Best known as "Bunk" from the TV series "The Wire," Wendell Pierce is now working to rebuild his old neighborhood, Pontchartrain Park, one of New Orleans' first middle-class African American communities.
Forty years ago, a fledgling organization named Africare was launched to deliver aid to Africa, and connect African-Americans to their roots. Today, Africare has thousands of employees, hundreds of programs throughout the continent, and a reputation as a ‘Go To’ organization when humanitarians and political leaders need advice. Hear about what works in foreign aid and get a glimpse of an Africa you rarely see in news headlines.
- Darius Mans President, Africare
MR. KOJO NNAMDIForty years ago, the African nation of Niger was suffering from a severe drought. Thousands of people died and others were forced to leave their homes in search of water. Earlier this year, severe drought again hit Niger, leaving as many as 1.5 million children living in hunger, according to aid groups. And if you only heard those two headlines, you might throw up your hands in despair and think things haven't changed at all for Niger. Giving up, however, is not an option for Darius Mans. He's the head of Africare, an aid organization created in 1970 in response to that drought we mentioned.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIAfricare is now 40 years into its work and Darius Mans joins us in studio to talk about the organization and the challenges and opportunities ahead for African nations. Darius Mans is president of Africare, which is a non-profit based here in Washington, D.C. It's the oldest and biggest African-American-led organization of its kind. Darius previously served as acting chief executive officer of the Millennium Challenge Corporation. He's also worked for the World Bank. Darius, good to see you.
MR. DARIUS MANSThank you very much for giving me this opportunity.
NNAMDII seem to remember that the drought back in 1970 in Niger was followed by concerns in the 1980s about drought and decertification. And I don't hear as much about decertification anymore. What happened to that, the advancing desert?
MANSThat continues to be a challenge, not just in Niger, but throughout the Sahel. But the good news is the work that Africare has been doing over four decades in Niger has helped to increase the cover of forests as well as improving agricultural production.
NNAMDIWhat would you say to someone who says it doesn't appear that life has gotten measurably better for the majority of people living in Niger because they heard the one headline 40 years ago and they heard a similar headline recently?
MANSWell, I think that there has been important improvements on the ground taking place throughout Niger. Tremendous challenges, as you pointed out, growing cover of the desert, but in addition, rapid population growth. When we started back in 1970, the population was less than three million people. Today, it's almost four times that. But during that intervening period, again, there has been an improvement in the capacity of farmers to grow food, to try to plant trees, but also to manage livestock.
NNAMDI800-433-8850 is the number to call if you'd like to join this conversation with Darius Mans. He's the president of Africare. You can also go to our website, kojoshow.org, raise questions or make comments there. Looking at where we're at now, Darius, about 50 years since the end of colonialism in many African nations, are we -- are you where we thought we'd be at this point?
MANSWell, I believe that there has been a sea change taking place quietly in Africa. I think many people think about Africa the last 25 years of the 20th century, where it was a period marked by despair across too much of the continent. But since then, there has been dramatic change taking place, if you think about the growth of income per capita that's taking place in Africa, the reduction in poverty, the substantial increase and investment that is taking place.
MANSCountries now, I think, are seeing that Africa is attracting significant investment interest from the Brazils of this world, India, China, and the Middle East. In many ways, Africa has been at the center of the emerging market's wealth story.
NNAMDIWhat African nations do you point to as success stories and what lessons can we learn from those countries for other countries in Africa or elsewhere for that matter?
MANSI think there are a number of countries that we have seen make dramatic improvement, not just with respect to economic performance, but also governance. Ghana, of course, President Obama was recently there, as you may know. And what struck him is the fact that despite a very close election, one that was hotly contested, there was a change in leadership. And he was able to sit down with the current president, as well the president whose party lost in the elections. You look at Ghana as being one of the top performers in making progress against the Millennium Development Goals, its ability to cut hunger, its ability to reduce poverty.
MANSBut it's, by no means, the only story in Africa, whether you talk about Cape Verde and the progress they have made on economic growth, as well as on good governance in countries like Mozambique, Tanzania. I could give you quite a list. Again, just reflecting the remarkable change that's taken place in Africa.
NNAMDIWell, we are, in a way, reproducing conversations that Darius Mans and I have been having recently in private, in which he can go on at some length about the developments in some of these countries. But if you have questions for him, you can call us at 800-433-8850. Have you ever traveled to or lived in Africa? What was your experience like?
