(Snippett: Without going into whether we succeeded or not in mapping a solid foundation for the establishment of the Pan-African Radio and Television Channel, the question is why should Egypt all of a sudden be so interested in what happens to the image of Africa internationally? Especially, since when is President Hosni Mubarak so interested in playing any major role in Africa, other than using the rest of the continent to shore up his Middle East policy? Look, this man has not attended many African Union meetings on the excuse that there was a plot to assassinate him, and all of a sudden, you want to tell me he is interested in starting a broadcast channel that would counter how the international community views Africa? President Mubarak, in effect Egypt, is the leader of the Arab world. The genocide that is occurring in the Sudan is just at his backyard. Mubarak has not made any attempt at reining in the Arab government in the Sudan, which is behind the janjaweed that is wiping out black Africans in the Darfur region of the country. If President Mubarak wants to do the rest of Africa a big favor, he should summon President Umar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir of the Sudan and command him to stop his murderous policies in the Darfur region through his blatant arming of the janjaweed. I don't understand why the rest of Africa don't have the courage to call a spade a spade. What Africa doesn't need right now, is for Egypt to dangle us with the availability of their excess telecommunications capacity).
On the weekend of the 19th November, Africans from different parts of the continent, including two people from the United States (myself and an African-American), trooped to Cairo, Egypt for the Meeting of Experts on the Establishment of the Pan-African Radio and Television Channel. The invitation for this meeting had been extended to me and others by the African Union, the umbrella organization for the 53 African countries (excluding Morocco, for good measure). I was excited about the invitation, that I was going to be on the ground floor at the establishment of such an important organization which would propel the continent towards correcting the years of being maligned by the international press. In fact, I was so excited that I even made the letter of invitation from the Communications Director of the African Union publicly available, and when challenged, boasting that 53 African Ministers of Information would be there.
So, it was in this frame of mind that I left New York on the 19th of November, 2005, and arrived Cairo, Egypt, the next day Sunday. I was met by a member of the Nigerian Embassy in Cairo, but the airport reminded me of those years when 'touts' used to rush almost to the aircraft in Nigeria when international flights would arrive. There were so many people rushing around, after we alighted from the bus which had brought us from the aircraft, that I had to ask myself where is the security. But of course, it was to my benefit, with my passport and papers quickly processed, as I saw that others were doing the same thing.
I was taken to the Sheraton Heliopolis where I had been booked, and where the stipend that was given to us was barely enough to cover the cost. But I was happy that I was going to be making some contributions - everything doesn't have to be roses, as I regarded it as a labor of love for the continent I so much cherish. Okay, before I continue, let me point out that Egypt has done everything to make itself an tourist-friendly country. At the consulate in New York, everything is made very easy for you. The application for visa is very scant, and not laborious and the fee is only $15.00. In fact, the Consul-General even waived this fee for me.
Let me say this from the beginning, that as an student of history, I was wondering how I was going to feel if I were to go to one of the Arab African countries, and I was confronted with this when I checked in at the hotel. I immediately felt some hostility, and disdainfulness, that was reinforced by the knowledge that here were the people who had started the slave trade of Africans before the advent of the white man, a saddened problem that continues today in the Darfur region of the Sudan and in Mauritania.
In fact, it reminds me of a New York Times editorial of Monday, November 28, 2005, titled "The New Rwanda," which said as follows, "The Times columnist Nicholas Kristof reports that last month, members of the janjaweed militia attacked the village of Tama in southern Darfur, killing 37 people, with another 12 still missing. In one particularly gruesome case, the marauders yanked 2-year old Zahra Abdullah from the back of her mother, Fatima Omar Adam, as Ms. Fatima tried to escape with her children. They bludgeoned the little girl on the ground in front of her screaming mother and sister. Ms. Fatima eventually escaped with two of her children, but was forced to leave Zahra to die at the hands of the janjaweed.
In another column, Mr. Kristof wrote that Arab men in military uniforms gang-raped Noura Moussa, saying, "We cannot let black people live in this land." Ms. Noura said the men called her a slave and added, "We can kill any members of African tribes."
