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Weekly Look At News And Life in Africa

Aired May 12, 2001 - 12:00:00   ET


JIM CLANCY, INSIDE ASIA (voice-over): This week on INSIDE AFRICA, a look at the Diaspora of Africans living outside their countries and beyond the continent - the challenges faced by millions who are building new lives around the globe but still call Africa home.

We will examine the various social, economic and political reasons that spurred them to emigrate. We will also hear what some of the most successful say it will take for them to return home.

We will visit the descendents of slaves who have faithfully preserved their African language and way of life, a way of life now threatened by development.

And we will watch as young people develop new skills as part of their planned journey away from home.

The Diaspora, a continent's diversity spotlighted in this special edition of INSIDE AFRICA.

(on camera): Hello, I'm Jim Clancy. Thank you for joining us.

In this program we want to address just a small part of Africa's Diaspora, the millions upon millions of people who have willingly or unwillingly left their homes in Africa to live in virtually every corner of the globe.

We begin with a snapshot of their history and their lives today.


(voice-over): Africans abroad celebrating their heritage, celebrating too overcoming the history that forced more than 12 million African to the Americas as slaves.

Today, Africans in Europe, Asia or the Americas face far different challenges.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Also, I felt (inaudible) because of different culture. Also, there were (inaudible) here in this country. My country is sort of kind of hard. I miss my country, but for the moment it's safe.

CLANCY: Safety, health care, education, economic opportunity - these are the factors that drive emigration from Africa today.

ASFAHA HADERA, AFRICA SERVICES COMM: Everybody, every country doesn't make it to the United States for many reasons - one is political. In case of Africa, definitely it's political.

CLANCY: The Africa Services Committee helps solves problems for new African emigrants, who number more than 40,000 a year in the U.S., problems with language, culture and employment faced by every newcomer.

MOMODOU KAMARA, GHANIAN IMMIGRANT: I came into this country to pursue the American dream, to go back into academics so I can go to the university.

CLANCY: No matter where they live - Paris, New York, London, or Tokyo - Africans all speak of returning home one day.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am very happy because I am going back home this month.

CLANCY: Virtually every major city in Europe has African enclaves where the sights, sounds and flavors of the continent bubble to the surface of a new home. If most have come to build better lives, most have found it isn't always easy.

ADOBE BING, DIRECTOR, AFRICAN CENTER: I am aware that a lot of people who leave Africa and come to Europe for various reasons, to leave for various reasons, do have a very difficult time.

CLANCY: Perhaps surprising to some, racial discrimination is not cited as a major problem by most African emigrants in Europe or the U.S. Certainly, it remains a problem for some. But the Diaspora today seems more focused on improvements in new lives and homes and the common home they all share - Africa.


(on camera): So just how do Africans deal with the difficulties they encounter as new arrivals in a strange land?

Jim Bitterman tells the story through the eyes of one immigrant in Paris.


JIM BITTERMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is the image most Europeans have of the African Diaspora, a street vendor from an underdeveloped country trying desperately to eke out a living in the developed world.

It's an image that has become more common in the past two decades as despair has grown in Africa and the possibilities to escape it have increased. But that image is not entirely accurate. Many who have left are not at the bottom of the educational, economic ladder, but rather some of the continent's best and brightest.

Take Francois Ndengwe for instance. He came to France from Cameroon more than 20 years ago to put himself through university as a mechanical engineer. He went on to study business at one of France's most prestigious universities. Today he works as a high school math teacher and dreams of returning home to start his own company.

FRANCOIS NDENGWE, AFRICAN EXPATRIATE: Not only do I think, I'm convinced, that I will return to Cameroon and return to Cameroon, I think will change because I'm optimistic.

BITTERMAN: Ndengwe's wife is no less determined. She too is an energetic achiever, who has started her own dress shop in one of the best neighborhoods in Paris. But she is sure one day she will create a much larger company back home.

What stops the couple from following their dreams are their concerns about the lack of security in Cameroon and what Ndengwe describes as the lack of political and economic competition that is at its root.