NNAMDIWhat is your view of development in Africa? How different was the Africa you saw from the Africa we often see in the news? 800-433-8850. You can also go to our website, join the conversation or send us a tweet @kojoshow, 800-433-8850. You joined Africare earlier this year. It's an organization that started in the basement of one of its founders. Tell us a bit about the history of Africare.
MANSWell, it is a testament to the hard work and determination of our founding fathers who responded to the call, the drought in the Sahel in the late 1960s, and they built this organization to where it stands today. We've provided about $1 billion of direct aid to Africa with lots of concrete results on the ground.
NNAMDIThe stories that most Americans hear about Africa, if they hear any stories at all, are by and large negative. You have lived in Mozambique and you obviously travel to Africa quite a bit. For the person who's thinking about going to Africa and who's looking to try to understand how development works on the ground, so to speak, because this is something that Africare has been involved in for the past 40 years, what do you look for and how do you measure success?
MANSWe look for a couple of very concrete things. And I think the Millennium Development Goals provide a good framework for thinking about livelihoods. You look at people's access to water. You look at girls completing school. You look at the ability of countries to be able to provide the infrastructure that will enable farmers to get goods to markets, that will reduce the time that young girls spend collecting water, that will provide opportunities for them to get access to the health care that they need. If you look at all of these indicators, you see very much that Africa is on the move. Though, of course enormous challenges remain.
NNAMDITalk a little bit about where Africare is working right now and how the projects you're involved in have changed since the beginning of the organization?
MANSAfricare has worked in 35 countries in Africa. We have offices today in 21 countries from which we work on neighboring countries as well as those 21. The change that's taken place over the years for us is that we are moving more of our decision-making authority to the field, people who are on the ground, working with development partners, because the way in which development is being done has changed over time.
MANSI think if you look at the U.S. government's new global development policy, it recognizes the central importance of country ownership. Not having solutions imposed from the outside, but instead having countries come to their own conclusions about what kinds of solutions are needed. And that's the approach that Africare takes. We walk the talk on country ownership every day by working with communities to empower them, to solve their own problems.
NNAMDIThat's the part -- that's the aspect of Africare work that frankly fascinates me the most. You are in 35 countries in Africa, which means most of your money is spent on work on the ground. How do you train people on the ground, not only to carry out the work that needs to be done, but to have the ability to measure whether or not that work is being successful? And then, as you point out, country ownership, you leave it in those people's hands.
MANSWhat we have, as I mentioned, 21 offices. Many of our offices are run by Africans themselves. We have a couple of our offices which are run by American nationals, but a significant portion that are run by third country nationals, that means Africans from countries other than where they're currently serving for Africare. But some of our offices, like Zimbabwe, for example, are run by the Zimbabweans themselves.
MANSWhat we try and do from Washington is to provide, as a global organization, the lessons of experience that can be transferred from one country to another about what actually works so that they can be scaled up and replicated across the continent.
MANSWe also provide important technical support and quality assurance to be sure that the Africare brand, the way in which we work in every country, is consistent. In a couple of weeks, in fact, I'll be bringing all of our offices together in one place in Dakar exactly to have this kind of sharing of experience, best practices, things that have worked and things that, frankly, don't.
NNAMDIYou mentioned in a couple of weeks. That would be after November 5th when you're having your 40th anniversary celebration here, in which I am playing an obscure role.
MANSAbsolutely. And this is, you know, a very important year for us as an organization. November 5th will be our celebration of four decades of providing concrete examples that development assistance works across the continent of Africa. But after that, I will be going out to the field, including a visit to a country you started with, Niger, to see what we can do as an organization to help Niger weather this crisis that they are going through today.
NNAMDIOn to the telephones. We go to John in Washington, D.C. John, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JOHNHi. (unintelligible) I'm calling, first of all, to find out what is Africare doing in (word?) ?
NNAMDIYou're calling to find out what Africare is doing in what country? Your telephone is breaking up.
JOHNWhat is Africare doing in (unintelligible) helping the president of Liberia get the country back to where it could be? The second thing is, is the comment about democracy in Africa. I mean, anybody who studied the economics or politics of democracy knows that a nation with less than 75 percent literacy is incapable of really practicing democracy. We, as a Western nation, keeps pushing this in Africa and it seems like it's causing more trouble than it's doing any good. What do you think of that?
