Wednesday, January 26, 2011

African immigrant found in England from 300AD

January 26 2011 at 08:21pm

You might think that African immigrants are a fairly recent addition to the British scene.

But the discovery of a 1700-year-old skeleton has turned that idea on its head.

Bones unearthed on the site of a Roman cemetery in Warwickshire are the remains of an African man, archaeologists have concluded.

The discovery, made during analysis of remains found near Stratford-upon-Avon, suggests that African immigrants lived far afield of major settlements, such as London and York, as early as the third or fourth century.

Stuart Palmer, Warwickshire County Council’s archaeology projects manager, said the find was surprising because it indicated that people of African descent lived in Warwickshire far earlier than historians thought.

Palmer said: “African skeletons have previously been found in large Romano-British towns such as York, and African units are known to have formed part of the Hadrian’s Wall garrison, but we had no reason to expect any in Warwickshire, and certainly not in a community as small as Roman Stratford.”

Experts think the skeleton, found in the Tiddington Road area of Stratford during a dig in 2009, may be that of a slave or a former Roman soldier.

A report by experts in excavated remains established that the man was of African descent and was probably in his 40’s or 50’s when he died.

Palmer said the skeletal remains also revealed that the man was heavily-built and that the condition of his spine showed he was used to carrying heavy loads.

Although the cause of the man’s death has not been established, examination of his bones found evidence of arthritis and a childhood plagued by disease or malnutrition.

Palmer added: “He could, for instance, have been a merchant although, based on the evidence of the skeletal pathology it is probably more likely that he was a slave or an army veteran who retired to Stratford.” - Daily Mail

Thursday, January 20, 2011

U.S. Sees Success in Immigration Program for Haitians

Published: January 19, 2011

A year after the devastating earthquake in Haiti, the American government has received more than 53,000 applications from Haitians seeking temporary legal status in the United States, and it has approved the vast majority, a top immigration official said Wednesday.

The official, Alejandro Mayorkas, director of United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, said his agency’s response to the disaster showed that it could handle a much larger immigrant legalization program like the proposal known as the Dream Act, which would provide a path to citizenship for hundreds of thousands of young illegal immigrants.

Tuesday was the deadline for Haitians to apply for the designation, called temporary protected status. The program gives most Haitians who were in the United States on the day of the earthquake the right to stay and work legally for 18 months while Haiti tries to recover.

“I think our performance and our execution of the T.P.S. program serves as a model of our ability to execute immigration reform programs,” Mr. Mayorkas said in an interview. “How quickly, effectively and efficiently we responded to the disaster is a standard for us to adhere to.”

The special designation is scheduled to expire on July 22, but advocates for Haitian immigrants say they expect that the government will extend the status, as it has for immigrants from other countries crippled by war or natural disaster.

At least 46,000 Haitians have been granted the special designation. Immigration officials said that they were still processing applications that arrived before the deadline, and that they expected the total number of approvals to exceed 49,000. That is still lower than the number of people federal officials initially expected might be eligible for the temporary protection.

Immigration officials said they had purposely chosen high estimates of the number of Haitians who might have been eligible, to ensure that they had budgeted enough money and manpower to handle the application process. Within several weeks of the announcement, officials said, they revised down to 70,000 to 100,000 their initial estimate of 100,000 to 200,000, after consulting with academics, immigrant advocates and others familiar with the Haitian diaspora.

Even now, officials said, since there is no way to count the illegal immigrant population, they do not know how many potentially eligible Haitians decided not to file for the special status.

The federal government’s offer was accompanied by a robust outreach effort that included more than 200 public forums, and conference calls between immigration officials and advocacy groups working with Haitians, officials said. Mr. Mayorkas himself led meetings with community leaders and others in New York, Miami and Boston, where large Haitian populations have taken root, and he sent deputies to other locations to explain the program.

Officials at Citizenship and Immigration Services, a division of the Department of Homeland Security, also say that improvements to the agency’s paperwork processing, background screening and public information systems have made it more efficient at handling applications.

Mr. Mayorkas acknowledged that sweeping immigration legislation like the Dream Act would apply to a much larger population: by some estimates, more than 700,000 young illegal immigrants would be eligible under the act. But he said that the difference was “an issue of scale” and that his agency was prepared to handle the increase in applications that an immigration overhaul would spur.

