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ANGOLAN PRESIDENT HONORED Ambassador Josefina Pitra Diakite speaking next to picture of President Jose Eduardo dos Santos of AngolaAmb. Pitra Diakite with Dr. Keith C. Norris of Charles Drew University President Jose Eduardo dos Santos, a former Angolan liberation fighter who led his country out of a crippling war and into peace and stability, was awarded an honorary doctorate at a special ceremony and reception sponsored by Charles Drew University of Medicine and Science and the Washington, D.C.-based Africa Society of the National Summit on Africa.
Dr. Keith C. Norris, Charles Drew University's Interim President, conferred the honorary doctorate of Humane Letters on President Jose Eduardo dos Santos on Friday during "Embrace Africa & America," a special program on the campus. The degree was accepted by Angolan Ambassador Josefina Pitra Diakte, a featured guest at the reception, who traveled from Washington D.C.
In presenting the honor, Dr. Norris praised President dos Santos as a man who led "a series of changes in his nation that improved the balance of foreign trade, controlled high levels of inflation and created economic growth, all important contributors to his ultimate achievement, that of peace."
In accepting the degree, Ambassador Josefina Pitra Diakte offered warm greetings from her president and praised the longstanding ties between her country and Charles Drew University.
"The Republic of Angola's relationship with Charles Drew University of Medicine and Science dates back to 2001," she said. "I on behalf of my head of state, my country and the Angolan people extend profound gratitude to (Drew's) mission of service that has allowed us to work closely together to address the many challenges of HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria."
Bernadette B. Paolo, ESQ., President and CEO, Africa Society of National Summit on Africa, said the program "Embrace Africa & America" seeks to build bridges between Africa and America.
"The Africa Society was proud to have a partnership with a medical university that is doing work on the ground in Africa," she said. "Both of our missions are vital. Just as Drew's mission of preventative medicine, good health care and saving lives benefits society so does our mission of educating and illuminating young minds to become better citizens in this global world."
At the festive ceremony, faculty, staff and students-including young children and teenagers from local elementary, junior high and high school-packed the atrium of the W. Montague Medical Education Building to watch as the honor was bestowed on President dos Santos, one of Africa's longest serving leaders.
President dos Santos was 37 years old when he became Angola's second head of state in 1979 after the sudden death of President Agostinho Neto. During the years that followed, the country suffered through a bitter civil war, isolation of the cold war and an invasion by South Africa. Relations with the United States weren't established until 1993.
Ambassador Pitra Diakte said President dos Santos led the country from a "one party government to a multi-party system, from a centralized government to a market economy, from war to peace." In recent years, she said, the country has enjoyed economic stability and has expanded health care system, educational opportunities and transportation services.
Angola, currently Africa's top oil producer, joined the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries in 2007 and, as this year's president, will host a December 22 meeting in its capital, Luanda. Within three years, it will expand energy exports when it begins shipping natural gas with help from California-based Chevron Corp.
Dr. Eric Bing, president of Charles Drew's Academic Senate and head of the University's Program in Angola, said the university's missions in Angola and other countries, such as Nigeria, Rwanda, Belize, Jamaica and Mexico, demonstrates that there are no boundaries when it comes to serving the underserved.
"Health disparities do not end at the border of South Los Angeles, or even the borders of California or even the borders of the United States," he said. "But really, health disparities often begin at our borders."
Charles Drew University, as part of its mission of service, has worked closely with the Angolan government to help the young nation address problems of AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.
The University's work receives support from the National Institutes of Health, the U.S. Department of Defense, the Centers for Disease Control and the U.S. Agency for International Development.
Angolan Ambassador Josefina Pitra Diakte is the third ambassador to the United States since the two countries established diplomatic relations in 1993. She holds a law degree from the Agostinho Neto University in Angola. She began her professional career in the Secretariat of State for Cooperation, rising to become the national director of technical assistance before moving to the Ministry of External Affairs.
Charles Drew University, a private nonprofit medical and health science institution, has provided quality college, graduate and post-graduate education and training to thousands of qualified minority and other students for more than 35 years. As part of its mission, the University provides training and patient care throughout Africa.
The Africa Society of the National Summit on Africa is a non-profit dedicated to educating Americans about Africa's peoples, diverse cultures, histories and economies. The Society is an outgrowth of the National Summit on Africa, which constituted, from 1997 to 2000, the largest mobilization of Africa-focused individuals and groups the history of the United States.