The woman who woke up the sleeping African Diaspora

Some women just transcend the biblical description of the virtuous woman. Her Excellency Ambassador Dr. Arikana Chihombori-Quao, the former African Union permanent representative to the United States is one such woman.

She is tall.

Her Excellency Dr. Arikana Chihombori Quao — file photo

She is beautiful.

Her heart is full of love.

There is some enigmatic magnetism about her presence.

She looks regal in her signature colorful wool pantsuits adorned with a bold 2-inch gold and diamond African animal-themed brooches that dance and glisten in response to light. She is smart with a ready but genuine smile that sends rays of warmth to gladden hearts.

Dr. Chihombori Quao raised five children and yet maintained her youthful looks. This visionary of a woman sees the beauty in Africa as a continent. Africa is as beautiful as one of the colorful peacocks that strolls with pride on the green lawns of Manhyia Palace in Kumasi, Ghana.

I first met this amazing woman in December of 2017 at a Physician’s dinner organized by the Washington DC, Maryland and Virginia chapter of the Ghana Physicians and Surgeons Foundation at Silver Spring, Maryland. She was the keynote speaker for the event. I was drawn to by the fascination I had from reading in the event’s brochure that she had four medical clinics in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, a town where I was working in at that time. This fascination made me wanted to meet her, it even grew more when she then mounted the podium to speak. It would be the first of many such transfixing speeches that enliven and bring hope.

While I sat listening to her, I felt as though she was Kwame Nkrumah reincarnated in her exposition of the greatness that lies within Africa. I met with her after the meeting and my life has never been the same since. She shared her husband’s cell phone number and said to reach out to him once I was back in Tennessee. How many women would freely share their husband’s cell phone number by giving it out to a woman who is ten to twenty years their junior? But I would soon discover that this woman is larger than life. She is never too big or pompous to answer a phone call or agree to be present to honor a gathering small or large to inspire and motivate.

This woman unabashedly shares her cell phone number with the diaspora. She is accessible and available, despite her unbelievable travel schedule, she stays in touch with the realities of the diaspora. When she misses a phone call she calls you back with her soothing voice and lets you know why she missed your call: “My sister, I am sorry I missed your call. I was at…,” and with that you get to know how come you didn’t get her on the phone. She did not need to explain herself, but it was who she is, and so she did.

How many diplomats can boast of this much influence within months of assuming office? She has touched thousands of students, working women, and many hearts with her charisma and love. I ask myself: why terminate her appointment as Permanent Representative of the African Union just when she was just picking up steam on the job? When the teams she organized from Texas to Minnesota and from Washington DC to California are just starting to implement some of their initiatives? To most Diasporas, her termination would be like decapitating a woken giant. She is a ray of hope, a door opener, and a head lifter for the Diaspora.

It was gut-wrenching to imagine she had been removed before her time was up. Can you imagine how much she could have gotten done if she had been allowed to complete her term in February 2021? As a reflection of her impact, an online petition, initiated by her dedicated followers, to reinstate her pulled about 10,000 signatures daily. She is our mother, our motivator, our beauty queen. She dances with us, she nurtures our dreams and she is our Mama Africa. I have never seen her read a speech. She can speak for an hour touching time lines from the Berlin Conference to neocolonialism to Yaa Asantewaa without referring to any material, she’s one of the most extemporaneous speakers I’ve ever met. Beauty and Brains in one woman. This was a Powerful woman, one that cannot be stopped, for her strength comes from within!

These are a few of the attributes of this African Queen. Oh but wait till you hear her speak on her message of African Unity. One Africa, One Continent, One Voice, this is her dictum. She opens her mouth with wisdom and on her tongue is the law of kindness. Her words spin out like the silk from the spiders’ web gradually wrapping around the hearts and minds of her listeners. They create an immediate attachment to her that is stronger than the spider’s web. As she goes from meeting to meeting delivering messages of hope there is an unseen crowd all attached to her by these unseen webs of influence that she has rapidly built in a short span of fewer than three years of being in office.

The African Diaspora are people of African descent found in any region of the world including the Americas, the Caribbean islands, and in Europe. Africa has five regions, they are North, South, East, West and Central Africa. The Diaspora is the sixth. She was appointed to represent the sixth region in the Americas. She took it as a personal mission to bring Africans home by her inclusiveness and outreach to all people of color. She is quick to note that she attributes her success to people skills she learnt as a physician for about three decades, and a decision to trust people by not being judgmental.