MANSIn Liberia, we have been working very closely with the government for some time, including on some very important areas of diversifying economic growth, and in particular, heavy focus on agriculture, which has such a great potential in Liberia. In addition, we have been working on health care and in particular trying to reduce the mortality rate and the rate of sickness for children and to improve child survival rates.
MANSDemocracy, I know, very often people focus on the narrow issue of voting. But for us, it's very important to be sure that we are helping to build democratic institutions. So we put heavy emphasis on transparency, on accountability in all of the work that we're doing to be sure that our development assistance is being used in a way that generates concrete results from the ground that are sustainable, but also that we are getting real value for money and leveraging the impact that we have with the support that we provide.
MANSSo, to me, I think, in addition to looking at the issue of voter and voter registration, all of these are extremely important parts of the democratic process, we certainly would like to continue providing support for building the capacity of democratic institutions within countries so that they can play a critical role in improving good governance.
NNAMDIJohn's point seems to be that if there are 75 percent or more literacy in a nation, then you cannot speak of democracy in that nation. You are talking about building good government strategies from the bottom up, so to speak. The notion that we should not expect the development of democracies in these territories is a notion that I suspect Africare does not subscribe to.
MANSAbsolutely right, Kojo.
NNAMDIHere -- John, thank you very much for your call. Here is Bismarck (sp?) in Silver Spring, Md. Bismarck, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
BISMARCKYeah, thank you very much, Kojo, for your show. I (unintelligible) I'm very proud of the organization. They do a very good job at the grass root. But it looks like we are missing a very important point. They're trying to alleviate poverty in Africa, but most of the time they do the big institutions on a national level. And when you go down, the trickle-down is -- that is not there. I come from Ghana and every year I go to Ghana. I go to my village and I don't really see the impact of all the assistance that Ghana has to see for all these years, you know.
BISMARCKSo I would like to (word?) change in the (word?) and approach of assisting these people to get out of poverty by using the local traditional institutions effectively.
NNAMDIBismarck, can you be a bit more specific about what, when you go to Ghana, you are looking for to see the effects of development aid?
BISMARCKLike, for example, the (unintelligible) give some financial assistance to the (unintelligible) . And there is effectively utilize this money to raise educational programs in almost every part of the country, which you can see the results perfectly. But when they do (word?) , you don't see much (word?) at the local level. So if (unintelligible) . The impact...
BISMARCK(unintelligible) or the government, you know?
BISMARCKThat's what I'm saying.
NNAMDILet me have Darius Mans respond.
MANSAfrica, as you may know, sir, begins its work where the tarmac ends. We work very closely at the local level with everyone trying to bring everybody under this big tent of development. Let me be specific about how we do this. If you look at the work that we're doing in South Africa on HIV/AIDS in the eastern cape, hard hit by the AIDS pandemic.
MANSWe are working with the faith community, with traditional healers, as well as with hospitals and clinics to provide a comprehensive approach to dealing with the challenge of HIV/AIDS. Everything from behavior change, communications to dealing with those who are infected, providing support to those people living with HIV/AIDS and dealing with those orphaned by HIV/AIDS.
MANSBut again, working at the community level with the traditional leaders as well as others because it takes all of us pulling together to make a difference. In Ghana, just to give you just another example, we, you may know, were absolutely thrilled to receive support from President Obama, a donation from the Nobel Prize award.
MANSWe're using it in Ghana where we're working in the western region, in the Wasa Amenfi district in Ghana to provide water supply and sanitation, both for households as well as for schools and for health clinics. We're doing this working very closely with traditional leaders, as well as with local government officials, and having communities drive this process.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Bismarck. We're going to take a short break. If you have already called, stay on the line. We'll try to make sure we get to your call. If the lines are busy, shoot us an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. We're talking with Darius Mans. He is president of Africare, coming up on its 40th anniversary of doing development work in Africa. The number is 800-433-8850 or you can send us a tweet @kojoshow. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWe're talking with Darius Mans. He is president of Africare, which is a non-profit aid organization based here in Washington, as well as the oldest and biggest African-American led organization of its kind. Darius Mans previously served as acting chief executive officer of the Millennium Challenge Corporation and he also worked with the World Bank.
NNAMDIDarius, let's talk about the Millennium Challenge Corporation for a second, although we do have a lot of telephone calls waiting, because that's the organization you headed before coming to Africare. The MCC has an outlook on foreign aid that focuses on the governance of nations receiving the aid. Tell us a little bit about that.
