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Colin Powell Shaped Lasting US Policies Toward Africa


FILE - U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell steps off the plane with his wife upon his arrival in Nairobi's Jomo Kenyatta International airport, May 26, 2001.

Former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, who died Monday, is being remembered in Africa for peacemaking, supporting the fight against AIDS and sounding the alarm against war abuses.

Cameron Hudson, a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council's Africa Center, recalled that Powell was the first U.S. official to declare genocide in the Sudanese region of Darfur and was deeply involved in the peace agreement ending Sudan's longest-running civil war, which paved the way for South Sudan independence.

In 2004, Powell testified before the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee about the violence in Darfur, an area plagued by deadly clashes for decades, and used the term, "genocide."

FILE - U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell holds up a State Department report documenting atrocities in Darfur while testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, September 9, 2004.
FILE - U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell holds up a State Department report documenting atrocities in Darfur while testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, September 9, 2004.

"That was the first time that word had been used in that conflict, and it really became a rallying cry around the world and certainly within U.S. activist communities. And you saw the United States get even deeper involved in the conflict there," Hudson told VOA on Monday.

Powell also played a leading role in negotiations that ended the civil war in Sudan that lasted more than two decades.

"You saw the creation of a Sudan office in the State Department under Colin Powell," Hudson said. "You saw his personal involvement in the negotiations culminating in the 2005 signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in Nairobi (Kenya), which Colin Powell traveled to and bore witness to as guarantor of that."

And while Powell's legacy is often intertwined with his promotion of the war in Iraq, Hudson said he is remembered in Africa differently.

"I think that Colin Powell reflects that there was a very, very strong peacemaking element within, certainly, his State Department at the time," he said.

"If … you look at what happened with the Bush administration when they came to office, there were civil wars going on in Liberia, in Sierra Leone, in Congo, in Angola and in Sudan," Hudson said. "And by the end of that first term in government, all of those civil wars had some sort of peace agreement. That wasn't by accident."

Powell traveled to Africa in 2001 — stopping in Mali, South Africa, Kenya and Uganda — on a mission the State Department described as the "engagement of this administration and the secretary personally in Africa and Africa policy."

FILE - U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, left, gestures as he answers a question from the press as Kenyan President Daniel arap Moi looks on, in Nairobi, May 26, 2001.
FILE - U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, left, gestures as he answers a question from the press as Kenyan President Daniel arap Moi looks on, in Nairobi, May 26, 2001.

The visit drew media criticism accusing Powell of ceremoniously lecturing Africans on democracy and transparency.

But many African leaders had a different view.

Former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo told the Nigerian newspaper Punch that Powell embodied Black culture across the Atlantic.

"He was not just an African American. He was an African American who understood Africa," Obasanjo said.

Under Powell, the Bush administration put into place several aid programs to fight diseases and help build economies. Many of those programs remain.

Since 2003, the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief has distributed more than $85 billion globally for HIV/AIDS assistance, with most of the aid distributed in Africa.

FILE - U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell addresses members of the media after he meets victims of HIV/AIDS at the Jabavu Clinic in Soweto west of Johannesburg, May 25, 2001.
FILE - U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell addresses members of the media after he meets victims of HIV/AIDS at the Jabavu Clinic in Soweto west of Johannesburg, May 25, 2001.

The Millennium Challenge Corporation, created by the U.S. Congress in 2004, is an independent U.S. foreign assistance agency aimed at fighting global poverty. Much of its work is done in Africa.

Niger political analyst Moustapha Abdoulaye described Powell's death as a major loss, not just for the United States but for the world, because of his personal and professional qualities.

Brook Hailu Beshah, a former Ethiopian diplomat and currently a political science professor at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, recalled personal encounters with Powell.

Powell was a "person who put America before self, open and respectful to opinions of others, humble and reasonable," Beshah said.

VOA's Hausa and Horn of Africa services contributed to this report.

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