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Africa Update: Ghana at 50, 'Random Acts' for Africa

FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

I'm Farai Chideya and this is NEWS & NOTES.

It's time for our Africa Update, and joining me now face to face is special Africa correspondent Charlayne Hunter-Gault. How are you?

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: This is a real pleasure.

CHIDEYA: I know. It's a delight. Well, it's been a good news week in Africa. That, of course, is not always the case. But we're going to tell you about a couple of issues. One is the 50th anniversary celebration of Ghana's independence and another one is some random acts of kindness that an African-American woman from Washington D.C. has been gifting to the continent. And the most recent good news is the party going on in Ghana celebrating Ghana's 50 years of freedom from colonialism. Charlayne, tell us a little bit about that.

HUNTER-GAULT: Well, you know, Farai, it goes back to 1957, when Ghana became the first Sub-Saharan country to gain independence. And, of course, you know, the British Prime Minister Harold McMillan had told the South African all-white then parliament that there was a new wind of change blowing across the continent and this was the first example. And this was so exciting for all of the other countries that were still in more or less bondage from the British, from the Germans, from others.

CHIDEYA: So tell us a little bit about, you know, the celebration. How long are they going to last?

HUNTER-GAULT: Well, the celebrations are going to go on for a year. And while there have been heads of state and people from all over the world - Jesse Jackson was there. I saw him the other day talking about what a wonderful moment this was. So there were Americans. There were - Thabo Mbeki from South Africa, even Robert Mugabe from your homeland was there with no real issues surrounding him.

So it was a big party and it's going to go on for a year. And there are some people who you wouldn't say necessarily are party poopers. But they are wondering about something like $22 million that the country has spent on the party and are wondering would that not have been better served to address some of the continuing problems that the country has.

I mean it does have a strong economy, the growth rate is something like 5.2 percent a year. Education, some of the best on the continent. And yet there's erratic electricity. The water in some cases is non-existent or sporadic. And so there are still a lot of problems. And of course Rawlings is being very vocal in his criticism of the Kufuor government, saying that there has been corruption, that there's been nepotism and tribalism.

But at the same time, Kufuor, as you know, is head of the African Union. And at the same time, Ghana has contributed forces to some of the conflicts on the continent and received high praise from the new secretary-general of the United Nations, Ban Ki-Moon.

CHIDEYA: Well, that is a lot going on and we're going to keep track of it for the rest of the year. And speaking of a lot going on, there's been some gift giving unrelated to Ghana's 50th and it's an unusual way that a local Washington D.C. birthday girl decided to celebrate her own fete. Tell us about the woman called Busy Bee.

HUNTER-GAULT: Yes. Busy Bee also turned 50 this year, the same as Ghana's independence. Her real name is Juanita Britton and she is a busy bee. She comes from Anacostia, which, as you know, is one of the poorer black communities in Washington, D.C.

But she has an art gallery there and a boutique, she has stores in the airport there. And for years she's told me she had been saving up for 20 years so that she can have Earth, Wind & Fire at a big birthday bash here in Washington. But there came a time she says she had a dream. And in this dream, she saw herself with her hand out and people reaching back and they were joining hands.

And she read that as saying, take that money you would spend on Earth, Wind & Fire and go to Africa and try and do something about people who don't have the same thing as you have. And so she spent the last two weeks in South Africa and Senegal doing what she calls random acts of kindness.

CHIDEYA: Well, you spent some time with her. You got her to talk about her random acts. Let's take a listen.

Ms. JUANITA BRITTON: We went to the Pick 'n Pay, the most popular grocery store here in South Africa, and we shopped and shopped till we dropped, got so much, so many groceries, one of the baskets actually collapsed.

And in fact they were a little numb. They're still feeling the loss of their mother. And as we were packing the groceries in their bag, their eyes swelled up and then we just all just hugged, did a big group hug. And it was so touching because there was a 5-year-old, an 8-year-old, an 11-year-old, a 15-year-old and then a 17-year-old. Touching. And they were just lovely young ladies.

HUNTER-GAULT: And, of course, you know, this was a family who had lost their mother last year and their father the year before. So these were young people that you read so much about - you know, children raising children. And then, you know, later when I saw - after she had done so many random acts for single mothers and two business students from Soweto who didn't have enough money to buy books, I asked her, what does she hope to achieve? And this is what she said.

Ms. BRITTON: Well, I want Americans and really everyone around the world to just know that a little bit goes a long way. That most of us are - many of us, I'll say, are so blessed. And if we can just give more, give a little bit, help someone - I'm not talking about going around the world. You could help a neighbor. Just next door, sometime. You don't have to be Oprah. And it doesn't have to be at that level - at any level.

CHIDEYA: She's right. You don't have to be Oprah to give back. And U.S. dollars go a long way in Africa, as you and I both know. So it's amazing, and there's so much, I think, goodwill that African-Americans have towards the continent. And we can turn that goodwill into actions, can't we?

HUNTER-GAULT: Yes. And Africans appreciate it when you come in, right, you know, wanting to be partners with them and sharing as Busy Bee did.

CHIDEYA: Well, Charlayne, I hope one day maybe we can go out on the road, do some random acts of kindness. But you always do us a great kindness by coming in and doing Africa update. Thank you.

HUNTER-GAULT: Thank you.

CHIDEYA: Charlayne Hunter-Gault is NPR special Africa correspondent. She and I regularly connect for Africa update.

And there's a link to Busy Bee's Web site at our Web site, npr.org. You can follow Busy Bee's trip, view photos, read her blog and find out ways that you can give. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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