Congressional Black Caucus on the "The State of Africa"
[Members of the Congressional Black Caucus took the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives on the first day of President Bush's trip to Africa to speak about the current state of affairs on the continent. The lead-off speaker and coordinator of the presentation was Donald Payne of New Jersey, followed by the current Caucus chair, Elijah Cummings of Maryland, Corrine Brown of Florida, Barbara Lee from California, Maxine Waters from California, and Donna Christian-Christensen of the Virgin Islands.]
The SPEAKER pro tempore. Under the Speaker's announced policy of January 7, 2003, the gentleman from New Jersey (Mr. Payne) is recognized for 60 minutes as the designee of the minority leader.
Mr. PAYNE. Mr. Speaker, we are members of the Congressional Black Caucus here tonight, and we stand here tonight to speak on the state of Africa as the first day of President Bush's trip concludes. The President's trip shows a level of commitment that surprised many of us when we read in the newspaper that he was intending to visit Africa, but African journalists recently said Africa appreciates the words, but is awaiting the deeds.
Many people have written Africa off as a place that has too many grave problems, and that it is irrelevant to the United States' interest. Indeed, there are still a lot of people whose views of Africa are certainly limited by disasters and civil wars. However, engagement with Africa is a vital U.S. interest. From the war on terrorism to the supply of critical resources, from the campaign against threatening diseases to the opportunities for economic trade and investment, Africa is a global player. We ignore the continent at our own peril.
If we had paid a little more attention to Africa and Sudan, where Osama bin Laden lived from 1993 to 1997, recruiting and planning the al Qaeda movements that terrorized our U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania and then went on to organize the Taliban and to have havoc wreaked through Afghanistan, if we had paid attention to Africa, if we had looked at some of the requests for us to intervene in some way by assisting John Garang and the Sudanese Liberation Movement with trucks and telephone equipment and other things they were appealing to, perhaps Osama bin Laden would have been put out of existence, because the liberation movement from John Garang and his organization could have defeated the Khartum government which gave haven to Hamas and to al Qaeda and many of the other terrorists. By our ignoring Sudan, where 2 million persons have died and 4 million have been displaced, where food has been used as a weapon, if we had decided that that was an important country for us, then we perhaps could have avoided many of the things that we see today as our soldiers are in harm's way in Iraq and we continue to move through Afghanistan and Africa towns.
I will talk briefly between our speakers, but I do want to quickly bring focus to our main concern, my main concern tonight, and that is the situation in Liberia. On July 2, I wrote a letter to our Secretary of State and a week before that had the opportunity to be in his presence and asked the Secretary of State if attention could be given by the Bush administration to the country of Liberia. First of all, the Liberians have been asking us to come in and assist. People are in the streets with American flags and signs asking President Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell to come to their aid, and people are saying, why should we be concerned about Liberia? There are 50 sub-Saharan African countries on the continent. Why should we be concerned?
I think many of our citizens in this country and it appears many of our lawmakers in the House and in the Senate have no knowledge at all of where Liberia's beginning came from. It was in 1822 that President Monroe, the Monroe document, President Monroe said that we should have a return to Africa movement and free black men. Many people have the opinion that these were simply illiterate slaves, ex-slaves that went to Liberia, but these were free men, some slaves, but free men, lawyers and businessmen, who went to Liberia to start that country in 1822. And in 1847, Liberia became a republic, started by African Americans who returned to Africa, to Liberia, to start this republic.
Their Constitution was based after the United States Constitution. Their laws were based on laws of the United States of America. There were very strong ties between the United States and Liberia. In World War II, the West African country allowed American troops to be positioned on their soil. Again during the Cold War Liberia was an important ally when it served as a leading U.S. base for intelligence activity against Moammar Ghadafi of Libya and other threats to the United States. Even Samuel Doe, even though he came to power in a bloody coup, the United States in the midst of the Cold War supported the government because Liberia served such a great interest to the United States during World War II when the Pacific region was cut off for rubber supplies. Liberia with Goodyear Rubber Company that had been established in Liberia for decades, for perhaps close to a century, Liberia was there to help the U.S. war effort.
So when people say why should we go there, there are many problems around. We should go there, and the reason that the British have asked us to intervene, the reason that President Kofi Annan of the United Nations have said the United States should lead a peacekeeping force, these are because Liberians, the world, look at the United States as the power that could come in and change the situation.
So I wanted to give that brief background of the country of Liberia and to say that is why this particular country is different, if we want to remove ourselves from other countries in Africa.
As I conclude my portion and will yield to the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, I would like to say that in Sierra Leone currently the British went in. They went in and they prevented the RUF, the terrible group that terrorized people in Sierra Leone. The British went in, because that was a former colony of theirs, and they made peace; and now Sierra Leone is on a peaceful track.
