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June 25th, 2010
05:03 AM ET

Pres. Kikwete: "Make them care"

From CNN Saturday and Sunday Morning Anchor T.J. Holmes:

“Make them care.”

That was the directive I got from President Jakaya Kikwete of the United Republic of Tanzania. I was in his country in 2008, my first trip to Africa. I had been invited by the Leon Sullivan Foundation. The Foundation, chaired by Ambassador Andrew Young, is a non-profit group that holds a biennial summit in Africa. The Foundation’s mission and the purpose of the summit are to bring together heads of state and other political and business leaders from all over the world to create partnerships for the betterment of Africa.

“Make them care,” President Kikewte told me at an outdoor dinner in Arusha. His words were echoed immediately by former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo who was standing next to us at the time. “Make them care!” President Obasanjo said it more forcefully than President Kikwete. From Obansanjo, it didn’t sound like a suggestion. It was an order.

“Make them care.” I fear I’m failing at that task.

During that weeklong Sullivan Summit in Tanzania, people from around the world were eager to ask me (the American journalist) whether Americans cared about what was happening in Africa and how much coverage the American press dedicated to Africa. But, President Kikwete didn’t want to ask me about it, rather he chose to tell me what to do about it. “Make them care.”

How do you make people care? Of course, Americans are compassionate folks, and anyone’s heart hurts to see and hear about corruption, crisis, war, hunger, and disease that continue to plague Africa. But, questions remain about how to turn a tangential compassion into concerted calls for action.

Some people argue we are not compelled to act because there’s too great a detachment between the U.S. and Africa. They’ll say we are literally and figuratively worlds apart. And despite our inextricable histories, people in the U.S. just can’t relate to people in Africa.

Others suggest Americans suffer from a bit of disaster fatigue and have become desensitized to what’s happening in Africa. In other words, Americans don’t want to hear about another African child orphaned by AIDS. Don’t want to hear about another civil war. Don’t want to hear about another refugee. Don’t want to hear about another blood diamond. Don’t want to hear about another woman raped in the Congo.

And, let’s face it, if it weren’t for the 2010 World Cup, chances are you wouldn’t be hearing much uplifting news about the continent. As I write this, I did a simple check of the “top stories” in the Africa section of CNN.com. Among them: a yellow fever vaccine shortage, 3 U.N. peacekeepers killed in Darfur, Sudan rebel leaders surrender in court, child graves reveal lead poison tragedy, & lack of funding becoming a threat to Uganda’s AIDS war.

I’ve just returned from another trip to Africa. This time I was in Morocco, a much different place than Tanzania but plagued by many of the same problems, including poverty and an illiteracy rate that hovers around 50%. I was once again traveling with the Leon Sullivan Foundation which is considering Morocco as the site of its next summit.

Americans may know Morocco as a vacation destination with gorgeous beaches or they may know the city of Casablanca which was made famous in the 1942 movie with Humphrey Bogart. But, most Americans probably can’t find Morocco on a map. This Arab country is one of the oldest monarchies in the world and home to one of the largest mosques in the world. It has a rich history it wants to preserve, but it also has a young king who wants to modernize. Unlike some of its North African neighbors, Morocco doesn’t have oil, but it’s just launched one of the largest solar energy projects in the world … a $9 billion project that is expected to provide 40% of the country's energy in 10 years.

During my visit, the wife of a Moroccan government official invited us into their home for lunch. There was a bit of language barrier, but I clearly understood her when she talked about her family. In particular, she was eager to tell me about her two sons who both graduated from U.S. universities. (Michigan St. and U. of Michigan) Both returned home to Morocco after graduation to work. This woman reminded me of my mom and every other mom I know. She was proud of her children and wanted the best for her family. What American can't relate to that?

On a 2008 trip to the U.S., a member of the Moroccan government official broke down the list of major concerns for the future of Morocco like this: availability and quality of education, access to quality health care, fair administration of justice, and alleviation of poverty. What American can't relate to that?

