We’ve just landed in Cyprus – a whirlwind week of ricocheting around southern and eastern Africa behind us. A few weeks ago, President Clinton honored me with an invitation to join him in a tour of projects the Clinton Foundation is undertaking in South Africa, Mozambique, Rwanda, and Uganda. As I’ve been working in Sierra Leone for the past 10 years on issues like those he’s addressing, I leapt at the chance.
Since 1996, I’ve traveled to Africa dozens of times to visit one country or another. Every trip has been unique in its impact on me – invariably leaving me feeling more deeply connected to my own humanity and to the humanity of others.
During my first trip – to Senegal – I told myself I’d like somehow to involve myself on the continent – to help, if I could – but also to retrieve pages of history missing from the book of my life. But no longer does the past makeup the foreground of my vision during my travels, and neither does the present. With increasing intensity, more predominant than either is the future.
I work hard to see Africa as it is. I caution against romanticizing too much and viewing it through a hyper-idealistic lens that distorts actual realities until they match my preconceptions. Likewise, I avoid negativity and defeatism. Extreme suffering may be found in numerous places, true, but once one recognizes the strengths of the African people, their cultures, and their land, solutions to the greatest of challenges appear across the landscape like the omnipresent terraced farms carved into the graceful, rugged hills of rural Rwanda.
Those solutions then require an environment in which to germinate and sets of nurturing hands to guide then toward maturity. Enter President Clinton. To exercise his tremendous convening powers, in 2005, he created the Clinton Global Initiative as a partnership-oriented breeding ground for such solutions. I’ve attended every CGI meeting since the inaugural, trying to absorb as much knowledge as I’m able and perhaps share a little in return. I’ve built relationships with talented people from around the world who are focused on similar issues – numerous attendees have assisted me variously in my work, but none more so than President Clinton. He leads the CGI charge with a supreme intellect, a boundless curiosity, and a fierce drive to effect positive change in the world. I thought CGI had familiarized me with his work, but only now, having seen it first hand these past days, have I become fully appreciative of the magnitude and power of his engagement.
The secret of his success is partnership, and the partnership he and the people of Rwanda have forged is singular and historic. President Kagame’s visionary leadership in the post-conflict reparation of Rwanda compares to the legacy of President Nelson Mandela on whose birthday we touched down in Kigali on Wednesday.
Our first visit was to The Butaro Cancer Center – a leapfrog evolution in Sub-Saharan African cancer care made possible through a partnership of the Rwandan government, Partners in Health (PIH), the Jeff Gordon Children’s Fund, The Dana Farber Foundation and the Clinton Foundation and with contributions from the finest medical schools in America – from Harvard to Howard to Yale.
When one considers what might have been found at the Butaro site 18 years ago, the hospital, built by Rwandans and designed by Mass Design Group, is simply a miracle – a 120 bed modern hospital serving 340,000 people who previously went without.
To those who ask, “Why Rwanda or any other African nation, when we have so many challenges to address in America?” I say, first, that America has thankfully avoided a threat to its existence analogous to what Rwanda experienced late last century. Secondly, increased American capital investment in a now stable and dynamic Rwanda (on the fourth Saturday of every month, Rwandans voluntarily clean their country for five hours!) can work to drive economic growth in both countries. The same can be said of nations across Africa – a stronger Africa can further strengthen America. President Kagame and the Rwandan people are seeking capable, committed partners and have found one in President Clinton – there’s ample room for more.
Speaking today at the National Medical Store pharmaceutical distribution center in Entebbe – which is supported by the Clinton Health Access Initiative, and which inventories all medical supplies distributed in the country’s public health sector – Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni praised President Clinton’s partnership efforts with Africa, emphasizing the opportunities created by AGOA, first passed in 2000 during the President’s second term, in promoting bi-lateral trade between the U.S. and Africa. He reminded his American audience of the value of seeing the now one billion African people as potential consumers as opposed to seeing only victims and liabilities against American strength.
African leaders everywhere are delivering that same message. At each opportunity, President Koroma of Sierra Leone, the global exemplar of post-conflict democracy building, articulates that his country is “open for business.” Some are hearing his call – SL's GDP is scheduled to expand by 32.5 percent this year!
But the benefits of increased investment and economic growth in Africa must be wide-reaching if Africa’s optimal potential is to be realized. By providing a consistent market to an initial 12,000 small-scale Rwandan soybean farmers, the Mount Meru Soyco site in the Kayonza district, which is supported by the Clinton Hunter Development Initiative, is assisting President Kagame’s development agenda. We visited the site yesterday. Those American agribusiness multinationals who will drive President Obama’s $3 billion New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition should hungrily embrace the chance to do the same sometime soon for insight into why the inclusion of small scale farmers is so critical. President Kagame would doubtless welcome that. President Clinton, too
We try through our work in Africa at Taia Peace Foundation to partner with local communities in catalyzing lasting positive socio-economic development. When we succeed, I will owe a massive debt of gratitude to President Clinton for his example. But truthfully, I owe him that now for the gift that has been this past week and for his life altering lessons on living what Martin Luther King called “a committed life” – in which the needs of the many are not ignored in favor of the desires of the few. What we saw today alone was sufficient inspiration: the children of the Building for Tomorrow school of Bubeezi – constructed by their parents – that now have a place in which to exercise their minds properly; that child in Kampala who, owing to the Starkey Foundation’s partnership with the Ugandan Ministry of Health, heard for the first time his mother's loving voice; and, of course, young Bill Clinton Kaligani, who, at the Entebbe Airport, reunited with his namesake after 14 years, and, with his mother, met with him privately for what seemed like an hour, discussing – if I might hazard a guess – the future.
Somewhere in a section of Dakar called Golf 16 years ago, I heard a song sung as I played djembe with a group of local musicians. The melody hooked me; I asked a friend to translate the lyrics from the Wolof. “Be good to your mother,” he said, “be good to your father, but, above all else, be good to yourself, for tomorrow’s coming!” If you are reading this, please spread this message wide: be good to yourself – see the new Africa – the one President Clinton and President Kagame see…latch onto it. Africa’s tomorrow has come.