400th Year Remembrances of Slavery Should Prompt Renewed Attention to U.S.-Africa Policies

By R. Drew Smith
Professor, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary
Co-Convener, Transatlantic Roundtable on Religion and Race

With 2019 regarded by many as marking 400 years since the beginnings of African enslavement on the North American continent, the costs and consequences of that historic atrocity and the case for reparations for descendants of slavery have been receiving considerable attention. It is crucial there be a serious accounting of slavery, including a financial accounting of slavery’s impact on economic disparities along race lines, and this year’s quadricentennial commemorative activities have served as an occasion for some of the most far-reaching political and even theological discussions of these matters to date within the U.S.

But as mobilizations around reparations proceed, there should also be a focus on repairing severed cultural, religious, political, and economic ties between African-descended persons throughout the Americas and African peoples on the continent.

This was the thinking behind the designation of 2019 as an Africa diaspora Year of Return to Africa, with that return taking place symbolically through visits to Ghana and the castles on its coast from which many Africans began their journey into enslavement in the Americas. Scheduled to coincide with the August 1619 arrival of enslaved Africans in Jamestown, persons from across the Americas have been assembling for remembrance ceremonies in Ghana this month, including a U.S. congressional delegation comprised of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and 13 members of the Congressional Black Caucus.

Nonetheless, 2019 also serves as a sad reminder of historically fraught political and economic relations between the U.S. and Africa—and of how little critical attention U.S. missteps in its governmental relations with Africa have received from American faith leaders.

After years of social neglect and economic abuse, U.S. governmental policies began showing improvements during Bill Clinton’s administration, especially with the signing into law in 2000 of the African Growth and Opportunity Act. This was a preferential trade agreement that increased sub-Saharan African exports to the U.S. from roughly $25 billion in 2000 to a high point of $86 billion in 2008 before declining to $50 billion in 2012 and then to $20 billion by 2016.1 George W. Bush’s administration produced the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, which allocated $15 billion for AIDS relief initiatives between 2003 and 2008 and authorized another $48 billion in 2008. Twelve of the 15 countries targeted by the program were located in Africa.2 Several key Africa initiatives emerged during Barack Obama’s administration, including the Power Africa Initiative (which pledged $7 billion in governmental aid and generated $14 billion in matching private sector funds) and the Young African Leaders Initiative (which produced a network of more than 250,000 young African leaders).3

Donald Trump’s Africa policy has been remarkable more for its inactivity, lack of focus, and pejorative tone. As Trump was preparing to assume the presidency in 2016, he tweeted: “Every penny of the $7 billion going to Africa as per Obama will be stolen — corruption is rampant!”4 In case that didn’t make clear how negatively Trump viewed Africa, his January 2019 disparagements of African and several other global south nations as “shithole countries” made his low regard for Africa abundantly clear.

Trump’s attitude toward Africa has been deeply problematic, but even where there were laudable developments in U.S.-Africa policy from the Clinton administration forward, the real legacy has remained largely one of ongoing neglect.

Meanwhile, many of the Africa advocacy organizations within the U.S. that had established discernible footing and voice during the 1970s and 1980s had lost momentum by the 1990s. This was an Africa advocacy infrastructure in which faith leaders and their religious constituencies played a strategic role—and African American clergy were a very prominent part of this Africa advocacy work. A cadre of African American civil rights movement clergy championed African decolonization and nation-building during the 1950s and 1960s, post-independence African development during the 1970s, and were on the front lines of U.S. anti-apartheid activism during the 1980s and early-1990s.

By the time South African apartheid officially ended in 1994 however, Africa advocacy organizations in the U.S. were struggling with their directional footing and with maintaining funding and support, including from the activist faith-based networks that had been primary partners in their advocacy work.

So when the U.S. government did little to respond as a million Rwandan lives were lost to genocide in 1994, and as more than 11,000 lives were lost between late-2013 and 2015 to an Ebola outbreak in West Africa, and as protracted violent conflicts in Sudan, South Sudan, and Democratic Republic of Congo led to millions of deaths over the past two decades, Africa advocacy organizations within the U.S. could not apply the same level of pressure for action they did during their 1980s anti-apartheid activism.

The inability of these organizations to assert political pressure and the lack of a systematically mobilized U.S. faith sector around African urgencies from 1994 forward were closely interrelated.

