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Africa: Do Not Forget (Clinton Political Director)

08/16/2006 11:19 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

As a Huffington Post contributor, I often see some wonderful writing that does not get enough attention. This piece was written recently for friends by Bill Clinton's former White House political director. - Donnie Fowler / San Francisco

Africa: We Must Not Forget, We Must Not Give Up
By Minyon Moore
Minyon Moore was White House Political Director and Director of Public Liaison during the administration of former President Bill Clinton.

I am a proud daughter of the African Diaspora. Born and raised in Chicago, and working in Washington, D.C. I always dreamed of visiting Africa, but I never had the opportunity until I traveled there with President Clinton in March of 1998 - a two-week trip that marked the first time in more than 20 years that an American President had visited sub-Saharan Africa.

This past July, I went back - once again with a delegation of Americans and Europeans headed by Clinton but without the fanfare accompanying a President. In a hectic seven-day, seven-country tour, we visited health clinics, agricultural projects, and met with presidents and their cabinet ministers.

As thrilling as it is to travel with a President and meet with other heads of state, what I remember most from both visits are the children and the young people of Africa. I'll never forget the little boy in Ghana, eight years ago, who risked being lost in a crowd of 100,000 people so that he could shake hands with President Clinton. I was inspired by the young people who waved American flags during our visit this year, despite how controversial and isolated our country has become throughout the world. And, I still see the images of the children, without shoes and in worn clothes, who ran alongside our motorcade-- rejoicing, laughing, and dancing. Their eyes full of life - and hope. I wondered if they knew how desperately poor they and their countries are. I thought, how can these children be so excited and have so much hope amidst so much despair? If they aren't giving up hope, then how can we?

According to the World Bank, throughout Sub-Saharan Africa, 218.6 million people - 39.1% of the population - live on less than a dollar a day. According to the United Nations' Human Development Report in 2003, the poorest 25 nations in the world were all in Africa.

This terrible poverty challenges all of us - from Africans to their kinfolk in the Americas and people of conscience all around the world. For the Africans, the question quite likely is, "What can we do for ourselves?" For everyone else on this planet, the question should be, "What can we do as people of good will to help them see a brighter and healthier future?"

That question has preoccupied Bill Clinton since his final years as President and during the six years since he left office. Without the media attention that the critics and cynics would have expected, Clinton has been addressing this issue here in the U.S. and around the world --how to work with poverty-stricken communities and provide people with the tools, to build better lives for themselves.

In Africa, it's apparent that there is one overwhelming obstacle to people surviving, much less succeeding. AIDS is still a pandemic in Africa, cutting short people's lives and jeopardizing entire societies and economies. According to the World Health Organization, only 9 of the 53 African countries have life expectancies of 50 years.
For the past few years, the Clinton Foundation has been working with pharmaceutical companies and African governments and health care professionals to reduce the costs of HIV/AIDS drugs and diagnostics, and to develop and implement plans to deliver tests and medicines to people with HIV/AIDS. During Clinton's trip to Africa in July, we saw how these efforts are saving people's lives, especially children. In Lesotho, a small landlocked country in southern Africa, where over 24% of the population is infected with HIV, almost all the people have been tested for the virus. I spoke with women whose children are taking anti-AIDS medicine - and they are alive, active, and healthy.

Africa's problems and promise involve much more than AIDS. As with poor countries and communities everywhere, poverty results from and is reinforced by a web of problems - poor education, a lack of jobs, the lack of viable industries, a shortage of investment capital, and, ultimately, an absence of hope.

Many of these challenges were addressed throughout the week and at the Leon H. Sullivan Summit. This Summit continues the work of the visionary African American minister who strived to build bridges between the African Diaspora and the continent.

At that meeting, attended by African Americans and Africans, Clinton explained why Africa's challenges require a collective response, not only by entire countries but by the entire world. "If you look at the miracle economies of Asia, it is not only hard work but the opportunity to be part of a system that will reward your intelligence and hard work," he said. In Africa, he continued, a system needs to be designed "to improve life, per capita income, agricultural productivity, health, education, energy and water and sanitation."

Two days before, we had seen how such a system can be created through a new kind of development assistance. We were visiting Malawi, a southeast African nation, with a population of 11.6 million people, 85% of whom live in impoverished rural areas and whose annual income is about $160 - less than 50 cents a day. Together with the Scottish philanthropist Sir Tom Hunter, Clinton has launched a $100 million initiative targeted directly to rural communities to help them improve their own farming, schools, sanitary facilities and water supplies.

We attended the dedication of the pediatric cardiology wing of the Johannesburg Hospital, which has been named for the late Walter Sisulu, a freedom fighter who had been one of Nelson Mandela's closest friends and allies. When Mandela himself walked through the door, we found ourselves not only participating in the dedication but also the 88th birthday celebration for the first freely elected President of post-apartheid South Africa. While his body is frail and his walk is slower, his mind is alert. Later in the day, he regaled us with the story of how he had been released from prison and allowed to wear a business suit for the first time in decades in order to meet with President Botha in July, 1989, a month before the aging apartheid advocate resigned and made way for F.W. DeKlerk, who would put the country on the path to peaceful change.

Before heading back to the United States, we visited Monrovia, Liberia. The newly elected President, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, held a town hall forum for young people to talk with Clinton about his foundation and how it would directly help and work with the young people of their country. Sirleaf, an economist who faced down violent and dictatorial forces in her country and ended up beating a soccer star in a free election, is an extraordinarily competent and courageous leader.

But our visit to Liberia offered a distressing glimpse of the problems the she and her country are confronting. When we landed at the airport and began to travel down a long road where, as far as the eye could see, there were small shacks and unspeakable devastation. Once again, we saw the children - children wading in the water because it had rained all day, and the area had begun to flood.

I kept asking myself: In a country that has no electrical grid and runs mostly on generators, what happens when night falls? Where do the children sleep? How do they keep themselves from being bitten by disease-carrying bugs? Where does their food come from? Will these children ever see a book in their lifetime? Will anyone understand that they are God's children, too? At one point I had to simply close my eyes and repeat the words of the African American anthem, "God of my silent tears."

That is why it is so important that resourceful people from outside Africa - among them, Oprah Winfrey, who is building a school for girls in South Africa, Bill and Melinda Gates, who are making Africa a focus of their foundation, Alicia Keys who is working to build a medical facility in Durban, Ambassador Andrew Young, Sir Tom Hunter, philanthropists Frank Giustra and Karlheinz Kogel, Chris Tucker, Cicely Tyson, and Bono, to name a few - are all trying to help the people, as partners and not as patrons.

But it is also important that so many lesser-known people, with enormous energy but limited finances are also helping, as volunteers in Africa or as contributors here in America. Even if we only donate to the Clinton Foundation, Africare, Oprah's Angel Network or charity of your choice, we all can help. Go to your local church or go online and find an organization so that you can volunteer. Visit Africa, you will see first hand the amazing resiliency of these children. No matter how big or small your contribution, you can make a difference.

We all should remember what a blessing it is to have a decent meal, sleep in a warm bed, have shoes on our feet, clothes on our backs, and hope in our hearts. Even now, with the world's attention turning to the Middle East, we must not forget about, or give up on, Africa. Think of the children. I won't forget them.

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