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New TransAfrica President Looks to Change Organization - 2002-11-11


The new president of TransAfrica, Bill Fletcher, says he will advocate for a U.S. foreign policy that will help advance interests of the African world. TransAfrica is a Washington-based African-American foreign policy advocacy organization founded in 1976. Mr. Fletcher wants to retool TransAfrica for the 21st Century.

Bill Fletcher is a long time labor union activist. He is a former vice president of international trade union development programs for the George Meany Center of the labor union, AFL-CIO. Before that, he served as education director and later assistant to the president of the AFL-CIO.

Mr. Fletcher takes over the leadership of TransAfrica from its founder, Randall Robinson. Mr. Fletcher says he wants to make TransAfrica a grass roots oriented organization. "One of the things that's happened with globalization has been the increase of sweatshops both here in the United States but as well overseas," he says. "And it's important that we raise consciousness about the growth of sweatshops in the African world, in the Caribbean for example, in Latin America, as well as in Africa. A second issue is our deep concern about the way that the United States is treating Haiti. The United States at present is blocking $500 million of promised aid to Haiti because of objection to alleged election irregularities that took place in the last senatorial election in Haiti."

Mr. Fletcher also says that TransAfrica under his leadership will deal with the issue of reparations for Africa and what he calls the U.S. role in destabilizing African countries. Mr. Fletcher is unapologetic about criticism by some that he may be ideologically left-leaning. But he says he wants TransAfrica to reach out to a diverse constituency. "I see the need for [the] TransAfrica Forum to be right smack in the middle of the fight for global justice, and I think that it is critically important that we not look at this as some sort of abstract issue," he says. "As I've said to other people that the issue of global justice should have become very clear to people in the United States on September 11, 2001. And if we don't understand the anger that's out there in the global south about injustice, there's going to be more attacks, there's going more hatred."

TransAfrica played a leading role in galvanizing the anti-apartheid movement in the United States. With the end of apartheid, TransAfrica took on Nigeria's military leadership accusing it of human rights violations. But some have criticized TransAfrica of being selective when it comes to picking which African issues to advocate for.

Mr. Fletcher says such criticism is not fair. "Let me just say that there are so many issues facing the African world that it's impossible for a small organization to take up all of them. But the other thing is that the issue of apartheid and white minority rule in southern Africa was an issue that had been historically on the minds of African Americans going back to the 1940s, and Transafrica was part of the lineage," he says. "I think the issue of the military regime in Nigeria, Randall Robinson was very courageous because there were many people that took the position that an African American organization should not be publicly criticizing a black government, and there were many people that were deceived by the rhetoric of the Nigerian military regime and thought of them as nationalists rather than the criminals that they were."

Mr. Fletcher says he hopes the African Union will serve as a framework to advance peace, democracy, and self-determination in Africa. He says African leaders should focus on developing economies that address the needs of the African people rather than economies that serve the needs of the Western world.

On Tuesday November 12, TransAfrica will officially dedicate its new location in Washington. The new building is a sharp contrast from the elegant and more expensive old building. Mr. Fletcher describes it as one that feels like a movement organization building.

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