Africa Day in Uruguay
The Uruguayan Foreign Ministry arranged a full-day and wide ranging seminar on “Africa and its Diaspora: New Links towards New Realties” in the auditorium of the Foreign Ministry on 12 June 2012. In cooperation with the Foreign Ministry the resident and non-resident African Embassies accredited to Uruguay, together with the Uruguay-Africa Chamber of Commerce (CCUA) co-hosted Africa Day celebrations on the same Day from 12h30 to 14h00 at a historical venue also at the Foreign Ministry. Some participants described the event as “historical” and a confirmation of a fundamental shift in Uruguay’s approach towards its African Diaspora and the Africa Continent.
The event must be seen in the context of a number of concrete steps taken by the Uruguayan Government lately to give effect to its stated intent of expanding its ties with Africa. The steps include the creation of a unit within the Foreign Ministry to deal with matters related to the Afro-descendant community and at the same time strengthening the Uruguayan Embassy in South Africa to support this unit. The unit is headed by Roving Ambassador Romero Rodriguez who will also cover Sub-Saharan Africa. Uruguay has also announced the opening of an Embassy in Angola that will be reciprocated by Angola. A further development is the establishment of the Uruguay Africa Centre aimed at strengthening ties between Uruguay and African countries in a number of areas with emphasis on Sub-Saharan Africa. The African Embassies accredited to Uruguay have also positioned themselves by the creation, together with Uruguayan business concerns, the Uruguay-Africa Chamber of Commerce (CCUA) 18 months ago that serves as platform for the promotion of trade, investment and tourism between Uruguay and Africa. The Embassy, with the cooperation of the Uruguay Africa Chamber of Commerce, has also increasingly been involving non-resident Embassies, specifically from Brazil, in activities of the Chamber. The Embassy has also been maintaining a close relationship with the local Afro-descendant community.
The seminar consisted of four panels on wide-ranging topics dealing with the positioning of South America toward Africa in view of changed realities, with special focus on the position and role of the Afro-Descendant community in Uruguay and the African Diaspora in general in this process. The importance of education and human rights were stressed by more than one speaker in the context of the seminar. Panel members covered the whole spectrum of Uruguayan society and included four deputy ministers and other senior officials from relevant ministries, members of parliament, leaders of the Afro-descendant community, trade unions, academic institutions, organized business and African diplomats. One of the important announcements by one of the panel members was that good progress is being made with the introduction of a law, initiated by members of parliament of the Governing Frente Amplio (FA), to promote affirmative actions in recognition of the history of discrimination. A representative of the Foreign Ministry also indicated that the opening of more Embassies in Africa is being considered in the longer term.
Ambassador Dawie Jacobs, Head of Mission/Charge D’Affaires, spoke on the first panel on behalf of the African Embassies together with the Secretary General of the Department of Foreign Affaires, Ambassador Gonzalo Koncke and three Deputy Ministers, including Professor Edgardo Dr Ortuno, Deputy Minister of Industry, Energy and Mining. Dr Ortuno is an Afro-descendant and attended the Diaspora Summit in SA. Ambassador Jacobs touched on the changed realities on the global scene with special reference to Africa and Latin Ameica, the role of the African Diaspora in positioning our two Continents to face these changed realities and concluded with remarks on the changed realities in Africa. The President of the Uruguay Africa Chamber of Commerce, Mr Luis Taboada, also spoke on one of the panels and emphasized the value of the Chamber as a platform for all African Embassies accredited to Uruguay.
All the panel members and participants, including some additional guests, were invited by the African Embassies and the CCUA to the Africa Day celebrations during the lunch break of the Seminar. It was the first time ever that invitations were sent in the name of all the resident and non-resident African Embassies accredited to Uruguay and supported by all. Due to Rio + plus 20 African Embassies from Brazil could not attend, but conveyed their support and appreciation to the Uruguayan Foreign Ministry. The venue was decorated with flags of countries represented, artwork of Afro-descendant artists and some posters on South Africa and Africa. Poems by Afro-descendant poets were read and the more than 100 guests were entertained by traditional dances performed by dancers in colourful traditional outfits accompanied by traditional Afro-descendant music on drums (known locally as “Candombe”).
A member of Parliament that served on one of the panels described the seminar, involving all the key role players in respect of Africa and its Diaspora in Uruguay, as truly “historic” and confirming the fundamental shift in Uruguay’s approach towards its own African Diaspora and the African Continent. On the one hand the seminar was marked by an open and honest debate about the role and place of the Afro-descendant community in Uruguay; the challenges they have faced in the past and are still facing today; and concrete steps to address that. On the other hand the discussions were also forward looking in a search for new links to Africa in view of changed realities and the role of the African Diaspora in that process. The celebration of Africa Day to co-inside with this seminar contributed to the impact of both events and was also in the spirit of the Diaspora Summit on Africa Day in South Africa.
SA Embassy Montevideo, Uruguay