Immigrant advocates and federal officials said that news of the special status seemed to penetrate into the furthest reaches of the diaspora, but some Haitians living in the United States illegally may have decided not to apply because they still feared deportation and did not want to alert the authorities to their whereabouts.

Those who did not apply may now be eligible for deportation. The Obama administration suspended deportations to Haiti immediately after the earthquake and even released many Haitians, including some with criminal convictions.

Last month, however, immigration officials announced that they would resume deportations of Haitians in mid-January. But they also said they intended to focus their deportation efforts only on those who had been convicted of crimes or who posed a threat to public safety.

Haitian leaders in the United States and some public officials have asked the administration to reverse course. On Wednesday, six New York City Council members sent a letter to Janet Napolitano, the homeland security secretary, urging her to suspend deportations once again while Haiti wrestles with its halting reconstruction effort and with fresh political and social unrest.

“Removing Haitians at this time would not only put those removed at risk,” the letter said, “but also hamper efforts of Haitians to rebuild their country, homes and lives.”

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The African-American Divide Over Sudan

By: Sunni M. Khalid
Posted: January 7, 2011 at 6:35 PM

The upcoming referendum on Southern independence from Sudan has divided black Americans interested in affairs on the African continent, pitting African-American Muslims against black Christians. Call it Louis Farrakhan vs. the Rev. Al Sharpton.

This Sunday, about 4 million Sudanese in the war-torn Southern part of the country will go to the polls to cast their ballots in a referendum to decide if they should remain a part of Africa's largest country or become the continent's newest nation.

The debate over maintaining Sudan as a unitary state or separating the nation into two is an old one. It is the result of two civil wars that have raged between the North and South for all but 15 of Sudan's 55 years of independence from Egypt and the U.K. It is, perhaps, the most contentious foreign policy question among black Americans since the Angolan Civil War.

Sudan's upcoming referendum has sharply divided African Americans interested in affairs on the continent. And it has called into question past African-American support of African governments, from Idi Amin's Uganda to Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe.

For black Americans, there are two conflicting currents in the issue of Southern Sudan. There is a strong religious affinity on one side; on the other, a strong sense of racial unity.

On the religious side are many African-American Muslims, including the largest faction of the original Nation of Islam, led by Louis Farrakhan. They espouse a religious solidarity with the Sudanese government of Lt. Gen. Omar Hassan al-Bashir, who has held power in Khartoum since he staged a military coup in 1989. Western forces, they argue, are conspiring to undermine Islam. On the opposite side arguing for racial unity are mainly black Christian leaders like the Rev. Al Sharpton and talk-show host Joe Madison, who insist that Southern Sudan is experiencing "genocide by attrition."

Farrakhan has visited Sudan several times and has vigorously rejected charges of slavery there. "While I stand here in the Sudan, there is a war going on, and that war is against Islam," Farrakhan said at a Khartoum press conference in 1994. "And it is headed by the government of the United States of America and the powers of the West. They know that only the unity of Islam will prevent Western hegemony over the world. There is no other force in existence to stop that but Islam." His stand has not wavered since. In recent years, Farrakhan has claimed that there is a Western campaign against Sudan, as well as Iran, based on oil and Zionism.

Can Independence Cure Corruption?

Much African-American Muslim support for the Sudanese government has not diminished, even though Bashir has been indicted by the International Criminal Court for his role in prosecuting the government's campaign against dark-skinned, non-Arab Muslims in Darfur.

Both Khartoum and the government-in-waiting in Juba, the capital of the South, he adds, have failed to make unity attractive. But Abdul-Ali also claims that the poverty-stricken Southern Sudan is ill-prepared for independence, and its government has "demonstrated an appalling pattern of corruption, nepotism and a lack of good governance," despite sharing oil revenues with Khartoum for the last five years.

Many of the same charges have been leveled at the Bashir regime, long regarded by some foreign policy experts as one of Africa's most brutal, repressive and corrupt.

Like Farrakhan, Abdul-Ali and others in the Arab and Muslim worlds blame Sudan's predicament on the West, specifically the United States. They argue that Washington has reneged on promises to support theComprehensive Peace Agreement, end severe economic sanctions on Khartoum and remove Sudan from the list of nations supporting international terrorism.

