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Florida And The Grassroots Constituency For Africa

Gregory Garland, Chief, Press and Public Affairs Office for African Affairs
Tallahassee-Africa Sister Cities Committee Africa Awareness Month International Conference
Florida A&M University, Tallahassee, FL
March 17, 2008

Good afternoon. It is an honor to be here today in Tallahassee and at Florida A&M. It is especially pleasing to be in Florida and to talk about and listen to something that’s music to my ears – Florida and Africa. I grew up in Lakeland, and my parents still live there. In the1990s, I worked for the Jacksonville International Relations Commission, which oversees Sister Cities and promotes international trade. I have watched from Washington, Mexico and Africa this state’s growing sophistication with reaching out oversea.

I will discuss the outlines of U.S. policy in Africa, its support for the vision of NEPAD, and the bigger picture of what I call a grassroots engagement of Americans with Africa, focusing on Florida.


I’d like to start with a story. Once upon a time, there was a man from Florida who like more and more people nowadays, decided to research his family history. He found out that one of his direct ancestors, and Virginian by the name of Spencer Pickett, had received a grant from the Spanish king back in the 1790s. Something happened on his way there: he and his family shipwrecked somewhere south of St. Augustine. His wife and child perished in the wreck. Spencer managed to put the loss behind and claim his land in Duval County. This all very good, thought our researcher. So far, so good. A solid Virginia lineage settling Florida early on.

He looked a bit deeper to find other children by Spencer. It seems that Spencer married again in Florida. That was only natural. She was Spanish, from St. Augustine; her name was Maria Magdalena Pons, his direct ancestor. She was of Minorcan background, like so many who had settled in Northeast Florida. So our researcher, this is interesting. Now, I have a link to Old St. Augustine and Spain. Spain and Old Virginia, well that says a lot about Florida in the early 19th century.

But, our researcher was still not satisfied. He wanted to know about what all these ancestors did, and where they lived. Mostly, they stayed in Florida, and mostly in the Jacksonville area, but some spread around to other parts of the state.

But one day, he came across found something curious. Looking at the 1880 census, he found the Picketts right here in Leon County. No less than Spencer Pickett himself and his son, Spencer Junior, along with the rest of a family, including Henrietta, in her 70s and born back in Old Virginny. Now, Spencer is not the most common name, so our researcher thought he was on to something important.

There was just one issue. This Spencer Picket had a “B,” instead a “W,” by his name. B for black. After some more research, he came to the realization that this Spencer Pickett and the original Spencer Pickett had linked together by slavery, and possibly by blood.

That researcher was me. I realized that my own family history tied together three great strains of Florida’s past: the Anglo, the Spanish, and the Africa. I realized than and there that if we are to understand this great state. We must understand the pieces of the puzzle.

I tell you this story because there are many people in this day and age are started to seek out their pasts. Many, not just me, but many – black, white and brown – are finding what I have found. We now are looking with ours eyes wide at who we are, and where we have come from. And what we are isn’t always in the history books.


The history books tell you about the Anglo part. One day Andrew Jackson marched into Florida, and the next we paid Spain a few million dollars, and Andrew Jackson became our first governor.

The books tell you about the Spanish part. Why my own grade-school text in Lakeland was actually called La Florida. Ponce de Leon came looking for the Fountain of Youth, claimed it for Spain, and later on St. Augustine was established as the oldest European settlement in the USA.

They told how Florida seceded to fight for states rights, but then we skipped over the rest to hear about inventing air conditioning in Apalachicola, draining the Everglades, Flagler and Plant’s railroads, tourism, Miami Beach, Palm Beach, cigar makers and other inflows from Cuba, and suddenly Florida is the third biggest state in union.

They didn’t tell me anything about Africa. They didn’t tell that there were more slaves in Florida, more black slaves, than whites in 1860. They didn’t tell me that me that there were black people – slave and free – in Florida more than forty years before the English settled Jamestown, Virginia, and half a century before the first Africa landed in Virginia.

They didn’t me that Florida – Spanish Florida – was a land of freedom for any slave who managed to escape there from Georgia or South Carolina, and that under Spanish rule, Africans and their descendants could be treated as equals to whites under the law and in the Catholic Church.

They didn’t tell me that a major motive for American military incursions into Florida was to recover escaped slaves. That Andrew Jackson, one of the largest slaveholders in Tennessee, was outraged that blacks could live freely and arm themselves in Spanish Florida, so he ordered an illegal intervention to destroy these communities.

They didn’t tell me that Spanish Florida’s greatest planter and slaveholder, Zephaniah Kingsley, was married to an African princess, and raised a large mixed-race family that he had relocated to the North, to Haiti, and Liberia for fear of “American” rule that would destroy his own family.