In Cote d'Ivoire, the French troops went in several months ago because of disorder there, and they have saved thousands of lives and are still there.
Just last week, the French, British and Belgian troops went into Eastern Congo, the city of Bunia, where there had been a civil strife between two ethnic groups. The French came in and said that this must stop, we are coming in; we give you 3 days to get out. And they have saved thousands of lives just last week.
So why the United States? Why Liberia? We are in Iraq right now and are receiving a terrible time. It is because we are being asked. President Taylor said he will step down, he will leave the country. We could really save lives there. It is a totally different situation.
With that, it gives me a great deal of pleasure to yield to the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, the gentleman from Maryland (Mr. Cummings), who has done an outstanding job in his chairmanship of the Congressional Black Caucus, bringing us to the floor on every important issue to America in general and African Americans in particular.
Mr. CUMMINGS. Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the gentleman for yielding. I want to also thank the gentleman for his leadership. It is no doubt, Mr. Speaker, that the gentleman from New Jersey (Mr. Payne) is by far the most expert in the Congress on Africa and international affairs. His expertise certainly extends to Europe, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, just to name a few places around the world. His expertise is invaluable; and he is a very, very valuable asset to both the Congressional Black Caucus and this Congress.
I have often said of the gentleman from New Jersey (Mr. Payne) that so often people, Mr. Speaker, determine their response to a crisis by whether they will be uncomfortable. The gentleman from New Jersey (Mr. Payne) consistently travels around the globe, not concerned about his comfort, but more concerned about the comfort of those he touches. So I want to thank the gentleman for leading our discussion this evening.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to come to the floor this evening to discuss the state of Africa. Africa deserves and America needs a real strategic alliance with the continent of Africa. It is in the national security of the United States for us to have a strategic alliance with this great continent.
Just some brief facts: Africa is the second largest continent in the world, behind Asia. There are 54 countries in Africa. The population of the continent exceeds 770 million people.
Mr. Speaker, the economic potential and the natural beauty of the continent is extraordinary. Just this past May, Mr. Speaker, several members of the Congressional Black Caucus visited the nation of Nigeria on the West Coast of Africa. These distinguished members included the gentleman from New Jersey (Mr. Payne), the gentleman from Louisiana (Mr. Jefferson), the gentlewoman from Michigan (Ms. Kilpatrick), the gentlewoman from Texas (Ms. Jackson-Lee), the gentlewoman from Florida (Ms. Corrine Brown), and the gentleman from Florida (Mr. Meek). Although we mainly went there to attend the presidential inauguration of the Nigerian President, Obasanjo, we gained some valuable insights from our visit.
The people of Nigeria admire the people of the United States for how our democracy works. They also admire our form of government. As such, they expressed shock regarding the controversies surrounding the 2000 Presidential elections. They also noted their disappointment regarding the gradual decline in civil liberty protections post-9/11. In this regard, many of these citizens and government officials pleaded with us to defend the true meaning of our democracy because, as they put it, the best way to impact the world is through what America stands for, not by using our unilateral force as the world's only superpower.
But this feeling is not just present in Nigeria. The many countries of Africa, 54 in all, their governments and the people of Africa are looking to the United States for leadership and a real partnership. They do not just want rhetoric.
Contrary to what many people believe, the people of Africa do not want aid or a handout. What they want is opportunity for a level playing field from the United States, Europe, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund as they pursue economic progress.
For many countries, the overwhelming financial debt from loans that were in some cases misused by governments in Africa is now stifling the economic progress of these countries. The payments on these debts are also diverting significant funds away from infrastructure improvements, education and other health needs for the people of Africa.
Through all of this, though, Mr. Speaker, the people of Africa are cautiously hopeful about the future. The African Growth and Opportunity Act, AGOA, legislation that was signed into law by President Clinton, embodies the philosophy that the United States, as the world's largest and most technologically advanced economy, can and should do more to contribute to Africa's economic development. It is one of the most significant pieces of legislation on Africa to be enacted into law in many years. Now the continued implementation and expansion of AGOA offers our country an opportunity to consider how this Nation can construct a comprehensive African policy that will facilitate Africa's success in the 21st century.
Before I close, Mr. Speaker, I must mention the issues of conflict resolution, hunger and disease in Africa. Quite simply, Mr. Speaker, the violence and civil war that has torn so many countries apart, displaced hundreds of thousands of families, killed countless others, and, in my opinion, is one of the biggest impediments to progress on the continent, must end. The people and governments of Africa need to know that it is difficult to make progress if we do not have an end to war and an end to violence.