But even if we can relate to the moms and the concerns of Africa, that shouldn’t ultimately be what spurs us to action, according to a 2005 Council on Foreign Relations report. The report said the U.S. must realize Africa’s strategic importance to our own future. In areas of terrorism, energy, and HIV/AIDS, Africa is a vital partner. The report argued that Africa is not a charity case, and it’s counterproductive to view it solely as such. Rather, a comprehensive policy on Africa is in our national interest and would consequentially yield humanitarian benefits.

On countless occasions in my journalism career, I have been in meetings or discussions about what stories will go into a newscast and when a story having to do with Africa comes up, someone will object by saying, “our viewers don’t care about Africa.” Well, if they don’t, that’s my fault.

“Make them care,” Mr. President? I’m working on it.

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soundoff (11 Responses)
  1. Michael Armstrong Sr.

    American's are struggling to hold there own we have alway's been known to be there to support other country's needs but as thing's are America can not afford to rescue other country's in need the American people have been plauged with unfounded disasters of it's own .

    June 25, 2010 at 8:21 am |
  2. Richard Austin I

    TJ, this is major! I ask all the time of my friends how can we help the african people to become more self sufficient. It has to be a concern effort between the goverments, the citizens and business industry. I knew when I travel to S. Africa I felt very safe an could move around easily with out harm. I think if many of the other countries develop safe enviroments other cultures would assist and do more.

    Where there any suggestions as to what type of assistance or care they wanted? Many times I feel the west always want to impose it's believes and culture on other, I would preferr to understand the culture and just bring resource or investment to assist.

    Thanks for sharing this article.

    June 25, 2010 at 9:27 am |
  3. Jeryl

    Africa has great natural resources and people who want to better themselves. Problem is, they have governments that want to keep them in virtual slavery. If African governments would work to develop their resources and put their people to work in gainful employment, it would do much to lift them out of poverty. I fear that most African governments would rather keep all the money and let generous Americans & Europeans give to their people.

    June 25, 2010 at 9:48 am |
  4. Marcella Marshall

    I would love to get in involved with helping Africa. Especially going there to be of assistance in any way I could. Lord knows I have extended my services right here within my own city but to no avail. They make things so difficult to be a apart of. Perhaps Africa would be more appreciative even if it is not in the form of montary.I love helping people, and inspite of what America may be going through at this time, we still have so much more to offer Africa. I can only imagine what the needs of Africa may be, from Education to having a meal, but to actually be there and meet and talk with the people I am sure is a totally different experience. Something I would love to do. Especially the children.

    June 25, 2010 at 9:56 am |
  5. Jim Lewis

    T.J.,

    Great piece! I was in rural Tanzania in September to document the work of a group with which I volunteer, Africa Bridge. Founder Barry Childs has a unique approach to helping that country address the issues of orphans and other most vulnerable children that he developed by asking villagers how they would turn things around. He then brings resources in to help them implement their solutions, including training, start-up funding for agricultural co-ops, etc. He works through the existing Most Vulnerable Children Committees established by the Tanzanian government, but not functioning well in many places. The aim is to create self-sustaining economic communities in each village that funnel money back to the MVCCs to support the children, and then move the model on to another village. In villages where we've been around for a few years, all MVCs are in homes, have adequate food, clothing and shelter, and attend school. It's a marvelous thing to see.

    A research team has just returned from a four-month review of the program and gave us their preliminary report last night. The title of the program was "Africa Bridge: It works." In short, there are things we can do to help, and it does not take a lot of money to do it. It takes a few resources, lots of patience, and the willingness to work within African solutions and culture rather than imposing our own, a la Richard Austin's note above.)

    June 25, 2010 at 10:06 am |
  6. D.

    Teach us to be more aware. Some of this brainwashing is the fact to appear they were helping people improve their lives when people were enslave. How many elementary teachers told the truth to the destruction of well formed and beloved families and religions in Africa? Instead our educators continued perpetuating the lies inorder that Americans could feel better rather than feel the pain of truth and still many chilfren, youth, adults, Americans and others dismiss their own ignorance to a continent that was full until it was shred and practically crumbled families, cultures, histories and the continent in many ways.
    Teach us, TJ. Teach us all. Speak to the children mostly- they are our future.

