Steven Saum posted an articleIt was the Peace Corps that first took her there three decades ago. see more
Jo Lesser-Oltheten now heads work for the agency in the region. It was the Peace Corps that first took her there three decades ago.
By NPCA Staff
Jo Lesser-Oltheten assumed responsibilities as mission director for USAID/West Africa beginning in October 2022. That includes work in 21 countries with more than 150 staff—providing crucial leadership for the region at a crucial time.
It was the Peace Corps that first took her to West Africa; she taught high school in Guinea 1991–93 after earning her master’s at Columbia and teaching middle school for four years. It was also the Peace Corps that introduced her to the work of USAID. She earned a doctorate in educational policy and took her first assignment in Mali. She has served in posts including Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Indonesia; most recently she served as mission director in Niger.
At the swearing-in ceremony, USAID Administrator Samantha Power said, “In Jo, we have both a regional expert and an inspiring leader.” Which is key, since the challenges facing the region are significant.
“Amidst widespread poverty, violent conflict has ricocheted across borders and led to several forced seizures of power, upending institutions, imperiling citizens, and displacing millions,” Power said. “A mix of conflict, drought, and spiraling food and fertilizer prices is also causing widespread food insecurity in the Sahel. And in such a challenging environment, suppressing the pandemic and attending to other global health needs is a tall order.”
This updated appears in the Winter 2023 edition of WorldView magazine.
Tiffany James posted an articleLarry André is the new U.S. Ambassador to Somalia. see more
Larry André is the new U.S. ambassador to Somalia.
Photo courtesy the U.S. Secretary of Defense
Larry André, who served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Senegal 1983–85, is the new U.S. ambassador to Somalia. A career foreign service officer, he arrived in Mogadishu in January. It wasn’t his first visit.
Back in 2007, André developed the U.S. mission in Somalia. In his current post, he will seek to foster peace and democracy in the country — at a time when Somalia is facing its worst drought in a decade.
André previously served as U.S. ambassador to Djibouti and Mauritania and worked with USAID, assisting in the reconstruction of post-war Chad. After service as a Peace Corps Volunteer, he worked at agency HQ as regional environment officer for East Africa, overseeing work in 14 countries, including Somalia.
This story appears in the special 2022 Books Edition of WorldView magazine. Story updated May 6, 2022.
Understanding New Diasporas and Transnationality Through the Voices of African Immigrants to KentuckyUnderstanding identities through oral history interviews with 50 Africa-born immigrants in Kentucky see more
Voices of African Immigrants in Kentucky
Migration, Identity, and Transnationality
By Francis Musoni, Iddah Otieno, Angene Wilson, and Jack Wilson
University Press of Kentucky
Reviewed by Steven Boyd Saum
The heart of this book is based on oral history interviews with nearly 50 Africa-born immigrants in Kentucky — of which there are now more than 22,000. From a former ambassador from The Gambia to a pharmacist from South Africa, from a restaurant owner from Guinea to a certified nursing assistant from the Democratic Republic of Congo, every immigrant has a unique and complex story of their life experiences and the decisions that led them to emigrate to the United States. The geography of stories reaches from Algeria to Zimbabwe, Somalia to Liberia, grouped together with stories of origins, opportunity, struggles, and success, and connecting two continents.
Within scholarship on migration and identity, this book “offers a refreshing step away from existing research on major urban centers that host large populations of African immigrants,” notes a review in the Journal of Southern History. “It is especially relevant to the study of ‘new African diasporas,’ which focuses on African diaspora communities who have arrived directly from Africa in recent decades and whose sense of history, race, and identity is understandably different from the many other African diaspora communities in the United States.” And at a time when migration continues to roil U.S. politics, the book also offers new insights into transnational identity. With that in mind, the final chapter takes as an epigraph an Igbo proverb from Chinua Achebe’s novel Arrow of God: “The world is like a Mask dancing. You do not see it well if you stand in one place.”
The project brought together Angene Wilson and Jack Wilson with historian Francis Musoni, who was born and raised in Zimbabwe and teaches the University of Kentucky; and Iddah Otieno, a professor of English and African Studies who teaches at Bluegrass Community and Technical College and is originally from Kenya.
This review appears in the special 2022 Books Edition of WorldView magazine. Story updated May 2, 2022.
Steven Boyd Saum is the editor of WorldView.
A Memoir of a Journey from a Farming Village in Togo to Study in the U.S. And a Tribute to a Father Who Was Orphaned Before the Age of Two.From Orphan to Greatness tells the story of Pierre Komi T. Adade and his father. see more
From Orphan to Greatness
An African Story
By Pierre Komi T. Adade
“All his life, my father has done everything he could to help his children succeed,” writes Pierre Komi T. Adade. “As he likes to tell us, ‘My main goal in life is to help you succeed whatever the cost so you won’t have to suffer the way I did. I wasn’t fortunate enough to have someone help me.’ Yes, indeed, his life story has been full of tough experiences that bring him to tears whenever he talks about them. My father lost both his parents before the age of two. Thankfully, he was blessed by several miracles that saw him through those hard times.”