"People on the outside don't understand that the U.S. makes promises," says Ali. "They are encouraging the Southern Sudan to separate because of the oil. But mark my words: Five years from now, the Southern Sudanese will look up and be in worse shape than they are now."

That may be true, but it largely obscures the roots of the second civil war. The Addis Ababa Agreement ended the first civil war in 1972, granting a large degree of autonomy to the South, including freedom of religion. Ten years later, then-Sudanese President Jaafar Numeiri abrogated the pact, split the South into three provinces and established Shariah, or Islamic law, over the whole country. Armed resistance in the South began soon after.

Dr. James Sulton, an African American, is a former president of the Sudan Studies Association. He says that before the start of the second civil war, many African Americans labored under a "cultural myopia" that made them reluctant to criticize African governments because they were African governments.

"The Sudan turned the tide back then," adds Sulton, "because Jaafar Numeiri proved to be more hostile to the Southern Sudanese than any other colonial government could ever be. Numeiri's successors, including Sadiq al-Mahdi, continued Khartoum's war on the South."

A Complex Mix of Race and Religion

Over the years, African-American support for Southern Sudan, if not for outright independence, has gradually increased. Sharpton and Madison, leaders in the Khartoum opposition, have also visited Sudan, leading missions and staging protest marches outside the Sudanese Embassy in Washington, highlighting the ongoing problem of slavery of dark-skinned Southern Sudanese -- most of whom are non-Muslims.

Hodari Abdul-Ali, an African-American Orthodox Muslim and former consultant to the Sudanese ambassador, is the executive director of the Give Peace a Chance Coalition in Washington, D.C. The group has sponsored several fact-finding trips by African Americans to Sudan. "The impending breakup of the Sudan is nothing but a disaster for Africa, for the African Diaspora and for Sudan," Abdul-Ali asserts.

Both men's efforts have been part of those of Christian Solidarity International. Sharpton mentioned the Sudanese Civil War when he addressed the Democratic National Convention in 2004. "The global response is hypocritical and the U.S. offer to restore ties to Sudan should be met with skeptical caution at best until the conditions of the Darfuris and Southern Sudanese have changed dramatically," Madison wrote after one of his trips to Sudan.

Yet Sudan's tortured internal racial politics are often confusing. What defines one as a "Sudanese Arab" -- a member of the group in power -- and a so-called black African (a member of the oppressed group) is often elastic, since skin color alone is not the sole determinant of "race" or "culture." It is common for so-called Sudanese Arabs to have dark skin, as it is for non-Arab Southern Sudanese to be Muslims. Moreover, Arabic is the lingua franca throughout the North and much of the South.

Given Sudanese politics, where continuous duplicity is the rule -- producing a dizzying history of co-optation, alliances and counter-alliances between, and often among, Southerners and Northerners -- it is often difficult to tell who is on which side, from one moment to the next. But it is the power and primacy of Arab identity that has ruled Sudan, ever since the first Arabs crossed into Africa from the Arabian Peninsula and migrated south along the Nile a thousand years ago.

The current divide over Sudan brings back memories of another contentious foreign policy question among African Americans. In 1975, as Angola was emerging from Portuguese colonial rule, three nationalist movements vied for power. All three appealed to African Americans for moral, political and financial support, prompting them to choose sides.

Many black nationalists gravitated toward the alliance of the FNLA (the National Front for the Liberation of Angola) and UNITA (the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola). The MPLA (the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola), a multiracial, Marxist-Leninist movement, was favored by African Americans who shared its ideological bent.

The FNLA-UNITA alliance effectively lost much of its support among the African-American community once its military ties to the CIA and apartheid South Africa were exposed. The MPLA, supported by Soviet arms and Cuban troops, won the war and, almost by default, the battle for most African-American hearts and minds.

In the end, the debate over Sudan, like Angola, may be nothing more than a historical footnote. Independence for Southern Sudan appears as imminent as it does inevitable. After six days of voting, official results must be certified within 30 days. Sixty percent of eligible voters must cast ballots for the vote to be judged as valid.