    June 25, 2010 at 10:22 am |
  7. Mohamed A Nur

    I met the him in arusha Tanzania 2008 and I just want thank him for this bringing this topic to where it is today. africa and african needs trade not Aid.

    Allow us trade with developed world and remove the restrictions on agricultural products especial in EU. remember most of african countries 90% aconomies dependant on agriculture by removig subsideries EU agriculture will make african products compete thus creating more productions of agriculture for expprt and domistic consumtions ofcourse it will create also more employments in rural areas where unemployments is practicalls over 80% and this is where majority of populations live.

    We may have problems in the past slavery/colonilism by blaming the past it does no good to present and future may be it will help few african politicians but the fact of the matter is we need progress and development and this can only be achieved if we allowed to trade on eqqual level i understand we might have industries like china and north emarica but we have the climate the land and organic soul for making agriculture and with incentive and market oppurtunity we can apple to feed ourself and make sell to the rich market

    My president Mr Kikwete said ( Make them Care ). this is has alot meaning let them care enough to trade with us so that can be able sustain ourself. TRADE NO AID

    June 25, 2010 at 2:11 pm |
  8. R.Muriithi

    Hi T.J,
    Nice piece. Nice try with the pictures.
    I do agree with the Presidents' remarks-Make the world care. Often we here of the tragedies that have begotten the continent and perhaps that's what has caused the desensitization-the wars, corruption, civil strife, and the rest of it. Please don't get Me wrong we do need to hear about all these because that's what goes unsaid in the African newspapers so nobody knows how bad it is. But we also need to hear about the good -how people are trying their best to overcome corruption and a bunch of leaders who promise to do their best to represent the people only to get in Parliament and do more damage. I think corruption has been the downfall of the continent. When it comes to monetary help-the governments have these huge portfolios of how they are going to improve the country, they start the projects only to leave them incomplete claiming they need more money but we all know what they did with the money-how many times does one give money with no fruits to be seen? I think education and self-help groups at the grassroot level is the best way to go about it, forget giving money to the government, how much debt are we in? Like the saying goes, 'teach a hungry man to fish and he will never go hungry'. Most of the African people are willing to learn to improve themselves and are tired of seeing the same old thing happen over and over again.
    So, yes a lot needs to be done to make people aware.

    June 25, 2010 at 2:30 pm |
  9. marc ben

    I see more homeless in L.A or in NYC around Times Square or the Union Square area than in Morocco. Also, the 50% rate of illiteracy mentioned in this article is tripled compared to the real numbers. Where did you get that number from? Morocco has issues just like any other country but its economy is one of the fastest growing in the world, faster than any european union country. Its tourism is destroying neighboring european countries such as Spain. Its 5 star hotels and resorts are way above any american 5 star american hotel. Its highway network is very impressive. Morocco is inches away from full modernity and these articles should STOP because you are scaring people away with the intention to distract us, americans, from our inside issues. The point of such articles is lower of the image of other countries and it always has some type of "interests" behind t. This is just like yesterday i was listening to the radio here in L.A and the guy was like: oh the superbowl trophy is much impressive than the world cup of soccer, claiming the world cup of soccer is as big as a bottle of water?! like seriously?? Are we being lied on on television and radios, imagin how many people heard that and would probably repeat it on a trip to europe and be "laughed" on! Oh and FYI The World Cup of soccer (trophy) is 14lbs all in 18K Gold, its the most valuable trophy in all sports. Good fay!

    June 25, 2010 at 2:32 pm |
  10. Renee

    Good piece. We have to be diligent and speak out about injustice and make our voices be heard. We need to put in the forefront, specific needs and need to assist those who are hurting, whether it is here in the U.S. or in the motherland.

    June 25, 2010 at 5:10 pm |
  11. Dea Alaoui

    You know what I was just in Morocco and it's one the Best places I have ever been in, Beaches? obviously you have no idea about Morocco go to the biggest imperial cities in the world wich is Fes and the most exotic city in the world where all the celebrities from all over the world are walking around and both of these cities have no beaches therefor talking about P are eleterate maybe I say maybe but most of them speak 2 languages what about here the highschool grads are so stupid and they can even speak than the worst ignorant people in Morocco.

    June 26, 2010 at 9:13 am |