The United States also has a role and our government and State Department should put forward every effort to help bring an end to the wars and conflicts that trouble so many African countries. The Congressional Black Caucus will also continue our efforts in this regard.
I agree with the gentleman from New Jersey (Mr. Payne); and I applaud him for all of his efforts over the last several years with regard to Liberia, and wholeheartedly support his opinion and his conclusions that we must have peacekeeping forces from the United States in Liberia.
With regard to hunger, the Congressional Black Caucus has been at the forefront of advocating for hunger relief efforts all around the world, and we will continue to press the issue. In a world with plenty of food for everyone, we have a moral obligation to feed those who are hungry. I am so honored that our former colleague, Congresswoman Clayton, has continued her battle against hunger around the world since leaving the Congress at the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization in Rome.
Finally, Mr. Speaker, the medical diseases. HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis and countless other diseases that plague millions of Africans must be addressed. The Congress, following years of advocacy by the Congressional Black Caucus, passed what I would characterize as a 5-year, $15 billion down payment toward addressing these diseases in Africa. Now we must actually come up with the actual funding to make this commitment a reality. The world is watching, and we must provide the resources to eradicate these diseases.
So, Mr. Speaker, I call on this Congress and this country to renew our commitment to working with the people of the great continent of Africa for our mutual benefit. As I have said, it is in our national security and our strategic interests for the continent of Africa to succeed and prosper in our global community.
I also take a moment, Mr. Speaker, to thank all the members of the Congressional Black Caucus who have taken time out tonight to express their feelings about Africa and for their hard work over and over and over again, giving their blood, sweat and tears to lift up the people of Africa.
Mr. PAYNE. Mr. Speaker, let me thank the gentleman from Baltimore for those remarks. As he has indicated, for example, in 2002, the United States exports to Africa totaled over $5.8 billion, while the U.S. imported over $18 billion from Africa, more than all of the USSR put together, including Russia. So many people do not realize the importance of Africa to the U.S. While oil is clearly a source of U.S. interest, it is also something that must be dealt with closely and carefully as we discover new finds of oil. The Chaad Cameroon pipeline, in addition to Nigeria and other places in Africa, 16 percent of U.S. consumption of oil comes from Africa today; and it will grow to 20 percent in the next 5 years. It may exceed the point of being one-fourth, or 25 percent, of oil imports. So Africa is extremely important to the United States.
Mr. Speaker, at this time I would like to yield to the gentlewoman from Florida (Ms. Corrine Brown) who 2 weeks ago helped organize a rally of Liberian Americans here and has been very vocal on the issue of Liberia.
Ms. CORRINE BROWN of Florida. Mr. Speaker, let me first of all thank the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus for his leadership on African issues and particularly on this Liberian issue; and let me thank the gentleman from New Jersey (Mr. Payne), who has been one of the leaders in the Congressional Black Caucus and Chair of our African subcommittee, for his leadership.
The Bush administration sent troops to Iraq, for, so they claim, so they claim, humanitarian reasons. Our troops went over there to alleviate the suffering of the Iraqi people, to liberate the Iraqi people from a tyrant, to bring justice to the people of that nation, so they claim.
At this very moment, leaders in the United Nations, leaders in various African nations, members of the Congressional Black Caucus, members of the human rights community worldwide, are pleading with the President to send peacekeeping troops to Liberia. Yet the President set off for Africa without any intentions of even visiting Liberia and without bothering to consult with members of the Congressional Black Caucus about his trip, many of whom have worked on issues pertaining to Africa for decades.
As you know, Liberia has always been a faithful ally of the United States. Both nations share close historic ties. Liberia in fact was founded by free slaves from the United States in 1820. The capital, Monrovia, is named after a United States President, James Monroe.
Unfortunately, the situation in Liberia has turned chaotic. Non-emergency staff at the United States embassy were evacuated when fighting broke out in the capital between government troops and rebels. Hundreds of Liberians have been killed and thousands have been wounded. The fighting is not over. Tens of thousands of others have been driven from their homes and aid workers say that up to 1 million Liberians may end up displaced.
This recent conflict is nothing new. This is a country that has been suffering from civil war for years. About 200,000 Liberians died in fighting during 7 years of war in the 1990s. We have been successful in drawing attention, thanks to the leadership of the Congressional Black Caucus and others, both nationally and internationally.
The CBC has been strong in its efforts to encourage the Bush administration that the United States play an active role in the conflict in Liberia, especially before it spreads to other nations in West Africa. We do not want this fighting to spread to other West African countries.
Let me repeat that. Liberia is now making headlines in newspaper and TV news across the country, making people around the United States aware of the conflict and forcing the administration to put it on their radar screen. Recently the U.N. secretary asked the U.S. to play a bigger role. African countries and others have pledged up to 3,000 troops if the United States helps out.
