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US VP, Kamala Harris finds new connections in Africa with a historic visit

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LUSAKA, Zambia (AP) — Vice President Kamala Harris may have traveled halfway around the world to reach this corner of Africa, but she was welcomed as a “daughter of our own country” when she sat down with Zambia’s leader.

The visit, President Hakainde Hichilema said, was “like a homecoming.”

It was a reference to a childhood trip to Zambia when Harris’ grandfather worked here, but she heard similar refrains throughout her weeklong trip to Africa that ended Saturday.

In Ghana, President Nana Akufo-Addo told Harris “you’re welcome home.” In Tanzania, a sign in Swahili told Harris to “feel at home.”

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Vice President Kamala Harris, left, and Tanzanian President Samia Suluhu Hassan speak during a news conference following their meeting in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, Thursday, March 30, 2023. (Ericky Boniphace/Pool Photo via AP, File)

The greetings were a reflection of the enduring connections between the African diaspora in the United States and Africans themselves, something that America’s first Black vice president fostered during her trip. Although her historic status has led to extreme scrutiny and extraordinary expectations in Washington, it was a source of excitement over the past week.

“She is the ambassador we need at the moment,” said Tracy Sharpley-Whiting, who chairs African American and Diaspora Studies at Vanderbilt University. “That’s a joyous thing.”

Harris’ background did not spare her from difficult conversations about U.S. foreign policy and she was pressed in Africa about visas, private investment and funding to deal with climate change. There’s also skepticism over whether the United States will follow through with its commitments and over its attempts to rival China’s own influence in Africa.

But at every stop, Harris was warmly embraced.

“Kamala Harris! Kamala Harris!” young girls shouted on the tarmac when she landed in Lusaka on Friday. She approached them with her hand on her chest in gratitude. “The VP is here! The VP is here!”

Vice President Kamala Harris, left, is greeted by Zambian President Hakainde Hichilema in Lusaka, Zambia, Friday, March 31, 2023. (AP Photo/Salim Dawood, File)

The last week produced none of the unfortunate viral moments that dogged Harris on previous foreign trips, such as when she laughed off a question about visiting the U.S. border with Mexico or when she said the U.S. had an “alliance with the Republic of North Korea.”

Instead, the trip to Africa was largely overshadowed by a cascade of U.S. news, including a school shooting in Nashville, Tennessee, and the indictment of former President Donald Trump.

But anyone tuning in would have seen Harris hanging out with actor Idris Elba and actor-singer Sheryl Lee Ralph at a recording studio in Accra, Ghana’s capital, or collecting business cards from young entrepreneurs in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, or walking through rows of peppers at a farm outside of Lusaka. Sometimes she felt comfortable enough to discard her prepared remarks, a rarity for a politician who sticks closely to the script in Washington.

Although Africa remains a poor continent with almost half the population lacking access to electricity, Harris’ itinerary was aimed at portraying it as young, dynamic, innovative — and primed for American business opportunities, particularly with leaders from the diaspora.

The most glamorous event was a state banquet at the Ghanaian presidential palace known as the Jubilee House, where Black American celebrities, business people and civil rights activists gathered.

In her toast, Harris paid tribute to attendees who “represent the glorious beauty of the African diaspora” and she spoke about “our shared destiny.”

Akufo-Addo, the president, honored Harris with a local touch.

“Since you were born on a Tuesday, I’m sure you would not mind the Ghanaian name Abena, the Akan name for all Tuesday born females, to your name,” he said.

Raising his glass, Akufo-Addo toasted “the honorable Kamala Devi Abena Harris.”

Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League, said there was a “festive and family” atmosphere to be there with the first Black vice president in U.S. history.

“It’s a moment of pride,” he said. “And it’s a moment of opportunity.”

