- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 27, 2012

The president of Kenya was upbeat.

“I’m happy to be an African,” Kalonzo Musyoka said.

The deputy secretary-general of the United Nations, a former foreign minister from Tanzania, cited economic growth throughout the continent.

“The era of stagnation is over,” said Asha-Rose Migiro, the first African to hold the No. 2 U.N. post.

African diplomats looked past the trouble spots on the continent to focus on the future as they gathered in a Washington hotel ballroom for the annual Africa Day celebration last week.

The armed conflict between Sudan and South Sudan; the war against al-Shabab terrorists in Somalia, still recovering from a famine that killed tens of thousands; the coup in Mali; or the rebel war in the Democratic Republic of Congo - those crises and others were mostly downplayed, as diplomats listened to inspiring speeches about the potential for a continent with 56 countries and 1 billion people.

“Africa has the potential to feed the world,” Mr. Musyoka said in a speech to the diplomats and their guests.

“Africa’s time is truly now,” he added, calling Africa a “continent filled with promise and opportunity.”

Mr. Musyoka cautioned that many countries need to build roads, bridges and other infrastructure to realize the potential. He also said African nations “need to fight terrorism and extremism.”

Mrs. Migiro noted that Africa on average has outpaced most of the world during the global economic recession.

“African economies have shown remarkable growth since the beginning of this millennium,” she said.

Mrs. Migiro cited 2 percent growth across the continent in 2009 and 4 percent growth in 2010. The United Nations projects a similar rate for this year and stronger growth next year, she said.

She added that some nations are seeing “robust growth” of 7 percent, listing Ethiopia, Liberia, Mozambique and Rwanda.

However, growth was not uniform across the continent. Unemployment is “well over” 20 percent in southern Africa.

“In West Africa,” she added, “youth unemployment has been described as a time bomb that could reverse the gains made by countries recovering from conflict.”

Mrs. Migiro cited “inequality” as another challenge facing Africa.

“Disparities in health, education and participation in society are preventing millions of African from realizing their potential and holding back social and economic progress,” she said.

Mrs. Migiro called on African leaders to prepare for long-term growth by diversifying their economies, strengthening regional trade, promoting democratic governments and ensuring environmental protections.

“Africa is a dynamic continent,” she said. “I am optimistic about its future.”

GAGA AGAIN

American ambassadors are gaga over Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta.

First, Ambassador David H. Thorne in Italy invited the New York native to Rome for a gay-pride parade.

Now, Ambassador Scot Marciel in Indonesia has appealed to the government to allow her to perform in the predominantly Muslim country.

Alas, the 26-year-old singer known the world over as Lady Gaga was just too sexy for Islamic extremists. She canceled her sold-out June 3 show in Jakarta after Islamists threatened violence to stop her from performing.

The Islamic Defenders’ Front called her a “messenger from the devil.”

Mr. Marciel last week appealed to Indonesia’s tradition of free speech, as the controversy over Lady Gaga’s outlandish outfits and support for gay rights rankled Islamic extremists.

The ambassador told the Jakarta Post newspaper that the views of the “Indonesian community as a whole” should prevail over those of a “small group.”

“The U.S. believes in freedom of expression and tolerance,” he said, adding that Indonesia “has a long tradition of support for freedom of expression and tolerance, as well.”

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297 or email jmorrison@washingtontimes.com. The column is published on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.