Systematic and substantive responses to social urgencies are necessary, but Africa is also a context experiencing some of the greatest economic growth, technological expansion, educational vitality, and cultural and religious vibrancy of any place in the world.

U.S. policy approaches to Africa should be guided by a concern for social need but also by a commitment to allying with vital developmental initiatives taking place within Africa.

A strong Africa advocacy sector in the U.S. is essential to carrying out those objectives. As in the past, this ongoing work will require strong support from the faith community, and a new generation of African American faith leaders should be leading the charge to bolster the hard work being done by a diligent but institutionally diminished Africa advocacy sector.


  1. John Campbell, “What is the African Growth and Opportunity Act?” Council on Foreign Relations, February 17, 2017, https://www.cfr.org/blog/what-african-growth-and-opportunity-act
  2. R. Drew Smith, “Balancing Faith-Based Strategies in U.S.-Africa Policy,” Review of Faith & International Affairs, September 2008
  3. Danielle Kwateng-Clark, “The Obama legacy in Africa,” NewsOne, December 1, 2016, https://newsone.com/3605160/the-obama-legacy-in-africa/
  4. BBC, “Barack Obama: How will Africa remember him?” BBC News, January 18, 2017, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-38649362

What Rises Out of Uprising?: Baltimore Uprising and African Diaspora Connections

TRANSATLANTIC ROUNDTABLE TRAVELS TO BALTIMORE FOR IMMERSION TOUR AND DIALOGUE WITH LOCAL GRASSROOTS LEADERS.

TRANSATLANTIC ROUNDTABLE TRAVELS TO BALTIMORE FOR IMMERSION TOUR AND DIALOGUE WITH LOCAL GRASSROOTS LEADERS.

What Rises Out of Uprising?
Baltimore Uprising and African Diaspora Connections
MONDAY, JUNE 26TH
WWW.FAITHINTHECITY.ORG / WWW.BMOREUNITED.ORG

Faith in the City is a monthly gathering in Baltimore that explores the intersection between faith and public life.

Baltimore United for Change (BUC) is a coalition of organizations and activists with a long track record of working for social justice in Baltimore. The BUC coalition came together three days after the murder of Freddie Gray, and hit the ground running.


On June 26th as part of the Transatlantic Roundtable on Religion and Race Pre-Conference Jamye Wooten along with Dr. Stephanie Boddie hosted International delegation in Baltimore City. In 2015 after the death of Freddie Gray, Jamye along with local organizers founded Baltimore United for Change. In 2016 he launched Faith in the City, a monthly gathering in Baltimore where faith and public life meet. Faith in the City served as cosponsor of the Roundtable.

The delegation visited Tubman House in Sandtown-Winchester in Baltimore City and Pleasant Hope Baptist Church (Orita’s Cross Freedom School and The Black Church Food Security Network). Tour concluded with a discussion with local and international leaders at the World Trade Center Baltimore.

10 AM: TRRR DELEGATION ARRIVES AT MONDAWMIN MALL
FIRST STOP: Gilmor Homes, Sandtown-Winchester

Gilmor Homes gained national attention after Freddie Gray was arrested there.

The Tubman House, located at 1618 Presbury Street next to Gilmor Homes in Baltimore. A coalition of activists claimed the vacant  rowhouse.

We we will speak with Dominique Stevenson, of Friend of a Friend and founder of Tubman House, along with Mrs. Rhonda, resident of Gilmor Homes and board member of Tubman House and Tawanda Jones, of the West Coalition (Baltimore United for Change) Wooten also serves as a founding board member of Tubman House.

10:30: TRAVEL TO PLEASANT HOPE BAPTIST CHURCH
PLEASANT HOPE IS THE HOME OF ORITAS CROSS FREEDOM SCHOOL AND THE BLACK CHURCH FOOD SECURITY NETWORK FOUNDED BY REV. DR. HEBER BROWN, III. WE SPEAK TO ERIC JACKSON OF BLACK YIELD INSTITUTE WHO WORKS CLOSELY WITH REV. BROWN.