The shocking fact is, apparently they can. The Sudanese government is enabling them, and the rest of the world isn't doing much to stop it. It's the same old Rwanda story, with the same indifference from the world's governments," the paper concluded.
How about the African Union and African governments themselves? So, the disdained look and the hostile manner, already remind me of where I am, although I must also mention that there is the forced attempt to be polite.
Anyway, back to the Experts Meeting on the Establishment of the African Radio and Television Channel, the venue of the meeting of which I later learnt would be at the Convention Center in Cairo. The next morning, two buses were provided to ferry the attendees to the venue, where each of the 53 African countries had been allocated their seats, with another section set for the "experts".
Right from the beginning as soon as all of us were eventually seated, I discovered that all of the assumptions I had made, about who and who were going to be at the meeting, were totally wrong. Of course, I had read in the memo earlier presented to us before my departure, that the idea of the Pan-African Radio and Television Channels was the brain-child of President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, who had presented this idea at the African Heads of State meeting at Abuja, Nigeria. "During the January 2005 Mid-term Summit of the African Union, in Abuja, Nigeria, President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt had raised the question of the establishment of a Pan-African Television Channel, underlining its importance for the continent. He announced there the Egyptian initiative based on the availability of Egyptian satellite facilities and capabilities through Nile-Sat. He assured the gathering of Egypt's readiness to provide technical and human resources to ensure the fundamental objective of increasing integration among African peoples."
The Heads of State endorsed the idea. But the memo had gone on to say that the Egyptians had polled members of the African Union on the merits of the Pan-African Radio and Television Channel, and to my surprise, only 13 countries had replied on the merits or demerits of the idea, less than a quarter of the membership of the Union.
After the Egyptian anthem was sang, we began the meeting with the Egyptian Minister of Information addressing us about the need for a Pan-African Radio and Television Channel, which would counter the negative image of Africa which were being portrayed every day by the international media, especially CNN, and the foresight of the Egyptian government in making available its facilities towards launching the project (PARTC). Of course, he spoke in Arabic.
He was followed by the Honorable Chairman of the African Union Commission, Prof. Alpha Oumar Konare, who is the former President of the Republic of Mali. It was an electrifying speech, made without a written text, which urged us to ensure that before we come to the end of the meeting that we arrive at a decision to launch the Pan-African Radio and Television Channel. It was an incredible speech, which dissected the problems of Africa as seen by the international media, and which Africa has vowed it would not continue to tolerate. A change had to be made, to counter the negative image that the international media continued to portray about Africa, a continent only of the pandemic of HIV/AIDS, of famine, of wars, of irresponsible and autocratic leaders, of not recognizing the progress that Africa is making, of the processes and organs of the African Union established to push for good governance. At the end of the speech, we felt like jumping up and slaying that monster called the international media, as represented by CNN, Voice of America (VOA), and the British Broadcasting Service (BBC). As for me, I was quite ready to go to any lengths to help fulfil the injunction of the Chair of the African Union Commission. When you see an orator, you definitely know him - Alpha Oumar Konare, former President of Mali, who fulfilled his two terms of office and left the presidency, unlike the current breed of Presidents who are all angling for more terms in office.
