Cameroon, “We have lived in a very big economic crisis for more than 10 years. From 1989 to 2000 and even 2001. There were small jobs, but no great investment. When there is not investment, then there is no jobs, no growth. It is now that the powers have decided to invest in the country. That’s why you see the deep sea port of Kribi, which would be one of the maritime platforms of Central Africa.”
A deep sea port is being built by the Chinese in Kribi. Epoune explains what impact this will have on the country, “A port for Equatorial Guinea, a port for Gabon, a port for Cameroon, a port for Chad, a port for Central Africa. It will be a very big platform for development. So in two to four years, you won’t recognize this place.
“[Our tourism program] is a huge program that has been around for at least 20 years. Just because of the economic situation, We could not carry it out, but we are doing it now with the help of our partners, investors, China, France, and if the U.S. wants to come. If England wants to come, then there is a place for everybody.”
Check out some of Cameroon’s top destinations to travel to here:
Nestled in the coastal town of Kribi, which is about 93 miles from Douala, is the Lobe waterfalls. Lobe has the distinction of being the only waterfall that empties in to an ocean. As a visitor, one can get in to a canoe for an up close look at the natural wonder, with its fresh air, clusters of foam that resemble soap bubbles, and its calming rumbling. Afterward, tourists can treat themselves to ornate ankle bracelets, necklaces, waist beads, earrings, and art at the adjacent market. The destination also boasts an outside dining area, where visitors can eat fresh shrimp with plantain, fried banana.
Tourism trainer Aldolphe Simo Kouam discussed the waterfall, “The waterfall is a unique waterfall. It is the only one. About 10,000 people come here in the dry season and about 100 people per day. People should come to Cameroon because Cameroon [offers a lot]. We have the sea, we have the forests, we have the safari. So all that you have in each country [in Africa] is in Cameroon. When people come to Lobe, they can canoe to the sea, they can walk on the beach, they can swim, they can watch wildlife.”
Tea Plantation Factory
The Tea Plantation Factory is located in Limbe on acres and acres of tea leaves with a remarkable mountainous backdrop. The plantation manufactures tea for CTE Tea, Cameroonians’ premier tea company. Visitors can take a tour of the factory watching the leaves get sorted, ground, and dried. At the end of the tour, tourists are rewarded with a cup of hot tea and biscuits to savor the final product.
Limbe Zoological Garden
This zoo has a wide array of primates, such as gorillas and chimpanzees, which have been illegally detained and traded. Visitors can also see cages that the animals lived in before their rescue as well as a moody crocodile and an imposing python.
Started by German horticulturers to grow medicinal plants, the Botanical Garden, is the place to see nearly 1,500 medicinal trees. The amphitheater, though, is a nice treat, because traditional dances in an unexpected clearing that is buttressed by dozens of trees are often performed there.
Bimbia Slave Trade Site
Just as Senegal and Ghana have Goree and Elmina, respectively, Cameroon has Bimbia, the slave port that was active during the infamous Atlantic Slave Trade. Those who want to become educated about the African captive’s experience are immediately thrown in to the era when they are made to walk the same path that the unsuspecting victims walked. Tragically, Africans were drawn to the area because of promises of work at an oil factory that was supposedly located there. Instead, they were forced to remain high up in the mountains until they were loaded on to slave ships…and the rest is history. While you can witness a reenactment of the enslavement of Africans at the site, a moment of silence is all that is needed to either bring one to tears or make one’s skin crawl.
Mefou Primate Sanctuary
In order to counter the illegal pet and bush meat trades, the Mefou Sanctuary takes in orphaned baby primates in order to protect them from harm. While walking through a number of nature trails, one can see chimpanzees and gorillas. The Sanctuary is effective in maintaining an authentic environment for these rescued primates, and thankfully, the word zoo doesn’t even come to mind here.
Located in the town of Mbalmayo, Ebogo Village is a breathtaking respite from the hustle and bustle. After traveling about five miles on a dirt road, one will arrive at the village of Ebogo. The village boasts an outdoor restaurant that serves melt in your mouth avocado, kanga fish, and fried plantain and potatoes. There is lodging that overlooks Lake nyong, with a master, large windows, and a porch. And while the food and lodging appear to be both the icing and the cake, the lake is a heart stopper with mangrove trees, leaf canopies, and a bird soundtrack that is a sure ticket to happiness.