They didn’t tell me about a town called Angola, located on the Manatee River near modern Bradenton, a town a thousand of blacks, mostly escaped slaves that was destroyed on orders of Andrew Jackson.

Or that blacks – runaway slaves – fought side-by-side with the Seminoles against the U.S. Army in three of the bloodiest wars ever that wrote the original book on counterinsurgency and resulted in ethnic cleansing long before that term existed.

These are stories, this is the history I had to learn on my own. I can thank Stetson Kennedy, whose WPA epic from the 1930s, Palmetto Country, drew a picture of this great state I had never seen before. I had to discover on my own that great Florida writer, Zora Neale Hurston, who every day lived the nexus between Florida, the Caribbean, and Africa. I can thank two historians with ties to Florida A&M for their groundbreaking work and about slavery and African Americans in Florida: Larry Rivers and Canter Brown.

This is the story of Africa and Florida, of an engagement between this state and the great Continent.

The Florida-Africa story as I’ve indicated, and as you know, is an old one. Take a look at the map, and you notice how nicely Florida fits up against Sierra Leone and Liberia. Continental drift theory has demonstrated that geologically, Florida and West Africa were once one. Go to West Africa today, and you’ll see a familiar landscape of mangrove swamps, palmetto scrubs, piney woods, and brackish and blackwater rivers.

Africa and America have been linked intimately for four and half centuries. It is one of the tragedies of history that it was the slave that brought us together. It is one of the glories of history that the descendants of those Africans transported to America not only built our country, but by their very strength, have defined who we are as a people, socially, culturally, and – not least of all – morally. That relationship began right here in Florida in 1565.

It’s taken us a long time to catch up to the reality of Africa.

Let me turn to the 20th century.


For the United States, Africa for too long was on the margins of U.S. foreign policy interests. In World War II, Africa was a strategic stepping stone to the places that mattered in Europe. In the Cold War, Africa was a sideshow to the struggle that mattered -- in Europe and East Asia. Even as we Americans set in place well-intentioned economic development policies, it was too often with the idea of doing good for Africa, rather than with Africa.


All that has changed. In 2001, the U.S. changed its foreign policy strategy, a move long overdue with the close of the Cold War. We decided not to rank U.S. interests according to the traditional hierarchy of regions. In that ranking, Europe was considered a vital national security interest, Asia and the Middle East important, and Latin America and Africa mainly of humanitarian interest. We no longer operate according to this hierarchy.

Instead, the U.S. has implemented a strategy to operate more effectively in a world where non-state actors, and illegal trans-border activity, can pose essential threats to even the most powerful of countries.


Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has applied this vision to her strategy of transformational diplomacy.

The goal is to develop a network of well-governed states capable through responsible sovereignty of protecting themselves and contributing to regional security. By so doing, they also protect the international system.

She has described her approach as "doing things with people, not for them." Note the key prepositions: with, not for. In a word, this means partnership. This vision supports African leadership as strategic partners and seeks to build up Africa's institutional capacity. In other words, doing things with Africans, not for them.

We believe this vision dovetails with Africa's own growing emphasis on the values of freedom, the rule of law, and collective security, as embedded in the African Union's New Partnership for African Development. The New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD) Peer Review mechanism reinforces African leaders' own efforts to promote democracy and good governance among their peers.

The U.S. understands that there are new, rising strategic powers around the world, including Sub-Saharan Africa. Nations such as South Africa and Nigeria that have used their diplomatic, economic, and military power to shape the continent for the better. Mali, Mozambique, Liberia, Botswana, Benin and many other African countries are leading the way as examples of the power of democratic rule of law.

We are pursuing the shared goal of ending conflict in Africa by supporting African conflict mediation and strengthening African capacities to mitigate conflict and carry out peace support operations. To do so, we work directly with lead African mediators, bilaterally with African governments, and multilaterally with the African Union, the United Nations, and African sub-regional organizations. To put it more simply, we support African leadership and African solutions to African problems.

There is considerable evidence that this approach works. We've had success working with African partners in ending six conflicts in six countries in six years: Liberia, Sierra Leone, Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, and the Sudan North-South conflict.

The United States has been a major supporter of peacekeeping, humanitarian, and development programs in Sudan, contributing over $4 billion in assistance in the last couple of years, including to southern Sudan, where we are helping the southerners see a peace dividend after 22 years of civil war.

The terrible conflict in Darfur continues, but we are thankful that the international peacekeeping force we called for is finally deploying. We saw a major milestone late last year, when authority was formally transferred from the African Union-led peacekeeping force in Sudan (AMIS) to the hybrid United Nations/African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID). We are working with our African partners and the broader international community to ensure deployment of the full force as rapidly as possible.

In Somalia, where the African Union is responding aggressively to meet peacekeeping needs, we continue our efforts to support strengthening the African Union peacekeeping force, or AMISOM. The entire Burundian contingent now is in place in Somalia, an important signal of progress.