11:00: TRAVEL TO EAST BALTIMORE, JOHN HOPKINS UNIVERSITY, 2100 E Madison St Baltimore, MD 21205
IF TIME PERMITS WE CAN TAKE A BRIEF TOUR WITH DR. MARISELA GOMEZ, FORMER DIRECTOR OF SMEAC (Save Middle East Action Committee) IF NOT, DR. GOMEZ WILL JOIN US FOR LUNCH AT THE WORLD TRADE CENTER.

12 NOON: ARRIVE AT WORLD TRADE CENTER, 401 E. Pratt, 21th floor, Baltimore, MD 21202

12:30 LUNCH
1PM -3 PM REFLECTIONS AND WORLD CAFÉ DISCUSSION LED BY JAMYE WOOTEN AND DR. STEPHANIE BODDIE
What Rises Out of Uprising?: Baltimore Uprising and African Diaspora Connections

Policing

Jill P. Carter, Director, Office of Civil Rights and Wage Enforcement (OCRWE)
Dr. Tyrone Powers, activist, scholar, Director, Homeland Security and Criminal Justice Institute, Anne Arundel Community College

 

Youth

Adam Jackson, Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle, (Baltimore United for Change)

 

Gentrification, Development and Social Dis-location

Dr. Marisela Gomez, Former Director of SMEAC (Save Middle East Action Coalition )
Dr. Raymond Winbush, Institute for Urban Research, Morgan State

 

International Perspectives

Dr. Althea Legal-Miller, Canterbury Christ Church University
Professor Rothney Tshaka, University of South Africa

 

Organizing for Power/Sustainable Change
The Role of Philanthropy – Adar Ayira – Associated Black Charities
Organizing for Power – Dayvon Love, Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle (Baltimore United for Change)

World Café Discussion

FINAL REMARKS/CONFERENCE DETAILS – R. DREW SMITH/ JAMYE WOOTEN

Webinar: A Transatlantic Conversation on Police States, Black Self-Reliance, and Colliding Worlds

TUESDAY, MARCH 3RD
09:00 (EST) UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
14:00 UNITED KINGDOM
16:00 SOUTH AFRICA

 

In the age of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, the Marikana miners in South Africa, and the Chibok girls in Nigeria, the Transatlantic Roundtable on Religion and Race will be hosting a transnational conversation on assaults on Black humanity on the African continent and in the Diaspora!

Students, scholars and activists will discuss the role of young people in 21st century social struggles; lessons they’ve learned from past struggles for Black humanity including the anti- colonialism movement in Africa and the Caribbean, the civil rights movement in the US and the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa.

Presenters will share ideas and practices to move us beyond #BlackLivesMatter, to a future where the defense of Black humanity is more than a social struggle, more than a civil rights moment and is a global call for human rights for Black people everywhere.

R. Drew Smith, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary
William Ackah, Birkbeck, University of London
Rothney Tshaka, Itumeleng Mothoagae, and Mokhele Madise, University of South Africa
Yolande Cadore, Drug Policy Alliance
David Muir, Roehampton University
Iva Carruthers, Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference
Danielle Ayers, Friendship West Baptist Church
Jonathan Weaver, Pan African Collective
Jamye Wooten, KineticsLive.com/Friends of the Congo
Vuyani Vellem, University of Pretoria
Allan Boesak, Desmond Tutu Center, Christian Theological Seminary and Butler University

 

Webinar Format
Opening statements from each institutional site (10 minutes)
Student responses from each  institutional site (5 minute)
Dialogue between sites
 
 

YOU ARE INVITED TO LISTEN IN. SPACE IS LIMITED TO 100. PLEASE FILL OUT FORM BELOW TO REQUEST  ACCESS.

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Black and white worlds collide in tragedy

Sometimes it feels as though blacks and whites live on different planets.

Too many African-Americans are relegated to neighborhoods characterized by under-resourced schools; minimal jobs, goods and services; and governmental abandonment. The social privilege and economic prosperity enjoyed in other communities is dangled out of reach of large numbers of urban poor persons populating our American urban landscape.

These disparities translate into worlds of difference in how those on opposite sides of racial and income divides experience and perceive society. And these disparate perceptions and experiences can collide — as we saw in the tragic circumstances surrounding the recent police killings of Michael Brown, Eric Garner and others, and also in the responses by the American public to these killings.

Part of the dispute police had with Mr. Brown and Mr. Garner (which fueled subsequent public responses) was related to the issue of domain.

