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Africare President  Steps Down After 31 Years - 2002-07-27

After 40 years of involvement with Africa's development, C. Payne Lucas has stepped down as president of Africare. James Butty looks back at the work of the retired leader of the African-American nonprofit organization, which specializes in aid to Africa.

C. Payne Lucas first went to Africa in 1961 as a Peace Corps volunteer. His first assignment was in Togo. Later he went to Niger, Senegal, Kenya, and Ghana. The 69-year old Mr. Lucas says he returned to the United States devoted to the land and people of Africa.

"I was encouraged to see so many Africans doing things in jobs of supervision that were normally reserved for people who were non-Africans, who were Europeans and otherwise," Mr. Lucas said. "So I was motivated by this to be a part of this culture and to be a part of the people of Africa."

In 1971, Mr. Lucas and William Kirker, another retired Peace Corps volunteer, founded Africare, the largest and oldest African-American organization involved in health and development issues in Africa. He says Africare has contributed greatly to Africa's development.

"Our greatest success is that we have been instrumental in increasing the capacity. It really has been capacity building, getting Africans in the jobs in which they are responsible, that they can do, that don't require foreigners and expatriates to do, primarily in the fields of food security and agriculture, water resources development, primary healthcare, micro enterprise, and now HIV/AIDS," Mr. Lucas explained. "And so we've worked in all those projects, building wells throughout villages in Africa, doing small dams, vegetable production with women in the villages."

But Mr. Lucas says his retirement does not mean that Africare's work in Africa is finished.

"The job is not completed. In fact, Africare is only operating in 28 countries at the moment," he said. "We need to be in all of the 53 countries of Africa. We have the enormous task of helping Africa overcome this HIV/AIDS crisis which is destroying the continent, where people are dying at the rate of 15 to 20,000 per day. So my work is not finished. It's just beginning."

Earlier this year, Africare announced the formation of the Africare HIV/AIDS Service Corps. Under the program, Africans would volunteer as HIV/AIDS workers serving in their own towns and villages.

Andrew Young is former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations and still deeply involved in African affairs. He says Mr. Lucas should be commended because Africare's work has moved the continent a step closer toward achieving its development goals.

"There are very few people who have done as much for Africa, out of their own personal energies and contacts as C. Payne Lucas has done," Mr. Young said. "He came back from the Peace Corps, and he felt as though there needed to be a relief organization that was not only controlled by blacks, but that essentially expressed an African-American concern for the African continent. And he developed Africare, and not only has he developed it very successfully, but he's leaving it in good shape. And he's to be commended for that."

George Ayitty is a professor of economics at American University here in Washington and president of the Free Africa Foundation, a research and advocacy group. He says Africare and similar organizations have made significant contributions to Africa's development. But he is critical as well, asserting they have been treating only the symptoms of Africa's problems.

"Of course you can help by shipping relief food aid, bandages, and tents to starving victims," he said. "But you see these are temporary stopgap measures. So in my view, Africare and the other NGO's operating in Africa need to look at the political side of the equation too and not just neglect them."

Mr. Lucas agrees that Africa still faces many problems, including issues of democratic governance and transfer of power, and learning to work together. But he says he's optimistic.

"Yes, I'm optimistic because I have great faith in Africa. There are people who said that Mandela would never be free. Mandela is now free; there are people who said that Nigeria would collapse and could never get back. Now Obasanjo is working to make the system work," he said. "If we can get the Yorubas and Hausas and Ibos an others in Nigeria to work together, then Nigeria wouldn't need any foreign assistance because Nigeria has the resources both human and natural. We can't accept the fact that Africans cannot work together."

Mr. Lucas is succeeded by Julius Cole, a 28-year veteran of the U.S. Agency for International Development and, recently, director of the Andrew Young Center for International Affairs at Morehouse College.

But even though he's retiring, C. Payne Lucas says his heart is still in Africa. He says he wants to devote much of his energy to getting adequate funding to fight AIDS in Africa. And he says he wants to work with Africans on the question of democratic transition of power.