And so when Adade calls his memoir From Orphan to Greatness, he is first and foremost telling the story of his father. As for Adade’s own journey: It was the Peace Corps that led Volunteer Tom Buchanan “to my small farming village of Agadji in Togo, West Africa, in 1981,” Adade writes. “This young American sponsored me into the United States in June 1989, a fulfillment in itself of my father’s secretly held dream to see one of his children educated in an English-speaking country, better yet in the United States of America. Education has always been very important to my father because he was denied that opportunity due to being an orphan at a very young age. He wished to attend school and become a lawyer or doctor, but instead, he was forced to become a farmer and eventually one of the best-known coffee growers in Togo.”
As Adade also tells, a decade later he was able to invite his father for a visit to the U.S. — and enroll him at a local college. Adade’s parents’ commitment to family has been instrumental to him. Which is why he has written a biography of them as well as a recounting of his own story.
This review appears in the special 2022 Books Edition of WorldView magazine.
Mirror the Face of Our Nation: Strategies for Increasing African American Inclusion in the Peace Corps and International CareersThe program you may not know that inspired JFK. And how we change what America looks like abroad. see more
The past: The program you may not know about that inspired JFK. The future: How we change what America looks like abroad.
Photo: Rep. Karen Bass, who delivered welcoming remarks for the event, part of the Ronald H. Brown Series, on September 14, 2021.
On September 14, 2021, the Constituency for Africa hosted, and National Peace Corps Association sponsored, a series of conversations on “Strategies for Increasing African American Inclusion in the Peace Corps and International Careers.” Part of the annual Ronald H. Brown Series, the event brought together leaders in government, policy, and education, as well as some key members of the Peace Corps community.
Constituency for Africa was founded and is led by Melvin Foote, who served as a Volunteer in Eritrea and Ethiopia 1973–76. In hosting the program, he noted how the Peace Corps has played an instrumental role in training members of the U.S. diplomatic community. “Unfortunately, the number of African Americans serving in the Peace Corps has always been extremely low,” he wrote. By organizing this forum, he noted that CFA is attempting to build a community of Black Americans “who served in the Peace Corps in order to have impact on U.S. policies in Africa, in the Caribbean, and elsewhere around the world, and to form a support base for African Americans who are serving, and to encourage other young people to consider going into the Peace Corps.”
Representative Karen Bass (D-CA), Chair of the House Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health, delivered opening remarks. “I have traveled all around Africa, as I know so many of you have,” she said. “And we would love to see the Peace Corps be far more diverse than it is now. Launching this effort now, diversity and inclusion has to be a priority for all of us, including us in Congress. And we have to continue to try and reflect all of society in every facet of our lives … I am working to pass legislation to diversify even further the State Department, and looking not just on an entry level, but on a mid-career level. This effort that you’re doing today is just another aspect of the same struggle. So let me thank you for the work that you’re doing. And of course, Mel Foote as a former Peace Corps alum, and I know his daughter is in the Peace Corps. You’re just continuing a legacy and ensuring the future that the Peace Corps looks like the United States.”
“You’re continuing a legacy and making sure that in the future the Peace Corps looks like the United States.”
— Karen Bass, Member, U.S. House of Representatives
Read and Explore
The 2021 Anniversary Edition of WorldView magazine includes some keynote remarks and discussions that were part of the event.
Operation Crossroads Africa and the “Progenitors of the Peace Corps”
Reverend Dr. Jonathan Weaver | Pastor at Greater Mt. Nebo African Methodist Episcopal Church; Founder and President, Pan African Collective
An Inclusive State Department Is a National Security Imperative
Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley | Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer, U.S. Department of State
Diversity and Global Credibility
Aaron Williams | Peace Corps Director 2009–12
“First Comes Belonging”
Remarks and discussion with Returned Peace Corps Volunteers Howard Dodson, Sia Barbara Kamara, and Hermence Matsotsa-Cross. Discussion moderated by Dr. Anthony Pinder.
Watch the Program
Remarks were also delivered by Melvin Foote, founder and CEO of Constituency for Africa; Glenn Blumhorst, President and CEO of National Peace Corps Association; Dr. Darlene Grant, Senior Advisor to National Peace Corps Director; and Kimberly Bassett, Secretary of State for Washington, D.C., who welcomed participants on behalf of Mayor Muriel Bowser. Watch the entire event here.
The Constituency for Africa was founded in 1990 in Washington, D.C., when a group of concerned Africanists, interested citizens, and Africa-focused organizations developed a strategy to build organized support for Africa in the United States. CFA was charged with educating the U.S. public about Africa and U.S. policy on Africa; mobilizing an activist Constituency for Africa; and fostering cooperation among a broad-based coalition of American, African, and international organizations, as well as individuals committed to the progress and empowerment of Africa and African people.
