Washington State Africa Network
National Summit on Africa

Letter from the Pacific Regional Summit

Friday and Saturday, June 4 and 5, 1999,
St Francis Hotel, San Francisco, CA.

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are my own, not necessarily those of the Washington State delegation or anyone else.


The Pacific Coast Regional Conference of the National Summit on Africa was held last week (June 4-5) in San Francisco. While there was some cynicism about the overall process among some participants, even these seemed committed to the regional meeting. Participants came with a lot of passion and a high level of commitment to seeing US policy to Africa changed. Almost to a person, the feeling at the end of the conference was overwhelming positive.

For the cynics who have been following this process there is some cause for optimism. The conference organization is under new management (though they face a serious problem because the initial managers and regional conferences nearly exhausted the budget) and in term of participation, the SF conference is said to be the most diverse geographically, ethnically, and culturally and most activist.

There are still some peculiarities about the process. In large part we were called together as a grassroots effort to forge a new direction for U.S. foreign policy, yet a large part of the scheduled program was devoted to "keynote speeches" in plenary sessions. The delegate instructions say that the "plenary session (are) general sessions where everyone can participate in the general debate." There was absolutely none.

Many of the speakers at the plenary sessions very elite who had created the present policies. After hearing in the working groups about African debt owed to the IMF, the detrimental impact of the IMF conditionality and the corrupt African governments that took the loans, the program organizers scheduled a former Prime Minister from Africa, who is now a high level director at the IMF. Of coarse every decade the IMF announces that they have recreated themselves as the new kinder IMF.

But there should be no doubts, the irony of the programming and the conservativeness of the framework documents did nothing to intimidate delegates, stifle debate, and the conference participants was generally more progressive than the conference organization.

There still remains questions on the process of producing the finally Action Plans. It sounds like 20-25% of the delegates to the National Summit are going to be "at-large delegates" hand picked by the organization. They will not have gone through the regional process, they will not be part of any state delegation and in all likelihood, not be associated with the grassroots.

Another unanswered question is what significance the finally plan will really have.

The grassroots nature of the participants in SF can be seen as both a help and a hindrance. As individuals the participants seemed to have broader interests than many special purpose organizations, but when it came time to developing policy language they often suffered from a lack of tight well crafted policy statements that special purpose organizations might have been able to offer.

The policy discussions (deliberative process) were suppose to be two fold: First, to produce policy recommendations in the five thematic areas to enhance African development and US-Africa relations. Second, to look at the existing regional connections with Africa, and how they relate to US-Africa relations. Generally the second focus was not addressed, and might be address for Washington State in the months to come by the Washington State delegation. We can produce recommendations relevant to these connections. For example, what city or state policies are needed to facilitate greater African connections; what kinds of advocacy work can be done at the local level; the role sectors such as business, culture and arts, education, non-governmental, religious and others might play; and what federal action might facilitate regional connections with Africa. For Washington State 13 of our top 100 export markets are in Africa.

The product of the meeting, "The Pacific Regional Summit Policy Plan of Action," was hammered out by five thematic working groups who met for between six and eight hours on Fridays, over a 16 hour period, to develop there respective sections. While there tend to be general agreement on broad issues, the devil is in the detail and there was animated debate about almost all the details. Sometimes the alignment of participants would change from topic to topic. One of the products of the long deliberative process was a high level of camaraderie when it was all over.

The deliberative process started with the five thematic Draft Policy Plan of Action. The officers of each Thematic Session were a chairperson, vice-chairperson, 2-3 resource person, a representative from the relevant expert group, a representative of the National Summit on Africa and a rapporteur. In the Economic Development thematic sessions the "resource people" were not particularly resourceful and not well suited for the process.

Discussion groups were free to adopt, amend, discard, or add to any and all recommendations in their thematic area. Any amendment, substitute paragraph or new paragraph had to be submitted in writing. Because only one recommendation for a given section was on the floor at one time and time was short, it was hard to see the big view and all the choices of options for a policy. As the discussion quickly moved forward, similar recommendations were not always cleanly combined and synthesized so some of the final policy language is not as polished as it might be.

The final Pacific Coast Regional Summit Policy Plan of Action should be on the Internet soon.

One of the last activities of the conference was the State Caucuses. There were less Washington State residence at the conference than delegate slots allocated to us (36) so everyone who wanted to could be on the delegation. David Mozer and Jean Lanz were selected as co-chairpersons.

We now have the task of filling the rest of the delegate openings. The delegations must reflect the diversity of the state that they represent including gender, race, age, etc. Delegates should draw from the private and public sectors, including non-governmental organizations, state and local government, business, academic, religious, labor, etc.

David Mozer

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