Vice President Kamala Harris and First Gentleman Douglas Emhoff listen to a guide as they tour Cape Coast Castle in Ghana, Tuesday, March 28, 2023. This castle in was one of around 40 “slave castles” that served as prisons and embarkation points for slaves en route to the Americas. (Misper Apawu/Pool Photo via AP, File)

The trip could be Harris’ last foray overseas before the 2024 campaign begins in earnest. President Joe Biden is expected to announce his reelection run, and Harris will be a prime target for Republican attacks.

Some of that is the result of Biden’s age — he would be 82 when starting a second term in 2025 — and Harris’ status a heartbeat away from the presidency.

But like President Barack Obama before her, Harris has faced racism and questions when it comes to her heritage.

Her father was born in Jamaica, where most Black citizens trace their heritage to Africa through the slave trade, making it likely that Harris’ own ancestors were enslaved.

Her mother was born in India, and the vice president was raised in California, contributing to a multicultural background that defies easy characterization. (It was her mother’s Indian father who worked in Zambia decades ago, helping to settle refugees in the newly independent African country.)

But Harris wrote in her book, “The Truths We Hold,” that her mother was clear-eyed about what it meant to raise two daughters in the United States. “She knew that her adopted homeland would see Maya and me as black girls, and she was determined to make sure we would grow into confident, proud black women,” Harris wrote.

Harris wrote that when she arrived at Howard University in Washington, a predominantly Black institution that has educated generations of Black political and cultural leaders, she thought, “This is heaven.”

“There were hundreds of people, and everyone looked like me,” Harris wrote. “The campus was a place where you didn’t have to be confined to the box of another person’s choosing.”

Harris was San Francisco’s district attorney while Obama was running for president, and she defended him when his racial identity was questioned. He’s the son of a white American mother and a Kenyan father, and he spent part of his youth in Indonesia.

She told the San Francisco Chronicle that Obama “is opening up what has been a limited perspective of who is an African American.”

“We are diverse and multifaceted,” Harris said. “People are bombarded with stereotypical images and so they are limited in their ability to imagine our capacity.”

Harris faced the same strain of commentary during her own presidential campaign in 2020.

 

Vice President Kamala Harris meets with traditional leaders at Cape Coast Castle in Ghana, Tuesday, March 28, 2023. This castle in was one of around 40 “slave castles” that served as prisons and embarkation points for slaves en route to the Americas. (AP Photo/Misper Apawu, File)

“I think they don’t understand who Black people are. I’m not going to spend my time trying to educate people about who Black people are,” she said in a radio interview at the time.

The relationship between the African diaspora and Africans on the continent has been complicated by the history of slavery. African Americans often aren’t sure of their roots because their ancestors were kidnapped and traded. According to the vice president’s office, Harris hasn’t traced her heritage back here, either.

Nevertheless, Sharpley-Whiting said the bond to Africa remains strong for many Black Americans.

“They recognize it as the place where their ancestors started, and they recognize the resilience of those ancestors,” she said.

Harris confronted that history when she visited Cape Coast Castle in Ghana, one of dozens of forts in West Africa where enslaved Africans were imprisoned and then loaded onto ships bound for the Americas. The Caribbean — including Jamaica — was one of the destinations.

“I’m still processing a lot of it,” she told reporters the following day. She lingered on the experiences of pregnant women who were imprisoned there — their babies were taken from them and the women were sent off across the ocean.

“The brutality, the inhumane treatment of human beings is profound,” she said. “And the lasting trauma of that cannot be denied.”

But she soon turned to another topic when asked what she wanted Black Americans to take away from her trip to Africa.

The message, she said, wasn’t just about “how the diaspora came to be.”

It’s about “the resilience, the strength, fortitude, the brilliance, the excellence.”

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Could South Africa be the first-ever country to provide a no-strings-attached universal basic income?

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South Africa suffers from severe income inequality — one of the worst anywhere in the world. Its unemployment rate, meanwhile, is over 30%.

But its government thinks it has a solution: a universal basic income .

The idea has broad political support and the country’s largest political party, the African National Congress, said recently it is committed to implementing a universal basic income within two years.