On all borders of Liberia, the Europeans are showing that peacekeeping missions can be successful. Clearly, our Nation plays an influential role in world politics. We saw that many times in the past and recently in Europe. And, remember, the State Department, when they argued for intervention for a European country, they always say it is for humanitarian reasons.
We do not want it to spread to other countries. So why should Africa be given the same treatment? The situation in Liberia is critical, and this is a perfect time for the United States to play a leading role in bringing about an end to the misery and suffering of the Liberian people.
In closing, my favorite scripture is ``To whom God has given much, much is expected.'' We are expecting that the administration will come forward and help the suffering Liberian people.
Mr. PAYNE. Mr. Speaker, I thank the gentlewoman for her continued support.
Democracy is moving through Africa. Mr. Speaker, 1990 saw the spread of democracy in many African countries once dominated by military dictators. As the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus indicated, many of us recently went on May 29 and spent several days in Nigeria to see the reelection and inauguration of President Obasanjo. It was Moshood Abiola that started the democracy movement, but it took General Abubakar to say, the time is up, and now we saw the election of President Obasanjo.
We saw in Zambia's recent elections where the former President and member of the same party as the new President was elected, who said he wanted the courts to look into the books to see whether the former President had run the country legally, and has now had an indictment on the former President Chiluba to look at the books to see if there was illegal activities.
This is a new breed of African leaders. In Ghana, the popular President Rollins stepped down after two terms. He could have run again and probably gotten reelected. President Moya, after many years being the Vice President under General Uhuru Kenyatta during the first movement of the Mau Maus in Kenya where colonialism was fought, stepped down. And, as a matter of fact, the grandchild of former President Kenyatta was the candidate and supposedly was supposed to win as a member of the Kenya Party. However, he was defeated because people wanted a new life, and it went on well. In South Africa we saw Mr. Mandela change from a white majority government.
So there are successes in Africa. In Timbuktu in Mali we have seen great strides going on. So we hear about the negatives, but so many positive things are happening, and that is why it gives me great pleasure to continue our Special Order. We will hear now from the gentleman from Illinois (Mr. Davis) to have his comments.
Mr. DAVIS of Illinois. Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the gentleman for yielding. I also want to commend the gentleman from Maryland (Mr. Cummings) for the tremendous leadership that he continues to display as he projects thoughts, ideas, and helps to focus the activities of the caucus.
I would agree with the gentleman from New Jersey that Africa is indeed changing, and that change is seen throughout the continent in many places that one goes. But even as the changes occur, problems have been so profound and so severe until it is difficult to stabilize, it is difficult to have the kind of economy, it is difficult to have the opportunities to grow and develop, and that is one of the reasons why we continue to have instability, one of the reasons why we see the inability to shape governments and hold those firmly in place.
I would also agree with my colleagues who have suggested that if we can spend much of our time, energy, and effort trying to make sure that there is a world order with peace and security, then the African continent is one of those places where our resources and our efforts are needed most.
Yes, I am in agreement that we need to intervene in Liberia, and we need to do it immediately. We need to do it now. We need to make sure that there are peacekeeping forces. We also have to make sure that we do it with a level of sensitivity, that we do it with a level of humaneness, that we do it in such a way that we do not overshadow, overpower; and that we make sure that the local indigenous people have control of the operation and further development of their government, and that they continue to be liberated and be able to produce for themselves the kind of government and the kind of governmental structures that they find desirable.
So, I say to the gentleman from New Jersey, I am pleased to have been able to join with him and other colleagues to come and simply say that the time is now. It is critical that intervention must come immediately before things escalate and before they reach other countries surrounding Liberia. So I thank the gentleman again for his tremendous effort and for his leadership.
Mr. PAYNE. Mr. Speaker, let me thank the gentleman from Illinois for his long years of government service in the great State of Illinois, and we look for his continued support.
Mr. Speaker, I yield to the gentlewoman from California (Ms. Lee), a real fighter on HIV and AIDS, and a person who has served as an aide to the former Congressman and took over from Congressman Dellums and made her own footsteps; smaller feet, but very pronounced footsteps.
Ms. LEE. Mr. Speaker, I thank the gentleman and commend him for his consistent leadership, his vision and his real purpose as a Member of Congress in terms of really making sure that this Congress understands the connection between our United States foreign and domestic policy, especially as it relates to Africa.
Mr. Speaker, as we have been discussing Africa this evening, I am reminded now of the first day that the President has had in Africa. Now, let me just say, I believe it is always helpful when the President of the United States really visits neglected parts of the world, especially Africa. So I am glad that he finally made it.
