Group objects to University giving award to Ethiopian 'First Lady' |
Protests disrupt MLK Jr commemoration
By Kate Mays, The Voice - Georgetown
January 18, 2007
“Shame on you, Georgetown University,” a man’s voice shouted above the clamor as DeGioia presented the Coach John Thompson, Jr. “Legacy of a Dream” Award to the first ladies of Zambia, Ethiopia and Rwanda.
When the three women accepted the award on behalf of the Organization of African First Ladies Against HIV/AIDS (OAFLA), members of the Solidarity Committee for Ethiopian Political Prisoners (SOCEPP) in the Kennedy Center auditorium began shouting.
According to flyers distributed by SOCEPP, the group objected to Georgetown’s recognition of First Lady of Ethiopia, Azeb Mesfin, who is Vice-Chairperson of OAFLA.
“You don’t deserve this!” a woman’s voice rang out when Mesfin stepped onto the stage.
The flyers called on the University to reverse its decision to include Mesfin and alleged that she has played a role in corruption and anti-democratic policies.
The flyers also accused Mesfin and her husband, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, of contributing “to the spread of HIV/AIDS in Ethiopia by dismantling the health system.”
DeGioia, who could not finish presenting the award over the noise, implored the protesters to cease, saying, “in the spirit in which this evening is being conducted, please.”
Canaan McCaslin (SFS ‘09), a member of the MLK planning committee, expressed similar sentiments after the event.
“The organization [OAFLA] as a whole represents something greater than the three of them,” he said. “While [the protesters’] intentions were good and understandable, they could have displayed them better and more appropriately, not at a service for Dr. King.”
Speaking in a quiet, halting voice, Mesfin remained steady throughout her talk, despite intermittent yelling from the audience. Several protesters were removed from the auditorium.
OAFLA “gives a mother’s face to AIDS, a voice to the voiceless,” the First Lady of Rwanda, Jeannette Kagame, said. Her husband, Rwandan President Paul Kagame, led the army that ended the Rwanda genocide in 1994.
Maureen Mwanawasa, First Lady of Zambia, called for more support from other countries outside of Africa, declaring that success can only come when “the rest of the world stops thinking Africa is a bastard case.”
The Let Freedom Ring event, jointly sponsored by Georgetown University and the Kennedy Center, is the sixth annual concert honoring King. Hosted by WUSA Channel 9 News anchor Andrea Roane, the concert proceeded smoothly after the award presentation, and included musical performances by Brian McKnight, the violin duo Nuttin’ But Stringz, and the Let Freedom Ring choir, as well as a speech by recently-inaugurated Mayor Adrian Fenty.
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