Friendship with Uganda

Earth Island News

City Talk

Entebbe, population 90,000, is a pleasant, green city on the edge of Uganda’s Lake Victoria, site of a world-famous botanic garden. It is also the former seat of the Ugandan government and home of Uganda’s international airport. When President Bush visited Entebbe in July for a few hours, international attention was focused on Uganda, although all too briefly.

The people of Entebbe are eager to join in the global economy and feel a stronger connection to the rest of the world. With a little assistance they could hook up Entebbe Secondary School’s computer lab to the Internet. Small-business leaders could benefit from advice on marketing their products in the US. AIDS orphans, some as young as 12, are heads of their households, and a few dollars would go a long way toward providing them with food or school books.

Sadly, most Americans invest little personal energy in Africa or the lives of Africans. Americans don’t often travel to Africa, which, in 2001, ranked lower than 25th in a list of top international travel destinations for American tourists. Of all the countries in Africa, South Africa is the most popular destination of American tourists. And those who do vacation in Africa seem more interested in the animals than the people. This is a wasted opportunity for Americans. Africans have much to teach our society.

City Talk has been talking to people in community groups, school districts, local governments, public libraries, and churches in the San Francisco Bay Area about Africa, Uganda, and Entebbe and the warmth and generous spirit of its people. We’d like to see email pen pal relationships break down international and cultural barriers and dispel the myths about Africa. We’d like to set up partnerships between groups in the Bay Area and groups in Entebbe for exchange visits, technical advice, and support for education. Eventually we’d like to cement this interest in a sister city relationship between Entebbe and one Bay Area community.

But it’s not been easy to get our message across. First, there are always pressing social problems at home, such as feeding the homeless. Or now is not a good time because budget cuts mean teachers are losing jobs and fire stations have to close. It’s hard to find arguments against this. Africa is always there and always far away.

Sadly there is also a troubling undercurrent among individuals and community organizations that a relationship with Africa is a “black” thing. African-Americans have been the main proponents of closer cultural ties with Africa through sister city relationships. Almost all of the 76 currently active US-Africa sister city links are coordinated by African-Americans and are primarily supported by that community. In some areas near San Francisco, African-Americans make up less than three percent of the population. Initiating a relationship with a black African culture seemed to have little appeal and or relevance to most people.

Perhaps African-Americans have more personal reasons for wanting to relate to Africans. But Africa cannot be dismissed by whites and others as a place that only the black community should care about. This exclusionary attitude benefits no one. If an entire community, regardless of ethnic background or self-interest, finds a way to connect with Africa in a meaningful supportive way, it educates itself and provides a springboard for awareness and interest to reach our elected officials.

America bears much of the responsibility for the unjust economic rules that keep America rich and Africa poor. Playing out America’s divisions between black and white communities on the international stage will not help Africa.

Take Action: To help City Talk build bridges between African and American towns, contact City Talk at 300 Broadway, Suite 28, San Francisco CA94133, (415) 788-3666.

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