CFA also founded and sponsors the annual Ronald H. Brown African Affairs Series, which is held in conjunction with the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) Legislative Week each September. The series honors the late U.S. Commerce Secretary for his exemplary accomplishments in building strategic political, economic, and cultural linkages between the United States and Africa. More than 1,000 concerned individuals and organizational representatives attend each year, in order to gain valuable information and build strategic connections to tackle African and American challenges, issues, and concerns.
The program you may not know about that inspired JFK. see more
The program you may not know about that inspired JFK. And that has been sending U.S. volunteers abroad since 1958.
By Reverend Dr. Jonathan Weaver
The man who was the visionary behind Crossroads Africa, Dr. James Robinson, in many ways has not gotten the recognition he deserves. Dr. Robinson first traveled to Africa in 1954 on behalf of the Presbyterian Foreign Missions Board and saw sweeping changes taking place throughout the continent. He went to Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, where he was introduced to several giants in African history: Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, who later served as the first president of Nigeria; and Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, who led the Gold Coast to independence from Great Britain and served as first president and prime minister of Ghana.
After his 1954 trip, Dr. Robinson started talking to students at colleges across the United States. In 1957, talking to students at Occidental College in California, he shared his vision of young people who would engage in experiences with counterparts. The students said, We’re ready to go. Operation Crossroads Africa was established in 1958. Volunteers went to Ghana and Liberia.
Dr. James Robinson, center, envisioned a program of young people “building bridges of friendship to Africa.” Photo courtesy Operation Crossroads Africa
In 1960, when John F. Kennedy was elected, he learned about the work of Operation Crossroads Africa. He also had an opportunity to meet Haskell Ward, who first went to Africa with Operation Crossroads in 1962. Ward went on to serve as a Volunteer with the Peace Corps in Ethiopia 1963–65 and as director of recruitment and selection for Operation Crossroads Africa 1967–69. He later worked for the Ford Foundation and became deputy mayor of New York City.
James Robinson said that the darkest thing about Africa is America’s ignorance of it.
What struck me about Dr. Robinson was his passion for wanting to connect people from the United States with the people of Africa. Several things that he said have stayed with me from the time that I served as a volunteer in 1971. He said that the darkest thing about Africa is America’s ignorance of it. Tragically, I believe that most of us would have to agree that statement still has a great deal of relevance today. He also said: While you may leave Africa, Africa will never leave you. Certainly that’s true for those of us who have been Crossroaders — about 13,000 since 1958.
There is no doubt Dr. Robinson had a tremendous influence on the creation of the Peace Corps. In June 1962, President Kennedy hosted the Crossroaders on the South Lawn at the White House. Talking about some of the many difficulties facing emerging nations in Africa — and the greatest concerns among the leaders of a dozen new nations he had met — Kennedy said, “The problems they face today, in every case, they have told me, were far more difficult than the problems they faced in the fight for independence. Now that problem is to maintain that national sovereignty and independence and make it worthwhile, because disillusionment is the second wave that comes after the wave of enthusiasm.” Kennedy paid particular tribute to Crossroads by saying the volunteers in this effort really were “the progenitors of the Peace Corps.”
White House meeting, 1962: Before a gathering of volunteers for Operation Crossroads Africa, James Robinson talks with John F. Kennedy and Hubert Humphrey. Photo courtesy Operation Crossroads Africa
WHAT CROSSROADS HAS BEEN DOING for a number of years led to the establishment of what I consider to be the most encouraging indication of the desire for service — not only in this country, but all around the world — that we have seen in recent years. Dr. Robinson became an advisor for the Peace Corps. And many other people have been directly influenced by that Crossroads experience.
I’ve spent my life ever since volunteering — now 50 years — very much involved in Africa because of Dr. Robinson. Crossroads is still in existence and working to promote understanding of Africa and the African diaspora. Unfortunately, because of the pandemic, no volunteer groups went out last year or this year. My hope and my prayer is that there will be teams going out in 2022. Dr. James A. Robinson transitioned in 1972. But his vision, his legacy, lives on.
These remarks were delivered on September 14, 2021, as part of “Strategies for Increasing African American Inclusion in the Peace Corps and International Careers,” a series of conversations hosted by the Constituency for Africa and sponsored by National Peace Corps Association. They appear in the 2021 Anniversary Edition of WorldView magazine.
Rev. Dr. Jonathan Weaver is pastor of the Greater Mt. Nebo AME Church in Bowie, Maryland. Reverend Weaver previously served as director of development for Operations Crossroads Africa. He is the founder and president of the Pan African Collective, whose mission is to build bridges of understanding, forge diverse partnerships, and promote economic and social development in Africa and other places.