Already, many Southern Sudanese are voting with their feet. According to the United Nations, at least 75,000 Southerners have already returned to their home region in recent weeks from the North. Many more are expected to follow. Some have come back to vote in the referendum, while others say they have left for good, fearing a violent public backlash in the North.

Most of Sudan's oil reserves are located in what could become an independent Southern Sudan, while the pipelines run through the North. A common border remains to be demarcated. And many expect that Khartoum will not relinquish the oil fields, or their significant revenues, without a fight. Sulton, formerly of the Sudan Studies Association, is one of them.

"We may be on the verge of the worst civil war of the decade," warns Sulton, "even as the decade begins."

Sunni M. Khalid is the managing news editor at WYPR-FM and has reported extensively throughout Africa and the Middle East.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Obama to increase engagement with Africa in 2011

By theGrio
9:57 AM on 01/03/2011

HONOLULU (AP) - President Barack Obama is quietly but strategically stepping up his outreach to Africa, using this year to increase his engagement with a continent that is personally meaningful to him and important to U.S. interests.

Expectations in Africa spiked after the election of an American president with a Kenyan father. But midway through his term, Obama's agenda for Africa has taken a backseat to other foreign policy goals, such as winding down the Iraq war, fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan and resetting relations with Russia.

Obama aides believe those issues are now on more solid footing, allowing the president to expand his international agenda. He will focus in Africa on good governance and supporting nations with strong democratic institutions.

Obama delivered that message on his only trip to Africa since taking office, an overnight stop in Ghana in 2009, where he was mobbed by cheering crowds. In a blunt speech before the Ghanaian parliament, Obama said democracy is the key to Africa's long-term development.

"That is the ingredient which has been missing in far too many places, for far too long," Obama said. "That is the change that can unlock Africa's potential. And that is a responsibility that can only be met by Africans."

The White House says Obama will travel to Africa again and the political calendar means the trip will almost certainly happen this year, before Obama has to spend more time on his re-election bid. No decision has been made on which countries Obama will visit, but deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes said stops will reflect positive democratic models.

The administration is monitoring more than 30 elections expected across Africa this year, including critical contests in Nigeria and Zimbabwe.

"The U.S. is watching and we're weighing in," Rhodes said.

John Campbell, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and a former U.S. ambassador to Nigeria, said the different elections give the Obama administration the opportunity to establish clear policies.

The administration "should be less willing to cut slack when those elections are less than free, fair and credible," Campbell said.

The White House can send that message right now as it deals with the disputed election in Ivory Coast and an upcoming independence referendum in Sudan, which could split Africa's largest country in two.

Rhodes said the president has invested significant "diplomatic capital" on Sudan, mentioning the referendum in nearly all of his conversations with the presidents of Russia and China, two countries which could wield influence over that Sudan's government.

When Obama stopped in at a White House meeting last month of his national security advisers and United Nations ambassadors, the first topic he broached was Sudan, not Iran or North Korea. And as lawmakers on Capitol Hill neared the December vote on a new nuclear treaty with Russia, Obama called southern Sudan leader Salva Kiir by telephone to offer support for the referendum.

White House officials believe the postelection standoff in Ivory Coast could be the model for Obama's stepped-up engagement in Africa.

The president tried to call incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo twice last month, from Air Force One as Obama returned from Afghanistan and then a week later. Neither call reached Gbagbo; administration officials believe the Ivorian leader sought to avoid contact. So Obama wrote Gbagbo a letter, offering him an international role if he stopped clinging to power and stepped down.

But Obama also made clear that the longer Gbagbo holds on, and the more complicit he becomes in violence across the country, the more limited his options become, said a senior administration official. The official insisted on anonymity to speak about administration strategy.

Rhodes said the White House understands that U.S. involvement in African politics can be viewed as meddling. But he said Obama can speak to African leaders with a unique level of candor, reflecting his personal connection to Africa and that his father and other family members have been affected by the corruption that plagues many countries there.

Officials also see increased political stability in Africa as good for long-term U.S. interests -- a way to stem the growth of terrorism in east Africa and counterbalance China's growing presence on the continent.

The U.S. was caught off guard during the 2009 climate summit in Copenhagen when several African countries voted with China and not the U.S., the administration official said. The official said the administration must persuade African nations that their interests are better served by aligning with the U.S.