NDENGWE: When you have competition of ideas, people express themselves freely and the best ideas are taken and people can follow the best ideas. But in our country, it is impossible.

BITTERMAN: At the offices of Afrique Magazine in Paris, Ndengwe's story is an all too common one. The magazine's president says there is a widespread brain drain across the nations of Africa because the most gifted people are driven out.

ZYAD LIMAM, PRESIDENT, AFRIQUE MAGAZINE: Most of these countries are more democratic now than they were 10 years ago, but the standard of living - they have stayed dismal.

So for a young professional living in this country, his only chance is to move away and try to make it on the outside.

BITTERMAN (on camera): Experts estimate 20 percent of Africans now live outside the continent and that countries there would have to double or triple their national incomes over the next 10 to 15 years in order to stop the outflow.

(voice-over): From his perspective far from home, Ndengwe believes, while development aid from the outside can help, more fundamental changes must come from within Africa itself.

NDWENGWE: Africa is not poor. Africa is impoverished and this is not only a difference in semantics. The first reason why Africa is impoverished is in Africa's leadership, is in Africa's leadership. So the change must come first in Africa.

BITTERMAN: Until change does come to the Cameroon, Ndengwe will remain in France, teaching high school mathematics and waiting for the day when he can use his real skills in business and mechanical engineering.

NDWENGE: It is a loss for our country and it is a loss for our family and it is a loss for me.

BITTERMAN: Jim Bitterman, CNN, Paris.


CLANCY: A recent INSIDE AFRICA online "Quick Vote" asked you, African immigrants, about your lives. The number one reason cited for leaving your homeland was better economic opportunities. Sixty percent told us that life abroad has been more difficult.

However 63 percent said if they were given a second chance, they would still choose to emigrate.

Well, the largest movement of Africans across international borders happens within the continent and the majority, an estimated 3.5 million, head to South Africa each year. That high number of immigrants stoked the flames of xenophobia. But as Charlayne Hunter-Gault tells us, South Africans now are embracing the newcomers.


CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It was not the most hospitable treatment of immigrants but South Africa's law enforcement officials said at the time it was necessary. The crackdown netted more illegals than ever before, but it also stirred a simmering xenophobia.

But one year later, from the highest levels, a different tone is being set, embracing an African Diaspora.

THABO MBEKI, SOUTH AFRICAN PRESIDENT: Immigration laws and procedures will be reviewed urgently, to enable us to attract skills into our country.

HUNTER-GAULT: Skills like those needed in this information technology company.

PATRICK GOBONZIZA (ph), SOUTH AFRICAN BUSINESSMAN: So we are building an African metric.

HUNTER-GAULT: Patrick Gobonziza, a native Rwandan, who grew up in Belgium, is developing cheap satellite communications he hopes will connect Africans with Africans throughout Africa.

He and his partner, Felix Ngusi, also Rwandan, say there are some other African countries that offer more than South Africa, but on many things, South Africa can't be beat.

FELIX NGUSI, MEDIA POST: It's the communications, OK, building the infrastructure. If I decide to go to - I don't know - Senegal, OK, I don't have to go via (ph) Paris.

HUNTER-GAULT (on camera): New immigrants also cite South Africa's democracy and the stability democracy has brought. Many immigrants are from countries that have neither or are hostile to those who raise questions about the price of stability.

(voice-over): Like Shadrack Gutto, a professor of law at South Africa's prestigious University of the Witwatersrand. A Kenyan, he got into trouble with his government by questioning what he calls its undemocratic practices.

SHADRACK GUTTO, LAW PROFESSOR: For some of us who were about to be detained then decided that it was better to be outside and fight a free person than to rot in jail.

HUNTER-GAULT: In post-apartheid South Africa, he saw an opportunity to be free and to pursue the freedom that made him persona non grata elsewhere. His job, helping South Africa implement a land reform program he hopes will help it avoid the chaos now facing Zimbabwe.

