Leon Sullivan Summits and Opportunism

There is no doubt that when the African-American, Reverend Leon H. Sullivan dreamt up the idea of African Summits, he did so with the noblest of intentions. Having fought apartheid all his life, he wasn’t content on just the idea of political freedom for the continent. He thought it was a great idea to get international political and business leaders together to dialogue about Africa and its various needs and to act on the consensus reached at these Summits. There have been six Summits so far. These were in Abidjan (1991), Libreville (1993), Dakar (1995), Harare (1997), Accra (1999) and Abuja (2003). Curiously, the seventh Summit has already kicked off in Abuja again and is scheduled to last till July 21, 2006. But Reverend Sullivan has been dead for five years now and today, there is increasing doubt as to whether his heirs are actually pursuing his principles, even though they claim to be doing so in his name. Indeed, when one assesses the activities and associations of the key personnel of the Leon H. Sullivan Foundation, you can’t help but see vestiges of family aggrandizement and crony capitalism.

Hope Masters (nee Sullivan) is the President and CEO of the Foundation. In an elaborate ceremony sponsored by President Olusegun Obasanjo in Abuja, Nigeria, this daughter of Rev Sullivan married Carl Masters, Co-Founding Partner (with Andrew Young) of the Atlanta-based Goodworks International, a firm of lobbyists permanently retained by President Obasanjo (on a $60,000 monthly fee) to supposedly do public relations job for Nigeria in the US, even though the country operates an embassy and two consulates there. Mrs. Hope Masters with Andrew Young are the only members of the “Leadership” of the Foundation, while there is the ceremonial list of board members of big names, one of whom is former President Bill Clinton. In every function organized by the Foundation, Mr Carl Masters, even though not formally listed on the website as a member of the Leadership actually is the Secretary to the board. The relationship between President Obasanjo and his Goodworks International friends seems to overshadow whatever it is the Foundation is supposed to be doing. In fact, one wonders why Obasanjo has to host another Summit consecutively when there are literally scores of African venues outside Nigeria to do this.

Obviously, the leaders of the Foundation today are only paying lip-service to the principles of self-help, social responsibility, economic empowerment and human rights – principles Rev Sullivan himself espoused. Today, the reverend’s heirs are more interested in feathering their own nests in cahoots with tainted political operators in Africa. Rather than championing corporate responsibility in Africa, they’re actually exploiting its absence. For instance, they feel no scruples receiving millions of dollars in donations from Shell, Chevron, Exxon Mobil, Chrome Petroleum, Sea Petroleum and the like, while the Niger-Delta burns and their environment destroyed by callous oil exploitation. They take the money but feel no responsibility for Obasanjo and the oil companies’ unwillingness to truly show transparency with regard to proceeds from the oil revenues.

One of the most blatant abuses of their position was perpetrated by Carl Masters last year when he presided over one of the worst cases of abuse of office by Obasanjo as the chief organizer and fundraiser for the latter’s library project. It wasn’t just that a sitting president found it morally justifiable to set up a library in his name that rankles, but the fact that he did this by more or less coercing public and state officials to donate towards this project. We are talking of a country notorious for the corruption of its public officials and its President used his incumbent position to collect supposed donations from well-known pilferers of public funds, both serving and retired, to serve his private ends. They raised a whooping $50 million and Carl Masters, a Jamaican-American, was not ashamed to preside over this, even as Gani Fawehinmi, the irrepressible advocate of public propriety is in court challenging the affair. In fact, the largest single donor to the project, Mr Mike Adenuga, a local business magnate with extensive political connections, was recently arrested by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). He’d since been released, but up till now the reason for his arrest remains a mystery, as neither him nor the government are saying anything.

But anyone who’s followed young and co and their careers wouldn’t be surprised at what they’re doing in Africa, which is to cash in on Reverend Sullivan and Mr. Young’s statuses.  As an ‘icon’ of the civil rights movement, a former mayor, ambassador and recognized elder in the African-American community, Mr. Young leads his acolytes on a mission to convert this status to cash by betraying his people’s trust to the highest bidder. Anyone who doubts this mission only needs to note the job that first catapulted Goodworks International into the big time in 1997. At a time when the world was waking up to the appalling atrocities being committed by Nike in its Asian shoe factories, Young and Masters took the Nike commission to burnish their image. Young produced a seventy-five page full colour report on Nike’s Asian operation. He concluded that there was “no evidence or pattern of widespread or systematic abuse or mistreatment of workers” in the twelve operations he examined, filling up the pages with doctored pictures of smiling, ostensibly happy workers. But a few weeks after, the accounting firm, Ernst & Young visited some of the same places Mr. Young claimed to have visited and put a lie to his report by detailing the unsafe, terrible and subhuman conditions under which these people work. But to Messrs Young and Masters, the principle is why let the truth get in the way of a big fat cheque? Goodworks International is on the map and they are now “international business consultants”, so what the heck!

In February this year, true to type, Goodworks International continued its betrayal with the announcement that Mr. Young is now chair the Working Families for Wal-Mart. The world’s largest retailers, with a stinking reputation amongst women and minorities now have as their spokesperson an African-American civil rights icon – just for a few dollars! In fact, Wal-Mart proudly announced they were funding Young and Goodworks International, because they belong to a group of people “who understand and appreciate Wal-Mart’s positive impact on working families in America”. Of course, it matters not that Wal-Mart discriminates against minorities and women, pay poverty-level wages and are pushing competitors out of business.

As this Summit opens and close once again in Abuja with highfalutin jives and no action, Nigerians, nay Africans must be weary of these so-called do-gooders. Andrew Young and Carl Masters can use their friendship with Obasanjo and other notorious Africans to feather their own nest at the expense of the ordinary people of Nigeria and the continent while Rev Sullivan turns in his grave, but we mustn’t allow them to sell their snake oil as some kind of solution to African problems. Evidently, they do not care about democracy, constitutionalism and the rule of law, because if they do, they wouldn’t have supported Obasanjo’s attempt to subvert the Nigerian constitution towards his third term agenda. If they care, they wouldn’t be gallivanting in Abuja, laughing into their wines as their friend and benefactor, Olusegun Obasanjo presides over a repressive fascist and neo-military regime that cares very little about the welfare and economic well-being of Nigerians or the African people. African-Americans must also begin to take people like Young to task for cynically cashing in his Freedom Movement chips. It is not the dream of Martin Luther King, Rev Sullivan and Black America that their icons use the same putrid principles their oppressors used against them to fleece their African brethren.

It is time for Africans, African-Americans

and Blacks everywhere to take a closer look at these Summits and ask the right questions.

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1 comment

ihuaub@yahoo.com July 14, 2007 - 7:26 pm

Omoyele Sowore, very nice reading your pieces and knowing you're ok. I remember your days in Unilag SUG and your injection with mecury. I will never forget the interview you granted Sonny Irabor or so. I hope your blood has now been filtered? Keep up the good work, Nigerians know those who are speaking the truth.

God bless you!!!


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