By Jim Fisher-Thompson
Washington File Staff Writer
Washington -- Two groups of African women peacemakers and African journalists are touring the United States to learn first-hand how Americans deal with conflict and the media in an open society, courtesy of the State Department's International Visitors (IV) program.
In a move to tap the experiences and thoughts of women, the group most directly affected by Africa's civil wars, the State Department invited 15 African representatives of civil society organizations to tour the United States from February 12 to March 4 in a program, called: "The Great Lakes Initiative: Women As Partners For Peace."
Nations represented in the women's peacemaking tour include: Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Rwanda, South Africa, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Representatives from these nations are meeting with civil society groups throughout America. In Washington they will attend the National Summit On Africa (February 16-20), a constituency-building effort that seeks to heighten the profile of sub-Saharan Africa among Americans.
While in Washington, the African women also will tour the district and be hosted at a State Department luncheon.
A central challenge the women face is dealing with civil war in Congo/Kinshasa, a conflict that has involved up to nine nations in Central Africa. Washington policymakers hope that visits by groups such as these will help shore up the fragile Lusaka Cease-fire Agreement that was signed by the warring parties last year.
Ergibe Boyd, director of the public affairs section of the American Embassy in Kigali and one of the program organizers, told an Associated Press reporter that women are natural peacemakers because "they can transcend hatred and tensions...and find mutual interest as mothers, sisters and professionals, and speak with one voice" in demanding an end to the wars in Africa.
The second IV group from Africa are part of a program called the "U.S./Africa Partnership: the Role of Televised (TV) Media In A Democratic Society." They include television journalists from: Cote d'Ivoire, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa and Uganda.
The tv journalists also will attend the National Summit on Africa as well as make visits to: New York City; Denver, Colorado; and Knoxville, Tennessee, where they will meet with American television journalists and share their knowledge and experiences.
The 21-day journalist's tour is important, according to an IV document, because "the free flow of information and free expression of different points of view represent the lifeblood of a democracy.
Commonly viewed as the unofficial fourth branch of government, the media has the dual responsibility of keeping the electorate properly informed about political action and holding the government itself accountable."
The IV program, now celebrating six decades of service to the U.S. government, was a part of the U.S. Information Agency (USIA) until October 1999 when the agency was consolidated into the State Department. The IV program organized the visit of about 5,000 people to the United States in 1999 to meet and confer with their professional counterparts and to experience U.S. culture and society first-hand.
A unique aspect of the government program is that it has always relied on the commitment and skills of a network of civil organizations and individuals in America who volunteer to help organize the visitors' stay and arrange workshops and meetings.
Since its inception, the IV program has introduced over 110,000 foreign visitors to America. Among its most famous alumnus are former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and former South African State President F.W. de Klerk.
Visitors in the women's group include: Burundi's Venerand Kiyogoma, inspector general, Ministry of Justice; and Agnes Nindorera, senior reporter for Studio Ijambo; Congo/Kinshasa's Ambowa F. Dimandja, permanent secretary, National Campaign for a Durable Peace; Rwanda's Mary Balikungeri, program coordinator, Rwanda Women's Network for Economic Justice; Rose Ilibagiza, deputy to Minister of Social Affairs; and Rose Kabuye Kanyange, member of parliament; South Africa's Maretha De Wall, lecturer, department of sociology, Gender Resources Center, University of Pretoria; and Nokuzola Magida, director, Isinamva Community Development Trust; Uganda's Algresia Akwi-Ogojo, regional coordinator, Akina Mama Wa Afrika; and Rosalba Oywa, assistant program coordinator, People's Voices for Peace; Zambia's Christine N'Gambi, consultant/trainer, democracy, gender development; and Florence N. Sichinga, acting secretary general, National Citizen's Coalition; and Zimbabwe's Jennifer Susan Chiriga, research programs administrator, Southern African Regional Institute for Policy Studies; and Goretti Mudzongo, program officer, Human Rights Research and Documentation Trust of Southern Africa.
The tv journalists include: Nigeria's Olusola Toyin Momoh, executive director, news, anchor, Channel Television; and Stanley Adigbolo, head, camera unit, director of photography, Channel Television; Cote d'Ivoire's Lazare Saye Aka, economic reporter, National Radio and Television Station (RTI); and Jacques Kra Yasselou, cameraman and reporter, RTI; Kenya's Aida Muthoni Muturia, business reporter/anchor, Kenya Television Network (KTN); and Mbugua Francis Githae, cameraman, KTN; Senegal's Amadou Tidiane Barry, journalist/reporter, National Radio-Television Senegalese; and Mouhamadou Habib Ba, cameraman, RTS Radio-TV Station; South Africa's Patrick Sebestso, Pretoria bureau chief, South African Broadcast Corporation (SABC); and Misharck Buti Mmekwa, cameraman, crew leader, SABC; and Uganda's Yusuf Kalyango, head, department of news and current affairs/documentaries, WAVA Broadcasting Service Television (WBA/TV); and Stephen Kiwanuka, cameraman, video editor, WBA/TV.
(The Washington File is a product of the Office of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State.)