In the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, we have worked closely with the Great Lakes countries (Congo, Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi) and the United Nations to resolve a prolonged and terrible conflict.


Contrary to impressions that many have, let me say that Africa is doing well now by traditional economic criteria. In 2006, the economy of all sub-Saharan Africa grew by 5.5 percent -- the same rate the world economy grew. Put differently, twenty-three African nations grew at a rate faster than 5 percent. Only one – Zimbabwe – failed to grow at all.

U.S. policy seeks to support and sustain that growth over the long term. It has become a truism that trade is the best aid. Creating the basis for a healthy, open trading relationship with Africa is a key objective.


The African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) has brought increased trade flows and new industry to Africa. Thanks in part to AGOA, two-way trade between the U.S and Africa has risen from $29 billion in 2000 to over $71 billion last year. In just one year, 2005-6, U.S. exports to sub-Saharan Africa rose by 17 percent (to $12 billion). Imports from Africa also rose by 17 percent (to $59.2 billion).

These figures didn’t happen by chance. AGOA has helped jump-start the rise in bilateral trade. AGOA has become the cornerstone of our trade and investment policy in Africa. It was and is a great idea that has worked.


I said that it is crucial to support Africa's quest for building accountable democratic institutions. To succeed in the global economy, nations need fair and transparent legal systems; free markets that unleash the creativity of their citizens; banking systems that serve people at all income levels; and a business climate that welcomes foreign investment and supports local entrepreneurs.

We're doing this through a new program, the Millennium Challenge Account. This program works in countries that have already demonstrated commitment to fight corruption, implement democratic reforms, invest in health and education, and promote economic freedom. African governments -- not Americans -- must come up with ideas, a change in our way of doing development. Once again, we seek a partnership of equals, Americans and African, where Africans take ownership and responsibility.


True commitment means dealing with health: notably, the terrible killing machines of AIDS and malaria. And the place to start is partnership with ministries of health, working with African leaders in their effort to battle disease.


We have taken on Africa’s most daunting health challenges. President Bush’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) was launched in 2003 as a five-year, 15 billion dollar program to combat HIV/AIDS in 15 countries, 12 of them in sub-Saharan Africa. A few months ago, President Bush doubled this commitment to $30 billion over ten years.


For too long the West has turned a blind eye to malaria, which no longer exists in the developed world but is the #1 killer of Africans. We have begun to right that wrong.

The President’s Malaria Initiative, a 1.5 billion dollar initiative to fight this disease in fifteen African countries. This includes insecticide treated bed nets, indoor spraying, and life-saving anti-malaria medications.

To take one case, Zanzibar: This year -- the second year – Malaria has nearly been wiped out on the historical island of Zanzibar in East Africa. That show what commitment, resources, and existing knowledge can accomplish.


I started today by relating a personal story of my own discovery of my past.

Multiply that by thousands of people beginning to understand that, and the influence they have on many more.

I have spelled out to you so far U.S Africa a policy and how that has evolved over five decades to the concept of partnership, reversing the fact that in the past we marginalized the continent. Partnership as a basis for U.S. policy and as the fundamental objective of NEPAD.

Likewise, the American public has largely ignored Africa. That is changing.
It is changing in part because of television: African images are beamed to our living rooms every day, images usually but not always of disaster. Danny Glover, George Clooney, Angelina Jolie, and Mia Farrow have used their celebrity status to make the world pay attention to Darfur. Quincy Jones is doing the same with Rwanda.

But the most important story, I submit, is here at the grassroots. It is you in this room, in this great state of Florida, and all around this country. It is a phenomenal swelling of interest by Americans in Africa, and African in America.

It the understanding, four centuries slow to come, that Africa matters, not just because it may be strategic or a source of vital minerals; not just because much of what we consider American art, music, dance, history, and even our own language came from or was molded by Africa; not just because 13 percent of Americans are African-American, and perhaps twice that many carry African blood in their veins.

It is changing because of a remarkable series of commercially-successful films - like Blood Diamond and Hotel Rwanda. They depict a vibrant, vital face of Africa even in the midst of tragedy, films that are made in Africa, use African actors, and that make all of us want to know more about and even visit the continent.

It is changing, too, because, at long last Americans are beginning to understand that Africa is part of who we are as a people, and for more than four centuries has challenged this country to live up to its ideals.


Your efforts here today in this conference are testimony to that grassroots force. Florida A&M, like all HBCUs, have been there from the beginning, reminding those of us n the federal government, in the State Department, of Africa. You were there are there dealing directly with Africa, when it was an afterthought in Washington.