GUTTO: There is a lot of land from South Africa.

HUNTER-GAULT: And clearly, many South Africans now believe they have a lot to learn from their brothers and sisters in the Africa Diaspora.

Charlayne Hunter-Gault, CNN, Johannesburg.


CLANCY: We're going to take a break here, but just ahead, we're going to take you to one community in the Diaspora that is trying to preserve its native culture as it's done for hundreds of years.



CLANCY: "In Focus" this week museum Kura Hulanda on the Caribbean island of Curacao, exhibits focusing on the trans-Atlantic slave trade, feature an impressive array of original artifacts from the Ghana, Mali and Sunhi (ph) empires. Located on a former slave trading yard, this St. Anna Bay (ph) museum and its research partner, Jacob Dealt Decker (ph) Institute comprise the largest cultural facility in the Caribbean.

Recently, Kura Hulanda hosted the world's first archeological congress on the African Diaspora.


CLANCY: Welcome back. We're going to turn now to a unique community of Africans in the Diaspora - Ethiopian Jews. It was more than 10 years ago that secret airlifts laid the foundation for the Ethiopian community in Israel.

And Jerrold Kessel reports their search for identify continues.


JERROLD KESSEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Surprising - Jerusalem. Reggae hits the holy city - part of the party, people seeking to express their double, treble and quadruple identities.

Young Ethiopian Jews who've become Israelis as part of the 81,000 strong Ethiopian community in the Jewish state and now in search of reaffirmation of their black heritage.

DANI ABEBE, ETHIOPIAN COMMUNITY ACTIVIST: We have a very confused culture. We don't have any Ethiopian culture now in Israel. It's a big problem about culture.

We don't know if we are an Israeli or Ethiopian or African American.

KESSEL: Desi Mudifrao immigrated just four months ago.

DESI MUNDIFRAO, ETHIOPIAN IMMIGRANT (through translator): In Ethiopia, from the moment you're named a Jew and everybody is looking at you as Jew, there was no questioning. You were Jewish and recognized Jewish. But here in Israel, there is all kind of Jews and we don't understand it

KESSEL: Some 25 percent of the community were actually born in Israel after the great majority came in the mid-1980s and early `90s in two dramatic undercover operations.

Now it's a controlled immigration, around 100 arriving each week, all ages and all dressed in white, for the celebratory occasion of coming home.

The first phase of adapting to a new world means Hebrew language classes. Again within the new culture, an African ambience.

Shlomo Mollo, whose job it is to help the newcomers settle in, came as a boy in one of those big dramatic immigration operations.

SHLOMO MOLLO, JEWISH AGENCY: Ethiopia is not an industrial country. To bring these peoples in one day, to move them hundred years in from Africa to Europe, it's a very big change. And then our challenge is to bring these peoples to be equally valued in society.

KESSEL: As Jews coming to the state of the Jews, many were shocked to discover they were on the surface considered unusual.

MOLLO: When I came here the first time I was so surprised to see all of the people that were white. I thought all the people in Israel, they must be also black people like me.

KESSEL: Questions of identify, therefore, remain at the back, often at the front, of their minds.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I was born in Africa. I won't forget that. I came from Africa. But first I am Jewish and then I'm African.

KESSEL: A focus on their African heritage can be a reaction to discrimination felt from other Israelis for whom their color, or slightly different Judaism, sets them apart.

But being different can be positive too.

MICHA ODENHEIMER, ETHIOPIAN IMMIGRATION ASSOCIATION: The African, the Ethiopian in Israel is cool. I mean among younger people I think that the association with Africans, with Ethiopians, in many ways, is that they're beautiful and they're hooked into something that's, you know, that's very current.

KESSEL: Like perhaps reggae.


The positive attitude comes more to the fore the more successful they're integration into Israeli society is, the more successful Israel is in moving from melting pot to a mosaic of cultures and that in turn might make the search by the Ethiopian Jews for their African roots still more intense and more joyful.

