Chithra KarunaKaran is the United Nations correspondent for World Parliamentarian Magazine, a monthly published from Brussels.
The vibrant diversity and generous hospitality of both Africa and America were fully in evidence at the AIA’s 16th Annual Awards dinner at the Grand Hyatt Ballroom on East 42nd Street, on Friday September 22. It was a time for speeches, popping flashbulbs, reminiscences, applause, handshakes, an auction of Pan-African artifacts, the proud wearing of traditional dress and doing The Slide on a packed dance floor to the varied rhythms of —— band. It was a time to be reminded that much has been accomplished but that much remains yet to be done. Artists and writers, delegates and diplomats, representatives from multinationals and other corporates came to felicitate Africa on its stirring new achievements in democracy. Ghanaians, Nigerians, Rwandans, Botswanans, South Africans, Eritreans, Senegalese, Tanzanians, Kenyans, Malians were all in exuberant attendance. Joining them were a sprinkling of South Asians, Australians, Brits and Latinos. All came to acknowledge the indelible connection, both historical and contemporary, between America and Africa, of Africa as the mother of us all. It was also a time for somber reflection about the need for urgent, continued and unmitigated effort to limit the spread of AIDS, search for ways to restore safety to areas torn apart by ethnic strife and offer renewed hope for a real future for Africa’s children and youth.
President Clinton was accorded special recognition by the AIA for his unprecedented efforts to promote African prosperity through the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act. In a message especially presented on a monitor from the White House, the President said he was proud to have made two separate visits to Africa, the only US President to be able to claim such a distinction.
Toni Morrison, Nobel prizewinning author described her struggles as a young writer and told of being inspired by the genius of China Ache be of Nigeria, one of four honorees of the evening. President Mbeki of South Africa, who was on a State visit to Algeria at the time, spoke by satellite and his Award for Leadership was accepted by — and —— Talked about the expanded participation of South African women at all levels of government, a statement greeted by prolonged applause. Cheick Mobido Diarra of Mali, the aerospace engineer and international science educator was honored for his continued leadership in space science information dissemination, his award being presented after a rousing introduction by Neil de Grasse Tyson, director of the Hayden Planetarium of the American Museum of Natural History. Charlayne Hunter-Gault accepted her award for Excellence in Media, from South Africa where she is Johannesburg Bureau Chief for CNN. Ms. Hunter-Gault recounted the exhilaration of being on the ground in Zimbabwe during President Mugabe’s seizure of farms still held by expatriates.
For Roger Wilkins, AIA Chairman it was a time to bid farewell and to recount the achievements of AIA under his watch. He added that the effort to increase educational opportunities for girls in Africa was a source of special pride and satisfaction. President Mora McLean in her welcoming comments to the 300 plus guests spoke about her enduring connection with Africa, her days as a young law student who was helped to travel to Ghana by the AIA and never dreamed that she would one day work for this organization that had demonstrated such commitment to the hopes and aspirations of all Africans at home and in the United States.
Among the many sponsors and donors were The South Africa Tourism Board, Ford Motor Company, Chevron, AFSCME, Africa One, That National Association of Negro Business and Professional Women’s Clubs, Inc. and other organizations and individuals. The Gala Committee included Kwame Akonor, Joseph Mutaboba, David Dinkins, Julianna Malveaux, Kgosi Seepapitso, Sheila Sisulu, Eleanor Holmes Norton , Chitmansing Jesseramsing, Joseph Diatta, Kweisi Mfune, and others.