The Florida-West Africa Linkage Institute is a model for this kind of grassroots international relations. Florida A&M, Florida Community College, and the University of North Florida deserve praise for reaching out across the ocean to these rising nations. You are surely bringing us full circle to the links that started so long ago in the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

Since I worked for the City of Jacksonville, I would be remiss not to mention the remarkable individual work that has gone on that community and in Northeast Florida. I was the Public Affairs Officer in the U.S. Embassy on Conakry, Guinea, in the1990s, when Dr. Daniel Schafer showed up with a tale of Ana Madgigine Jai Kingsley. He was searching for her home, and the home of many of the people who would be enslaved and brought to Northeast Florida. I assigned one of my staff from the region Dr. Schafer wanted to visit, the Boke district, and gave him some unsolicited advice.

The result later was a remarkable book that documents the story of this remarkable woman and what was perhaps the first great public biracial marriage in English-speaking America. I was proud as a Floridian and as a U.S. Foreign Service Officer to have contributed in a small way to Dr. Schaefer’s venture. The Kingsley Plantation home is an outstanding example of historical preservation at its best. All Florida should visit it, and all should hear the story, the complete story, of Zephaniah and Anna Kingsley, and what happened to their mixed-race children once Florida joined the land of the free and the brave and the father was now longer alive to protect them.

Sister Cities, too, has come to Africa. Tallahassee now is leading the way in an outstanding example of citizen-to-citizen diplomacy with Assanti District North in Ghana. Speaking as one who has worked with Sister Cities in Jacksonville and at the other end in Africa, I can say that you will face frustrations because Africa is not easy. And you will find rewards of the heat and mind that you cannot imagination as you sit here now. Your Sister Cities program is as good as your input, your activism. You are the leaders.

I have said little about the role of churches. It was American missions who built and operated many of the first school that educated Africans – black Africans. Generations of African leaders got their learning in these American schools, and some went on to study in HBCUs and other American colleges and universities. That is a powerful and positive legacy, one that happened in spite of official U.S. policy.

Today, that tradition continues and is growing. Churches of all denominations have expanded their missions in Africa. I have seen Africans come to speak to congregations that only a generation ago would have kept them out because of the color of their skin, I have seen Americans of all backgrounds from very corner of our society work in Africa as teachers, doctors, nurses, and ministers, beloved by those communities they have dedicated their loves to. And I have seen, as you have, too, Africans make this flow a two-way street, coming to America not just to study, but to minister, teach, and serve, all under the aegis of a church, not Uncle Sam.

When the Peace Corps started up in the Kennedy Administration, few anticipated one of its greatest impacts: The impact of a community of tens of thousands of former volunteers in Africa. Many of these fell in love with Africa, sometimes with Africans literally, and have dedicated their lives to the continent. I see them every day in the Foreign Service, in the U.S. Agency for International Development. When I see grassroots energy like your, I often find a former Peace Corps volunteer behind it. These are part of the growing grassroots constituency for Africa.

I see it in Immigration of Africans to America. Just as the Civil Rights revolution opened many doors to African Americans, it made possible the immigration reform of 1965, which ended race-based favoritism as immigration policy and opened the doors to people of color. Today, large and growing communities of Ethiopian-Americans, Somali-Americans, Nigerian-Americans, and others have spread across America, following the pattern of previous immigrants. One of those patterns is maintaining an interest in their roots, and trying to influence foreign. Just as Cuban, Polish, and Chinese immigrants have done for many decades, African immigrants are learning, and learning well how to press the buttons of power in Washington. Pay attention, I say to my colleagues, this is something new, and you’d better understand it.

And I see it in the private sector. We hear so much about oil, and that is part of the American story in Africa, at least in Nigeria and Angola. And there’s bauxite in Guinea and Ghana, iron ore and rubber in Liberia, and so on. Now, however, we are witnessing the broadening of that trading relationship, fueled in many cases by AGOA, but driven by middle and small business. Just to cite one example – shrimp from Mozambique, shipped to Miami for packaging. (Mozambique, I can say, has the best shrimp on earth.)

I commend Enterprise Florida for its drive, for organizing trade missions that match potential customers with producers. I commend Bryant Salter of Enterprise Florida, who speaks here tomorrow, for not only keeping at the job, but for getting the word out in forums like this one about how Floridians can do business in Africa. That is state-level foreign policy at its best.

Presidents come and go. Secretaries of State come and go. Congresses come and go, all something that an elections year reminds us of.

What will not and cannot change is this fundamental shift, a societal shift, of attention towards Africa. It is here for good, at this the grassroots level. It is here for good because, in reality, it has always been here, though under wraps. It’s out in the open now, the genie is out of the box. Your activism is the vanguard of the reality that Africa and America are linked by over four centuries in the deepest of ways. Your work, your outreach here and in Africa is an expression of who we are as a people.

I commend you and encourage you. Thank you.

Released on March 26, 2008

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