Chatham University launched a program of active Pittsburgh involvement in African affairs Sunday in awarding a degree to Mali's ambassador to the United States, Abdoulaye Diop.
He was accompanied here by the ambassador of Benin, the most senior African representative in Washington, and by the ambassador of Niger, who is interesting as the female envoy of a country that is 80 percent Muslim.
Chatham's initiative in naming 2009-10 the year to study Africa is apt. Last year America chose as its president the son of an African. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton just completed a seven-nation trip to Africa, putting flesh on the administration's policy toward the continent, as set out by the president in a July speech in Ghana.
Pittsburgh also hopes to see at the G-20 summit President Jacob Zuma of South Africa. He will play an important role in representing Africa in discussions as the continent's natural leader, based on South Africa's wealth, size and power.
Mr. Diop, Chatham's honoree, is an example of the power of education. His parents were illiterate, yet he has two master's degrees from French institutions of higher learning and now a degree from Chatham. He underscored Mali's commitment to international cooperation and to the development of the capacities of its women. He said that new legislation will address certain gender inequalities in Malian society. His country's economy is dependent on agriculture, which is dependent on women. Mali's growth rate is 5.1 percent, boding well for the future, and exploration could lead to oil production in 2012.
Mr. Diop spoke frankly and in perfect English, even though his country is French-speaking, about Africa's crippling problems: corruption, little transparency in its finances and weak governance. Mali badly needed American partnership and offered investment opportunities, he said, not just requests for aid. He said Mr. Obama's speech to Africa was on the mark in offering the sort of partnership that Africa wanted.
Mr. Diop was a visitor with an important message. Chatham was right to invite him and to honor him.