MANSYes. MCC was founded -- I think they're celebrating now six years -- on the very basic principle that aid is most effective when it is channeled to countries that have good frameworks around governance, which I know a previous speaker addressed. But also, have a real commitment -- demonstrated commitment to investing in their own people and to providing a framework that will be attractive for private sector development.
MANSI worked at MCC for four years and one of my responsibilities was to help grow the Africa program. And it comes back to where I started, which is nobody thought, when MCC was founded, any African country would meet the high eligibility standards of MCC. But today, about two-thirds of MCC's portfolio is in Africa in more than a dozen countries. Just again, a demonstration of the tremendous progress that's taken place in Africa.
NNAMDIIs there any evidence yet that the MCC model is more effective than other strategies for helping developing countries?
MANSWell, I think there are a couple of programs of MCC that have now come to a successful conclusion. I was recently in Cape Verde, one of the early programs of MCC, where the program has had an enormous impact in the physical investments that have been made in infrastructure, development of a poured investments in roads, but also very importantly an improving transparency, improving governance in Cape Verde.
NNAMDIOnto the telephones because there are quite a few of them. So we'll try to get to yours. Here's Scotty in Alexandria, Va. Scotty, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
SCOTTYHi. I am so excited about this program. You know, I first met with C. Payne Lucas in 1972 and I was working with AID and Family Planning. And then, in '78, I was part of the evaluation of Segenega (sp?) in Upper Volta, which is now Burkina Faso. And in 1982, I worked with Africare in Somalia on a women and development program.
SCOTTYIt's a wonderful organization. I think Segenega was, like, the initial thrust of grass roots development. I know it was a little controversial, but it really seemed to be working fabulously well. And I'd just like to congratulate you and say, you know, I'm an old lady now, but my experience with Africare was always so positive. And how are things going in Burkina Faso? I won't even ask you about Somalia.
SCOTTYBut I know we have groups like the friends of Burkina Faso and so forth, and I assume you're working with them and that things are still going well there.
NNAMDIHere is Darius.
MANSYes. Thank you very much. It's always good to hear from some of the long-time supporters of Africare and I hope you will come out and join us November 5th for a gala...
NNAMDIBecause it's my understanding that C. Payne Lucas will be there.
MANSHe absolutely will be there.
NNAMDIC. Payne Lucas is one of the founders of Africare.
MANSBurkina is going very well for us. I mean, it's a program and a country, as you may know, that is very much on the move. If you look at its track record of economic policy decision-making, we have seen the impact of it on our programs on the grounds where we have been doing very good work for decades, as you know, on the challenge of agricultural development. And more broadly, on inclusion, which is such an important part of the challenge of development.
MANSBecause if you look at the kind of top-down national programs that the Millennium Challenge Corporation supports, those are important enablers of developments. But what organizations like mine, Africare, do is use those big investments as opportunities to empower people to create opportunity on the ground.
NNAMDIScotty, thank you very much for your call. And onto Taylor in Washington. Taylor, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
TAYLORYeah. Hi Kojo. Thanks a lot for having me on. I'm glad that you brought up the MCC and governance reform and improvement, because my question had to do with China and their role in Africa, which was also mentioned earlier. And I was wondering specifically if the guest could comment on China's role there and specifically aid versus their investments there.
TAYLORAnd also if their investments, you know, throwing a line of credit to some governments that the international communities are trying to reform, if that's undermining those reform attempts. Thank you.
MANSI think China's growing interest in Africa is a wake-up call to the world. China, I think, has demonstrated that there are enormous opportunities in Africa. Too often as I go around talking to the U.S. business community, when they think about Africa to the extent they think about it at all, they see risk, concerns about security. I think China's example shows that, you know, there are tremendous opportunities on this continent that's on the move.
MANSAt the same time, though, we know that China's investments that a number of countries are concerned about whether it's undermining competition for domestic industries, what impact it's having on not just their industries, but competing with the market ladies as well out on the street, because the Chinese investors have been very aggressive in their forays into Africa.
MANSBut again, for me, the real question is with all of this tremendous interest, not just China, but Brazil, India, the Middle East, will African countries use this as an opportunity to provide jobs to create wealth for Africans much more broadly and not just for a few.