Where there are black neighborhoods suffering endemic political and economic neglect, leaving residents mainly to fend for themselves, should it be surprising that they sometimes chafe at police who show up asserting a drive-by public authority?
Read more

Contesting Post-Racialism: Conflicted Churches in the United States and South Africa – April 1, 2015

81gYw5dnlRLAfter the 2008 election and 2012 reelection of Barack Obama as US president and the 1994 election of Nelson Mandela as the first of several blacks to serve as South Africa’s president, many within the two countries have declared race to be irrelevant. For contributors to this volume, the presumed demise of race may be premature. Given continued racial disparities in income, education, and employment, as well as in perceptions of problems and promise within the two countries, much healing remains unfinished. Nevertheless, despite persistently pronounced disparities between black and white realities, it has become more difficult to articulate racial issues. Some deem “race” an increasingly unnecessary identity in these more self-consciously “post-racial” times.

The volume engages post-racial ideas in both their limitations and promise. Contributors look specifically at the extent to which a church’s contemporary response to race consciousness and post-racial consciousness enables it to give an accurate public account of race.

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EBOLA AND THE PROBLEM OF (OUR) ISOLATION

We are isolating persons infected and affected by the Ebola crisis, but not along the lines the medical and public health sectors are promoting as a strategic response to the outbreak. Rather, Downloads4001America’s response to the recent Ebola outbreak throughout much of its deadly march across Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone has been largely one of “out of sight, out of mind.”

Though fairly visible to Americans through media sources, the Ebola crisis had not been seen or acknowledged by many of us in ways resulting in large-scale, systematic action.  Perhaps this can be traced to compassion fatigue or a general sense of helplessness in the face of so many tragedies occurring around the globe.

But American inattention to this crisis also stems from a long-standing isolationist emphasis within U.S. foreign policy and frequently within American culture in general, where too often we view problems beyond our borders as largely outside our realm of responsibility—unless of course those problems happen to jeopardize our political and economic interests abroad or our security here at home.  With the announcement on September 30 of a confirmed case of Ebola in Texas and with the death of that patient, Oct. 8, and the announcement of the infection of a nurse involved in the treatment of that patient, the crisis has now been brought dramatically closer to home. President Obama referred to Ebola in a September 25 U.N. speech as a regional security threat, but it grows clearer with each day that Ebola’s reach is decidedly more than regional.

Read more

Scholarships for Liberian Refugee Children

TRRR Visit to Buduburam Refugee Camp Near Accra Ghana

A visit by TRRR delegates to the Buduburam Refugee Camp 40 kilometers from Accra was planned as part of our 2013 TRRR conference in Ghana.  With the official closing of the camp by UNHCR a year ago and the repatriation back to Liberia of most of the tens of thousands of Liberians who once resided in the camp, the services available to the approximately ten thousand Liberian refugees that have remained in the camp have been greatly reduced. Several reasons were given for why those who remain in the camp chose not to repatriate to Liberia,

Read more

Violence Against Children in South Africa

A POST COMPOSED BY:

Itumeleng Mothoagae, Voice and Voicelessness Project, University of South Africa
and
Cobus van Wyngaard, University of South Africa

If we do not speak, the rocks will cry out – On continuing violence against children and the vulnerable in society

Recent media reports about the mutilation, rape and brutal destruction of children’s bodies compel us to break our silence and to seek to stand where God stands, namely, against injustice and the denial of life for our children. We recognize that we, our society and Christian communities have become paralyzed by the scale of violence against children and the fact that places which should provide community protection and life have failed our children: homes, schools and communities have too often contributed to fear among children, parents and family. Read more

Poems by Maxine Bryant in response to Ghana slave sites 2013

[Poems by Maxine Bryant in response to the slave memorial site visits during the 2013 TRRR Ghana visit]

My Journey

My journey to Egypt transformed my theology.
My pilgrimage to Ghana transformed me!

My feet touched Mother Earth and carried me to the river
Where my ancestors had their last bath. – the thought made me shiver!
The fear that must have plagued their heart
Gripped my soul as on the soil I stood planted
Transcended for a moment – unable to depart
From the flood of memories – there I was granted
a gift from God who allowed me to bask in the presence
Of the sprints of my ancestors – a moment of reverence Read more

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