St. Louis – Niyi Coker Jr. came to the ONE Campaign press conference dressed for his part. Professor of African/African-American studies and of theatre and media studies, Coker wore a traditional African caftan and dreadlocks. Among the academics and politicians calling for an end to poverty, especially in Africa, Coker was the only African. He went to the press conference at Washington University to give perspective to the ONE campaign to end poverty.
“When people think of Africa, a fatigue sets in,” Coker said. “There’s always poverty, AIDS and other diseases, conflict – there’s no way to answer all that.”
Coker pointed out that Africa is so large that the United States could fit inside Africa “three times with room left over,” that the nations of Africa were dominated for hundreds of years by European colonizing powers – France, England, Germany, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain – whose influence, for good or ill, is still felt across the continent. That Africa is much more varied than the picture of a starving child that Americans see in charitable pleas.
“We are glad to join ONE,” said Coker, who left his home in West Africa 20 years ago to study in the United States. It was political pressure like ONE is engaged in now that led to the end of apartheid in South Africa in the 1980s, he said.
“No one knew who Nelson Mandela was until [activists] started asking about him,” Coker said. “Mandela had been in prison 30 years, but when Americans and Europeans started agitating for his freedom and the end to the apartheid government of South Africa, everything changed.”
Coker praised “two great minds in the United States”: the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who was beginning to focus on “the poor people’s cry” when he was killed, and Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates, who has not only pledged to use his own wealth to address poverty and disease in Africa, but has persuaded fellow billionaire and financier Warren Buffett to do the same.
“They are dedicating their resources to make eradicating poverty a reality,” Coker said.
More about Africa
Coker issued an invitation to anyone who wanted to know more about the whole of Africa to “Africa World,” a documentary film festival being held Oct. 4-7 at the Tivoli Theatre in University City and Oct. 11-13 at the Contemproary Art Museum in St. Louis. The festival schedule is available at: cfis-umsl.com (click on Africa World).