Now, one of his first stops on this trip today was Goree Island off the coast of Senegal. It is important, I believe, that the President saw firsthand this real jumping-off point to the murderous Middle Passage. For centuries, millions of Africans were placed in chains and shipped off to generations of enslavement in the United States and elsewhere in the Western Hemisphere, and I am certain the President understands that now. Many of them passed through Goree Island on that very terrible journey. Millions upon millions died along the way. Families were destroyed. Men, women, and children were locked in chains, forced into the cargo holds of ships, and transported thousands of miles to a life of slavery. They were kidnapped, raped, murdered, and sold into bondage in an enormous crime against humanity. The bodies of those who died were tossed overboard as lost cargo.
But these were human beings. On Goree Island, President Bush stood in their footsteps, peered into their cells, and glimpsed the horror that was slavery.
This morning the President denounced slavery as one of the greatest crimes of history and called it a sin, which it was, but he failed to offer an apology on behalf of the Government of the United States that engaged in this deplorable, despicable institution for hundreds of years.
It is extremely important that the President understand the history of slavery. It is also extremely important because the vestiges of slavery are still with us in the United States. On Goree Island, President Bush stated that history moves in the direction of justice. But then I had to ask myself, why does he oppose affirmative action?
So let us just look at the facts for a minute. African Americans' income is lower than that of whites. Black Americans have fewer assets and experience far higher unemployment. Economic injustices have persisted long after emancipation. African Americans, on average, make 95 cents for every dollar earned by whites doing exactly the same jobs.
These disparities in the workplace and on the unemployment line are echoed in the health care system. African Americans are less likely to have health insurance and receive poor health care when they do finally see doctors. As a result, of course, our lives are shorter.
In this country, life expectancy projections are profoundly shaped by race. Racial disparities literally follow a cradle-to-grave cycle, beginning with infant mortality, continuing with workplace hazards and increased exposure to toxins, and ending with disparate access to health care, diagnosis, and medical treatment.
Asthma, one of our latest epidemics, is one more example of racial disparities in health care. Death rates from asthma and a host of other treatable diseases are significantly higher among African Americans than any other ethnic group. African American children are also more likely to suffer from lead poisoning, which can have devastating effects on mental development. More than one out of every four low-income African American children suffers from lead poisoning.
Now, some of these realities are realities that I hope the President really understands while he is in Africa. These are still realities of American life in the 21st century, and these are legacies of past oppression and continuing injustice.
In presenting the Bush administration's arguments to the Supreme Court opposing affirmative action on behalf of the President, Solicitor General Ted Olson called for race-neutral admissions policies. That is because the administration apparently believes we live in a race-neutral society, but that is a dangerous fantasy. It means that the administration is blind to the legacy of slavery in our own country and does not really get what the current ramifications are.
So maybe this visit to Goree Island will help the President better understand the legacies of slavery and racism, both in Africa and here at home. It is my hope that this African trip, short though it may be, will also drive home to the President the importance of following through on his welcomed rhetoric with real dollars. We need him to exert the power of his office to ensure that the HIV/AIDS initiative, the Millennium Challenge Account, and other promises for foreign assistance and development aid will be fully funded. He must support our request for a supplemental appropriation to meet the meager, which is really meager, $3 billion authorization with regard to the HIV/AIDS pandemic.
Goree Island was the start of a terrible journey for our African ancestors. Hopefully, it will be the start of a journey of enlightenment for this American President.
There is an Akan word called ``Sankofa.'' This means that we must go back and reclaim our past so, of course, that we can move forward, so we can understand why and how we came to be who we are today. When African men, women, and children were dragged into the Slave House at Goree Island where the President was today, they went through the door of no return. As the word ``Sankofa'' evokes, we have to understand that journey.
This President must understand that journey, and he has to understand what destination we have reached in the United States and in Africa, and how far we still have to go.
I close by thanking all of the Congressional Black Caucus members who have come before all of us in this Congress, who help strengthen the bond between Africans and African Americans, who represented the voice of Africans who were left out of the democratic process here in our own country in terms of foreign policymaking. Especially I would just like to thank the great gentleman from the State of Michigan, Congressman Charles Diggs, who not only chaired the Subcommittee on Africa as the first African American Member, but really did provide an opportunity and an avenue for other African American staff and Members to get involved with international relations issues, especially relating to the continent of Africa.
I also want to thank Congressman Ron Dellums and the gentleman from Michigan (Mr. Conyers), who took risks and fought against racist regimes in South Africa and Namibia and Zimbabwe, even when our own government supported those policies. We must not forget that, because the Congressional Black Caucus has to move forward, and the President must understand that we will not rest until Africa flourishes, and those who came before us really charted the course. Members of the Congressional Black Caucus, if it had not been for them, there would be no foreign policy as it relates to Africa.
