- The Washington Times - Monday, September 3, 2001

Yoweri explains all

DURBAN, South Africa — Who knew Yoweri Museveni was such a comedian?

At the U.N. World Conference on Racism's opening-day roundtable for presidents and prime ministers, the president of Uganda put a gentle spin on history that momentarily revived spirits frayed by hours of rhetoric and anger.

"Racism, really, is a lot of nonsense," he said to 15 world leaders and a nearly packed conference hall. "Because all human beings started in Africa."

"The Chinese, the Europeans, they are all emigrant Africans. We are the ones who produced them. They are all Africans, you see, but they lost their color as they migrated," he went on.

The brothers-of-different-colors speech drew chuckles from the crowd, which hadn't come to the conference expecting to be to entertained.

Too many authors

How many Americans does it take to write a document?

At least four dozen, it seems, including congressional advisers, technical experts, functionaries of the State and Justice departments and the White House, and various handlers keeping track of them all.

The Americans are the second-largest delegation at the conference, behind South Africa, and they don't even plan to give a speech.

The Congressional Black Caucus, which claims it has been marginalized by the Bush administration and ordered not to speak, has seemingly been everywhere. Its members have been giving news conferences and strolling through the cavernous media center to dispense their views on slavery and reparations and the state of race relations in the United States.

Rep. Tom Lantos, California Democrat, is an official member of the delegation as both a congressman and, said one Bush administration official, as a Holocaust survivor and Jewish voice.

She could not say whether there were any Arab voices on the delegation.

The perfect venue

South Africa is perhaps the best country on earth to host the U.N. racism conference, say U.N. officials and foreign delegates, who applaud the country's steps toward democracy after decades of white-supremacist rule.

So what does this country — 78 percent black, 10 white, and 2.5 Indian — make of the World Conference Against Racism? Not much, on balance.

Nationally, some opposition leaders are complaining that the money used to host the conference could be better spent on South Africa's poor, AIDS care and prevention, housing supplements and investment in education.

In Durban, where the parley is being held, the big winners are hoteliers, cab drivers and anyone who can convert a spare bedroom into a $160-a-night "bed and breakfast." The city is so overwhelmed that delegation members are doubling up in hotel rooms.

Unlike New Yorkers, who take it personally when the United Nations shuts down the avenues for security reasons, Durbanites seemed pretty easygoing about the restrictions over the weekend: Sixteen world leaders were among the 16,000 visitors who flocked to this seaside town.

• Betsy Pisik can be reached by e-mail at UNear@aol.com .

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