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Embassy Row

- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 22, 2008

Africa Week

The dean of the African Diplomatic Corps represents a tiny country on the east coast of Africa with a population smaller that Washington's, but he has big hopes for what the press often portrays as a continent in conflict.

"What is there to celebrate in Africa?" Ambassador Roble Olhaye of Djibouti asked yesterday . "There is a lot to celebrate. A lot of countries are doing very, very well, extremely well."

Mr. Olhaye noted that the international media often reports only on riots and civil war, while ignoring the success stories on a continent of 53 nations with a population of 900 million.

"There are people in many countries that are quietly going about their daily lives, securing their needs, building their infrastructure but not catching the headlines," he said. "We are trying to change this."

Mr. Olhaye and his colleagues on Tuesday opened their Africa Week activities in Washington to focus attention on economic opportunities, health care advances and democratic development in Africa.

"We want to educate the American public. Africa is not what you often read. It is not what you think. Africa is open for business," he said.

A documentary film, "Africa: Open for Business," made the case for investment on the continent when it premiered in Washington three years ago. It promoted the continent as a market for telecommunications where cell-phone use sets an annual average of 58 percent. The filmmakers noted that Africa is soon expected to supply the United States with more oil than the Middle East.

"While more than half of Africa is estimated to live on a dollar or less a day, the other half does not, and they are hungry for products and services," the filmmakers said on their Web site (www.africa openforbusiness.com).

Mr. Olhaye also praised the Bush administration for its attention to Africa with record amounts of development, education and health aid, and he cited the warm welcome Africans gave President Bush on his trip there in February. The administration has spent $18.8 billion since 2004 on HIV/AIDS programs with most of the money concentrated on 15 countries, 12 of which are in Africa.

"President Bush has been wonderful to Africa," the ambassador said. "He might have his detractors and critics somewhere else, but don't include us."

Some observers have criticized Africa for slow growth in democracy. In its latest report, Freedom House ranked only 11 African nations as free. It lists Mr. Olhaye's country as "partly free," a designation given to countries with lower levels of political freedom.

However, the ambassador said most African nations want to develop full democracies with civil rights for women and minorities and an independent judicial system.

"Democracy is a process," he said.

Oops!

The U.S. ambassador in Venezuela, where anti-American leaders regularly accuse the United States of planing to overthrow President Hugo Chavez, had to admit this week that a Navy reconnaissance plane accidentally flew into Venezuelan airspace.

Ambassador Patrick Duddy told the Venezuela government that the S-3 plane was flying an anti-drug mission over the Caribbean Sea last week and crossed into Venezuela territory because of a navigational error. That explanation failed to satisfy Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro, who called the incident a provocation.

"We've received responses from the U.S. ambassador that do not please us," he told reporters in the capital, Caracas.

Mr. Chavez, in a televised speech, accused the United States of sinister intentions.

"They are spying, even testing our capacity to react," he said.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@washingtontimes.com