Once the figment of ideological dreamers, a universal basic income — regular direct cash payments to a population with no strings attached — has grown in legitimacy, especially after the success of COVID-era stimulus checks. Tech visionaries racing to develop ever-more advanced artificial intelligence have also suggested implementing a universal basic income. They say it would help mitigate the job losses from AI .

Several other countries have experimented with versions of a universal basic income. Kenya, for instance, offers unconditional payments to about 20,000 people in 200 different towns.

In the United States, numerous cities and some states are experimenting on a small scale with guaranteed basic incomes , which offer no-strings-attached payments but only to select groups of people in need. While studies have shown these American programs to be successful, they have also run up against significant political opposition .

But in South Africa, most political parties are all for it. They just need to work out the details.

“The ANC is committed to finalizing a comprehensive policy on the basic income support grant within two years of the new ANC administration, ensuring broad consultation and expedited action,” South Africa’s ruling party said in a statement .

That statement came a week before hotly contested general elections on May 29, which saw the ANC lose its majority in parliament. The ANC is now working to form a unity government and a commitment to implementing a universal basic income will almost certainly come up in negotiations.

According to the party, a study at the University of Johannesburg showed that a majority of South African citizens “fully support the introduction of a basic income support grant.”

While South Africa provides payments to certain groups living below the poverty line through its Social Relief Distress grant program, the ANC plan would open eligibility to all South African adults, the Guardian reported .

The ANC said it is “exploring” options, like new tax measures and a new social-security tax, to fund the program. The party also says its goal for the program is not to replace existing social-security programs, but to complement them.

If it follows through, the ANC plan would make South Africa the first country to provide a universal basic income.

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In a historic election, South Africa’s ANC loses majority for the first time

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JOHANNESBURG — South Africa’s ruling African National Congress party has lost its outright majority for the first time in a devastating blow for the party once led by Nelson Mandela. The ANC has dominated South African politics since winning in the first post-apartheid elections 30 years ago.

The ANC was braced for a disappointing outcome, predicted by polls before Wednesday’s elections, but the final results are even more sobering. It won 40 percent of the vote, falling from 57% in 2019.

Tessa Dooms, a director at Rivonia Circle, a think tank in South Africa, said it was a historic result that diminished the ANC’s three decades hold on power. “The election in South Africa is an important watershed moment that fundamentally changes politics,” she said.

According to the constitution, the party with the largest vote has two weeks from the result confirmation to form a new government. The ANC will now have to form a coalition government with one or more opposition parties for the first time, to remain in power.

Driving the party’s waning support is an all too bleak reality for millions of people.

South Africa remains one of the most unequal countries in the world, with 32% unemployed, along with soaring levels of crime. Immense frustrations with water and electricity shortages as well as corruption have led to growing criticism of the ANC government.

For many, the initial progress that followed liberation from white-minority rule has not been sustained. Despite significant achievements in Africa’s most industrialized nation, inequalities inherited from the apartheid regime have remained, and over the last decade, even worsened. The party’s vote share has fallen by a few percent in every election since 2004 — exacerbated by a generation divide, with younger voters born after apartheid, the so-called “born frees”, less likely to vote for the ANC.

“On the one hand, we overcame apartheid as a structural force,” Dooms said, “On the other hand, we have not actually changed many of the dynamics. We inherited inequality of one form, and we have doubled down on inequality in South Africa and another form going forward and it has hurt us.”

But in this election, the gradual decline in ANC support over the last 20 years grew more dramatic, Dooms said. “The ANC has in some ways imploded in the form of its former president, Jacob Zuma. The rise of the MK is certainly the biggest story of this election.”

The fall and rise of Zuma

The controversial, convicted former ANC leader’s new party, the uMkhonto weSizwe party, or MK, was the story of the election. MK was named after the disbanded military wing of the ANC, and registered just six months ago. But in a short space of time the party has soared above expectations. The party was bolstered by many former ANC supporters and a base of largely poor and ethnically Zulu South Africans who followed Zuma’s lead and left the ANC. It is now the third-largest party in South Africa, with almost 15%.