But then came the let down - as soon as these two gentlemen finished their speeches, the auditorium emptied, though we were overwhelmed by the number of Egyptian officials both from the Ministry of Information and their Foreign Ministry as well. But when you looked at the number of delegates from the 53 countries, it was quite sad to see that less than 10 official delegates were represented, the rest being members of NGOs and other projects of the African Union, such as the Regional African Satellite Communications Organization (RASCOM), the Union of African National Radio and Television organisations (URTNA), established in 1962, and the African Telecommunications Union (ATU). There was absolutely no Minister of Information from any of the African countries, except that of Egypt who made his speech and departed. In fact, the sad situation was noted by the number of African nations which were not represented than by the number that were represented
Right from the beginning, it seemed that the Egyptians just wanted us to rubber-stamp their concept of the Pan-African Radio and Television Channel. Actually, it was the African Union itself which added the radio part of the project. They wanted us to be quite thankful of their magnanimity at making their excess telecommunications capacity available to the rest of Africa. First of all, the rest of the first day was practically wasted, we were entertained to a Boat-Ride on the Nile River with good food and belly dancers. The next day, when we should really get serious about what we had been brought to do, the chairman (which the Egyptians had usurped and appropriated to themselves) refused to recognize the experts. After the brilliant presentation of the project by the renowned Prof. Alfred Opubor, Coordinator and Adviser to the Chair of the African Union Commission, the experts were ready to contribute to ensuring a solid foundation for the project. However, the chairman decided to call on the miniscule number of country delegates, though it was clearly stated as an "Experts Meeting on the Establishment of the Pan-African Radio and Television Channels." The experts were sat at the back, and it wasn't as if there were delegates sitting on their respective seats. And to compound matters, there weren't portable microphones to enable the experts to air their views, with the result that the experts had to forcibly seize one of the empty seats allocated to some of countries which had microphones. After a break, this situation was eventually remedied by the Director of Communications for the African Union, who invited the experts to take any seats of their choice.
Without going into whether we succeeded or not in mapping a solid foundation for the establishment of the Pan-African Radio and Television Channel, the question is why should Egypt all of a sudden be so interested in what happens to the image of Africa internationally? Especially, since when is President Hosni Mubarak so interested in playing any major role in Africa, other than using the rest of the continent to shore up his Middle East policy? Look, this man has not attended many African Union meetings on the excuse that there was a plot to assassinate him, and all of a sudden, you want to tell me he is interested in starting a broadcast channel that would counter how the international community views Africa? President Mubarak, in effect Egypt, is the leader of the Arab world. The genocide that is occurring in the Sudan is just at his backyard. Mubarak has not made any attempt at reining in the Arab government in the Sudan, which is behind the janjaweed that is wiping out black Africans in the Darfur region of the country. If President Mubarak wants to do the rest of Africa a big favor, he should summon President Umar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir and command him to stop his murderous policies in the Darfur region through his blatant arming of the janjaweed. I don't understand why the rest of Africa don't have the courage to call a spade a spade. What Africa doesn't need right now, is for Egypt to dangle us with the availability of their excess telecommunications capacity.
Again, this sudden concoction of altering the negative image of Africa in the international arena by President Mubarak has to be seen through the prism of two major events, one which has happened and the other which is being debated. As I said before, it is only when it suits Egypt that it remembers that it is part of Africa. During the search for the country which would host the 2010 World Cup of Soccer, Egypt suddenly remembered that it is an African country. South Africa rightfully won the bid, and it would have been a travesty of justice if it had been given to Egypt.
Likewise, on the two countries which would be selected to become permanent members of the United Nations Security Council. In fact, it must be conjectured that the rush to start the Pan-African Radio and Television Channel has everything to do with Egypt propagating its singular qualities as alternative to either South Africa or Nigeria as an African country for the Security Council seats. It shouldn't happen. In fact, I would prefer Algeria any day to Egypt, because in the final analysis President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has always been there for Africa. After all, look at all his efforts with his other African brothers at the G8 meetings. President Hosni Mubarak has always been 'AWOL.'
Okay, we have a saying in my place that you don't shit on the same road you are going to traverse back, because you are likely to step on your own faeces. So I may no longer be invited as an expert on the establishment of the Pan-African Radio and Television Channel, but what has to be said has to be said. In fact, RASCOM is in a much better position to provide Africa with the infrastructure and capacity required to launch the Pan-African Radio and Television Channel, not Nile-Sat. After all, 47 countries have already subscribed to become members out of 53, while less than one quarter of the countries even bothered to reply to the Egyptian poll.
But the idea of the Pan-African Radio and Televison Channel must be applauded, of course, only if it could incorporate credibility, independence and freedom of expression. Could you imagine a Pan-African Radio and Television staffer having the temerity to question why President Mubarak should have contested for another seven years in office and won, after more than 24 years in office? A new gulag would be established in Africa for such a journalist!!