Africa Summit 2004 provides insight into U.S.-Africa relations

UM recently hosted Africa Summit 2004, an event that brought together U.S. State Department policy makers and members of the academic community to facilitate discussion on the future of U.S.-Africa relations as well as provide a local African-American historical perspective.

“I think it is important, especially at this juncture [in history], to talk about U.S.-Africa relations,” said Dr. Edmund Abaka, UM history professor and organizer of the event. “I think a conference like this is the beginning – it will get the conversation going.”

The program began with a tour of historic Coconut Grove conducted by Thelma Gibson, a member of UM’s Board of Trustees. Gibson, 77, is a Coconut Grove native who wrote Forbearance, a chronicle of the African-American experience in Coconut Grove.

“This area used to be called ‘Colored Town,'” Gibson said. “Our community has had many names over the years.”

Dorothy Fields, founder and director of the Black Archives Foundation, conducted the second part of the tour. She said that the main mission of the foundation is to develop a research center that chronicles black history in Miami from 1896 to present.

Kevin Morris, a member of the Black Alumni Association, said he learned things about the community that he had not appreciated while he was in college.

“I lived on campus for four years,” Morris said. “But I really didn’t know the history of the Grove or the other places in Miami – it was nice to learn about my history.”

After the tour, the program featured a conference discussing U.S.-Africa relations. The conference also included a display of traditional African drumming and dancing by the group E=Mc2, as well as speakers from the U.S. State Department.

Phillip Carter III, deputy director, East Africa Bureau spoke about the Bush administration’s agenda for Africa, while Myra Burton, from the Office of the Historian, provided a historical perspective on U.S. relations with southern Africa during the Cold War.

Providing the academic component of the discussion was Dr. Edward Kissi of the Department of Africana Studies at the University of South Florida. A native of Ghana, Kissi provided a different perspective to the discussion.

“U.S.-Africa relations is essentially the relationship between one country and an entire continent,” Kissi said. “This seems to show that traditionally, the United States has not viewed Africa as a particularly important theater.”

Senior Jen Brown felt that the Africa Summit served a very important role on campus.

“I think it’s very important to have a summit like this on campus,” Brown said. “I feel I’m gaining knowledge from all parts of the discussion.”

Senior Jessie Baity, an International Studies major, agrees.

“UM doesn’t have any programs specifically on Africa,” Baity said. “This conference is helpful because it’s allowing me to get to know issues that I may not have a chance to learn about.”

The final two speakers were Nigerian diplomat Rabiu Shehu, of the Nigerian Consulate in Atlanta, and Dr. Phil Omara-Otunnu, the chair of Comparative Human Rights for the United Nations Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization [UNESCO].

Shehu discussed the growing AIDS crisis, while Omara-Otunnu highlighted the human rights situation in places like Congo and Rwanda.

“I think this conference has been successful because it serves a need,” said Steve Dixon, a graduate student in the History Department who helped organize the event. “In the past, some of these issues weren’t addressed.”

For more information about Africa Summit 2004, contact Dr. Edmund Abaka at

Scott Wacholtz can be contacted at