Jerrold Kessel, CNN, Jerusalem.


CLANCY: In the United States isolation once sheltered a community of descendents of African slaves. Today Alfonso Van Marsh tells us their lands and lives are threatened by modern development.


ALFONSO VAN MARSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): These Christian worships are part of a dying African culture in the United States. They're known as the Gullah and Geeche people. Reverend George Bryant is one of their leaders.

REV. GEORGE BRYANT, COMMUNITY LEADER: The Gullah and Geeche people are one of God's hidden secrets to the world.

VAN MARSH: Their ancestors were West Africans brought against their will to the sea coast islands of now U.S. states Georgia and South Carolina. They were forced to grow rice and cotton on colonial plantations where the subtropical climate and fertile land were similar to their African homelands.

The Gullah-Geeche lived in relative isolation on the sea coast for more than 300 years.

(on camera): More than 100,000 documented Africans were brought into sea ports up and down the Atlantic coast. They were sold into slavery.

(voice-over): Today, community leaders estimate the Gullah-Geeche population at a little over half a million people. The Gullah-Geeche retained their own culture and African traditions, like weaving sweet grass baskets, strong religious beliefs and spiritual story telling.

BRYANT: Of all of the blacks in America, of all the African Americans living in America right now, the only ones that still have its originality, who still have its culture, who still has its language, is the Gullahs and the Geechees.

VAN MARSH: But that language and way of life is threatened by modern times and the exodus of a younger generation for America's big cities, so threatened that the U.S. National Park Service is investigating how to preserve Gullah-Geeche culture.

The Penn Center, once dedicated to educating former slaves, lobbied for the study.

EMORY CAMBELL, DIRECTOR, PENN CENTER: In an ideal world we plan to gain the respect for diversity, difference between us and as we say in Gullah, between the beenyas (ph) and the comeyas (ph).

VAN MARSH (on camera): And what does that mean?

CAMBELL: Those who have been here and those who are coming.

VAN MARSH (voice-over): It's what's coming to places like South Carolina's Hilton Head Island that threatens the Gullah-Geeche culture most - development, that and food, high priced tourist resorts and retirement communities ,changes that are raising local tax rates and squeezing out land-owning Gullah-Geeche.

BRYANT: Time doesn't stop for nobody. But a lot of the changes that we are doing I wonder sometimes if it's for improvement or if it's really to our downfall.

VAN MARSH: Where Gullah-Geeche once fished with traditional nets, tourists stay on beach properties bolstering developers net worth. Where a poor Gullah-Geeche once worked rice fields, rich retirees work on their game.

What has survived is the perceived positive notion of plantation life. Plantation is actually spun as a business and vacation marketing theme to a mostly white audience.

CAMBELL: The nostalgia of plantation was something that was where you had real comfort and less stress in your life. And I think that's why the term plantation is used much to our - much to our disdain. We don't like that term.

VAN MARSH: The Penn Center isn't adverse to tourists. It's museum caters to educating the public on Gullah-Geeche culture. It's also part of a coalition of community activists teaching Gullah-Geeche to play a greater role in local development plans and politics.

Politics may not be enough to maintain this religious and unique African culture. Reverend Bryant says the Gullah-Geeche's survived slavery, the U.S. civil rights era and other turbulent times. He's praying that a community once taken from its African homeland won't lose its roots once again.

Alfonso Van Marsh, CNN, Wilford County, South Carolina.


CLANCY: There is more to come on this special edition of INSIDE AFRICA. Just ahead, using music to promote unity.

But first here are this week's closing stock numbers.



CLANCY: Thousands of Africans attend college in Cuba and a new school there, attracting even more.

Lucia Newman explains it's because Africans want to play a better game.


LUCIA NEWMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): They're off, huffing and puffing through this grueling physical education training under a blazing sun that's far away from home.

They're from all over Latin America, the Caribbean and Africa, receiving a good university education at the newly inaugurated International School of Physical Education and Sports in Cuba.