It caps a dramatic fall and rise of the 82-year-old leader. While a conviction bars him from being elected into parliament, as leader of the MK, he could now be a significant player in the negotiations to form a new coalition government, and could use his power to attempt to avoid a further conviction.

Zuma was forced to resign from the presidency in 2018, and was convicted in 2021 of failing to present himself at a corruption trial against him. He is also due to be tried again next year for corruption in an alleged arms deal in 1999.

The populist leader has accused his successor, President Cyril Ramaphosa, of being behind his legal troubles. Now Zuma has inflicted a major defeat on his rival, who is likely to face pressure from some in his party to resign.

Zuma’s daughter and MK member, Duduzile Sambudla, told NPR, “The MK is not willing to go into a coalition with the ANC of Ramaphosa,” she said, implying that a coalition would be possible without Ramaphosa.

The MK’s success against the ANC is most significant in South Africa’s second-most populous province, KwaZulu Natal (KZN). The party won almost 46% of the vote, against nearly 18% for the ANC in a landslide result.

Liberation icon Nelson Mandela first voted at the Ohlange High Schoolin Durban, KZN, in 1994, when he became president. Thirty years later, many voters at the same polling unit echoed a similar sentiment: frustration with the state of the country, and a desire for change.

Nqobile Khumalo, 24, arrived at the polling station shortly after polls opened at 7 a.m. on Wednesday and was voting for the first time. “We just really hope that there will be change,” she said. Tracy Bongiwe Zondo, 39, went further. “Before now I was voting for the ANC but now I’m voting for MK because I need a change in our community,” she said.

President Ramaphosa’s future is now an open question. He is the first ANC president to lose the party’s majority, has overseen the steepest fall in share of the vote (17%), and turnout has reduced to 58 percent. The ANC’s head of elections, Nomvula Mokonyane told NPR Ramaphosa would not step down. “Nobody’s going to resign,” she said. But Ramaphosa faces a major challenge to survive the duration of his second term, if he manages to form a government that based on the results, will likely be divisive.

Culled from NPR

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Congressional Black Caucus condemns Speaker Johnson’s treatment of Kenya’s president

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The Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) shared a post online Wednesday condemning Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) for refusing to host Kenyan President William Ruto for a joint meeting of Congress, which is typically extended to other international leaders.

“While @SpeakerJohnson might not have given the President of Kenya the opportunity to address a Joint Session of Congress, the CBC was proud to welcome President Ruto to the United States Capitol today,” the CBC posted on the social platform X . “We were honored to present President Ruto honorary membership in the CBC.”

Ruto is in town for a state dinner Thursday, President Biden’s sixth state dinner since taking office.

He posted on X highlighting CBC’s role in “advancing social justice, human rights and economic development across the globe.”

“We implore the Congress to take lead in reconfiguring the global financial architecture where power is not in the hands of the few. A bold, robust and targeted approach will free Africa of the debt burden and transform the world,” Ruto said on X .

The Hill has reached out to Johnson’s office for comment; it released statement to USA Today that Johnson offered the Kenyan Embassy “over 90 minutes of engagement including a one-on-one visit with Speaker Johnson, bipartisan leadership meeting with Speaker Johnson, Leader Jeffries, and Committee Chairmen and Ranking Members, and a bicameral meeting.”

Ruto said he was honored to be recognized as an honorary member of the CBC and shared photos of his visit.

The dinner will honor the 60th anniversary of the United States’s partnership with Kenya, and Biden plans to designate Kenya as a major non-NATO ally , the first in sub-Saharan Africa.

The post from the CBC was meant as a dig against Johnson, who is planning to invite Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address Congress. Johnson’s invitation has been met with pushback from some Democrats as the war between Israel and Hamas continues in Gaza.

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