So I want to thank the gentleman from New Jersey (Mr. Payne) again for continuing with that legacy and for continuing to ensure that our Black Caucus and the entire Congress understands and really begins to come to grips with the fact that Africa matters in terms of our policies and our funding.
Mr. PAYNE. Mr. Speaker, let me commend the gentlewoman for the outstanding work she has done.
Quickly, as I talked about how democracy was taking over, we also have seen Africans step up to the plate, the Egat process led by President Moi has dealt with the problem of Sudan; and the peace accord, even though fragile, has been done by the Egat countries of Ethiopia and Eritrea. South Africa's Nelson Mandela took over from the late President of Niari, from Tanzania, negotiating the Burundi situation where now President Thabo Mbeki has sent peacekeepers from his country to Burundi to see the new transitional government, and it is working.
We have seen Nigerians go into Sierra Leone and into Liberia, taking leadership on their own. And so when we say why is the U.S. in Liberia, it is because of the ties, as I mentioned, the British were in Sierra Leone just recently to save lives, the French in Cote d'Ivoire and in the Congo right now with Belgian troops. The Australians are going into the Somalian islands right now, as we speak, and we are in East Timor because they are the regional powers. No, we cannot go anywhere and everywhere; but I think that with the traditional history between President Monroe, the whole country of Liberia, it is the responsibility of the U.S.
Mr. Speaker, I yield to the gentlewoman from California (Ms. Waters), who has done outstanding work for many years. We all know her. She needs no introduction.
Ms. WATERS. Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the gentleman from New Jersey (Mr. Payne) for his leadership, for his years of commitment to the continent and for the constant effort that he puts forward in this Congress to draw attention to Africa and to try and negotiate funding to help not only this administration but past administrations understand the role we could truly play in helping Africa to become the continent that it could truly become.
Now, Mr. Speaker, the eyes of the world are on Africa. Clearly everyone is watching because the President of the United States is visiting five countries in Africa. We are pleased that the President of the United States has decided to go to Africa. As a matter of fact, the members of the Congressional Black Caucus truly believe that there will never be another President, no matter Democrat or Republican, who can avoid Africa. We are very pleased about the leadership that Bill Clinton provided, and we are proud that this President is following in his footsteps.
We are in a state of confusion about this President and his policies toward Africa. While he is visiting five countries in Africa at this time, it was just a short while ago right prior to his election in a debate that I believe he said something to the effect that we have no strategic interest in Africa and, no, I would not have intervened in the genocide that took place up in the Congo there with the Tutsis and the Hutus. And so we are perplexed by this visit, that comment; but we are pleased also that we have moved this government to the point where this President came forward with significant funding for HIV and AIDS in Africa, and we hope that it gets into the budget and that that funding will become a reality.
We are perplexed by the recent revelations that, in fact, the President made an announcement in his State of the Union that a country in Africa had supplied Saddam Hussein with materials for biological warfare. We now know that that is not true, that that statement was not based in fact. And while we are pleased that the President is providing some funding for HIV and AIDS in Africa, we are perplexed by the statements and the accusation of the President about a country in Africa supplying Saddam Hussein with dangerous materials, materials for biological warfare, and we expect the President to explain that to us.
The President is visiting South Africa, but the fact of the matter is we do not have, as one of the countries in Africa, we do not have an Africa policy. We do not know where the President is going with all of this. Today he gave a stirring speech from Goree. He went to Dakar, to Goree Island where he said he understood what had happened at Goree Island. He understood that slaves had been sold there, that they had been beaten there. They had been housed and stored and stacked like animals there, and that they had gone through the door of no return where many of them were simply just dumped into the ocean because they were sick or too weak to be sold into slavery from that point.
We listened and most of us read very carefully the words in that speech. But we are wondering as we stand here whether the President truly understands that we are the descendents of those slaves that he talked about. We wonder if the President really understands the connection between our work and our history. We wonder if the President of the United States truly has an appreciation for what we have been trying to do for so many years.
Most of the Members of the Congressional Black Caucus have been working on the problems of Africa for years. Long before I came to the Congress of the United States, I was involved, as were others, in trying to dismantle the unconscionable apartheid regime of South Africa. We worked to free Nelson Mandela. There are those who are wondering why Nelson Mandela may not be meeting with the President on this trip. The President certainly needs to get to know Nelson Mandela and understand who he is and where he came from. He needs to understand the struggle that Nelson Mandela was involved in. But he needs to understand why we work so hard to dismantle apartheid in South Africa. He needs to understand why we urge this country not to support Mobutu, not to have a puppet up in the Congo that would dance to the music of the United States and kill his own people.