Ethiopia lives in L.A. hearts

By Kate Linthicum, Los Angeles Times
January 3, 2011

Fassil Abebe drives in rush-hour traffic to a bustling stretch of Fairfax Avenue, where the smells of cumin and roasting coffee carry down the street. With handshakes and cries of "Salaam!" he greets a dozen men and women who have gathered in the back room of a friend's restaurant to organize a fundraiser for Seifu Makonnen, a fellow Ethiopian immigrant who is ill.

Nearly every month in Los Angeles, Ethiopians host a benefit like this one. Last year, at events for two compatriots with cancer, Abebe's group raised more than $55,000.

It's not as if they have time or money to spare. Many Ethiopians here work as taxicab drivers or parking attendants, and most send large remittances to relatives back home. But they give because they know that if ever they need help, they will get it. They give because this is a community that takes care of its own.

You can see it at the home of a family that has just lost a loved one, where friends arrive for days of mourning, each with food, drinks or an envelope of money. You can see it at the hospital, where it's not uncommon for an Ethiopian patient to receive 300 visitors a day.

It's a way of life they learned at home, and it helps keeps them connected here.

"In Ethiopia when someone is sick, the whole town brings food," Abebe said. "When someone is having a wedding for his daughter, he doesn't do it alone. We believe we are our brother's keeper, so when our brother needs us, we are here to help."

Seeking asylum

Makonnen was once one of the most feared boxers in East Africa. A heavyweight with a fierce punch, he was called Tibo, Amharic for "knockout."

He has a clutch of gold medals from various victories across the world and a tattoo on his right shoulder of five interlocked rings — a reminder of when he represented Ethiopia at the 1972 summer Olympics in Munich.

But he hit his peak just as a hard-line military junta swept into power in his country, after the 1974 ousting of Emperor Haile Selassie I.

The communist regime put him in jail for several months. Later he was sent to train in Cuba. On a layover in Montreal on the way back to Ethiopia, he slipped a letter to airport police seeking political asylum.

He moved to Los Angeles with refugee status in 1978 and gave up boxing for another fight.

When Makonnen arrived in L.A., there were no Ethiopian restaurants or churches.

"Back then, everybody was on his own," he said.

Makonnen helped found St. Mary's Ethiopian Apostolic Church on Compton Avenue, the nation's first Ethiopian church. While living in Washington, D.C., briefly, he opened a health center where Ethiopian athletes could train and started a weekly radio program about Ethiopian sports.

He helped build the community that now is helping him.

Together to help

The fundraiser-planning dinners have the feel of school board meetings. Decisions are made by consensus. Each person takes notes. One woman jots down the minutes, which are later typed up and sent out on the group's listserv.

After three months of twice-monthly get-togethers, the event hall has been rented and the musicians' travel arranged. But there is still much to be done. The invitations must be printed and the dinner menu chosen. Someone needs to make the rounds of all the Ethiopian-owned businesses to sell ad space in the February gala's program.

The volunteers have embraced the American "do-it-yourself" ethic, with an Ethiopian flavor. Those who are hungry order food, and all eat from the same plate. They never raise their voices during two hours of sorting out event details. The meetings get heated only at the end, when the bill comes and they argue over who gets to pay it.

Beloved figure

Abebe first met Makonnen when he moved to L.A. in 1983. The former boxer was driving a taxi then, and he taught the newcomer from Addis Ababa how to find his way across a vast, unfamiliar metropolis.

Makonnen was diagnosed with diabetes in the 1980s.

The man who once skipped deftly in the boxing ring now steps slowly. He spends three days a week at a clinic undergoing dialysis. The treatments leave him exhausted and unable to work.

When Abebe heard about the fundraiser for his old mentor, he happily agreed to help. He drives to the Little Ethiopia meeting from Inglewood, where he lives with his wife and two children. Others come from the San Fernando Valley and Orange County.

"A lot of people love him and know him," Abebe said of Makonnen, who has two grown children. "He needs another chance to live."

When Makonnen heard about the gala, he was happy but not surprised.

"In Ethiopia, there is no 'individual,' " he said. "You help people, and they'll do good for you."

Copyright © 2010, Los Angeles Times