The African Diaspora were like refugees in a camp. Sleeping under the cold bluish night of ignorance. Some fully clothed and others half-clothed. Nevertheless deep in slumber in foreign lands. They comprise a work force of teachers, cleaners, laborers, cab drivers, lawyers, nurses, pharmacists, doctors, and also students. They all seem asleep without much hope for a continent long depicted by the Western media as full of disease, civil war, poverty-stricken, lost, hopeless and without direction. Madam Arikana appeared like a ray of sunshine and rolled her regal sleeve and set to work — rapidly changing this narrative.

From one corner of the camp she went, one person at a time, undoing the long-held delusions about a misunderstood and misrepresented continent and people. She told them they were royals, the land was rich, it was full of diamonds, and there is work to be done to transform Africa into the Africa we all want. She gently woke each person up with these whispers of love. Everybody was “My sister” or “My brother”. She knelt to each person who was sleeping and gently woke them up. She is no respecter of persons. It does not matter if you work as a cleaner or an investor on Wall Street, to her we are all Africans. She fixed her warm eyes on you and stroked you to wake up to the truth of the fact that we are one people. You belong to Africa. You belong to a land of rich resources. She oiled our hair with knowledge, she placed clothes of dignity upon our bodies, and she infused us with strength and asked us to unite. “Stop distrusting one another, let us go home, that is all Africa needs — its diaspora. The world needs Africa more than Africa needs the world,” she would say.

From the Board rooms of Texas; to the meeting Halls of Atlanta; and the conference rooms of the Africa House in Washington DC, she worked tirelessly. She strengthened her arms. In a matter of months of assuming office, the camp was getting vibrant. She had woken up an army of people whose conscience was now awake. They looked at themselves differently. “We are African, and proud of it too. Let us arise and go and build Africa. Invest, plant crops, build houses, construct streets, schools and build trains.” They were a mighty army, ready to work. The handiwork of one powerful visionary woman.

Imagine how I felt when on the week of October 7, 2019 I heard that our Queen has been asked to leave of office without any justifiable reason. My emotions were mirrored by a multitude of others.

What? It does not make any sense. We were bewildered, unsure of what to do next and our throats run dry. I had traveled from the United States to Kigali, Rwanda for the first time that week to attend a meeting because she encouraged me to with these words: “Go and listen and learn how you can help Africa and its children.” The day I arrived in Kigali was the day she was asked to leave. Many of us had gathered there as a diaspora because she encouraged us to. There was an African-American Physician from The Virgin Islands, an entrepreneur from Texas, a Nigerian investment attorney, a software programmer from Zimbabwe among us, we were of different backgrounds, we had heeded the call from our African Queen to meet on how to help our continent.

We were devastated. Where does her body of work go? We joined other Diasporas to form African Diaspora Congress, One voice with one mission to reinstate the Ambassador. Why stop an effective Ambassador who is at the peak of her performance? Is she leaving office at the request of a former colonial power? Why? Why? Why? Is history repeating itself? Have forces gone to play to eliminate anyone who inspires people of color to stand up for themselves? Before her appointment, the diaspora barely knew what the African Union was doing for and in Africa. It was a cold corpse. Dead and with limited influence and impact as far as we were concerned.

Her advent made us discover our place in African development, this galvanized us to action. Which is why some of us will travel with our funds anywhere in the world to support African interests. She transformed the Africa house on 1640 Wisconsin Avenue located North West of Washington DC from a mere protocol office to a vibrant gathering place for Africans and friends of Africa in the United States. “This is your home,” she will always say of the location.

And she made sure it was homely too. The building was filled with the aroma of jollof rice, plantain, spinach stew, fried chicken and ginger-infused fruit drinks skillfully prepared by African chefs before and after big meetings. The hallways buzzed constantly with the chatter of various African accents, sights, and sounds of different tones of beautiful brown skin from Chad, Namibia, Cameroon, Nigeria, Ghana, Togo, Guinea, Ethiopia, Trinidad, Haiti and all corners of Africa and the African diaspora. We made friends, exchanged complimentary cards, and reminisced the brightness of the future, while our Queen took pictures with and encouraged us.

I recall a young man that approached her one day, with eyes heavy with tears of joy, and confessed that he had lived in America for almost twenty years and no one had made him feel this much at home. She cannot be replaced and we refuse to let her be taken from us. The sky is not her limit because she soars beyond it. Her power and influence cannot be limited to her current office. Her footprints have been etched in the hearts of the diaspora. The world is her stage and she is set for greater heights. Well done African Queen, get ready to soar. And for those who conspired to remove her from office, well you just might have unleashed the power of Africa rested in the bowels of Her Excellency Dr. Arikana Chihombori Quao!

Compiled by Dr. Bertha Serwa Ayi, MD, FACP, FIDSA, MBA.

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