We tried to get the Presidents in the past to understand why we were opposed to Savimbi that was supported by Reagan and others who were up in the bush causing displacement in Angola. We tried to get them to understand. We visited these places. We have been to Dakar. We have been to Benin. We have been to Botswana.
We have been in Zimbabwe and Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda and many countries in Africa. We understand.
The President of the United States needs to talk to the members of the Congressional Black Caucus. We are pleased that he is now paying attention to Liberia, and we believe that Charles Taylor needs to be dealt with. We do not know if the President is dealing with him in the proper way. And the President does not know whether or not he is dealing with him in the proper way, but he ought to talk with us. Should he be working out an agreement with Obasanjo of Nigeria to give him asylum?
There is a warrant out for Charles Taylor's arrest. He is responsible for working with RUF and the chopping off of the limbs of the people of Sierra Leone and other places. He is responsible for children being soldiers in the war. He is responsible for the rape and the pillage of many people. Should he not have to stand before the bar of justice in the U.N.-supported and -backed court that has a warrant out? Should he be allowed to have asylum and just go off up into Nigeria somewhere with the billions of dollars that he has stolen, the wealth he has reaped from the blood diamonds that came out of Sierra Leone? The President of the United States needs to talk to the Congressional Black Caucus because we understand the complications, and we understand what has been taking place in many of these spots. We would like to engage him on the future of Liberia and what should happen with Charles Taylor. We would like to help this President to build a real policy for the continent of Africa.
Mr. Speaker, we have been working on HIV/AIDS, and we are glad that the President has gotten involved in it and we will continue to do this work. We have got a long way to go.
I have been involved for years in working on debt relief for Africa. Africa needs assistance in many ways, but Africa is rich in resources and talent that needs to be developed by people who have Africa's best interest at heart.
Africa has been exploited, not only in many ways by our own government, by other governments and other countries. Everybody comes to Africa to get a little bit of gold and a little bit of diamonds. Everybody comes for the rich resources of Africa without real thought and planning and work for the development of Africa and the utilization of those resources for the benefit of the people. We can do better.
If this President is not simply reading a speech written for him by others in a photo opportunity, talking about that which he may not really understand, if he really wants to understand what is going on, the President of the United States needs to talk to the members of the Black Caucus. It seems to me that if the President can go to five African countries and talk to Africans about what is going on in Africa, he ought to be able to talk about the descendents who are here in the United States, who are just a few blocks away from him that he refuses to meet with. Yes, some of us are concerned about why the President has not engaged us in any discussion.
I do not believe that the President would travel to Israel, would take actions on Israel without speaking with the Jewish Members of the Congress of the United States of America. We need to talk with the President not only about what he is doing in Liberia, but about the future of that continent and about the possibility, about the importance, yes, there is oil, and, yes, there should be the kind of trade relationships that would help us to benefit from some of those natural resources and oil so that we are not dependent just on one section of the world. But this will never happen unless we go to the continent with good intentions, not unless we are all engaged as a family working in the best interest of our country.
I am not happy about the fact that the President took this as an opportunity to say simply, Mr. Charles Taylor, I want you out of Liberia within so many hours. That is not the way to handle this. We do not want to simply see American soldiers deployed there. This should be an international effort. But there should be international peacekeeping efforts not only in Liberia but in Iraq and other places because we do have to be concerned about stretching ourselves too far and too thin. We do have to be concerned about protecting our soldiers wherever they are. We want to help. We want to help frame and shape how that help should be given.
With that, I know that there will be those who will say perhaps there should be no challenging of the President at this point, no criticism of the President at this point while he is traveling in Africa. If the President wants to talk about Africa, now is the time for us all to do it.
We have been working too long and too hard to get this debate on Africa. We have fought and worked. We have tried to leverage and do everything within our power to get Africa on this President's agenda. Now perhaps we can do it, and we welcome the opportunity.
Mr. President, we are waiting for you.
Mr. PAYNE. Mr. Speaker, let me thank the gentlewoman from California. As I indicated, she needs no introduction. We appreciate her comments.
At this time we will hear from the gentlewoman from the Virgin Islands (Mrs. Christensen), who is, as we know, our health expert, a physician, and a leader on HIV and AIDS and other health issues around the Nation.
Mrs. CHRISTENSEN. Mr. Speaker, I thank the gentleman for yielding to me. I thank him as well for putting together this Special Order and for the leadership that he provides to the Caucus and the Congress on issues concerning Africa.
Mr. Speaker, I want to say something briefly about three different issues because of the tremendous and tragic toll they have taken on the people of the countries involved, because they are representative of the challenges facing Africa, and also because of the relative indifference of this country and the global community to addressing them.