NNAMDITaylor, thank you for your call. How about U.S. Policy? President George W. Bush, it would appear, focused quite a bit on Africa during his time in office. What role, in your view, does Africa play in President Obama's foreign policy?
MANSPresident Bush, as you well know, quadrupled aid to Africa. That's an extraordinary accomplishment -- achievement and contribution to Africa's development. In addition, the focus that was placed on investing in countries through the Millennium Challenge Corporation where you have good policies.
MANSI think with the new administration, if you look at the global development policy, the President spelled out in New York during the UN general assembly in September, the administration in putting a premium on ensuring that the investments that are being made and taking a comprehensive approach. Not just aid, but also support the U.S. government provides for growing trade for investment, for knowledge flows, for addressing remittances from Africans' home.
MANSHow important it is to be sure that good governance is there, that it's focused on concrete measurable results, that you are leveraging assistance to be sure that it compliments what the government -- what Africans are doing for themselves and the central role of country ownership which we talked about earlier.
NNAMDISo the Obama Administration, you feel, is heading in the view of Africare, in the right direction?
NNAMDIYou've said that you would like to position Africare for success over the next 20 years. Where would you expect the countries you serve to be 20 years from now?
MANSI think you'll find a number of African countries will become middle-income countries over that time frame. Africa is evolving. And, you know, again, I -- you know, the old story about disease, pestilence, despair, conflict, that people have when they think about Africa, does not recognize the tremendous progress that's been made across large swaths of the continent.
MANSA dramatic story about growth and poverty reduction, whether it's resource -- poor countries resource, rich countries, countries that have emerged from conflicts. So as I look at African 20 years from now, I think we are seeing, and will most certainly see over 20 years, tremendous maturation across the continent. And what it means for my organization is that we have been, I think, a very good long-term trusted partner in Africa for the past 40 years.
MANSWe are redoubling our efforts so that we can be an effective partner to Africa 20 years from now.
NNAMDIHere is Bobby in Bethesda, Md. Hi, Bobby.
BOBBYHey, Kojo, how are you?
BOBBYGood. A first note, I would like to congratulate you and your organization on your 40th anniversary. But I have to say that I'm a little bit upset because I'm from Mali, which is one of the models of democracy in Africa and you didn't cite Mali when you cited the examples of democracies in Africa. Mali is one of the only countries where today we have four former presidents alive and well working together hand-in-hand and after being elected and out -- in and out of office.
BOBBYSo I think Mali's example should be cited as an example of democracy. But what I was -- my question actually to you is, you talk about 40 years of existence as to Africare and 50 years anniversary of most of the African countries. That means that African countries were only ten years old when you started and now we're supposed to be adult and not being babysit again.
BOBBYWhat is your perspective on seeing Africare doing -- having different type of business in Africa? And then, another point...
NNAMDIOkay. Allow me to -- allow me to have him answer one question at a time because we are running out of time. Darius?
MANSI am so glad you gave the case of Mali. Mali is a country I know well from previous work, as well as the extraordinary work that we're doing on the ground in Mali today. Let me tell you, just last week we had a farmer from Mali come up and talk to the Congress, to speak at the world food prize that was just two weeks ago about what we have been able to do in improving food security in Mali through a system for intensifying production of rice, which has dramatically increased rice production, dramatically increased incomes with a lot less water.
MANSMore food for the people and more water for the world in a very environmentally friendly way. So Mali is a great story.
NNAMDIWe're running out of time. The second of Bobby's question had to do with Africa is 50 years old independently -- in terms of independence, it's grown up. The inference I drew from that is that we shouldn't necessarily be providing aid anymore.
MANSI believe if we just reflect on the experience of development in this country, there continues to be a very important role for aid. There's a huge infrastructure gap, the needs of infrastructure in the country for building institutions that will provide the basis for long-term sustainable growth, for being able to do, as we do every day at Africare, working with communities to empower communities. We have an unfinished agenda.
NNAMDIAnd once again, what takes place on November 5th?
MANSThis will be our 40th anniversary gala celebration, National Building Museum. Please save the date and join us.
NNAMDIDarius Mans is president of Africare. That's based in Washington, DC. It's the oldest and biggest African-American lead organization of its kind. Darius previously served as acting chief executive officer of the Millennium Challenge Corporation and served at the World Bank. Darius, always a pleasure.
MANSThank you very much, Kojo.
NNAMDIThank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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