Nov. 16, 2004
|A UMNS photo by Erik Alsgaard
Tanzanian Ambassador Gertrude Mongella meets with (from left) the Rev. Charles Stith, the Rev. Chester Jones and Jim Winkler.
By Erik Alsgaard*
(UMNS) — Africa is the "continent of the future," and the United States
should not ignore it, said the president of the new Pan-African
Parliament, in a meeting with United Methodist leaders.
Mongella, who is also ambassador from Tanzania, met for nearly two
hours Nov. 11 with a small group of social justice and advocacy leaders
in the United Methodist Church.
"Africa is going to be the continent of the future," Mongella said. "We are rich in both human and natural resources."
Despite that richness, she said, many people feel that the United States is ignoring Africa.
"It is very immoral to ignore people," she said. "You, the United States, cannot close your eyes to Africa."
United States is very powerful, she said, noting that even in small
villages of her home country, people were "engaged" in the recent U.S.
presidential elections. "That doesn’t happen if you’re a nobody," she
are frightened about the U.S.," she continued. "What’s next? Will the
U.S. march into Tanzania any time today? Or will they ignore us
Mongella and the United Methodist leaders discussed Africa’s place in
the world, they also addressed how the church can play a positive role
in areas such as Sudan’s Darfur region or the Ivory Coast, which have
been torn by violence.
had a chance to talk about what’s happening in the Ivory Coast and in
the Sudan and all across Africa," said the Rev. Chester Jones, top staff
executive with the denomination’s Commission on Religion and Race,
after the meeting. "One of the things that becomes clear is that we,
even as a church, need some kind of comprehensive plan and policy as we
deal with issues around the continent of Africa."
The commission, along with the United Methodist Board of Church and Society, co-sponsored the ambassador’s visit.
sometimes known as "Mama Beijing" for her role as chairwoman of the
fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995, met the group Nov.
11 in Washington at the United Methodist Building on Capitol Hill.
U.S. ambassador to Tanzania and himself a United Methodist, the Rev.
Charles Stith introduced Mongella. The goal of bringing her to the
United States, he said, was to enable her to present the vision of the
parliament. Mongella, born on the island of Ukewere in Lake Victoria in
then-Tanganyika, has represented her country in a variety of national
and international settings.
Pan-African Parliament, an organization with 202 legislators from 41 of
the 53 member states of the African Union, will have consultative and
advisory powers in Africa, with the aim of evolving into an institution
with full legislative powers. Mongella was elected its president March
Mongella said that too often Africa is mentioned with a negative slant in the media.
"Is Africa a hopeless place?" she asked. "No, it is not, but we have learned to talk of Africa only in such terms."
Africans, she said, have grown tired of reading about themselves in
purely negative tones. "People need to see the positive side of Africa,"
agreed. "There are a lot of good things that are being done in Africa,"
he said. "The media’s going to print what the people are buying, so we
really have to look for the positive news as we work toward the future."
success story is United Methodist-related Africa University, with its
impact on educating people across the continent, Jones said. He noted
afterward that Mongella affirmed the school, based in Mutare, Zimbabwe.
was the thing that she lifted up as being so important in terms of the
continent of Africa, and we know that if we can’t educate our folks, we
really cannot empower and liberate them," Jones said. "We’re grateful
for what the church is doing in terms of working with the central
conference bishops. We’re doing much more than we thought we were." The
central conferences are regional units of the church in Africa, Europe
everybody reading and writing is very important," Mongella said during
the meeting. "But how do you make it effective and affordable?"
the United States, items such as pencils and paper are taken for
granted, she said, but in Africa they can be scarce commodities. The
same goes for books.
is physics, either here (in the United States) or in Africa," she said,
as an example. "And yet, we often have only one textbook for 50
children. Here, books are thrown away when they get tired or old. We
could use those books."
to a question about "brain drain," Mongella said it is better to have
people educated than not. Africa must find ways to bring people back
after they have been educated abroad, instead of having them move away
from Africa, she said.
For Jones, the issues about education work both ways.
need, as a church, to become educated as to what the issues are in
Africa," he said. "We can’t teach what we don’t know, and we can’t lead
where we won’t go. It’s time for us to become educated about what the
real issues are that are going to empower the people as we look to the
future. I’m just grateful for the church and all that it does to help us
Alsgaard is co-director of communications for the Baltimore-Washington Conference, and managing editor of its newspaper, UMConnection.
News media contact: Tim Tanton, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.