The first is the 5-year civil war in the Republic of the Congo, Africa's third largest country and the native country of one of my closest friends and medical school classmates, Dr. Louis Kanda, who often shares the grave concerns he has over the ongoing conflict and his and the frustration of many others over the lack of attention it has received from this country despite repeated calls from members of the Congressional Black Caucus.
With many of its bordering countries involved in the conflict, it has become Africa's first continentwide war. Just today, The New York Times reported that an estimated 500 civilians have been killed in just one province in the northeastern region between July 2002 and March 2003. There is elsewhere children as young as 10 who have been robbed of their childhood and trained as guerilla fighters and terrorists.
Mr. Speaker, I join the U.N. Deputy High Commissioner Bertie Rancharam in his call for a speedy investigation of the massive abuses and appropriate intervention in northeastern Congo, and I would add that this country should not only support such action, but be fully a part of it.
I also want to call attention to the longstanding drought, severe food shortages and suffering of the people of Ethiopia. The groups of caring people raising funds, many of whom are from Ethiopia, can only go so far. Despite donations of wheat and other food products from this country and others, Ethiopia still needs much more food. There is no telling when the drought will end, and so the urgency to act and act appropriately to that need is now.
I would be remiss if I did not also support the words and works of my colleague, the gentlewoman from California (Ms. Lee), on HIV/AIDS and the other illnesses plaguing the continent and our need to be, at the very least, appropriating the full $15 billion and all related funding now, and then to release those funds without condition. To wait here, as in the case of widespread starvation, is to wait until it is too late in the process, and that would mean millions more lives being lost, and the cost to bring this global pandemic under control would multiply.
Lastly, I want to say a word about Liberia, as we in the U.S. Virgin Islands have specific ties to that country, in addition to those shared by African Americans here on the mainland, and all Americans. One of our most esteemed native sons, Edward Wilmot Blyden, born in St. Thomas, became an important Liberian educator and statesman, having served as Secretary of State and Ambassador to Britain and France from that country in the 1880s. He also became president of Liberia College. And there were others, such as Dr. John Moorhead, another of our local treasures, who lived there with his family and practiced medicine during the 1950s.
So I want to join my colleagues on calling on President Bush to work with President Obasanjo while he is in Nigeria to work towards a satisfactory agreement for the departure of President Taylor and peace and recovery for this war-battered and torn country that we helped to establish.
What I would want to leave my colleagues with this evening, though, Mr. Speaker, is a picture of a continent that is rich not only in natural resources, but also in people and in culture and in spirit. On this continent, despite the great and many challenges, democracy is growing, and the standard of life and level of civil liberties are being raised. Africa needs our support, either alone or within the context of multinational groupings, whatever the case might require.
It is my hope and prayer that not out of interest and what we can get from Africa, but in the interest of seeing those on that continent who are brothers and sisters to all of us prosper and develop in ways that are in their best interests, and that this country would continue to increase involvement begun during the Clinton administration and not just mimic a Presidential visit.
Mr. PAYNE. As we conclude, Mr. Speaker, I do want to acknowledge that the gentlewoman from Texas (Ms. Jackson-Lee) will be allowed to speak for 5 minutes on this Special Order, and we certainly appreciate the participation of the members of the Congressional Black Caucus.
We hope our message is getting out loud and clear. We think that Liberia has a special place in this country with African Americans who feel very close to this situation. Our young men have fought in every war, from Crispus Attucks, the first person that died in the Revolutionary War, up to just a week ago, when they buried a young Haitian soldier from my district who was one of the two men who were kidnapped and murdered. So we have fought in all the wars.
We hear people say that there should be a vote in Congress regarding sending 2,000 troops to Liberia. We have not heard that for the Colombians or for Panama. We did not hear that where the President is attempting to go into the Philippines now. Is there a different standard for Africa? Is it that 435 Members must get up and talk about 2,000 troops going into a country that we founded, that we colonized, that we have close ties with, that asked us to come so that the fighting will cease, and that other African countries will be there at our side? Is there a double standard? I hope not.
We have had failures before. There was a failure in Somalia. That did not mean we should no longer then go in on humanitarian issues. I hope this President and administration will have the same standard as we have had throughout this world, whether it was in Panama, whether it was in Colombia, whether it was in the Philippines, whether it is in places like even Haiti, where we went and were not asked to come. I hope that we will send those few peacekeepers, 2,000, to go in and lead the ECOWAS troops so that the cholera can stop, the children can stop dying, and the women can stop dying. They are asking us to come in. I think we have an obligation and a responsibility.
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate this opportunity to present this Special Order to the House.