VINCENT BALOYAD, SOUTH AFRICA: I came here to study sports because I love my country but there are no (inaudible) country in sports.

NEWMAN: There are students from 23 African nations studying at the school. They are not only learning subjects related to their future careers as sports trainers or teachers, but also Spanish, which they must master in a relatively short period of time.

Musa King (ph), from Gambia says it's hard word but worth it.

MUSA KING, GAMBIA: I've never visited (inaudible) here. We are also family. Do we miss our families back in (inaudible) but we are provided everything here.

NEWMAN: The students say Cuba's reputation as one of the world's top 10 sporting nations convinced them that undergoing the five-year course could help them contribute to their own nations.

NADINE MONGANET, DEMOCRATIC REP. OF CONGO (through translator): In my country sports are not developed at all. When I return home I want to open up a gymnasium to teach aerobics for people who want to lose weight.

NEWMAN: Others are far more ambitious.

TESMA TETA, LESOTHO: I want to participate in many sports in the Olympics to bring a lot of medals home.

NEWMAN: The idea of the school, however, is for its graduates to develop a top quality sports education system in their developing nations, where similar courses don't exist.

(on camera): Once upon a time, Cuba used to train leftist guerillas from Latin America and Africa. Now just like the Latin American School of Medicine, which opened up here about two years ago, this sports school is part of a new effort by Cuba to spread its influence, not its ideology.

(voice-over): The school is the brainchild of President Fidel Castro, who hopes to gain allies in what he calls the battle against a money-oriented sports mentality promoted by rich nations.

FIDEL CASTRO, CUBAN PRESIDENT (through translator): Cuba is fighting almost alone against the repugnant merchandizing of sports, which has nothing to do with amateur competitions, even in the Olympics.

NEWMAN: Cuba is investing millions in promoting its sporting philosophy and while many Cubans may question so much generosity at their expense, for the guest students here, who don't pay a penny, this is the opportunity of a lifetime.

Lucia Newman, Havana.


CLANCY: And now Femi Oke, joining us with her take on the Diaspora. Femi?

FEMI OKE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Thank you, very much, Jim.

My parents left Lagos and traveled to London in 1962. My mother grew up in Nigeria. Here's a picture of mum at school. And here's a picture of my dad in 1962, the year he moved to London. And in this family photo, where am I? Just a twinkle in my mother's eye.

A big part of moving away from home was making sure you sent money back home to your relatives and supported them.

My story today is about another West African who uses her success to support her countrymen.


(voice-over): This is Liberian musician Nimba Burr, bringing the sounds of Africa to stage in the United States. Nimba uses her talent to celebrate African culture.


OKE: She became famous as a young girl in the `70s as the former lead singer for the Liberian National Cultural Troupe. Now she uses her music to spread the message of peace for her troubled homeland.

NIMBA BURR, LIBERIAN MUSICIAN: I want to spread a message wherever I go. All my concerts, at the end of my shows, I always tell them that peace, unity is what we need in our country. In all parts of Africa, in all parts of the world, unity is the key. And we all need to be together and unite to rebuild our nation.

OKE: Nimba also performs to raise funds to help thousands of Liberian refugees in West Africa. She's visited the refugee camps on several occasions and plans to go back in December. This time she will take the supplies bought with proceeds from her latest album.

BURR: It makes me feel real good because helping other people that are in need or that are helpless, that's a good feeling. So I feel very honored to do that for all of the people or for my people.

OKE: Nimba also sings about her life in Liberia, trying to hold on to the memories of her early days as a performer there. Nimba is seeking to keep the memory of Africa alive among immigrants from the continent. At the same time, she's helping those in need and just enjoying singing and performing. She calls it partying with a purpose.


OKE: On that funky note, I will have to leave you.


CLANCY: All right, Femi, thanks for that. That is our report for this week. You know every week when we open our e-mails, we notice how many of you describe yourselves as Africans living abroad. We enjoy your encouragement. And this one was for you.

Hope to see you again soon.




4:30pm ET, 4/16

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