Items of African culture were on display in Washington Friday as diplomats, scholars and American civil rights leaders commemorated the progress made in the past decades and identified the challenges that lie ahead for the continent.
Africans around the world commemorated Africa Day this past week, an annual event that marks the creation of the Organization of African Unity in 1963.
Serge Momboli, Congolese ambassador and dean of the African Diplomatic Corps told VOA this year is about celebrating African Unity, especially women, and how they contribute to the real development of the continent.
At a gala Friday in Washington, the group and its partners delighted attendees with traditional African dishes including Senegalese Chicken Yassa, South African Beef Boboties and Diangsang fish. The food was cooked by Cameroonian Chef Jean Chryst, who is also the executive chef of the International Monetary Fund.
Some Ghanaian art and textiles were on display at the Africa Day gala in Washington, May 27, 2016.
Benin Ambassador to the United States Omar Arouna and Professor Hassana Alidou, Niger’s ambassador to the U.S., co-organized this year’s festivities.
Arouna told VOA that in addition to designing a menu for the African palate, the event also featured Africa-centered music, including Benin's Jomion & the Uklos; Ivory Coast's Meiway, who is known as Mister Zoblazo, and Kenya’s Anna Mwalagho, a musician, poet and storyteller.
Alidou said Africa has had many achievements of which it should be proud, including the election of a few women as presidents, and the fact "many are holding ministerial and parliamentarian positions."
But she said more progress is needed on other fronts.
“Without education opportunities, for example, the chance of holding public office is very slim," Alidou said.
Nathifa Hashi, left, from Somalia explains items used by nomads in an exhibit at an Africa Day gala in Washington, May 27, 2016.
She said she would like to see all the policies that are written on paper become reality because “African development cannot be materialized until the majority of women enter the process of integration into the economy. African women are great producers, but when it comes to putting them in decision-making positions, we lag behind. We want that to be reversed.”
U.S. civil rights leader the Rev. Jesse Jackson from the Rainbow Push Coalition said seven of the fastest-growing economies are in Africa, which, he said, shows the "sun is rising" again in Africa.
Jackson said even if some say the continent is a "basket case," he believes “Africa is a basket case full of jewels, brains, brilliance, power and resources. It’s the world’s bread basket.”
In addition to food and music, many countries showcased art.
Nathifa Hashi from Somalia highlighted what she called handmade utilitarian items used by nomads. She said nomads make most of their items light, small and easy to carry.
Artwork from Sierra Leone are displayed during an Africa Day gala in Washington, May 27, 2016.
Patricia Kunje of Malawi said the Africa Day celebration is a great opportunity to talk about her country, which is often confused with Mali.
Momadou Kane, chief of the Economic Office of the Senegalese embassy, said Africa Day is a great way to Africans to gather, but it's also a chance to mingle with U.S. businessmen and politicians.
Kane said after seeing Senegal exports of goods such as handcrafts, textiles and fruit grow 43 percent in 2015, he would like see more American investors in the country.